February 23, 2005 | 5:51 p.m. ET

Jackson case: race not an issue ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor)

When asked about the scrutiny Barry Bonds is facing amid the ever present steroid scandal in Major League Baseball, the would-be home run king pointed to the hottest of all hot bed issues: race.

“Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever and Babe Ruth ain’t black either. I’m black. Black. We go through a little bit more,” Bonds said.

Like it or not, Bonds was absolutely right. Black athletes, entertainers, lawyers, every-day Joe’s, have gone through a little bit more. Not so, if your name happens to be Michael Joseph Jackson.

Like O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson is not necessarily viewed as “one of us,” in the black community.  Simpson, before that infamous June 1994 day when his ex-wife and her friend were found butchered to death in Santa Monica, Calif., was widely accepted and even lauded by whites while at the same time seen as a “sell-out” by many African-Americans.

However, when the verdict to free Simpson was announced, blacks shamelessly and regrettably celebrated.

But, make no mistake, the celebration was not for O.J. Simpson, it was for what we believed was payback to the “Man” for so many of our brethren who had been falsely accused and convicted in the past. It was for Rodney King and even the kids who a decade earlier took bullets from a subway gunman named Bernard Goetz.

Now the jury in the Jackson trial has been picked and there are no African-Americans on it, but that doesn't mean Jackson will have a problem getting a fair trial because he's black.

The race issue (I detest the use of the phrase “race card”) in this case probably began shortly after Jackson’s arrest in November 2003. Immediately following the sight of Jackson cuffed and stuffed in the back of a Santa Barbara County Police car, big brother Jermaine railed on television “they’re a bunch of racist rednecks out there that don’t care about people. This is nothing but a modern-day lynching.”

Katherine Jackson told a British tabloid “blacks are treated differently than whites in America.” And earlier this month in a televised interview Joseph Jackson, against the obvious wishes of his wife, couldn’t resist.

“I’m going to say it, even though Katherine doesn’t want me to,” Joseph said. “It’s racism. They are doing this to Michael because of racism.”

Even a wacky poll taken recently found that whites are far more likely than blacks to think Jackson is guilty.

I’ve known the Jacksons for quite a little while now, but I, like millions others, have known of them for nearly all my life. It is true that they, like so many other black Americans, have been treated a bit unfairly at times, but for the most part, they’ve lived a charmed life.

In our upcoming book, Michael Jackson: Nothing But The Truth, longtime Jackson confidant Bob Jones recalls a confrontation in, of all places, Australia that Michael had with a reporter in 1972. That confrontation is the only conflict I’ve ever been told of that involved Michael Jackson and the race issue. 

So, why is it that blacks cannot relate to Michael Jackson, even as they did O.J. Simpson? Well, it’s pretty simple. Has Jackson ever been pulled over simply because he was black? Last time I looked, department stores have closed down to allow Jackson to shop while many of us are followed around incessantly by store detectives thinking we may steal something.

Michael Jackson reportedly has loans totaling a half of a billion dollars with Bank of America and other entities. Many blacks, even with good credit, have experienced being turned down for home and other loans simply because we are considered “high risk” or just plain old black.

A few years ago after his Invincible CD failed to sell to his liking, Jackson charged then-Sony chief Tommy Mattola with being a racist. The black community was shocked. Def Jam Records founder and rap music mogul Russell Simmons, who definitely has his pulse on the black community, black producer Rodney Jerkins, who produced Invincible, and even the notoriously militant Al Sharpton expressed outrage not at Tommy Mattola, but at Michael Jackson.

This case is not about race. It’s about whether Michael Jackson is a child sexual predator or not. Twelve jurors, whatever their race, will hear evidence and decide. It’s that simple.

Send your thoughts to Sidebar@msnbc.com

February 23, 2005 | 5:12 p.m. ET

Time to leave the bench (Dan Abrams)

It’s time for Chief Justice William Rehnquist to give up his post as the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  When the Supreme Court reconvened Tuesday after a winter break, the 80-year-old justice was absent, again.  He has now been away from the bench for four months as he undergoes treatment for thyroid cancer. Last week, Rehnquist announced he is still ailing from the side effects of chemotherapy.

With crucial cases looming on the court’s calendar, it seems unfair to the country for someone in his condition to remain in such a vital public position.  A consistently empty seat on that court suggests that the oral arguments and questions from the justices mean very little.

I know first-hand what it feels like to be diagnosed with cancer, and to want to return to work more than anything.  Rehnquist’s personal position is completely understandable.  But in this case, personal feelings should not interfere.

Rehnquist’s defenders say that he doesn’t want to leave the court with only eight presiding members — particularly when Congress battles over a nomination, leaving the possibility of four-to-four votes. 

