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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: The Wonder Woman Power Pose

A recent NBC News article suggested that the gender gap can be closed by women “striking a pose”, an idea which is largely based on research by Amy Cuddy. Cuddy is a Harvard Business School social psychologist who conducted research about the impact nonverbal communication can have on the way that a person feels and behaves. Cuddy discussed her research on “power posing” in a recent Ted Talk. The Talk is embedded below. It’s about twenty minutes long, but well worth your time. The NBC article shares an anecdote about a woman named Sally Kohn, a Fox News pundit, who has a ritual based on Cuddy’s research in which she strikes a two minute “wonder woman” pose before going on set.  This idea gives new meaning to Madonna’s use of the phrase “strike a pose” that was more about a woman demonstrating her physical beauty than her powerful and confident mind. Could this be part of the solution to help women reach their full potential?  I have always believed that our bodies have a kind of cellular memory, so it makes sense to me that by training our bodies to physically connect with our own power, we can reprogram our minds to experience that power. I for one love the idea. I mean, what little girl from my generation didn’t want to be Wonder Woman? Now we can!
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Lynne Stewart Granted Compassionate Release

Lynne Stewart was a fearless defender in New York City for decades before the U.S. Government indicted her in 2002 in connection to her representation of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted of a long list of terrorist activities.  After a lengthy trial she was convicted in 2005 and sentenced in 2009.  Stewart was originally sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Koeltl to a 28 month sentence, but when Stewart appealed the conviction, the Government cross-appealed and the sentence was reversed for being too lenient. At resentencing Judge Koeltl sentenced Stewart to a shocking 120 month sentence, which for her amounted to a death sentence.  At the time of her sentence Stewart was 70 years old and a breast cancer survivor. In 2012, while serving her sentence, Stewart was diagnosed with incurable cancer that had spread to her lungs and lymph nodes and was given a prognosis of only 18 months to live. Her request through BOP for compassionate release was denied and when she first sought relief before Judge Koeltl, he denied her request. In her motion for early release Lynne Stewart submitted a moving letter to the Court in which she stated in part, “I do not intend to go ‘gently into that good night’ as Dylan Thomas wrote. There is much to be done in this world. I do know that I do not want to die here in prison — a strange and loveless place. I want to be where all is familiar — in a word, home. … I have no grandiose plans — just good food, conversation, music. That is what I look forward to. And of course, my beloved husband Ralph — my hero and help, my heart, through all the last 50 years. I need him and his strength and love now to be close to me as I get ready for the nearing moments of transition and then rest. If you indeed represent the merciful hand of the law, as against, in this case, a heartless bureaucracy, do not punish me further. Grant me release and allow me to die in dignity.” Finally at the end of 2013, the Government filed a motion requesting her compassionate release and on Dec 31, 2013 Judge Koeltl ordered her release. Jill R. Shellow, a New York criminal defense lawyer, who has continued to represent Stewart since the trial told the New York Times “It restores my faith in the Justice Department to do the right thing.” Later, after Judge Koeltl issued his order, Ms. Shellow added, “The judge’s exercise of mercy on New Year’s Eve shows his compassion for Lynne and the depth of his commitment to seeing that justice is done.” Michael Tigar, one of the other trial attorneys, discussed Jill’s tireless commitment to free Lynne Stewart on his blog. Not even knowing Lynne Stewart or the underlying facts in 2009, I remember feeling sick about the fact that a fellow defender was being jailed in connection to her representation of a client that few would have had the guts to even consider taking on.  Without knowing or commenting on either the strength or weakness of the Government’s case against Stewart, I consider that whenever an attorney faces criminal charges that arise out of his or her role in representing a criminal defendant that the very foundation of our profession and our constitution is at risk.  And her release, although agreeably merciful, is a hard thing to truly celebrate when you consider the aftermath and consequences to our system that results from the Government bringing any criminal defense attorney to their knees based on their role in defending the criminally accused.
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: First Female Law Firm Opens in Saudi Arabia

