Betrayed By the Bench?

Betrayed By the Bench?

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Photo credit: ONEWORD VIA GETTY IMAGES

This morning, it was reported that Judge Stephen Millan used racial slurs as a judge.

It’s a tough pill for me to swallow.

He is someone I knew well — I practiced against him when he was a defense attorney, and before him when he became a judge. I never had an inkling of any racial animus in the way he referred to his clients or those before him.

But, there you have it — an “unnamed attorney” reported the comments two years later.

You read that right — two full years.

If you are a defense attorney, charged with protecting the interests of your clients (who, due to many systemic reasons are overwhelming black and brown), why do you sit on that information for two years?

How does one let a judge who is purportedly racist sit on the bench for two years — presiding over cases, and the fate of other black and brown people when you allegedly know the person is racist?

To give some context, judges in Miami-Dade County easily hear hundreds of cases a week. So for 104 weeks, someone who purportedly held racist views was able to affect the lives of many defendants.

It was said that the attorney feared “repercussions” — what about the repercussions to the affected persons whose life and liberty hung in the balance?

This, to me, says one of two things: either 1) the attorney did not view the conduct as that egregious; or 2) there is an ulterior motive.

This is yet another reason why diversity in the legal field is so critical.  When there are more defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges of color, we will have less instances like these.

It’s not a cure, but it’s a start.

If you are not a person of color, and want to be an ally in the struggle for racial equality, here are a few tips.

  1. Don’t condone racial slurs.  If it’s said around you, give a full-throated repudiation those statements.  Folks continue to speak that way if they think it’s ok and can get away with it.
  2. Provide evidence to help the struggle.  Take a page out of Deborah Baker-Egozi’s book, where she bravely filmed an officer using excessive force on a man of color, and offered the man legal representation.
  3. Use your voice and privilege to help the struggle. Shine a light on these issues, and raise awareness in circles that people of color do not have access to.
  4. Be aware of your own biases, and work on them.  Take the Harvard implicit association test, which helps show where your biases lie.  Once you know, work on it.  Pause before you make decisions — are you making a decision based on assumptions, stereotypes or pure hard facts?
  5. Engage with people who do not look like you. Let’s be clear — having a “black friend at work” doesn’t cut it.  You need to go to events, places of worship, and do things on your downtime that are outside of your comfort zone.  It has to be a choice for one to say s/he is fully engaged.

In this instance, I blame the judge for his comments, and the attorney for staying silent for so long.

Both are different sides of the same coin.

 

Sitting idly by as injustices occur is not the definition of being an ally.

It’s being part of the problem.

 

New in HuffPo: What It Means to Survive a Hurricane

New in HuffPo: What It Means to Survive a Hurricane

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JOSE JIMENEZ/GETTY IMAGES

It’s never a good feeling to lock the door to your home, and not know when, if ever, you can really return.

At present, my husband, my 81 year old father and I are hunkered down in a hotel in central Florida. Our home in Miami is in the path for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma; the storm may follow us to where we are, causing us to consider running again. We are luckier than most in that we are able to leave town, and not head to a shelter. Hurricane shelters, contrary to how one sheriff in particular portrays them, are not centers of crime and assault. It is literally a a building (often a school) in a safer area that allows you to lay a blanket on the floor until the danger is over. A shelter is safe but not at all comfortable.

Many of my friends have chosen to stay put in their homes. There are many reasons why folks do not leave. Some can’t afford the crazy airline prices out of town; others worry that it is too late to leave, and don’t want to get caught in the storm due to traffic jams on the major highways.

Recently, it has come to light that some in the media show great disparities in how they report the aftermath of hurricane, based on race. Many of us reflect back to Hurricane Katrina, where there were pictures of residents doing whatever they need to do to survive. Unfortunately, when white folks were depicted taking food or items from stores, they were portrayed as survivors. When people of color did the same, they were portrayed as looters.

Read the rest here.

Diva on the Channel 10 — the Sequel

Diva on the Channel 10 — the Sequel


Hi RLD family,

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. 

ICYMI: The Diva on Channel 10 Roundtable! 

ICYMI: The Diva on Channel 10 Roundtable! 

Hi RLD Family,

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!
M. 

The Diva & The Dems: My 1st Live Debate

The Diva & The Dems: My 1st Live Debate

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Candidates getting ready to begin. 

