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

Hurricane Irma photo
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