Convicted Murderer Teaches Himself the Law, Obtains a New Trial and Acquittal

DSC00275_1Rodell Sanders is yet another victim of a corrupt criminal justice system in America. In 1993 he was a member of a gang called the Gangster Disciples in Chicago, Illinois. In December 1993 a carjacking took place resulting in a robbery and the murder of Philip Atkins, the male driver of the vehicle. His female companion, Stacy Armstrong, was also gunned down and left for dead, but she gained consciousness and managed to drag herself to a neighbor who called 911.

Stacy Armstrong was shown a photo line-up of possible suspects, one of whom was Rodell Sanders. Despite Ms. Armstrong’s description of her attacker as a 6 foot tall, slender, medium-skinned black man, she identified Rodell Sanders as her attacker. He was a hefty 180 pounds and 5 feet 8 inches. The Chicago police arrested Mr. Sanders and another gang associate of his, Germaine Haslett.

Haslett was persuaded by the police to finger Sanders as the guiding mind in the robbery, murder and attempted murder in exchange for a five year sentence. The police knew that Haslett was fully involved in the crimes but were anxious to turn Rodell Sanders into a gang informant with the threat of a lengthy jail term. Sanders refused their plea bargain of 23 years imprisonment and plead not guilty at trial.

Rodell Sanders knew he was being set up as he had a confirmed alibi supported by affidavits of associates who were with him at a party the night of the crimes. He hired a private detective to interview Haslett to determine why Haslett was lying about him. The detective taped a conversation where Haslett admitted that Sanders was not involved at all but that he was pressured by the police to testify against Sanders.

One of the questions put to Haslett by the private eye was “whether the police had urged him to lie on Rodell Sanders and place him at the scene of the crime?” Haslett answered in the affirmative.

Unfortunately, Sander’s lawyer did not call the private detective to testify and did not cross-examine Haslett about his lies. With the eye witness testimony of Ms. Armstrong and Haslett’s corroborative testimony, Sanders was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison. His appeal of the convictions also failed.

But he knew he was innocent and dedicated himself to learning the law, asking his family to save up some money so he could purchase the legal textbooks he needed to turn his case around. Rather than hanging out with his fellow inmates, he spent eight hours a day, seven days a week pouring over the law. He said he did it for his wife and children and because he did not want to die an innocent man in jail.

By 2003 Rodell Sanders was in a position to file a petition to the court alleging incompetent trial counsel in his bid for a new trial. He was successful in a 2006 hearing and a new trial was ordered, but not before the State filed an appeal, losing it, but delaying a new trial until 2010.

At his new trial, the jurors voted 11 to 1 for a guilty verdict, however, without unanimity it was a hung jury. He had a second trial this week where the jury deliberated for only five hours before acquitting him of all charges. He left prison last week, age 49, after serving twenty years on trumped-up charges.

Mr. Sanders has launched a civil suit against police and the justice authorities for their role in the nightmare he has endured.

As always, I wonder how the State, once in possession of the facts involving a rogue police officer, recanted testimony, and bogus eye witness identification, can be so arrogant as to appeal every court decision favourable to Mr. Sanders. Truly disgusting!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Would You Hire a 101 Year-Old Lawyer?

GEO CASUALPhiladelphia lawyer, Murray Shusterman, loves the law and has no intention of retiring anytime soon, despite his pending 102nd birthday. A lawyer since 1936 he practices corporate and real estate law at blue-chip firm Fox Rothschild, a firm with 600 lawyers and 19 offices coast to coast. This remarkable man only stopped driving a car last year, the same year he packed in his golf game…leaves him more time to focus on his first love.

But Murray’s longevity as a lawyer also makes him one of America’s oldest citizens, one of only 55,000 persons age 100 or over in the United States today. While Murray’s energy has not waned, his hearing has, and he has wisely stepped down from legal commitments he undertook for years. For example, until recently he was an adjunct professor teaching corporate and real estate law at his alma mater, Temple University, in Philadelphia.

His value to Fox Rothschild’s goes way beyond his legal skills. Murray’s knowledge of the history of Philadelphia and his dedication to community causes also propels his solid reputation. He has been a leader in the Jewish community and a trustee of Temple University, besides being a generous donor to the school. In 1994 he and his family donated $1 million dollars to Temple Law School where his name crowns the renovated Hall, and last year he gave another $1.1 million to the school to fund a professorship.

When asked for the highlights of his career he answered “There’s no such thing….the real secret is to be decent, to be fair and to be forgiving…and don’t take yourself too seriously”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge Presides Over Child Support Hearing While Conducting an Affair with Litigant

DSC01152_2 (2)_2If you were the payor father in a child support hearing and you learned that the judge presiding over your case was having an affair with your child’s mother, how angry would you be? How about if you read an email from the judge to your ex, agreeing with her suggestion that you be sent to jail because you’re in arrears of child support?

