Last Sunday, I had the honor of returning to Channel 10 news Roundtable, “This Week in South Florida”. It was an outstanding time. We got really deep in the debate as to whether or not Governor Scott was wrong to remove State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case for her stance on the death penalty; the fact that no charges were filed in the death of Darren Rainey [the inmate who was boiled to death by prison guards], and lastly, the ongoing debate on healthcare. It definitely got heated at times but it was a healthy debate on the issues. In case you missed it, check out the link here and share your thoughts! The Roundtable begins at 26 minutes.
Yesterday, Florida Governor Rick Scott overstepped his boundaries by removing Florida 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala from handling the Markeith Loyd murder case for her refusal to seek the death penalty. The defendant has been charged with the Orlando murders of his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon, and Orlando Police Lieutenant Debra Clayton.
State Attorney Ayala explained her decision, stating that she was no longer seeking the death penalty in any of her cases, because “Florida’s death penalty has been the cause of considerable legal chaos, uncertainty and turmoil.” She further said capital punishment often leads to years of appeals and other court hearings, and that it costs more than a life sentence. Florida law gives every state attorney the discretion on whether or not to seek the death penalty.
Ms. Ayala holds the distinction of being the first African American state attorney in the state of Florida. Elected in November 2016, she assumed office at the beginning of this year. In her short time in office, she now also holds the distinction of being the only prosecutor removed in this fashion by this governor.
Read more here
I was really excited and honored to be a part of WPLG South Florida Channel 10 Roundtable this past Sunday. On “This Week in South Florida”, my fellow panelists and I debated the topics of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, as well as immigration. I had a great time, and will be on again next Sunday.
As the segment ended, we started to talk about the false narrative that immigrants commit more crimes then United States citizens. That is patently untrue; I saw this in the courtroom when I was a prosecutor. A recent study published in the New York Times said what I already knew – – immigrants commit crime at half the rate of natural born citizens. Please see the link to that article here.
Check out the fireworks on the show here.
Feel free to share your thoughts!
Usually, my Legal Divas of Color series features female attorneys that have been trailblazers in our world. But after seeing the Oscar nominated movie Loving [finally], I was moved to switch gears in my final Legal Diva of Color for Black History Month 2017.
Mildred Loving was a woman of color who married the love of her life.
Small problem: he was white, and it was the 50’s in America. This was at a time in history when there were laws for bidding interracial marriage (called miscegenation laws). The couple lived in Virginia, but went to Washington DC where interracial marriage was legal to get married. After being arrested (snatched out of their beds in the middle of the night while she was far along in her pregnancy with their first child), a long legal battle ensued. The Lovings pled guilty to violating the “Racial Integrity Act“, with the condition that they do not live in the state of Virginia for 25 years. The Lovings were close to their extended family; the forced separation began to take a toll. After urging from a family member, Mildred Loving wrote a letter to then Attorney General Robert Kennedy. He was not able to help her, but he referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. The legal battle continued, winding its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. Finally, they received relief with the ability to live as man and wife in 1967.
The tragic ending of the story is that Richard Loving passed away seven years after they won their battle — killed by a drunk driver. Mildred never remarried, and lived in the house that he built for her until the day she passed away. When interviewed before she passed away in 2008, she said “I miss Richard. He took care of me”.
That was one of many times I was brought to tears during the course of the movie. It was very much a love story as well as a legal battle. The Lovings overcame so much just to be together but they did not get their “forever” story in this life.
When I heard that quote, I think back to this weekend where I was struggling with a really bad cold. As I was laying down mouth breathing, my husband calls to me from the next room “did you use Vicks vapor rub?” I couldn’t give much of an answer because I felt so terrible. He came in, rubbed the afflicted areas, gave me a kiss, and left the room to continue what he was doing. I think of those small tender moments in the context of love, and what Mildred was missing for those years after her Richard passed away.
