Top 10 of 2014: Lisa Bloom on the year’s standout crimes, cases and calls for justice

Opinion, Crime, NakedLaw

It’s that “year-in-review” time of the year again, and we’re looking back at Avvo legal analyst Lisa Bloom’s most-read stories of 2014.

#10 — The shooting of Michael Brown: Why it’s time to move beyond condolences

The shooting of Michael Brown: Why it’s time to move beyond condolences

August 2014 — President Obama offered his “deepest condolences” to the family and community of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot to death by police Saturday.

“I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding,” Obama said.

“We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.  Along with our prayers, that’s what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”

Talk with one another? Prayers? With all due respect, Mr. President, we need more than calm reflection and quiet conversation. We need outrage. We need change. Read full article.

#9 — What happened at Joan Rivers’ clinic?

Joan Rivers

September 2014 — We must resist the impulse to assume that the death of Joan Rivers was due to her age, 81. In fact, she was a vibrant, hardworking comic simultaneously working on two television shows, two online shows, doing frequent stand-up, specials, shopping channel appearances, plus appearing in commercials and documentaries – a dizzying amount of work that would put to shame show business folks half her age. She had a full slate of live stand-up performances in London scheduled for next month. As Sarah Silverman tweeted, “she wasn’t done.”

Rivers went in to a New York City clinic on August 28 for what’s been described as minor surgery on her vocal cords, went into cardiac arrest, was then rushed to Mt. Sinai Hospital and died days later. What happened? Read full article.

#8 — Renisha McBride: Unarmed, black, shot in ‘self-defense’ by a frightened white shooter. Again.

Renisha McBride

July 2014 — It didn’t start with Trayvon Martin. Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Timothy Russell, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant and dozens of other of young black men, weaponless, feared, have been gunned down in modern America, their shooters usually freed or facing only minimal sentences.

After George Zimmerman killed Trayvon in Sanford, Florida in 2012, Bruce Springsteen said, “Trayvon Martin is Amadou Diallo,” invoking the unarmed African immigrant gunned down by New York City police in 1999, holding only his wallet, and sang, “you can get killed just for living in your American skin.”

Trayvon’s story bore a chilling resemblance to civil rights icon Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy, also returning from a store with candy, who was shot in the head in 1955 in another small southern town by a stranger with easy access to a gun, who, like Zimmerman, raised substantial funds for his legal defense and was quickly acquitted …

Widespread, implicit racial bias, the American enthusiasm for unrestricted gun ownership, and expansive Stand Your Ground laws combine to enable the continued shootings of African-American young people who are taking out the trash, knocking on a door, or stopping at a gas station. Read full article.

#7 — Why the Hobby Lobby decision is a stunning setback for women’s rights

Why the Hobby Lobby decision is a stunning setback for women’s rights

July 2014 — Fundamentalist employers can opt out of paying for health insurance for contraceptive coverage for their workers, the U.S. Supreme Court said last week in the Hobby Lobby decision. Defensively, the five Catholic male Supreme Court justices in the majority took some time to insist that their ruling is narrow. Don’t believe it. The decision is a radical departure from prior law with monumental implications.

The U.S. is the most religious and most conservative first-world nation, and believers have tried to opt out of our laws for centuries. For the most part, courts haven’t allowed it. May Christian Scientists forego lifesaving medical treatment for their children? No. May Native Americans ingest illegal peyote as part of their religious ceremonies? No. May the Amish refuse to pay Social Security taxes that violate their sincere religious beliefs? No.

The simple general rule has always been that you are free to practice Protestantism or Wicca or Zoroastrianism or any belief of your choice, provided your religious practice does not harm others. You may swing your arm just until it reaches my shoulder, as the old legal epigram goes. Nor may you impose your religion on me, thank you very much. And whether you’re Hindu or Muslim or Baha’i, you must follow general U.S. laws, including paying a wide array of taxes and fees, and more recently, buying certain kinds of insurance, like auto and health insurance …

The Hobby Lobby decision’s first radical move is in its wide departure from these core American principles. For the first time in the Court’s history, it ruled that a law requiring one to merely vicariously enable another to take an action contrary to one’s religious beliefs violates religious freedom. Read full article.

#6 — The long, strange path to charges (or not) against the police officer who killed Michael Brown

The long, strange path to charges (or not) against the police officer who killed Michael Brown

September 2014 — Seven weeks after Mike Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri, the police officer who killed him remains uncharged and on salary. Why?

Six eyewitnesses have said publicly that Brown’s hands were in the air at the time the fatal shots were fired: Dorian Johnson, Piaget Crenshaw, Tiffany Mitchell, James McKnight, Phillip Walker, and a construction worker whose name has not been publicly released. Yet Wilson remains on paid administrative leave while the wheels of justice turn laboriously slowly in this case. An unusual grand jury proceeding that’s been predicted to take until November or longer has been hearing evidence just one day per week.

What’s not in dispute is that just after noon on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon, Wilson shot and killed 18-year-old Brown in the middle of a residential street. An amateur rapper who aspired to own his own business, Brown had no criminal record and was set to start college two days later, studying engineering.