 

Last night, I attended my first live debate. I witnessed Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders do battle as to why they should be the Democratic nominee at Miami -Dade College.  It was a rowdy, raucous atmosphere.  The energy was electric, and we were all ready for the fireworks that were going to erupt on stage.

 

 

 

 

Now I’m no pundit or pollster, but these are my takeaways as a layperson/political news junkie.

 

 

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The millennials love Bernie.

The energy for him was strong, he had rock star status for sure. They screamed, stomped and urged him on. The establishment Dems, however, weren’t so enthusiastic. Idealism vs Pragmatism? Maybe.

 

 

 

 

Jorge Ramos 

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Moderators Karen Tumulty, Maria Salinas and Jorge Ramos

Ok I’m obsessed.

The moderator who was representing Univision (and was notoriously told by a certain candidate on the other side to “go back to Univision”) was tough as nails. In another life he would have made an amazing defense attorney with his masterful cross examinations, holding the feet to the fire of the candidates (mostly Hillary).

But Hillary did clap back when he asked her if she would step down if she was indicted over her emails. “That’s ridiculous, I’m not even going to answer that!”

Boom.

I’ll be watching more of him for sure.

I guess my Spanish will have to improve though.

Biggest laugh of the night?

Bernie demanding the transcript of Hillary’s infamous $225,000 speech — “I’d think a speech so great, you’d want to share!!” 

Who won?

The crowd was more in favor of Hillary but the Bernie group was strong. Bernie BOMBED the question on if he regrets praising dictators like Fidel Castro and the Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega back in the ’80s. That was the wrong place and crowd to say ANYTHING nice about Castro. The same themes came up over and over — Bernie really despises Wall Street. He’s radical to the core. Hillary wants to work within the system to change things. So, complete anti-establishment in Bernie vs. middle of the road in HRC.  I don’t think many minds were changed last night.

I’m still undecided

To be blunt, it has been said that both candidates are tone deaf to the concerns of African Americans.  It’s more of we weren’t even part of the conversation. Granted, last night’s focus was immigration. Both candidates pretty much agreed, with onion thin differences. But Bernie weaves in his plan every chance he got to regarding getting Wall Street to pay for his lofty goals. He talked about investing in jobs programs, free public college, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, and universal health care. He briefly mentioned the high level of unemployment of African American young people (51%). Hillary discussed breaking down barriers. But there was no discussion of public safety, criminal justice, investing in drug/mental health treatment, and other than Bernie’s jobs program, no specific details of how more jobs will be created. I question Bernie’s practicality; I question Hillary’s resolve to get things done. Will she back down in the face of adversity, or fight?

 

In closing..

Last night, I met some amazing people. It was so awesome to be a part of our process, and watch how it works. I was truly honored to be in attendance.

But will I #FeeltheBern or #StandwithHer when I early vote in Florida this weekend?

I still don’t know. There will be a lot more research in the coming days. But rest assured, your Resident Legal Diva will be voting, because your vote is your voice. Too many people died for me and you to have the right to vote!!

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#votingmatters
Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

Knowledge Trumps Racism (a multi-part series)

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I’ve stayed pretty quiet in recent weeks, absorbing all that has been going on. One thing is incredibly clear; education is needed on both sides. If we don’t know the rules that govern us, as well as our past, we are doomed for the future.  If we don’t understand each other, we are doomed period.

So here is Part 1 of my series entitled “Knowledge Trumps Racism” — because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr said, knowledge is power.

I start from a historical perspective —  David Ovalle from the Miami Herald wrote a very thoughtful piece on the last time a police officer was indicted in Miami for a shooting death in the line of duty.  It was 25 years ago last Sunday, and left a long legacy.

In a city long torn by racial tension, a uniformed police officer fatally shot a black man. Days of upheaval and rioting riveted the nation.

A series of investigations scrutinized the officer’s use of deadly force. He claimed self-defense. Would the cop face criminal charges?

The case that exploded in Miami in 1989 still resonates today, echoing the murky, racially charged confrontation that has put a 24/7 media spotlight on the small Missouri town of Ferguson.

Twenty five years ago Sunday, after a trial that lives on in local legal lore, jurors convicted Miami Police Officer William Lozano for shooting and killing a motorcyclist. It was the last time any police officer in Florida was convicted for an on-duty shooting.

Read more 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!

The Police Aren’t Coming?

The Police Aren’t Coming?

The president of the Miami Dade County Police Benevolent Association made some interesting statements in response to Mayor Gimenez making deep cuts in the budget. He basically said to the community “arm yourselves, because we aren’t coming”.