“I figure if he hasn’t come current by his court date, he gets jail to pay. If he says he can’t bring me the $$, I’ll put him on a tether (electric monitoring) til he brings the receipt…or do “double time”.

You might think this kind of corruption comes from a judge in Russia or Zimbabwe, but you’d be wrong. Judge Wade McCree was, until recently, a judge in Wayne County Michigan, home to two million people, best known for Motown and Motor City, and of late, the 18 billion dollar debt and subsequent bankruptcy of the City of Detroit.

Judge McCree’s judicial career ended ignominiously this Spring when Michigan’s Supreme Court suspended him for six years, after finding his conduct affected not only the litigants involved, but harmed the integrity of the judicial system as a whole.

Initially Judge McCree pulled a “Weiner” by texting a partially nude photo of himself to a female deputy sheriff, and was under investigation by the Judicial Tenure Commission. Rather than minding his “p’s and q’s” while under scrutiny for that indiscretion, he began an affair with Geniene LaShay Mott, who was the complaining party in People v. King, a court proceeding involving the enforcement and collection of arrears of child support against Robert King, who was the father of one of Ms. Mott’s children. He was in arrears of support in the amount of $15,000.

Judge McCree’s offences included:

1. Conducting an affair with Ms. Mott while he was presiding over her child support hearing;
2. Engaging in sexual relations with Ms. Mott in his judicial chambers;
3. Allowing Ms. Mott to access the court house through a rear, private door and utilize the judicial parking lot;
4. Surreptitiously arranging for Ms. Mott’s cell phone to be delivered to her in court by a sheriff so she could call him during the hearing;
5. Texting Ms. Mott from the bench while presiding over other cases;
6. Accepting Ms. Mott’s suggestions as to how he should deal with her child’s father;
7. Giving money to Ms. Mott, as much as $6,000;
8. Lying to the Judicial Commission concerning the date that he ended his affair with Ms. Mott;

But there was even more. Judge McCree presided over People v. Tillman, reducing Mr. Tillman’s bond in another child support case. Tillman was a relative of Ms. Mott’s, a fact known to McCree. And when his affair with Ms. Mott cooled down he lodged a complaint with Wayne County’s Prosecuting Attorney, alleging that Ms. Mott was stalking him and extorting him by demanding $10,000 in exchange for terminating her pregnancy and not revealing the affair and pregnancy to Judge McCree’s wife. In fact, the alleged crimes never occurred.

While Judge McCree’s attorney argued “no harm, no foul”, the judicial panel, comprised of seven judges, disagreed, saying the judge was well aware that his conduct was egregiously inappropriate as evidenced by an email he sent to Ms. Mott:

“Second, you are the complaining witness on a case that is before me. Naturally if it got out that we were seeing each other before your baby daddy’s case closed, everybody would be in deep shit”.

As for the aggrieved Mr. King, he filed a lawsuit against Judge McCree alleging constitutional violations, including the right to equal protection under the law and the right to be treated fairly in legal processes. District Court Judge Avern Cohn ruled against Mr. King finding that Judge McCree’s decisions in King’s case were “judicial acts” covered by “judicial immunity”, a protection that applies even if a judge’s actions are negligent, incompetent, or malicious.

Unfortunately for Mr. King, this week the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals endorsed Judge Cohn’s decision while declaring Judge McCree’s behavior “reprehensible”:

“Casual readers of this opinion…may erroneously conclude that…we are somehow endorsing Judge McCree’s conduct or going out of our way to protect one of our own…We do nothing of the sort.”

The Appeals Court also noted that “the best justice possible” was achieved by the Michigan Supreme Court when they suspended Judge McCree for six years.

Is this the end of Wade McCree’s judicial career? Only the people of Detroit can decide that, since Michigan State judges are elected, not appointed.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Snake in a Suit

10950859361151CDPNew Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin spent five years working for the “good guys” as a prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey. That is one of the reasons his slide into the ranks of the worst criminals is so astounding.

Bergrin then took up a career as a criminal defence lawyer and was hailed as an aggressive and brash advocate who acted for gang members and drug dealers. His clients also included Oscar-nominated actress/singer Queen Latifah and rapper L’il Kim.

Bergrin gained a reputation as someone who would do whatever it took to get a client acquitted. His reputation first took a hit when he was arrested for running a brothel called NY Confidential whose owner, his former client Jason Itzler, had been incarcerated for money laundering, among other offences.

This brothel gained notoriety with the revelation that New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer was a frequent flyer of their $1,000.00 per hour services.

If felony charges had been pursued Mr. Bergrin could have served as many as 25 years in prison, however, the matter was heard as a misdemeanor and he received three years probation and a $50,000.00 fine.

