Wills Are For Us Too!

Wills Are For Us Too!

Hey RLD Family! I took a bit of a summer hiatus..but I’m baaaack! It’s time to explore the importance of wills, especially for people of color. This is my first piece published for the blog The 94 Percent.

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Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin. Prince. Bob Marley. Barry White.  Marvin Gaye. Tupac. The list of celebrities of color that have died without a will goes on and on.

As we grieve the latest loss of musical icon, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, we should also take the opportunity to learn some lessons. Many in our community seem to think that wills are for white people. As a result, they do not seek the protections they need and often die intestate (without a will).

This is dangerous for a lot of reasons.

Please see the rest of the story here.

Judge Darrin Gayles Makes History

Judge Darrin Gayles Makes History

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It’s rare that you get a front row seat to watch history happen. Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of watching Judge Darrin Gayles become the first openly gay African American male judge on the federal bench. This event, called an investiture, was filled with the Judge’s friends, colleagues, and certainly did not disappoint.

I’m not a huge fan of labels– I’d rather call him what he is. A smart, kind, funny, person; an uber qualified judge, who gives back to the community.

But, that’s not the world we are in. We focus on labels. Knowing this, what does one do?

You do like Judge Gayles, embracing it and turning it into a positive.

In a very emotional speech, he outlined his path from humble beginnings as a son of a young widow in Peoria, Illinois to history making judge. He worked hard, maintaining full time employment and going to school. He had great role models (which is why he volunteers time to mentor young men in the community). Judge Gayles was a state and federal prosecutor, then became a state judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida (consisting of Miami Dade County).

President Obama nominated him early this year to be a federal judge to the Southern District of Florida. Judge Gayles was confirmed by the Senate 98-0, clearing the way for the historic event.

What really struck me was when he said ” there is a difference between living your life openly, and living your life publicly“. He was openly gay, and it was not really a big deal day to day in his world. But when he went through the confirmation process, his entire life became public. The fact he was a gay man seeking confirmation as a federal judge became international news.

But in that moment….he became a role model to so many more people. Judge Gayles told a story about how he was out one night, and a young woman, having recognized him, ran up to him, and tearfully told him how much his journey had inspired her to live openly in her truth.

As an attorney, I have been to dozens of these events. I have never been so moved as when Judge Gayles began to speak about his faith in God; he could barely hold back his tears as he acknowledged the blessings bestowed upon his life, including the love of his partner Raymond. “Great is Thy faithfulness” he quoted. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me”

It was a wrap for me. Thank heavens my mascara was waterproof.

Congratulations Judge Gayles. Keep rising, keep shining, and keep reaching back to inspire others!

Wrongly Convicted Man Released After 34 Years in Prison

Wrongly Convicted Man Released After 34 Years in Prison

Very powerful story!

The sister of the original eyewitness testified that her sister lied on the stand at his trial in 1979. Wrongly Convicted Man Released After 34 Years in Prison.

Ignorance in the News

Ignorance in the News

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LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life from the NBA yesterday, along with a hefty fine for recent racist comments.

The last two weeks have brought the issues of hate and ignorance to the forefront of the media, as well as the American consciousness. The tragedy in Overland Park, Kansas, the racist rants of a Nevada rancher, and the video of the L.A. Clippers’ owner have created debate, shock, and dismay among those watching.

See the rest of my article on Miami’s ABC affiliate Local 10 News!

Can We Legally Fight Ignorance?

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Even the Monsters Are Worth Saving…

Even the Monsters Are Worth Saving…

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So, like many of you, I am an addict of the show “Scandal”. Not that I want to be Olivia Pope (although I do love her clothes, but hate her romantic decisions), it does give an interesting look of the behind the scenes of the dirty world of politics and national security. Whether it’s art imitating life accurately remains to be seen. But in last week’s episode, Olivia’s dad gave an impassioned speech about “even the monsters need saving”. This was in response to Olivia’s frustration about the fact that everyone around her seemed to be amoral at best, and used murder as a tool. “No one wears the white hat anymore” was her complaint. Olivia’s dad basically said, “YOU are the savior, and the one that drags every last one of us into the light.”

