Singleton & Serino Testify in Zimmerman Case

The trial of George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder in the case of Trayvon Martin, advanced this week with the testimony of Chris Serino and Doris Singleton. Serino, Sanford police detective, and Singleton, another investigator in the case, testified Monday on their investigation following Martin’s death.

Zimmerman has admitted that he shot and killed black teenager Trayvon Martin, but claims that he did so in self defense after the teen attacked him and began banging his head against the concrete. Martin’s family and prosecutors are trying to prove that Zimmerman had ill will against the teen, had followed and scared him, and attacked him partially on the basis of race.

When talking about the teen, Zimmerman answered questions in a straightforward, anger-free way. The state claims he profiled the teen when he saw him walking about the neighborhood’s streets, but according to Zimmerman it was he who was attacked and not the other way around.

Just a few hours after the attack, Zimmerman was quoted in an interview with Serino, saying, “In Catholic religion, it’s always wrong to kill someone.”

Serino responded, “If what you’re telling me is true, I don’t think that what God meant was that you couldn’t save your own life.”

A few days later, though Serino and Singleton suggested that Zimmerman may have been following the teen around before the attack, possibly scaring the teen. That possibility is one that many are taking into account.

“I think that the idea that Trayvon Martin is being followed by George Zimmerman is coming across,” said legal analyst Kendall Coffey in a “Spinning the Law” segment. “And by the way, that’s consistent with other evidence, including the tone of some of the police statements that have not been brought into evidence yet.”

One crucial piece of evidence is the 911 call recording, on which you can hear someone calling for help. Zimmerman claims he had just given the police dispatcher location information on where he had seen Martin and was heading back to his car when he was attacked and began screaming for help. The prosecution, however, claims that the voice calling for help was actually Martin’s.

The sound on the recording has thus far not been enough to conclusively determine who had been yelling for help, but if investigators are able to figure that out, it would be crucial to the case’s outcome—because it could show who the aggressor actually was.

 

OJ Simpson- blasted by the court of public opinion

OJ Simpson is back in court, this time to contest that the case that landed him in prison- an ill-advised attempt to reclaim some of his sports memorabilia property that he claimed was stolen from him- was botched by a lead lawyer that didn’t have his best interests in mind.

This lawyer, Yale Galanter, was apparently aware of the sting before it happened, and advised Simpson that he was within his right to approach the people.  This turned out to be very bad advice, as he was convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery due to one of his friends bringing a gun along with them.

And while bad advice isn’t grounds for a mistrial, being a witness in a case that you’re defending is a conflict of interest that should have resulted in Galanter recusing himself from the case. More than that, however, it seems that Simpson is accusing Galanter of failing to properly defend him, by not reviewing evidence properly, by not telling Simpson about decisions and plea bargain opportunities, and by advising him not to testify in his own defense.

But while mistakes were certainly made in the case, it’s not obvious that different tactics would have resulted in a different verdict.  Due to the fall-out from Simpson’s earlier murder “trial of the century” it seems that the public was biased against Simpson.

Kendall Coffey discussed the case back in 2008 when it was being tried.  And as Coffey tells it in his book Spinning the Law: Trying Cases in the Court of Public Opinion, evidence exists to support the idea that the police and prosecutors were working very hard at putting Simpson in jail.

Kendall Coffey writes, “when police alleged that O.J. Simpson, along with gun-toting accomplices, stormed into a Las Vegas hotel room to confiscate allegedly stolen sports memorabilia, they brought serious charges against all the defendants, including robbery and kidnapping counts with possible sentences of life in prison.  Apparently, though, police were more interested in nailing O.J. than his less notorious co-defendants.  Three of the alleged accomplices received “deal-of-the-century” plea bargains to get them to testify.  O.J.’s co-defendants, even those who say they had guns, bargained their way to probation and community service.”

Simpson’s past arrest for murder was officially kept from the jurors in the case however, as Coffey writes, this “could have indeed mattered to the three adults in Nevada who did not already know.”  Indeed, the Simpson trial was one of the biggest televised trials in the history of media.  According to Spinning the Law, “reportedly the first question Russian President Boris Yeltsin asked US President Bill Clinton when he arrived for a summit was, ‘do you think OJ did it?'”