But his troubles were far from over. In 2009 Bergrin was charged with conspiracy to murder, witness intimidation and faced RICO charges for racketeering and belonging to a criminal organization. RICO legislation was originally enacted in the US to cripple the Mafia. The RICO charges were later dismissed by a trial judge, but reinstated once the Court of Appeal had its say.

Bergrin’s alleged defence tactics were far from the norm and included the provision of sexual services, courtesy of his brothel, to influence jail guards, police officers and informants. Even more unusual was the sudden death of persons who were witnesses in cases where he was defending the accused.

It was discovered that in eight Superior Court cases, witnesses were murdered or paid to give false evidence. One case involved the slaying of a FBI informant and in another, Bergrin hired a hit man to take out a witness against his client. With one dead witness, the only other witness recanted and Bergrin’s client walked away from capital murder charges.

When Bergrin attempted to get bail the State played tapes of conversations that Bergrin had with the alleged hit man, an undercover officer. He was denied bail.

Life has changed for Paul Bergrin. He was in solitary confinement for six months and remains in jail awaiting his trial. He no longer wears the stylish suits he was known for and I am sure he misses his beachside home.

Truly, a snake in a suit.

UPDATE:

On March 18, 2013, a jury convicted attorney Bergrin of all 23 counts on which he was tried, including conspiracy to murder a witness and other racketeering, cocaine and prostitution offenses.

The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, announced the verdict saying: “Bergrin’s conduct was a stunning violation of his role as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his roots as a member of law enforcement. Today, the jury returned the verdict compelled by the evidence and imposed the justice he deserved. We take no joy from his tragic fall, but I am extremely proud of the work done by those in my office and agents from the FBI, IRS and DEA that led to this just result.”

Bergrin received a life sentence on Sept. 23, 2013.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- THE SERIES: ALAN EAGLESON

_DSC4179 - Version 2Alan Eagleson graduated from the University of Toronto’s Law School and was a prominent Toronto lawyer and Member of Parliament in Ontario before he began his lengthy career as agent, promoter and hockey guru extraordinaire.

His accomplishments in the world of hockey were pivotal to the growth and stature of professional hockey and its players. It was Eagleson’s impetus to form a union for players that birthed the National Hockey League Player’s Association in 1967.

He became the NHLPA’s first executive director and held that position for 25 years. By 1979, Eagleson was providing financial services to some of hockey’s biggest stars, encouraging them to invest wisely in order to retire financially secure.

It was Eagleson’s foray into internatonal hockey, notably the 1972 match between Russia and Canada, that cemented his now international reputation. His esteem, in his clients’ eyes, was multiplied when he took on one of the off-ice hockey officials in the 1972 game insisting that the referees had missed a Canadian goal.

As matters escalated, soldiers of Russia’s Red Army began to converge around Mr. Eagleson. Canadian fans jumped from the bleachers to intervene on Eagleson’s behalf. After this confrontation he turned on his heels and “fingered” the Soviet hockey fans as he walked back to the bench.

As Eagleson’s power base grew, suspicions arose as to the inner workings of the NHLPA and several American sports journalists began investigating Eagleson and the NHLPA in 1989/1990. By this time, Eagleson was a living legend in Canada and vague allegations of mismanagement were ignored by Canadian journalists, many of whom owed favors to Eagleson. This year also saw Eagleson obtain the Order of Canada and admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The beginning of Eagelson’s demise occurred when evidence revealed that he had been playing around with player’s pension funds such that when Bobby Orr retired he was almost bankrupt, with significant unexpected tax liabilities.

Even more egregious was Eagelson’s skimming of funds from international games, money that was used to provide a lavish lifestyle for Eagleson. The players were told that their salary from international play would be deposited to their pension accounts. Instead, Eagelson embezzled the money for his own use.

Eagleson also defrauded injured players who sought to rely on their insurance funds when their playing days were over. He charged extraordinary fees alleging that it was only through his negotiation with insurers that the players received their settlements. None of it was true.

Eventually in 1993 Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper ran with the story and began their own inquiries. In 1994 Eagleson was indicted in the United States for racketeering, obstruction of justice, embezzlement and fraud.

It was only after one of Eagleson’s clients wrote a book outlining his criminal conduct that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began their own investigation and in 1996 Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and theft.

Eagleson managed to avoid extradition to face the US charges for three years, using his considerable clout with Canadian authorities. He later plead guilty to three counts of mail fraud in a Boston court and was fined $700,000.00

Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and embezzlement by the RCMP and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His disbarment followed, together with the withdrawal of his Order of Canada and his removal from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To the surprise of many Americans, Eagleson was pardoned in Canada in 2005. Canadian pardons are a dime a dozen, since the central criteria is to “keep your nose clean” for five years.