My opinion? Completely irresponsible thing to say.

Yes, budget cuts are serious. It’s tough all around.

But to cause panic and tell the criminals “have at it” is contrary to “protect and serve”.

And PS if you DO get a gun, get trained, and don’t assume “Stand your ground” will work in your favor. Some say “it is better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6″….until you are doing LIFE under 10/20/Life.

A better option? Join your local Crimewatch. There isn’t one, create one. Get to know your neighbors and look out for them. Most importantly from my perspective — if you are a witness to a crime, don’t look the other way! Testify, cooperate with the process. If we can put these bad folks away for a long time, there are less bad folks to victimize you and your neighbors.

http://gunsnfreedom.com/0710-miami-dade-police-arm-yourselves-because-we-arent-coming/

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Link

Trayvon Martin Boys Panel at Ponce Middle School, Miami

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Trayvon Martin Boys Panel at Ponce Middle School, Miami

 

The second in a series of panels sponsored by the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) aimed at educating young men of color was held at Ponce Middle School in Miami. Please click the link above for this article, showing professionals and law enforcement working together to help the young men in the community. We have three more panels coming in the next two weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @ResLegalDiva, or email me directly for more information.

BLACK PROSECUTORS SHARE LIFE LESSONS

BLACK PROSECUTORS SHARE LIFE LESSONS

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First row L-R: Miami Central Vice Principal Lita Thompson, Melba Pearson, Ronald Dowdy, Gera Peoples, Sgts Louis and Pierre, Principal Gregory Bethune.
Back row: Markenzy Lapointe, Bruce Brown and Brian Kirlew
Not pictured: Pastor Carl Johnson.

This past week, the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) hosted a series of panel discussions entitled “Real Talk: Lessons Learned from Trayvon Martin”. The panels were geared towards young African American men attending high school and middle school. Both Atlanta and Miami held these discussions in recognition of the two year anniversary of the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin. Six high schools in Atlanta participated, including Benjamin Banneker, and Southwest Dekalb High.

In Miami, 75 male students of color at Miami Central High School engaged in small group
discussions on the topics of Crime, Consequences, and Options. The Crime panel included
Miami-Dade Police Department Homicide Det. Closel Pierre, who talked about seeing the
tragedies that violence brings on a daily basis. Federal prosecutor and NBPA National
President Bruce Brown hammered home the importance of finding a positive influence. “My positive influence was my mom. One, because I was afraid of her, and two because I didn’t  want to let her down.” Sgt. Greg Louis of the Miami-Dade Police Crime Suppression Team opened up about his own challenges of growing up in a tough area. His focus during his youth was on sports activities. Sgt. Louis reminded the boys that “nothing short term is going to last. Where would I be if I had let people talked me into hanging out instead of going to practice? Don’t let peer pressure get the best of you”.

prosecutors trayvon panel miami central

The Consequences panel featured a state prosecutor, a federal prosecutor, and a public
defender. This panel encouraged the young men to think about the consequences of their
actions, and what the repercussions can be of being in the criminal justice system. Brian
Kirlew, a public defender, echoed the sentiments of staying away from crime, but also told the boys “America is a very forgiving place if you are willing to change your behavior. Don’t let past mistakes hold you back”. Federal prosecutor Gera Peoples took a different tactic, by informing the boys of the realities of going to prison. “Think about the consequences to your family”, he implored.

The last panel, Options, included a stirring message from Pastor Carl Johnson of the 93rd
Street Community Baptist Church, and Mark Lapointe, partner at the firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner, LLP. Pastor Johnson rallied the boys to action, stating “your ways determine your walk; get your personality on track, and don’t leave high school without a plan.” On the topic of violence he stated ” if you are confronted with violence, do not let someone draw you out of your personality and lead you down the path of wrong. Stand firm in who you are and walk away”.

Much like some students, a number of the speakers came from single parent families — but
found success through positive role models. The message that was reiterated by all of the
speakers was access. As the event closed, Principal Bethune informed the boys that all of the speakers agreed to be available at any time in the future to give guidance, and answer
questions.

The event was an overwhelming success, and will be repeated in Miami schools throughout the next few weeks. This program is critical to bringing encouragement to young men that are often labelled and forgotten.

Melba Pearson is an attorney in Florida. Follow her on Twitter at @ResLegalDiva.
She is also the Southeast Regional Director for the National Black Prosecutors Association. For more information about NBPA go to http://www.blackprosecutors.org.