As Kendall Coffey puts it, “the conventional wisdom was that the dream team “out-lawyered” the prosecution, thus securing acquittal for an obviously guilty man.”  Obviously such a belief in the minds of the public can end up disastrously for those who, like O.J., end up back in a court of law.

 

 

O.J.’s own lawyer said he had never been in a case where every witness is made out to be a liar.

 

 

 

Boston Bombing Suspect to be Prosecuted Through the Civilian Process

Despite calls to treat the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant,” the White House says Tsarnaev will be prosecuted through the civilian system of justice.

Republican Rep. Peter King of New York and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have urged President Obama to let the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect to be treated as an enemy combatant. GOP leaders believe it will give authorities a chance to question the suspect and gather intelligence instead of trying the suspect immediately in a criminal court.

Several Democrats disagree and say the move would be unconstitutional.
Former U.S. attorney and MSNBC legal analyst Kendall Coffey says he agrees with the White House’s decision. Kendall Coffey says you have to be part of an enemy force to be considered an enemy combatant. “I don’t think being part of a general hatred of the United States is nearly enough…If we start throwing the Constitution out, we’re going to lose the real war for our values.”

“The Obama administration is trying to demonstrate civilian tools are adequate and tough enough to make everybody safe,” Kendall Coffey stated, but that has included extending the public safety exception for Miranda rights.
The former U.S. Attorney explained that the administration is using this case to establish that “we don’t need to ship everyone down to Guantanamo.”
While liberals and constitutional scholars may not like it, Mr. Coffey said, “the administration may see it as something that’s needed to preserve civilian jury trials.”

Dzhokhar was charged on April 22 with using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction resulting in death and with malicious destruction of property resulting in death.

Dorner Manhunt, Transparency and the Ethics of Law Enforcement

In the 10-day manhunt for ex-Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner, reporters and the general public hoped for more clues in a deadly rampage involving former LAPD colleagues and others. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department ended its press conference on Wednesday with dozens of unanswered questions.

How did the final hideout cabin burn?

How was the suspect able to hide in a condo 20 yards away from the sheriff’s mountain command post?

In the Internet age, the lines between law enforcement, public information and media begin to blur. A report in the Christian Science Monitor raises the question: “Is it fair to expect all these issues to be addressed?”

As the media aims to inform the public with accurate and reliable information, experts in the ethics of law enforcement want to present transparency but also have a duty to protect their investigation. LAPD Chief Charlie said, “They cannot put out information when they have barely begun their own investigation into what actually happened at a crime scene,” he says. “This is an active, on-going investigation into many crime scenes by multiple jurisdictions…”

On the subject of media-strong messages, former U.S. Attorney from Miami, Kendall Coffey said, “Some messages may never reach the court of law but still register big time with public opinion.”
Although some information may never make it to the jury, “…they can be fed routinely to the press because some themes that never appear in trial transcripts will splash hugely in newsprint transcript.”

The public is focused on its demands for transparency and accountability, says Donald Tibbs, professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He says the police, “… have civil liability to think about. Anything they say could be used in a civil lawsuit that might be brought by the Dorner family, for instance.”

In the report, former Los Angeles deputy sheriff and FBI agent Frank Scafidi says the LAPD is in an unfortunate position of having to defend against charges of a “coverup” in its handling of the investigation and Dorner’s termination. He added, “…that’s why it is extremely important for officials to get as much detailed information as possible out as soon as possible before the conspiracies have time to wind up.”

Kendall Coffey on the Silent Majority

Earlier this month, Richard Nixon would have celebrated his 100th birthday.

In Kendall Coffey’s latest tweet, he discusses changing demographics from 1972 to 2012, social issues and the fall of the silent majority in the latest presidential election. He discussed how Nixon was usually demonized by Baby Boomers but how he has nevertheless had a profound role in shaping America’s political landscape.

In his post, he refers to the current Republican foundation as a “Silent Majority.” The term encompasses value issues, including “…faith, patriotism, and law and order, as well as a shrewd manipulation of attitudes concerning intellectualism.”