The monologue really hit home for me. Many times, people ask me, “why do you bother?” In my line of work as a prosecutor, I have challenges left, right and center. At times, I have victims who have no interest in participating in the prosecution. Even though they were the ones that were hurt, they are reluctant due to fear, apathy, or a deep distrust of the system. The community, especially the African American community, distrust the motives of a prosecutor. They assume your role is to lock up young men of color at any cost. On the other side, the hard core conservatives (some of whom are in my profession), look at the work I do in the community and say “why bother? You can’t save them”.

So why do I bother? Why do I take time away from myself, from my husband, skip lunch hours, to give lectures to young students in rough areas? Why do I get hands on in the nastiest housing projects? Why do I get frustrated when the media takes a narrow, sensationalized view of the legal system instead of the truth? Why do I sit down next to defendants, shackled, and who are facing a life sentence based on my recommendation but are about to take less as a plea and say to them “get it right this time…F$&! it up and I personally will lock the door and throw away the key?” Why do I persist in a job where no one thanks you by word or by paycheck?

Not out of weakness. Not out of my liberal leanings. Not out of perceived government employee laziness.

But because I want to touch one. Just one person a day. I know I can’t save them all. That would be ludicrous to believe.

But if one kid can say “you know, I remember when this chick who was a lawyer came to speak. She said xyz, and it stuck with me”. If one defendant says “someone offered me a chance, and I took it and turned my life around”. If one person in the community says “I was wrong about what prosecutors do, they are not all bad.” Then, I have succeeded.

Not everyone is born a monster. Some are, and yes, they need to be put down. HARD. I have no problem doing so. Others are monsters by lifestyle, and nothing in this world will change them. And again, I am there, ready with the proverbial smack down.

But it is those minds who are still open. Those minds, that need a nudge in the right direction, to get right. To get it right. Those in the crowd are who I want.

And now, I can quote Olivia Pope’s dad and say “even the monsters need saving”.

Is Getting Your Own Confession A Good Idea?

Is Getting Your Own Confession A Good Idea?

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Originally published on theLaw.tv on January 24, 2014  Getting Your Own Confession

A Los Angeles woman has grabbed headlines this week with her viral YouTube video confrontation. In this video, “Jamie X,” as she is calling herself, confronted her high school teacher, who allegedly molested her many years ago. Jamie says the abuse started when she was 12, going on for several years; she is now 28. One of the reasons that Jamie made the call at this point is because she discovered her alleged abuser is now an assistant principal. The YouTube clip shows Jamie calling the teacher on the phone, and asking why the teacher manipulated her and took advantage of her position. The female teacher responded by admitting to her actions, as well as saying that she “regrets” what she did.

The video is very emotionally charged, as well as tragic. But is the video going to be admissible in court? Should Jamie X have done this controversial act?

In most states, you are not allowed to video or tape record another person without their permission. There is an exception is for law enforcement personnel, who can do so with a warrant from a judge. Of course, getting a warrant is not that easy. The police officers have to set forth their case to the judge, showing probable cause, what crimes they hope to solve, and how the target of the surveillance is connected to those crimes. The reason behind this is to prevent an invasion of your privacy. In California, the law is very clear – you cannot tape a private conversation unless both parties to the conversation give permission.

In spite of the law, was it even a good idea? In all likelihood, the video will not come in as evidence at trial. But the video was helpful for several reasons. As a result, Jamie  had evidence to present to the police to jump start an investigation. There is a very liberal statute of limitations on child abuse cases, since by the very nature of the crime, reporting is often delayed. Children are abused while they are young, and as they reach adulthood, they then realize that what happened to them was wrong. Sometimes molestation victims suppress the memories, which come back to them many years later. Manipulation is a big part of a child molester’s plan. At the point of adulthood, they have the strength to tell; they are better able to break the hold of the guilt and mind games of the abuser that held them hostage. However, with the delay comes a loss of evidence. This video gave police a starting point. Hopefully, if the teacher confesses once, she will confess again.

