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Federal Judges Show Human Side: A Tale of Two Judges

Thursday, August 9th, 2018

Court watchers and other interested persons are getting a close look inside a Virginia federal court room on how judges act.  Judge T. S. Ellis, III presiding over the Paul Manafort trial has a style all his own. He has been testy with the prosecution lawyers since day one. Real court drama is often stranger than fiction.  Judges are human—as Judge Ellis stated on Thursday “this robe doesn’t make me anything other than human.”  Although, it appears as if the prosecution team and Judge Ellis are in a constant dog fight.  Across the river in Washington, D.C. federal district Judge Emmet Sullivan is trying a different type of case.

Judges’ personalities, quirks, demeanors, tempers, court room styles vary from as many ways as there are judges. Judge Ellis appears to currently focus his harsh attention and comments on the prosecution lawyers.  He accused the prosecution team of crying or at least having water in their eyes, frowning, looking down (presumably at notes) and taking too long with their case presentation.  At times, it appears as if Judge Ellis is against the prosecution.  Most of the criticism has occurred out of the presence of the jury.  With the jury, the judge has appeared jovial making jokes about lunch and other court room matters.

On Wednesday, the judge rebuked the prosecution in front of the jury for allowing an IRS expert witness to remain in the court room for the entire length of the trial.  Usually witnesses and potential witnesses are sequestered which means they must remain outside of the court room until called or excused.   By Thursday, the prosecutors had filed a complaint against the judge for his failure to recall that he granted prior permission for the IRS witness to remain. And in a fashion unlikely of many judges, Judge Ellis admitted to the jury that he made a mistake—stating he is human.  No one knows what effect this mistake may have on the jury. Once impressions are made of attorneys, it may be difficult for a juror to totally disregard what caused the impression—even if asked to do so. In other words, once the cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to put it back in.

 

In another federal court room today in Washington, D.C. another federal judge is presiding over a government case.  In an immigration asylum case presided over by Judge Emmet Sullivan, some bold statements were also made against the government. Upon learning that the government had violated an agreement, Judge Sullivan made one of the boldest orders that I ever recall a judge making.   Enraged over the government’s failure to follow an earlier commitment to refrain from deporting the plaintiffs in the case –at least before the hearing, Judge Sullivan demanded that a government airplane return a mother and child seeking asylum back to the U.S.  At the time of the court hearing, the plane was already in the air headed to El Salvador—in direct defiance of the government’s agreement to the court. The judge almost found Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt of court –saying “this is pretty outrageous.”  Judge Sullivan further demanded that the government refrain from removing any plaintiffs in the case who are seeking asylum from gang and domestic violence.  Judge Sullivan shows judges are human and bold too.

In the cases of Judge Ellis and Judge Sullivan, the comments and actions made by both are indicative of the vastly different styles of judges.  As a trial lawyer, I prefer that judges allow me to try my clients’ cases without snide remarks and what I perceive as unfair rulings.  Most trial lawyers will agree that we prefer a judge who lets us try our case without much interruption, unless ruling on motions or objections.  From trying hundreds of cases, it is still often difficult to read a judge’s mind or motives.

I understand that judges are only human. Whatever style they exhibit, I always prefer a judge who is fair and just– no matter what must be done to achieve justice.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a former prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. She is often seen in various media outlets as a legal analyst.

Here’s How to Fix DACA and Gun Laws

Monday, February 26th, 2018

UnionRallyGroupIn a significant blow to the Trump Administration, the Supreme Court denied, without comment, the administration’s request to leapfrog ahead the system to immediately appeal to the Supreme Court an adverse California federal court ruling on “DACA”- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  Previously, a California federal judge denied the Trump administration’s order to immediately end DACA—stating that the Administration was enjoined nationwide from ending it.  It thereby ensured that almost 700,000 DREAMers may continue to remain in the country—at least for a while longer.   DACA is the program established by President Obama in 2012 which protects against deportation some of those who entered the country illegally as children. Trump sought to end the program in March, 2018.