The other emotional part of the movie for me was the involvement of the ACLU in fighting for this couple and all couples to follow be able to marry who they love. The Loving case is part of the basis used to obtain the rights for gays to marry in America. This case has so many ripples; if the ACLU did not take on the battle, it would be a very different story. My husband and I, as well of hundreds of thousands of other couples since then, would not be able to legally be with who they love.
I am so proud to be a part of this organization. When asked during my interview why I wanted to come to the ACLU, I said quite simply “Loving vs. Virginia. If it was not for the ACLU, I would not be married to the love of my life.”
As an interesting footnote, most states struck down their miscegenation laws immediately after the Loving ruling. Alabama, however, was the last to do so in 2000. 40% of the population voted to keep this law, even though it was unconstitutional.
Although she is an unlikely heroine, Mildred Loving is one nonetheless. Mildred Loving, thank you for being a Legal Diva of color, paving the way for people to marry who they love regardless of race or gender.
See the original news report below:
The RLD Black History Month segment continues with our Legal Divas of Color. Black history is always evolving, with people of color breaking barriers and challenging stereotypes.
Often when folks think of millennials, they think of a spoiled generation who lives at home for as long as they can.
Jasmine Twitty challenged that perception by becoming the youngest judge in South Carolina history in August of 2015. At the age of 25, she has reached a goal that, as many can attest, others have spent their lives pursuing with no success.
Judge Twitty is a Greenville, South Carolina native. She graduated from the College of Charleston with a degree in Political Science. Before ascending to the bench, she was a court clerk in Greenville’s 24 hour bond court. She worked nights and weekends, learning about the court system. In 2011, she decided that becoming a municipal judge was the path for her. As she put it in an interview with Jenna Regan of the blog “Smart Girls”, she became intentional about her goal.
She sought a judicial appointment in the town of Easley, South Carolina. In South Carolina, the city council is the body that appoints judges for the municipal court. It is not required that one be a lawyer, or a resident of the town in which they seek appointment. After going through the interview process (which can be quite intense), she finally attained her goal in 2015. As a non lawyer, Judge Twitty had to complete a training program, and pass a certification exam. She will have to take continuing education courses, and be re-certified every eight years.
See the interview Judge Twitty gave to local television station WSPA a few months after her appointment.
At the end of the day, you have to go for opportunities, and not self deselect. So many times women, especially women of color, put extra requirements on themselves in addition to the qualifications they already have. “I’ll be ready to apply x position after I do xyz“. She may be overqualified, and yet she is still doubting herself. Others fall into the trap of “I need to wait my turn”. Judge Twitty is the perfect example — if you want it, go for it!
Best of luck to you Judge Twitty, and thank you for being a Legal Diva of Color!
Hello RLD Family,
Well, it’s that time of the year again! Every year during Black History Month, I do a series entitled “Legal Divas of Color”. The purpose of the series is to highlight the accomplishments of female attorneys of color — women who have been trailblazers in their own right in the legal community.
Many of you have heard of the landmark education discrimination case “Brown v. The Board of Education“. However, before the Brown case, there was Ada Louis Sipuel. Ms. Sipuel was born in Oklahoma in 1924. She endured much during her childhood due to growing up during the height of the Jim Crow era. Her house was burned; her father, who was a pastor, was jailed unjustly. Ms. Sipuel lived in a time where lynchings of African-Americans were the norm. All of these experiences gave her a burning desire to see justice served, and to become a lawyer. However, the law school in Oklahoma did not allow students of color. Students who wanted to pursue a law degree were forced to go out of state, most notably to Howard University School of Law. The concept of “separate but equal” meant that segregated schools were the norm. Of course, although equal on paper, the schools were not equal in reality. White schools had better resources, leading to a wider array of opportunities for graduates. In 1946, Ms. Sipuel applied to the law school at the University of Oklahoma. The law school president reviewed her transcript, and indicated that there was no academic reason for her not to be accepted — only the color of her skin.