The first female law firm has opened in Saudi Arabia. Bayan Mahmoud Al-Zahran, the first woman issued a law license in the Kingdom, and the first woman lawyer ever to appear in Court defending a client, has taken another huge first step and opened up a law firm. In a nation known for its oppressive treatment of women, this is no small accomplishment. Al-Zahran has stated that the “objective of her law firm is to fight for the rights of Saudi women and bring their problems before the court, since male lawyers in many cases couldn’t understand the problems and situations of a female plaintiff.” The count of female lawyers in Saudi Arabia is now up to four and Al-Zahran is hopeful that the numbers will increase dramatically now that this positive step has been taken. It is almost a foreign thought, to us in the United States, that a woman would be celebrating the opening of her nation’s first female law firm in the year 2014.  We take that right for granted – and we assume that we are light years ahead of a culture like Saudi Arabia.  But is it possible that this sense of accomplishment has kept us from pushing for full equality in law and in business? With great privilege comes great responsibility and I believe that we have a responsibility to Al-Zahran, to the women that will follow her in Saudi Arabia, and to women all around the world to continue to work towards full equality in law. Here is to a world full of female law firms!
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: We Remain the First Line of Defense Against Prosecutorial Misconduct

It is a good sign when anyone outside of the criminal defense bar takes up the case against prosecutorial misconduct.  Last Sunday, the New York Times Editorial Board boldly addressed the negative impact of such misconduct on our system in a piece entitled Rampant Prosecutorial Misconduct. The Editorial Board highlighted the recently issued dissenting opinion in United States v. Kenneth Olsen by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Judge Kozinski wrote that “There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land” and noted that “only judges can put a stop to it.”  In Olsen, the Government failed to disclose evidence that the forensic scientist who performed the lab tests in the case had been previously investigated relating to sloppy work which led to wrongful convictions in the past. The majority ruled that this would not have changed the outcome based on the overwhelming evidence against the defendant. Judge Kozinski chastised the majority and called this rationale a “serious moral hazard” and called out the fact that prosecutors are rarely punished for these violations. According to the Center for Prosecutor Integrity, courts punish prosecutorial misconduct in less than 2 percent of the cases in which it occurs. These statistics are no shock to any of us in the trenches fighting for criminal defendants.  While the Editorial Board states that all Courts should heed Judge Kozinski’s call, they also add that this alone will not fix the problem and that prosecutor’s offices should develop integrity standards of their own.   That is the same as asking any group to police their own misconduct and, although a morally correct position, it has very little chance of actually changing anything. From where I sit, as always, the defense bar is the first line of defense against Brady violations and prosecutorial misconduct.  We have to remain vigilant while pushing for evidence, and must commit to exposing all incidents where evidence is withheld. The statistics referenced above relating to prosecutorial punishment only account for cases in which defense counsel is drawing attention to violations.  We all know that there are countless cases where Brady violations go undetected because defense counsel is in the “let’s just get along” mode.  I understand there are times when this is the right approach for a client’s sake, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be asking for everything that your client is entitled to.  If a prosecutor considers that controversial or too adversarial for their taste you should question everything about their motive and their integrity. I am not intending to shift the blame for Brady Violations to defense counsel. The responsibility remains in the laps of the prosecutors but we are and always will be the first line of defense against this devastating injustice. While the New York Times Editorial Board should be applauded for bringing this issue to the public’s attention, let’s not forget that it is our job to keep pushing, prodding and objecting so that every instance of prosecutorial misconduct is exposed.
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Women Criminal Defense Attorneys: Happy New Year!

Every year that women focus more on creating equality in law and business is a good year.  Every year that women strengthen their connections with one another in law and business is a good year.  For me and hopefully for many women, 2013 was a great year from that perspective. In 2013, this blog enriched my life and practice more than I ever could have known was possible. I developed friendships with women who will hopefully be a part of my life for years to come. I have been the grateful recipient of the knowledge base of fellow women who have so generously shared their time and experience. And I have given of my time and knowledge to younger women in the field. In 2013, I was more mindful to reach out, up, and back to connect with fellow women… and it paid dividends and returns that will last a lifetime. My hope for 2014 is that our community continues to grow and strengthen. I look forward to interviewing and meeting more amazing women all over the country that continue to bring passion, heart, and soul to criminal defense. And I hope that 2014 will be an incredible year for all of you as well. Happy New Year!
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