The current status of the case, in light of the court’s ruling, is the Trump administration must now go through the normal court route and appeal the ruling to the 9th circuit, which hears appeals from California’s lower federal courts.  The Universities of the California filed a lawsuit stating that their lawsuit must be allowed to proceed before a ruling against DACA.  Depending on the ruling in the 9th circuit after hearing oral arguments and filing briefs, the case may still eventually proceed to the Supreme Court.  For now, it is not on the fast track that the Trump administration intended for it.   It could take well over a year to reach the Supreme Court.  By then—we may have a new Congress.

And for now, this puts DACA back in the public spotlight.   With much recent focus on gun legislation in light of the Parklands, Florida school shooting and killing of 17 persons, many other issues have taken a back seat.  It is as if the dyslexic Trump presidency and GOP controlled House and Senate lawmakers cannot focus on more than one issue at a time.  And the issue of gun violence extends far beyond school shootings to violence in our cities and everywhere people go.  Immigration and gun laws need fixing. Neither have been presented with any viable legislative fixes. With November, 2018 in the wings, it is all the more important that the Supreme Court declined to fast track DACA.

In the interim, everyone affected by DACA and this includes DREAMer’s schools, colleges, employers, families, friends and co-workers should register to vote and vote in the November midterm election. The future of over 600,000 persons who are in this country since childhood depends on it.  For now, until November, 2018, their lives hang in the balance.  Today’s Supreme Court decision gave DREAMers a much-needed reprieve.  Perhaps following November, 2018’s midterms election, a change in the GOP party- controlled House will offer a permanent fix to both DACA, immigration and gun laws. If the GOP will not fix either DACA, immigration or gun control laws, we need to fix the GOP by voting them out of office.

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal/political commentator and member of the Supreme Court bar.

Lawyers Sue Heartless Trump on DACA

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

AmericanflagThe law can be used for good or bad. And when it’s used for good, I have no greater feeling as a lawyer. Today was one of those good days.  The District of Columbia joined 15 states to sue the federal government, Donald Trump as President, Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Trump’s decision on ending DACA.

 

Litigation is my life and one that I’m proud of. And I am so proud today that lawyers in New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia took a stand for DACA in fighting for the lives of those young undocumented “Americans” who came here as children before the age of 16 and know no other country except the U.S.

 

The lawsuit filed in federal court in New York alleges that Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA is motivated by ill will; will cause a loss of revenue for these states, lower employment, split up families and serve no useful purpose under the rule of law. Major businesses, Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft filed affidavits within the lawsuit stating the effect of ending DACA will have ill adverse impact on businesses.  Mr. Trump, also known to a few as the jobs creator, will be doing anything but increasing jobs.  In addition, Mr. Trump has made known that he does not favor Mexicans—from a Mexican American judge presiding over his lawsuit to calling Mexicans “bad hombres”. More than 78% of the DACA recipients are of Mexican descent.

California has an unusually large segment of Hispanic residents. And California Attorney General Xavier Becerra intends to file his state’s separate lawsuit to protect the almost 200,000 DACA recipients in the State of California.  Maryland’s Attorney General Brian Frosh is contemplating taking similar action.

A federal lawsuit must be based on an aspect or issue involving the U.S. Constitution or federal law. The basis appears that the revocation of DACA is illegal based, in part, on discrimination of Mexicans.  Each state spells out in the lawsuit how its individual state will suffer substantial harm in areas of business, education, health and tax revenue.  Many aspects of the lawsuit sound similar to travel ban legal arguments in lawsuits filed earlier this year citing previous derogatory statements by Trump against Mexicans and due process arguments.

The 15 states and the District of Columbia joined in the lawsuit are both blue states and a few red states that voted for Trump.  North Carolina, a red state, argues that immigration and DACA recipients are vital to its economy. North Carolina asserts in the lawsuit that it has one of the highest application rates to DACA in the country.  The lawsuit alleges that North Carolina will lose 7.8 billion dollars over the next ten years if DACA is rescinded.  I assume that before long other states will take action, in addition to those contemplated by Maryland and California.  The full Complaint can be read here.

The Department of Justice will defend against the lawsuit.  While the case will likely be an uphill climb to win, legal precedent is often won by advancing the right arguments and being on the right side of the law. And fighting Trump on ending DACA is being on the right side of the law.  The law can be sterile at times.  But this lawsuit is full of heart.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former Baltimore prosecutor.  She often appears as a legal and political analyst on MSNBC, CBS, PBS, Al Jazeera and Fox 5 DC.  Her opinion articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and Huffington Post.

