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College Admissions Scandal Goes to Court

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019

Felicity Huffman – Creative Commons

On Wed. April 3, defendants Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman and other lesser known celebrities and parents will appear in a federal court in Boston to appear before a judge at their preliminary hearing. The two actresses along with more than 30 other individuals are charged with crimes of using money to gain admission to elite colleges for their children in amounts up to over $1 million. In some alleged instances, the defendants paid a bogus charity to fake athletic activities, cheat on college entrance exams and through other nefarious means to gain college acceptance. The old fashion way of study hard, get good grades and/or work hard at athletics wasn’t working for them. So they chose the side door entrance.

It’s one thing for actors to use celebrity status and money to gain admission into exclusive parties and events via the side door. It’s quite another thing to use celebrity status and money to fake their children’s test scores and school activities to gain admission into elite colleges through the side door. The second one is illegal.

On Wed. April 3, a preliminary hearing will take place on the case of actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman and others on the allegations of paying money anywhere from $15,000 to over $1 million to get their children accepted into elite schools, through numerous alleged nefarious schemes. The prosecution’s case will be set forth during the preliminary hearing with an actual indictment to likely follow by April 11.With so many defendants charged—over 30, there will likely be defendants who will ultimately turn into government witnesses to lessen their charges and imposition of jail time.

At the end of the day, it remains to be seen if celebrity status will be helpful as in the case of Jussie Smollett getting a light slap on the wrist. In reality, most non-violent defendants without a prior criminal record usually receive probation, some form of community service, fines and other forms of restitution, if warranted. In this case, if the defendants filed any charitable deductions on their tax returns for monies given to the bogus company assisting in the fraud, they will have a separate day of reckoning case with the IRS.

As a former prosecutor, the case concerns me on so many levels. Here are parents who could pay for the best schools, best tutors, best college prep courses and best private middle schools to gain the upper edge. The fact that they chose the easy illegal way out is disgusting. It slaps in the face of what my parents and many others taught their children–to work hard, study hard, get good grades and do well in athletics and school activities, if inclined that way. In doing so, these students took away the opportunity of another well deserving student who played by the book. And even though there may be students who can file a lawsuit to challenge their lack of admission, there is no justifiable way to prove that these students would have been admitted without the scandalous students’ admission.

On another level, there are often cases where affirmative action is challenged for students of color at elite schools. Affirmative action is not a gift or illegal give away. In light of the college scheme scandal, I would hope that persons would refrain from questioning whether minorities earned the right to attend certain colleges and universities.

As for the privileged children of these parents, they should be charged if they knew that they were given an upper hand with test taking and test scores. They should be charged with fraud right along with their parents.

Updates will follow after Wednesday’s preliminary hearing. An indictment is likely to follow before April 11, 2019.

Stay tuned.

Washington, D.C. based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, criminal attorney and former prosecutor.

Women’s History Month and the Supreme Court

Monday, March 19th, 2018

supcourt_buildingAs we wind down Women’s History month, the role women played in Supreme Court cases is pivotal in understanding the huge  impact of women on the laws of this country.  For centuries, women advanced the law in cases involving civil rights, women’s right, marriage equality, health care and a myriad of other issues.   For all that remains to be done in the area of women’s rights, we have largely come from the second class status barring women from practicing professions,  attending schools and  marrying the person of their choosing without infringement of the government.


Beginning in 1869, Myra Bradwell applied for admission to the Illinois bar in accordance with a state statute that permitted any adult of good character and with sufficient training to be admitted to the practice of law. Because she was a woman, however, the Illinois Supreme Court denied her admission, noting that the “strife” of the bar would surely destroy femininity. Chief Justice Charles B. Lawrence  of the Illinois Supreme Court stated that “God designed the sexes to occupy different spheres of action.”

Bradwell appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that her right to practice law was protected by the Privileges or Immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 1873, the U.S. Supreme Court held that states may statutorily deny women the right to practice law.   Today women make up over 35% of all lawyers according to an American Bar Association report in 2016.