With this information in hand, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund took on her case. The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall, who later became a Supreme Court justice [the first African-American to do so] argued masterfully as to why these “separate but equal” laws were unjust. The court agreed; Ms. Sipuel was allowed to enroll at the University of Oklahoma law school. The state of Oklahoma tried to get around this ruling by hastily building another school just for her but that plan failed. She then finally entered the law school with white students in 1949. Of course, knowing the time period, this was a difficult road for her. She was forced to sit at the back of the class with on the bench with a sign “Coloreds Only”. Despite the obstacles, she persevered and graduated in 1952.
She decided to use her law degree as a teacher after briefly practicing law. She became a faculty member at the all Black Langston University, rising to become the chair of the Department of Social Sciences. Her alma mater finally righted the past wrongs by appointing her to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma in 1992. Once segregated against, she then was able to run the school that had treated her unfairly.
Ms. Sipuel passed away in 1995. Hear more of her intriguing story as told by her son Bruce.
Thank you Ada Louis Sipuel for being Legal Diva of Color, paving the way for millions of African-Americans to be able to attain legal degrees. I would not be here without your sacrifice.
As some of you may know, I ended my career as a prosecutor this week to become Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. I’m really excited, and this change could not have come at a better time.
As a result of the current administration’s executive action against immigrants from specific Muslim majority countries, many folks are angry and wish to help.
Here are some ideas:
There is a need for legal observers to help immigrants stranded at airports nationwide. If you are an attorney located in Florida, please contact ACLU Florida Legal Director Nancy Abudu at firstname.lastname@example.org. Outside of Florida, please contact your local ACLU affiliate. See the national list here.
Here is a practical list for everyone:
- Become a member of the ACLU.
- Recruit 3 new members to join the ACLU.
- Sign up to get National and our ACLU of Florida Action Alerts, and respond to our requests for action in support of important ACLU issues such as reproductive rights, immigrant’s rights, criminal justice reform.
- Follow us on Facebook and Twitter; share our Facebook and Twitter posts with your social media network.
- Learn the names – and add the contact information – for your representatives in Congress and the Florida Legislature.
- Commit to writing a handwritten note to an elected official on a critical ACLU issue in 2017. You may want to write about Congress not taking aggressive action to override the President’s executive order.
- Talk to your family members and friends about the work of the ACLU.
- Get involved in an ACLU of Florida local chapter (see link for contact information for a chapter near you.) Help the local chapter with active work in the community that is in alignment with ACLU’s top issue priorities.
- Staff a table at a local farmer’s market, art fair or similar event with ACLU materials and information on how to become an ACLU member.
- If you are affiliated with a local ACLU Chapter, volunteer to help organize a public education forum on a priority ACLU issue, i.e. Immigration and sanctuary cities
- Make a tax-deductible contribution to support the work of the ACLU:
- Go to the ACLU online store, where you can buy ACLU clothing, stickers, pocket constitutions, and much more.
Want to protest? Before you go, know your rights. The ACLU Florida did a great Facebook Live chat; you can also read more information on your rights here. Be warned; some state legislatures are trying to introduce bills stating it is legal to “accidentally” run over a protestor in your way. If you are in an affected state, be sure to stay vigilant, and inform your representative that if s/he votes for this, you will pink slip them at the next election. And do it!!
You can always reach out to me with questions. Always remember that there is strength in numbers. Be careful, be strong, #resist.
Last week, my first piece for the policy blog The Hill was published. I examined the legacy of protest in this country during the last sixty years — from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to Colin Kaepernick, and ending with this past Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington.
While it was wonderful to see so many women across the globe so engaged, the real pressure needs to be placed on local officials. Take your key points of contention, and march on your Congressperson, Senator, Mayor, on down. These folks are more important in many ways than who is in the White House, because they touch your day to day life. Additionally, they can act as a check/balance on the current administration if they realize their political lives are on the line.
Please read the article and share your thoughts!