He refers to the Nixonian constituents as a “Vocal Minority.” He states, “…the Nixon coalition of values may be backfiring with Hispanics, women, and gays, who are underwhelmed by the anti-immigration, anti-choice, and anti-gay marriage positions of the GOP.”

Possibly by 2016, the Republican party may reconfigure their strategy to gain support from Hispanics and younger voters.

Witnesses Needed to Convict Massey Execs, Kendall Coffey Says

Massey Energy is responsible for the worst U.S. mining disaster in over four decades, which killed 29 men in an explosion two years ago in Upper Big Branch. And David Craig Hughart’s cooperation with prosecutors may be a signal that investigators are trying to bring down responsible leaders.

 

But leaders in large corporations are often afforded certain protections, and it’s not always easy to get to the top. To do so often requires hard evidence in addition to witnesses. But Kendall Coffey, a former U.S. Attorney from Miami, says that multiple witnesses can do the trick, too.

 

“If the star witness has a supporting cast,” Kendall Coffey said, “it can be a compelling basis for conviction.”

 

And since Hughart worked closely with former Massey CEO Don Blankenship (who retired just eight months after the incident), that may be an indicator that investigators are trying to gather witnesses and evidence to convict execs like Blankenship. Many victims’ families already hold Blankenship personally responsible, but have yet to see him topple.

 

Hughart wasn’t directly mentioned in the Upper Big Branch disaster of 2010, but he has been charged with conspiracy to cover up dangers at other Massey-owned sites, which parallels some of the charges for those involved with UBB.

 

By giving advance warning of federal inspections, Massey covered up violations that were dangerous and life threatening to workers—ones that would have led to shutdowns, fines, and the prevention of UBB.

 

“I think all Massey operations ran just the way UBB did,” said Clay Mullins, who lost his brother Rex in the 2010 explosion. “They all had advance warning. They all tried to hide and cover up as much as they could. They tried to conceal and deceive and deny. That was Massey’s mentality. That was how they handled things.”

 

And attorney Bruce Stanley says such behavior likely came from high up. “I cannot imagine that anybody at Hughart’s pay rank could engage in any of the activities that he’s accused of without Don Blankenship’s permission and blessing,” he said.

Florida Election a Mess Yet Again

According to Kendall Coffey, Florida has a lot of work to do to get its election problems under control.

It’s fourth on the list for the most electoral votes, and it’s a swing state beside. The past few elections have really underlined the need for change in their current system.

 

“At this point, many election officials and candidates and lawyers are exhausted. They might be tempted to move on to other issues, but we really need to think about this and how to address these problems,” he said. “I think we will take a broad look at what needs to be done to eliminate excessive lines.”

 

Early voting is generally liked by most voters, who would much rather send their ballots in early than wait in line for six hours at a time. Kendall Coffey pointed to the fact that ballots were still being counted into Wednesday morning—seriously delaying the final count.

 

“If it weren’t for Obama’s win in Ohio, the focus would be on Florida and what a mess things are here,” Coffey said.

 

It’s unfair to voters especially when they aren’t able to get their vote in until after one presidential candidate has already reached the winning number of electoral college votes, such as was the case for some of Florida’s residents who were up past midnight trying to vote.

 

The most important thing besides offering early voting, Coffey says, is making sure that there are enough resources available and working to help local election offices get voters through lines at a reasonable pace.

Florida Votes a Mess

Kendall Coffey said this year’s election mess in Florida reminded him of the election in 2000.

That was the year Al Gore ran against George W. Bush, the latter winning by a narrow margin of 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266. The election was wrought with a particular amount of controversy after Bush was awarded Florida’s electoral votes by a lead of just a few hundred votes. After recounts, the original total was upheld and Bush was awarded the presidency.

 

Coffey was on the team of attorneys who represented Al Gore in the ensuing lawsuits to do the recount by hand instead of by machine. This year, Florida election officials were up into the early hours of Wednesday morning tallying votes.

 

“There’s no hanging chads or butterfly ballots, but there’s still a question mark looming over the map of Florida,” said Coffey. “As I was watching the news around 2:30 this morning, I looked at a map with blue, red, and then there was one state that was none of the above, and it was Florida. That part is déjà vu again.”