The other good part about the video is another victim has come forward as a result. While the teacher said on the video that Jamie X was the only victim, another young woman came out today, stating that she had an identical experience with this teacher. The revelation strengthens the case, and can possibly result in multiple charges of child abuse with multiple victims in the same case.

Is it the best idea to get your own confession? No. It is better to speak with local law enforcement and let them do a thorough investigation. You don’t want to taint any potential evidence from your actions, not to mention the possibility putting yourself at risk.

No matter what happens, hopefully Jamie is able to get the closure she so desperately needs.

Detention or Jail? New Choices for Disruptive Students

Detention or Jail? New Choices for Disruptive Students

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The school to prison pipeline. You may have never heard of it, but it is a growing issue.  Across the nation, students are being arrested for minor offenses.  Offenses that twenty years ago, would have gotten the student sent home, given detention, or at worst, suspended. Now, students are getting criminal records for misdemeanor charges such as loitering, trespass, and disorderly conduct — which boils down to fighting, staying on school grounds after hours, or being disruptive in class.

Last week, the country’s 6th largest school district, located in Broward County, Florida, took a large step in a new direction.  The superintendent of Broward County schools came together with the state attorney’s office, the police department, and the NAACP to empower school principals to decide when and how students would be arrested.  In the past, it was the school resource officer who made these determinations. The NAACP became involved, because they noted that a large amount of those arrested were students of color…and their peers were receiving warnings instead.

The new policy states that for non-violent charges like trespassing, harassment, incidents related to alcohol, possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, school officials are to work it out in house without an arrest. Options for punishment, in addition to traditional means, include participation in a week-long counseling program. No student would be arrested for a first time non-violent misdemeanor, but repeat offenses will receive an escalation in punishment. After a fifth incident, students are referred to law enforcement. The police will still handle felonies or serious threats.

This school to prison pipeline issue may be occurring as a result on our shifting society. In years past, there was a parent or relative that would be available to take a child from school.  Schools were more engaged with the family and the community. Now, with many parents working more than one job to make ends meet, or are the head of a single parent household, it is easier for the school to call the police than for the parent to leave work.  Some parents may be short on patience, and hope that an encounter with the criminal justice system will “scare them straight”.  Other parents may have deeper issues preventing them from being a role model and disciplinarian. On the other side, many schools and teachers are overworked as well as underfunded.  “Zero tolerance”, rather than taking the time to work with the child, is perceived as easier when resources are stretched thin.  Lastly, many beneficial after school programs, including organized sports, arts/crafts, and meals programs, have been cut in an attempt to save money.  These programs are instrumental in keeping kids on the right track, keeping them busy with positive activities. In these days of recessions and budget cuts, lawmakers need to be mindful of the trickle-down effect the lack of programming has, including an increase in criminal activity.

The key problem lays in the fact that very rarely does the criminal justice system help a child.  That initial contact often lays the groundwork for repeated criminal conduct, due the child being exposed to more experienced teens. Additionally, the child now develops a criminal record, which becomes a problem when applying for jobs, as well as financial aid for college.

The bottom line is, it takes a village to raise a child. As a prosecutor, I handled juvenile cases early in my career. The majority of the kids I saw were not bad kids.  It was the usual mischief that kids have gotten into from the beginning of time.  But putting kids in the system without addressing the underlying issues that caused the behavior is a formula for disaster.  Broward County has already seen a decrease in arrests as a result of this program, with positive feedback being given all around.  I hope that other school districts take their rightful place as a safe haven for learning, rather than a route to prison.

Published on theLaw.tv November 12, 2013.  http://news.thelaw.tv/2013/11/12/detention-or-jail-new-choices-for-disruptive-students/

Follow me on Twitter @ResLegalDiva.