America has a long legacy of protest against injustice. When done effectively, protest serves as a catalyst for political as well as social change.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched against specific injustices, many times triggered by an incident. Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus, became the galvanizing figure in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. King was central to the boycott’s effectiveness, which resulted in the Supreme Court finding segregation on public buses unconstitutional in 1956. He, in partnership with other nonviolent organizations, organized sit-ins, boycotts and marches to shed light on the injustices African-Americans were enduring at the time, including unfair hiring practices, segregation and police brutality.
Although history judges him as a hero, it was not so at the time.
Today is Inauguration Day, which marks the official end to the administration of President Barack Obama.
In honor of his departure into the former Presidents Club, I am sharing some pieces that I found interesting, as well as some of my favorite pictures by White House photographer Pete Souza.
First, let’s start with President Obama’s legacy. Washington Monthly did a great roundup of all that he accomplished in two terms. Even though steps are underway to completely dismantle the Affordable Care Act, for a time, every American had healthcare. But number 50 on this list should not be ignored. President Obama is the first President since Dwight Eisenhower to serve two terms without any major personal or political scandal.
Let that sink in for a minute. Eisenhower was President from 1953 – 1961.
Like Ta-Nehisi Coates said so eloquently in The Atlantic article My President was Black:
“he walked on ice but never fell”.
Since I know some may be struggling today, a little humour is in order. News One put together a list of the best comebacks by President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner. My top two are teasing sworn enemy House Speaker John Boehner (yes, the one who led the charge unsuccessfully to make him a one term President) with “orange is the new black”; and when he literally dropped the mic.
Lastly, I share the Atlantic’s review of 44 photos taken by White House photographer Pete Souza. All photos in my blog post are credited to him as well.
On a personal note, I remember the tremendous pride I felt on Election Night 2008, when I saw, after 250 years, a family in the White House that looked like me. A family who reflected my values. A couple that fought the odds to get to the highest office in the land.
I remember when I met the President in 2015 – I was so in awe that words never came out of my mouth. Yes, very shocking, because I am never at a loss for words. But so much was going through my mind and my heart that nothing came out of my mouth. So I will take the moment now to simply say:
From the depths of my soul, thank you President Obama. Thank you for being a role model, for being strong, and for doing the best you could for the American people. History will judge your legacy, and give it the full credit it deserves. This is the end; but I accept this as a challenge to rise and finish the work that was started so long ago. You did your part. I and others will carry the torch on the path to Dr. King’s mountaintop.
Hey RLD Family, and Happy New Year!
My newest post in the Huffington Post tackles the recent attack on a disabled man in Chicago. Before you flip out — read the article until the end.
What’s Fair is Fair: Give the Chicago 4 Probation
It has recently come to light that four young people in Chicago brutally assaulted a disabled young man. They filmed the entire incident on Facebook Live, and broadcast it for all to see. He was kidnapped, forced to drink toilet water, and was beaten repeatedly. Brittany Covington, Tesfaye Cooper, Jordan Hill, are 18. The last offender was Covington’s 24-year-old sister, Tanishia Covington. This crime was particularly heinous because of the fact that the victim was attacked not only for his disability, but for his race, as well purportedly supporting a different political viewpoint to the offenders.
This crime is horrible and must be punished.
In October 2015, three young men in Idaho assaulted a disabled young man. John R.K. Howard, 18, and Tanner Ward, 17, were charged as adults with felony counts of forcible penetration by use of a foreign object. A third teen was charged as a juvenile. The history of their interactions with the victim included racial slurs, taunting him because of his race and disability. The victim and the offenders were on the same high school football team. The young men forced the victim to sing racist songs, and beat him on prior occasions. The prior harassment ended in these young men holding the victim down and inserting a metal hanger in the disabled victim’s rectum; they then kicked it repeatedly. The victim has now been institutionalized; it is not a stretch to conclude that it is partially because of this despicable crime.
The prosecutor in this case argued that this was not a sex crime, and that the racial component was not as bad as it seemed. The defense attorney and the prosecutor reached an agreement that would include probation as a punishment with no prison time; there is also the opportunity for the charges to be reduced to a misdemeanor at a later time.
Read the rest here.