Because Officer Wilson never completed an incident report about the homicide and has given no public statements, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly what his version of events is. Through others, we’ve learned that he claims that Brown was “charging” or “rushing” him at the time the fatal shots were fired. No eyewitness has publicly corroborated that claim. Read full article.

#5 — Charging the “Slenderman” girls as adults: We’re in the fantasy world


June 2014 — The United States treats its own children more harshly in its justice system than any other developed country. Our latest victims: two troubled, violent, disturbed little girls.

In Wisconsin, two 12 year olds have apparently confessed to the brutal stabbing of a classmate, allegedly to impress “Slenderman,” a fictional, eerie, popular Internet character. The girls claim to have planned the attack for months. The victim nearly died, but is now in stable condition. Nineteen stab wounds to a little girl – sickening, horrendous, agonizing. But if we were behaving like adults, the brutality of the crime would have no bearing on whether a child is an adult. Because no matter what she does, she isn’t.

Yet Wisconsin has charged the girls as adults, which means they could face life in prison for the crime of attempted murder. Wisconsin is one of the toughest states when it comes to punishing children. A 1995 state law requires prosecutors to file adult charges in homicide or attempted homicide cases if the child is at least 10. Read full article.

#4 — Washington Redskins: Choose a new name, now

June 2014 — When I was in high school, our mascot was the Indians. Native Americans and their supporters, including me, found it offensive to name a team after a racial group, especially a name they did not choose for themselves and detested. We could not sit quietly by as the red-skinned, hook-nosed, headdress-wearing mascot jumped around on the field whooping out war cries. What a gross oversimplification of a proud, diverse people …

We lost the battle to change our team name in the 1970s, and it’s been fought off and on at my alma mater ever since. Today, John Burroughs High School in Burbank, California still fields the Indians at its games. Go big red. Ugh.

But for the NFL’s Washington Redskins, a setback came this week. At last recognizing that using a racial slur for a football mascot is unacceptable, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins trademark registration, noting the team name as “disparaging to Native Americans.” The ruling applies to six different trademarks for the Redskins, all of which contain the word “Redskin.” While some Native Americans are not offended, the judge found that approximately 30 percent consider it an ethnic slur. A term that so many find insulting is not worthy of trademark protection, the judge said. Read full article.

#3 — Anonymous to Ferguson KKK: ‘We are the law now’


November 2014 — Last week, after the Ku Klux Klan promised “lethal violence” against Ferguson protestors, hacktivist group Anonymous took over the KKK’s Twitter account and website, and posted:

To the KKK and police: Be peaceful or you will feel the consequences. To the protestors: do not be afraid. We are here for you and will protect and serve you.

Some Ferguson activists said that it took a hacker group in Guy Fawkes smirking masks to make them feel safe, given the local police’s recent history of aiming tear gas, rubber bullets and military weapons at them.

In words reminiscent of the ship hijacker in the movie Captain Phillips, Anonymous boldly proclaimed:

We are the law now.

Anonymous was responding to the virulently racist KKK threats against them and Ferguson protestors, like:

You’ll be strung up next to the chimps on display for the whole world to see. The Klan is to be feared, not threatened. Turn away, or face the consequences.

As law enforcement seemed to be doing nothing about the KKK’s threats, Anonymous took the matter into their own keyboard tapping fingers. All of this arose in the context of, and highlights, the ongoing lawlessness and lack of accountability in Ferguson. Read full article.

#2 — Justice for Jordan Davis, as Michael Dunn is sentenced to life in prison


October 2014 — In 2012, a white Florida man fired into a car full of unarmed black teenagers after arguing with them about loud music, in the presence of witnesses, then continued to shoot at them as they drove away. He expressed no remorse and later insulted his murder victim, Jordan Davis, in overtly racist language. Nevertheless, it took two long years for justice to be served.

At last, today, convicted murderer Michael Dunn was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

For the first time in court, Dunn publicly apologized, sort of.  “I am mortified I took a life, whether it was justified or not,” he said. His words feel tepid and calculated. He may as well have said, “please don’t impose the maximum penalty on me, even though I still will not wholly concede I did something wrong.” His non-apology apology was probably written by his lawyers and moved no one. Read full article.

#1 — 6 reasons why Dylan Farrow is highly credible

1_Dylan Farrow

February 2014 — Woody Allen’s 28-year-old daughter, Dylan Farrow, has just written a powerful statement outlining the sexual abuse she says she endured by her father, Woody Allen, when she was seven years old. The famous director strongly denies the allegations, and claims that Dylan’s mother, Mia Farrow, is responsible for the false claims. A friend and filmmaker colleague has written a strong opinion piece defending Woody Allen.

Woody Allen is presumed innocent. However, having represented many child sexual abuse victims for decades, I find Dylan’s story is highly credible. Here’s why.

  1. She’s not seeking anything from Woody Allen.
  2. She spoke out immediately after the incident, when she was seven years old.
  3. Blaming the mother is a tired, common strategy for those accused of sexual abuse.
  4. Woody Allen not only has had a long-term, well-established interest in young girls, he’s never seen anything wrong with it.
  5. The lack of criminal findings tells us nothing.
  6. Dylan’s story is entirely consistent with what we know about sexual abuse. Read full article.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.