Just another tale of greed that ruined Eagleson’s reputation and his life. The question is: Why do the most successful fall prey to this avarice?

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it, it is never enough.”
Janwilliam van de Wetering, Dutch writer

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

What If Lawyers Had Written the Ten Commandments?

_DSC4851Here’s a few clever quotes about the learned and noble profession of law:

1. Imagine the appeals, dissents and remands if lawyers had written the Ten Commandments.
Harold Bender, Theologian

2. LAWYER: A professional advocate hired to bend the law for a paying client; for this reason considered the most suitable background for entry into politics.
The Cynic’s Dictionary

3. In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the Halls.
Lenny Bruce, Comedian

4. My daddy is a movie actor and sometimes he plays the good guy and sometimes he plays the lawyer.
Actor Harrison Ford’s son

5. Lawyers are: Those who earn a living by the sweat of their brow-beating.
James Huneker, American composer and music critic

6. The ideal client is the very wealthy man in very great trouble.
John Sterling, British author

7. A lawyer is someone who writes a 10,000 word document and calls it a “brief”.
Franz Kafka, German novelist

8. He who has said “Talk is Cheap”, never hired a lawyer.
Author unknown

9. Lawyer’s Creed: A man is innocent until proven broke.
Author unknown

10. Be frank and explicit with your lawyer….It is her business to confuse the issue afterwards.
Author Unknown

11. Make crime pay. Become a Lawyer.
Will Rogers

12. I’m trusting in the Lord…and a good lawyer.
Oliver North

Is there anything nice anybody has ever said about lawyers? God Bless Abraham Lincoln:

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbours to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker a lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good person. There will still be business enough.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Why I Support Canada’s Proposed New Law on Prostitution

BarristerOn Tuesday I will make submissions to the House of Commons Justice Committee on Canada’s new prostitution laws, which passed second reading several weeks ago, and will surely become the law of the land, perhaps with some amendments.

As many of you know, I was counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in Attorney General v. Bedford and one of the few voices in the Supreme Court of Canada that urged that prostitution not be legalized.

Of course, we all know that the law criminalizing activities related to prostitution was deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada last December, thus opening the door for our federal government to create new law, taking into account the necessity for it to pass constitutional muster.

The new law does just that. It decriminalizes prostitution for the women and girls that trade in sexual services, but makes it illegal to purchase sex in Canada, thus targeting customers (johns) and those who seek to exploit (pimps) the mostly female, often aboriginal victims of the sex trade. It permits the selling of sexual services so long as it is not conducted in the vicinity of children 18 or under. It also forbids the advertisement of sexual services.

The basis of my objections to the legalization of prostitution is founded on one of Canada’s underlying principles, that respect for the human dignity of each person is foundational to our society, a dignity whose inherent value was confirmed by our highest court in the Rodriguez case (euthanasia) and finds expression in the 1949 United Nations Protocol on the trafficking of humans, a convention signed by Canada which provides:

“Prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of a person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”

The view that prostitution subordinates and victimizes women and girls is not particularly popular, but I have seen it first hand when I lived on Granville Street in the early 1970’s and in Vancouver’s west end in the 80’s. The image of a “happy hooker” is a Madison Avenue gimmick that has no basis in reality.

When my husband, Doug, ran the Vancouver Vice Squad, I saw again the squalor and exploitation of young, addicted woman, both tragic and poignant.

To those who say that legalization is the only answer, one only has to look at those countries who have based their social policy on sex work as a legitimate job with benefits paid and tax collected.

Perhaps the best example that the harms inherent in prostitution are not alleviated by legalization is the State of Victoria in Australia where prostitution was legalized in the 1990’s.

It was said that legalizing sex work would assist in eradicating the criminal element, guard against unregulated expansion, and combat violence against prostitutes.

How wrong they were…violence was not eliminated, street prostitution was not curtailed as they naively expected, working conditions were no safer than before, prostitution escalated and turning sex work into a legitimate business opportunity for women and girls did not dignify or professionalize prostitutes.

Instead there occurred massive expansion, particularly in the illegal sector with unlicensed brothels. Women were not empowered to become self- sufficient entrepreneurs, as they could not compete with the businessmen who took over the brothel business. Street prostitution was not eliminated as street workers had a host of social problems including addictions, mental illness, and an inability to be hired by legal brothels because of their lifestyles.

Canada’s new prostitution bill addresses many of the safety concerns identified by the Supreme Court of Canada, but more than that, the tenor of the law does not accede to the notion that prostitution is acceptable and legitimate in a free and democratic society.

In my view, prostitution not only harms the women and girls involved but also undermines the social fabric of Canada. It is too easy not to try to provide a way out for our mothers, sisters and aunts who are trapped in this degrading practice. It is a basic issue of human rights.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang