Stepping into 2021!

Well, it’s finally here.

We’ve waited, we’ve prayed, we fought, we cried…and now, 2020 is in the history books, replaced by the blank slate of the new year.

It’s a strange feeling in some ways. For me, 2020 was very much a mixed bag. There are some parts that I couldn’t wait to have behind me – watching friends suffer with their health as a result of COVID19; lockdowns; and toxicity brought on by the political climate. At the same token, it was a year of breaking boundaries as well as new beginnings.

On the positive side, I’m thankful more than ever for my health. It’s something we should never take for granted. I was able to work remotely, which is a privilege many people did not have, placing them and their families at risk. Thank you to everyone that went out to work because they were essential; I stand in solidarity with those who were forced due to corporate greed.

George Floyd protest in Miami

2020 was definitely a year of pushing boundaries and taking on new challenges. The biggest challenge for me was running for the office of Miami Dade State Attorney. In the best of times, running for office is intense, back breaking work. I knew it was going to be hard, but there was no real way to know how hard until I was in it. You spend hours on the phone asking for donations; then more time is spent trying to maximize what you have raised in order to get your message out effectively. It became clear to me why many of those in government either come from wealth, or are beholden to special interests who financed their campaigns. It’s simply very difficult to do without financial support. Add on the layer of a global pandemic, where there is uncertainty around people’s financial future as well as the loss of the ability to connect in person at local events or door to door — now it’s uncharted waters.

With all of the hurdles, we managed to leverage social media to elevate the discussion of key issues confronting Miami and America at large in the criminal justice system. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others encouraged national activism; but it also made people look in their own backyards to see what injustices may be occurring. The racial reckoning- painful as it was for me personally to watch people that look like me die for no reason – was a turning point in highlighting why change is needed locally and nationally.

With fellow activists at Women’s March Miami rally

Even though my bid was not successful- the jury is out as to whether I will do it again – it was such an honor to connect with people I never would have met otherwise. It also allowed me to thin out my contact list. Not everyone who says they are there for you really mean it. The lesson is one that is repeated often, but it is welcome in that it clears the path for new relationships to be forged. I am so grateful to everyone who donated, volunteered or assisted in some way. So many folks showed up and showed out – it was really appreciated!!! Special shout out to my beloved husband the Cowboy. His unconditional love and support made this possible.

Me and my Cowboy! Photo credit: LocShotz

Continuing on the topic of elections, I cannot wait to attend the swearing in ceremonies of Harold Pryor in Broward County (first African American man to be elected State Attorney in Florida), and Monique Worrell who will continue the legacy of Aramis Ayala as State Attorney in Orange/Osceola County. On a national level, the first African American female will be inaugurated as Vice President. The new presidential administration under Joe Biden will be not only a breath of fresh air, but very needed oxygen for us to rebuild as a country.

My new beginning came in September when I joined Florida International University as the Director of Policy and Programs for the Center for the Administration of Justice. My father always had a saying – “watch how you conduct yourself in the street because you never know who is watching”. The associate director of the Center had been watching my campaign and how I addressed the issues. He texted me on Election night when the results became final, and I began work a month later (after a much needed vacation!). It’s been great to work with prosecutors’ offices to show them how using data and alternative ways to measure success can bring more equity to our communities as well as our system. We are bringing on new offices this year, and will be expanding the work internationally. My greatest goal is to create several test sites as models of real community engagement between prosecutors and the people they serve.

So what is on deck for 2021?

There will be a lot more writing this year (yay!). I published a book on prosecutorial discretion last year; I’ll be continuing to promote it as part of the bigger dialogue as to what is next for the criminal justice system. I’m excited to be able to travel again internationally – for pleasure and for work – once the vaccine is widely available. There will be more work on a grassroots level around criminal justice – raising awareness and empowering people with the information they need to fight for change while holding those in power accountable. Make sure to tune in to Mondays With Melba every Monday at 6pm on Facebook Live. It is also posted later in the week on my Resident Legal Diva Instagram page.

Thank you for being a part of the RLD family. I wish each of you a healthy and prosperous New Year. Please let me know any topics you’d like for me to explore on the blog or via Facebook Live. Let’s make it a great year together!!

Image of Melba Pearson embracing joy on the waterfront
Happy New Year! Photo credit: LocShotz

Legal Divas of Color: Pamela Carter

Hi RLD Fam!

Although the campaign trail has been absolutely insane, I could not let the month of February go without my “Legal Divas of Color” feature! Every Black History Month, I feature trailblazing female attorneys of color who laid the foundation for us to succeed. Today, I’m featuring Pamela Carter, who was the first African American woman elected to be a state attorney general in the nation!

Pamela Carter was born in 1949 in South Haven, Michigan. She received her undergraduate degree at University of Detroit; her Masters in Social Work at University of Michigan; and her law degree (Juris Doctor) at Indiana University School of Law. Before seeking statewide office, she worked for Indiana’s Secretary of State as an enforcement attorney.

Photo of Pamela Carter, 1992
Pamela Carter, as featured in Black Enterprise in 1992

She decided to take on an incumbent (Linley Pearson, no relation) for the seat of Indiana Attorney General. It was a brutal race and an uphill battle – she was a Democrat in a heavily Republican State. Only one African American had been elected to statewide office in Indiana before her. Nevertheless, she persisted! She won 52% – 48% in November of 1992.

Her election was historic. She became the first elected African American state Attorney General in the country; the first African American and the first female Attorney General in Indiana’s history; and the second African American to hold statewide office. She was also the first Democrat to serve in that post in 24 years.

Ms. Carter served from 1993-1997. She centered diversity in her administration by appointing women and minorities to senior positions where there were none previously. In reflecting on her term, she said “we had a fabulous office. We won more U.S. Supreme Court cases and more Best Brief Awards than any other attorney general’s office in the nation”.

After her term, she spent 18 years at the Cummins Distribution Business, retiring as President in 2015. She currently serves on the board for Teach For America.

Thank you Pamela Carter for being a trailblazing Legal Diva of Color!

Pamela Carter

My Unlikely Decade of Transitions: Prosecutor – Writer – Activist – Beyond?

Greetings Fam,

Wow, today is the end of an era.

For me, the last ten years have been a period of major growth. In the last decade:

I met and married my soulmate…

The Cowboy & I at the 2017 Indianapolis 500

I found my voice, stride, confidence and purpose. It took a few setbacks and closed doors to realize what direction I should go; but all of the disappointments came together to lead me to this place.

Speaking on South African television in 2019 on gender based violence

I became President of the National Black Prosecutors Association which exposed me to real criminal justice reform work – from sitting in the houses in our community to sitting in the (Obama) White House. I saw the injustices that got perpetuated not necessarily from ill intent, but from not knowing any better (myself included).

I made the big leap of leaving a comfortable sixteen year position as a prosecutor to becoming Deputy Director of the ACLU of Florida. My viewpoints on life were vastly broadened — from learning about the struggles of the transgender community to deepening my work on criminal justice reform and its intersection with voting rights.

I traveled to the Motherland. This year I had life changing trip to South Africa, where I walked in the path of the late great freedom fighter/leader Nelson Mandela. During that time, not only did I see the roots of what would become an international resistance movement, I was able to advocate for the safety of women on an international scale.

South Africa 2019

I survived heartbreak and heartache of losing my mom; but also learned to jealously guard my mental health.  Life will throw things at you that you believe you can never overcome. There will be days you can’t get out of bed. But day by day, step by step, it gets better. Be patient, and seek help from a professional if you need it.

Losing her also taught me to be fearless. Life is short; “sit and wait your turn” means you may never get a shot. Seize the day, make your own path and opportunity. Because you may look up and realize that you have less time than you planned on, and what then? Sit in regret? Nope, not me!

My mother and I at on my wedding day in 2012. RIP Mama P.

As we begin the dawn of a new decade, let’s take one final trip down memory lane on the Resident Legal Diva.  It’s been such a blessing to be able to write, and share my thoughts with a wider audience. I admit I did not post as much as in previous years — lots going on — but thank you for the love that was received for my writing this year!! Here’s what you read the most from me:

5. Legal Divas of Color: Jewel Lafontant – Mankarious

Every Black History Month, I feature female trailblazers of color in the field of law upon whose example I built upon.  Jewel Lafontant – Mankarious made history as a trailblazer in the field of prosecution.

4. “You’re So Articulate” Is Not A Compliment to a Woman of Color

This is a piece that continues to resonate with so many professionals of color. It started with an argument on Twitter (yes, this is definitely something to be left in the last decade) where a fellow attorney tried to explain to me that I should not be offended. At the end of the day, folks need to accept the following: if someone tells you xyz is offensive, don’t double down and keep doing it.  Just..stop.

3. Jay Z Was Right: We Need to Gentrify Our Hood

Jay Z received backlash over a few things in 2019; this one I don’t believe was justified at all.  As we look at economic equality and gentrification, people of color are always on the receiving end of the push out, and never on the benefits.  When gentrification arrives, it’s people of color who have to move further away from their jobs or conveniences we take for granted. Companies expand into newly gentrified neighborhoods, but it does not provide the jobs and economic advancement for the people who originally lived there.  So now what? More incentives should be provided so that people do not have to leave their neighborhoods. And, as people of color get more means, we need to buy up the block so that no one else does. We have to empower our own neighborhoods — as well as protect our history.

2. Kim Foxx Was Not Wrong: The Lonely Road of a Prosecutor of Color

The Jussie Smollett case garnered a great deal of attention on the role of a prosecutor — and how discretion should be used.  I analyzed the case in the context of having done this work. Was everything handled perfectly? No, nothing ever is.  But the backlash was excessive, and rooted in racism.

And the #1 post on RLD for 2019 is:

Legal Divas of Color: Cheryl Mills!

Cheryl Mills is known for her defense of President Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearing. She is the first African American to address the United States Senate in her capacity as Associate Counsel for the President.

Clearly my readers love the posts on history, and I will endeavor to share more in the coming year!

More challenges lie ahead in the next few years, but I am excited to be able to continue serving the greater good and putting my criminal justice expertise to work.

Wishing you an amazing New Year and new decade. Thank you for reading, your comments and your support. May you find prosperity, happiness, and grow in your purpose!!

RLD on DV: Raise Awareness & Support Survivors

Greetings RLD Fam!

It’s been six years that I have had my blog. For most of those years, I have done “The RLD on DV” series during October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Having prosecuted domestic violence homicides for 4 years, and being a survivor, this issue will always be close to my heart.  This year, I’ve done a lot more attending events than writing – so allow me to share what the 2019 journey has looked like.

At the Pain to Purpose Ball with (L-R) Judicial Candidate Olanike Adebayo, Miami-Dade School and Board Member Dr. Dorothy Bendross- Mindingall

I began the month with the Pain 2 Purpose Survivors Ball where we honored survivors of domestic violence and mourned those who were lost.  Pain 2 Purpose is an organization founded by Shanda Roberts, herself a survivor of domestic violence, to empower survivors and educate the public.  Four brave survivors stood up, and shared their stories of violence, pain, but eventual triumph.  The story that resonated most with me was that of Shaqueenia Hanna.  She took us through the relationship with her child’s father — how his possessiveness and jealousy led him to shoot her thirteen times outside of her home. Shaqueenia shared a powerful slideshow presentation, which included pictures from the hospital interspersed with pictures posted on social media requesting prayers for her healing. There was an extremely moving video of her finally able to get out of bed and painfully, slowly, walk for the first time after the shooting. Her path to healing continues. In addition to internal injuries, she is now blind in one eye. Her ex is in custody awaiting trial. He faces a 25 year minimum mandatory – life for the use of a firearm causing great bodily injury.

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Next, I joined Tamron Hall, celebrities and regular folks across the country with the #PutTheNailInIt campaign by polishing the nail on my ring finger purple. The goal is to raise awareness about domestic violence, and to support Safe Horizon. Safe Horizon is the nation’s leading victim assistance organization; its mission is to provide support, prevent violence, and promote justice for victims of crime and abuse, their families and communities. As I was telling my manicurist about the campaign, the lady next to me in the salon took interest in joining the campaign. We began to chat – and she revealed that she survived domestic violence. 

The odds of having two survivors sitting next to each other at a salon? Higher than you think. Every 9 seconds, a woman is abused by her spouse. 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner abuse.  10 million children witness adult domestic violence at home. They are more likely to grow up to be abusers, or be abused. It’s a vicious cycle. In the criminal justice system, we need to address these traumas to prevent more tragedies from occurring. 

Lastly, I had the privilege of being on the Law & Crime Network to provide commentary on the Markeith Loyd case. He was charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend, and a female police officer in Orlando. The case drew international attention due to Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s anti-death penalty stance. His testimony during the trial in his defense revealed a man deeply disturbed with clear mental health issues in excess of the traits of a batterer. He was found guilty; the jury chose to send him to prison for life rather than impose the death penalty.  See my thoughts below.

I hope you will join me in fighting domestic violence all year round – take the time to engage others in this fight through education, and sharing resources as well as encouragement to folks suffering in this horrible cycle.

 

 

Looking Back to Move Forward…

20140323-142740.jpgSo, as we wait for election results, there’s no better time than now to be reflective.  My blog, The Resident Legal Diva, has recently had its one year anniversary.  Ironically, I took on a 30 day Blogging 101 challenge…because why not? Nothing like a challenge to step up your game! In the next 30 days, you will see a lot of posts from me covering a variety of topics (which remain a mystery to me at this moment)!

The first assignment was to talk about my blog.  Why am I writing publicly instead of writing a personal journal? Who do I hope to connect with? What is the end goal a year from now? And what’s the story behind my tagline?

Whelp, let’s get started.

Why am I writing publicly instead of writing a personal journal? If you’ve been reading my blog you know that I am a prosecutor. (If not, welcome!) I love the law.  The law brings equality; the law brings change; the law brings justice. Often, the media gets it wrong (ratings are king). Often citizens get it wrong (due to just not knowing).  Sometimes the system gets it wrong. Facts and details get lost in the struggle between passion, history, and confusion as to how the system works.  My goal is to educate people about how the system really works, and what goes into the decision making process in cases.  Also, I want people to know what their rights are, and what remedies are available. This can only be done in a public forum.  With the internet reaching more and more people every day, what better way to educate the world?

Who do I hope to connect with? EVERYONE! My blog is not just for legal professionals (who are always welcome by the way). It’s for the students, the curious, the old, the young…anyone who cares about the world we live in and how the law governs us.

What is the end goal a year from now? I hope to have (and continue to have) great dialogues with folks from all walks of life.  My eyes have opened to issues as a result of discussions started on my blog.  I love to teach, but I enjoy learning as well.  The exchange of ideas is the only way our world will get better — it is the way to promote understanding.

And what’s the story behind my tagline? The Resident Legal Diva…I’m your in house legal expert.  And I love the word “Diva”.  I’m on a mission to reclaim the word from the negative connotations that come from reality television.  A Diva is a woman who is well spoken, well put together, and who carries herself with grace and elegance.  Most of all, a Diva is successful from her own intelligence, hard work and merit.  Notice there are no temper tantrums, outbursts, or generally “acting a fool” in that definition. What I described is the definition of a “hot mess”…which does not deserve air time (not on this blog anyway!).  And the rest “My Collection of Thoughts About Real Life and the Law”…is just that.  My thoughts…my opinions…but always open for discussion!

Looking back, the last year of blogging has been fun, uplifting, emotional, and really enlightening.  Here’s to many more!!

M.