DACA and The Devil Living Inside the White House

Monday, September 4th, 2017
Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump, Public Domain

Donald Trump proclaimed Sunday, September 3, 2017 as National Day of Prayer.  And on that same day, he announced that he intends to end DACA with a 6-month delay period of time.  DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.  It is the executive order that President Obama signed in June, 2012 which protected and allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to be granted work permits.  It does not cover all young undocumented immigrants brought here, as it has a cut-off age and other requirements.

800,000 undocumented young persons are believed to be covered under DACA.  Trump had earlier stated that he had a “great heart” in terms of DACA and those young persons covered under it.  On Sunday’s National Day of Prayer, he showed where his real great heart lay. He announced ending DACA on the same day he asked people to pray.

Over 91% of individuals under DACA are employed or attending school. They are mostly law-abiding individuals.  They are our neighbors, co-workers, friends, colleagues, students and family members. They traveled to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own.  They are often referred to as Dreamers who have earned their place in our society and are contributing to it.

During Hurricane Harvey, one Dreamer, Alonso Guillen, a recipient under DACA,  lost his life as he was trying to save the lives of others during the flooding.   Rescue volunteer Guillen, a 31 year old disc jockey, insisted on helping those in the floods in his neighborhood of Cyprus Creek. After helping others, he was swept away and his body was discovered by his family on Sunday.

 

I don’t know what Trump prayed for or who he prayed to on his self-proclaimed National Day of Prayer. I prayed for humanity, empathy, compassion and fairness in our leaders and for our country.  Donald Trump has been on the wrong side of humanity, empathy, compassion and fairness ever since taking office and even before.

 

Trump supports white supremacists in the White House and Neo-Nazis shown killing Heather Heyer on the streets of Charlottesville.  He supports and pardons Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio, an Arizona sheriff for 24 years, abused the criminal justice system in treating Hispanics as sub-human in his jail. Arpaio is known for being one of the most corrupt and abusive sheriffs in America. He sparked fear in Hispanics by unlawfully targeting and detaining them, holding them in cruel and sub-humane conditions.  Trump started his term with an illegal Muslim travel ban to the U.S.  At every turn these last 8 months, Trump has been on the wrong side of justice and fairness.

 

We must stand as a nation with Dreamers.  We are all dreamers of the American dream. While many of us were born in this country, most of us were not born with a multi- million-dollar inheritance like Mr. Trump.  And most immigrants are not able to marry a millionaire like Melania Trump  and remain here.

 

We must diligently work and pray for the Dreamers to remain.  I pray that all Dreamers will be allowed to remain in this country. Mostly, I pray for Donald Trump under Psalms 109:8 which reads:  “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.”

 

 

The Trump Era and Justice for People of Color

Monday, December 5th, 2016

President Elect Donald Trump has nominated Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as his pick for Attorney General of the U.S. Sessions is a lightning bolt for anything related to civil rights and justice for people of color. Much of the progress seen in the Eric Holder era and now Loretta Lynch era may likely soon be erased with a much darker side taking its place. The prior history of Sessions speaking out in support of the Klu Klux Klan (“KKK”) in the past years, is troubling for civil rights advancement.

Some of the areas at risk are police consent decrees, federal police lawsuits for excessive force and death of unarmed individuals, immigration legislation deferring deportation of “Dreamers”, reduction of mandatory minimums, Voting Rights legislation, federal lawsuits opposing voter disenfranchisement and the Civil rights Division, itself. Sessions favors increasing the prison population. Former Attorney General Eric Holder favored decreasing the prison population by reducing non-violent drug sentences and reducing mandatory minimums. Sessions opposes reducing sentences, even if non-violent. Sessions is in favor of increased surveillance without the need for a search warrant. Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was notoriously known for wiring taping civil rights activists, Martin Luther King and anyone that deemed to speak out in favor of civil rights. And Donald Trump has previously stated he favors stop and frisk laws which were previously held unconstitutional.

Justice is at risk in the Trump era.

On the Bill Press show on December 1, I elaborate on the ways a Trump era Department of Justice may be a major setback for justice and civil rights for people of color.

Listen and Watch Here:

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She often appears on MSNBC, PBS, CBS, Al Jazeera, BET and Fox 5 DC.