 

But there wasn’t nearly as much controversy surrounding Florida this year, despite the lateness of their results. “The giant dissimilarity is Florida became irrelevant rather than a decider of history,” Coffey said. President Obama reached the winning number of electoral votes well before Florida finished its official count.

 

This year’s slow process was due in part to the large volume of absentee ballots sent in. In Brevard County, for example, nearly a third of all votes were absentee ballots, about 91,000 –each of which is carefully examined by hand by multiple elections office staff members to assure they are valid before putting them in the vote-scanning machine.

 

Coffey, among others in Florida, is calling for change in Florida’s voting system with the hope that a reorganization could help expedite the process in the future and make it less frustrating for voters, officials, and the rest of the country.

Kendall Coffey offers advice to out-of-work law students

What do you do if you’re a recent law school graduate?  The future looks grim right now for lawyers as law firms across the country have started downsizing, something that would have been unthinkable ten years ago.  This means that not only are there far less jobs out there for aspiring lawyers, but there’s more competition as those experienced lawyers who have lost their jobs look for new ones.

This means that law students, who likely entered law school and took up massive amounts of student loan debt because they thought they were sure to easily find a high-paying job as a lawyer, find themselves in a dangerous predicament.  Saddled with student loans and unable to find a job.

“So I’ve got my law degree,” you’re probably thinking.  “Now what?”

Kendall Coffey has some ideas.  A former U.S. attorney for Florida, Kendall Coffey is the author of Spinning the Law and a partner at Coffey Burlington in Miami.  He’s also a legal analyst for media outlets like MSNBC and CNN.

What Kendall Coffey thinks that aspiring lawyers should do, according to a recent article he wrote for Law.com, is start representing the middle class.

“Ironically, while thousands of new law graduates fret about the chronic joblessness that awaits them, tens of millions of Americans need attorneys but cannot afford them,” he explains. “And much of the unmet need rests in America’s middle class, which is neither rich enough to pay $250 an hour for lawyers nor poor enough to qualify for legal aid organizations.”

But currently recent law graduates are not prepared for the responsibilities that running such a practice would entail. Coffey suggests that law schools revise their curricula to teach classes on law firm operations and management as well as basic transactions such as wills and prenuptial agreements.

More than that, however, law schools need to work to transform the expectations of their students.  As long as students expect a prestigious position at a higher-end law firm with their diploma they will continue to be painfully disappointed.

Kendall Coffey: Lead investigator in Trayvon Martin Case ignored

On Feb. 26, George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin at an apartment complex in Florida’s Sanford County.  According to Zimmerman, the killing resulted from an act of self-defense. According to prosecutor Angela Corey, it was second-degree murder, which is what she charged him with April 11.

 

Initially the ‘facts’ were mere speculation and bits and pieces were released to an inconclusive end. MSNBC reviewed the case with Miami political commentator and former US Attorney Kendall Coffey in an interview following the crime.

 

The day of the killing, Sanford Police Chief, Bill Lee and State Attorney Norm Wolfinger overruled lead investigator Chris Serino’s request for the arrest of George Zimmerman. “…The lead investigator, the person that normally law enforcement would say is in the best position to assess whether or not there’s probable cause [for arrest, was] effectively overruled by people sitting back at the office,” said Kendall Coffey, adding that the scenario raised questions. Though it is not apparent whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent, the police didn’t so much as detain the suspect after it was confirmed that he killed a 17-year-old boy.

 

This case is far from simple, especially considering Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law that permits victims of violent situations to forcibly attack their assailants in the presence of danger or an imminent threat. ‘Stand your ground’ is the type of law that could alleviate the legal turmoil an individual would face for having protected himself in a dangerous situation. However, it is also the kind of law that allows guilty individuals with histories of violence to escape the consequences the legal system would impose.

 

The principle query raised by the actions of the Sanford police department the day the crime took place is, “How can you so quickly dismiss what the lead investigator said when you have somebody dead – an unarmed somebody – that was killed by somebody with a gun?” said Kendall Coffey.

 

Though no definitive answer has emerged, the case continues to unravel, triggering emotional responses from those following the case.