Following on the heels of Myra Bradwell, Virginia Minor of Missouri, a member of the suffrage movement, applied to the voter’s registrar  to register to vote. She was not allowed to register. In 1875, her case advanced to the Supreme Court. The question presented  was whether  the adoption of the fourteenth amendment, permits a woman, who is a citizen of the United States and of the State of Missouri, to become  a voter in that State, notwithstanding the provision of the constitution and laws of the State, which confine the right of suffrage to men alone.   In 1875, the U. S. Supreme Court in Minor v. Happersett decided that no new State admitted to the Union had ever conferred the right of suffrage upon women.  It would take a constitutional amendment in 1920 to confer the right to vote for women. And it would take decades later for Black women to become franchised in Jim Crow states.

In 1951,  third grader, Linda Brown, was denied entrance to Topeka’s all-white elementary schools. In the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled on May 17, 1954, through Chief Justice Earl Warren that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” as segregated schools are “inherently unequal.”  Years later, Linda Brown would address the implications of Brown v. Board of Education:



In 1967, the case of Mildred Loving and Richard Loving would change the laws of interracial marriage. In 1664 – 300 years before the Loving decision, Maryland passed the first British colonial law banning marriage between whites and slaves — a law that, among other things, ordered the enslavement of white women who married black men. In 1667, the Commonwealth of Virginia banned all interracial marriages, threatening to exile whites who marry people of color. By 1883 in Pace v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state-level bans on interracial marriage do not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling will hold for more than 80 years until Loving v. Virginia.

Mildred Jeter, of African American and Native American descent married Richard Loving, a white man in 1958 in the District of Columbia and then came back to their home state of Virginia.  They  were arrested and later tried.  They agreed to leave  their Virginia home due to its miscegenation laws and move to Washington, D.C.     Unable to return to visit Virginia, they sought legal help through Attorney General Robert Kennedy and then with the ACLU. In a unanimous decision, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that the laws forbidding inter-racial marriages were unconstitutional. Mildred Loving spoke to ABC News immediately following the decision on the effects of it:


Loving v. Virginia paved the way for Windsor v. U.S.  and the government’s discrimination of federal benefits to legally married same sex couples.  Edie Windsor sued the U. S. government which denied federal estate tax exemption benefits to legally married same sex couples.  In a 5-4 decision in 2013, the  Supreme Court declared that the Defense of Marriage act was unconstitutional.  Edie’s case paved the way for marriage equality in 50 states with the case of Obergefell v. Hodge in 2015.


Unlike Mildred Loving, Edie Windsor and Linda Brown,  Washington Post CEO Katharine Graham came from a family of privilege when she faced off with the Supreme Court and the Nixon administration over the Pentagon Papers. Nonetheless, Graham was still treated with the  second class rights of a woman when her father, Eugene, upon his retirement,  passed the helms of the Post over to Graham’s husband, instead of to his daughter Katharine.  However, as Katharine’s husband would later take his life in 1963, she became the CEO of the Washington Post. Faced with the decision in  1971 on whether to publish the Pentagon Papers exposing the lies of the Vietnam war, in defiance of the Nixon Administration’s lawsuit against the New York Time, she decided to publish.  The U. S. government filed suit for an injunction which led to the Supreme Court case holding  that the paper’s first amendment right to make information public trumped the government’s right to keep secrets. “In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do,” wrote Justice Hugo L. Black.  Graham’s valiant efforts changed the course of history, as did those of Edie Windsor, Mildred Loving, Linda Brown, Mildred Bradwell and  countless others.

Women still await full rights with regard to pay equity, sexual harassment laws, discrimination in the workplace, among other areas.  But time is almost up in these areas too.

Debbie Hines is an attorney and a member of the Supreme Court bar. She also is a contributor to the Women’s Media Center.