But that is a price we should be willing to pay to ensure that all members of the court are fully able to participate in the most important decisions facing our nation.  Any four-to- four votes could be re-argued when a new justice is confirmed.

This is not about age or cancer.  Rehnquist is not the court’s oldest justice.  Justice Stevens is 85.  And Rehnquist is not the first to suffer from cancer.  Justices Stevens, Ginsburg and O’Connor were also treated for cancer in recent years.  However, all of them were back on the bench within weeks, without missing oral arguments.

Rehnquist’s legacy is already well established.  He has a legendary career of over 30 years.  He has authored some of the court’s most significant opinions and has presided over five presidential inaugurations.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say that history will likely judge him the most important justice of those currently serving on the court.

But it seems time for him to make the toughest decision of his career, rule that he is no longer able to give what it takes to be the Chief Justice of this nation’s highest court.

E-mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com

February 23, 2005 | 3:20 p.m. ET

Breaking news: Michael Jackson jury chosen

We've been talking about the Michael Jackson trial for months but now it's really about to get underway... a jury has been picked and opening statements could happen as early as Friday! The jury is made up of four men and eight women ranging in age from 20 to 79.

Seven are white, four are Hispanic and one is Asian. Eight have children.

But are the attorneys ready for trial?  Tonight Dan breaks down the jury with an all-star legal team. And notably absent from the jury are any African-American jurors, will race be a factor in the trial?

It's our lead story tonight on 'The Abrams Report.'

February 23, 2005 | 3:17 p.m. ET

Terry Schiavo

The internationally watched legal battle for Terri Schiavo's life has pitted Michael Schiavo against his in-laws over the fate of his 41-year-old wife.

On Tuesday, this prompted the picketing of Michael Schiavo's home and pleas in Tallahassee for lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush to intervene.

Michael Schiavo's anticipated direction is for doctors to remove the tube comes almost exactly to the day of the 15th anniversary of Terri Schiavo's collapse. The 2nd District Court of Appeal allowed a stay to expire Tuesday that had blocked Schiavo's husband from removing her feeding tube. But before the tube could be removed, Pinellas Circuit Court Judge George Greer issued an emergency stay until 5 p.m. EST Wednesday. Click here to read more about this case.  

Today's hearing could be their last stop.  It's underway now and is expected to last for many hours.  We'll bring you the latest and Dan will talk with the lawyer for Schiavo's parents, David Gibbs III, and with famed trial attorney Geoffrey Fieger who once represented Jack Kevorkian.

We'll be keeping watch of developments.

February 18, 2005 | 6:18 p.m. ET

Missing the goal (Dan Abrams)

A serious question needs to be posed about the hockey situation .  Did the National Hockey League have no other option than to call it quits before the season even started?  For five months, representatives for the owners and players battled it out while the fans patiently sat and waited.  The sticking issue was salary caps: the NHL was in favor of salary caps, but the players were not.  There was actually a little progress early this week after the players complied with the proposed salary caps.  Then, the NHL said the caps didn’t have to be tied to the league’s revenue.

By Tuesday, the difference between the proposed salary caps on each side was just $6.5 million.  The NHL’s final offer rang in at $42.5 million and the players put up $49 million.  Both sides had come to the bargaining table and loosened up the supposed iron clad final offers.

The deadline for the deal was set for 11 a.m. Wednesday morning.  Neither the owners nor the players attempted to make contact with each other.  Out of nowhere, the owners announced the season would be cancelled. 

Everyone knows hockey is a tough contact sport.  So I would expect the negotiators on both sides to stand rigid and firm.  But honest negotiating is all about contact — not avoiding contact.  It sounds to me like machisimo overrode the dispute of dollars and cents. 

Hockey Legend Mario Lemieux, who is both a player and a team owner, couldn’t believe it.  He said, “I always thought that, at the end of the day, there would be too much at stake for both sides to not make a deal.”  I fully agree.

In the United States, hockey has been a sport on the ropes for the past several years.  More appropriately, it’s been a sport on the boards with ticket sales slumping and teams losing $1.8 billion over the past ten years.  It ranked a distant fourth among major league sports in terms of popularity.

The sport has now taken a serious hit and may never fully recover.  Many of the star players are already playing on teams in Europe.  I admit, I don’t follow hockey too closely anymore.  But as a kid, I used to play and go to Ranger games.  For diehard fans, hockey is a way of life and a defining part of who you are, especially for those young fans.

Negotiators in this case for both sides failed their constituents, their opponents and ultimately, the fans.

Your rebuttal
I’ve had my say, now it’s time for your rebuttal.

Family members of two victims shot and killed by a sixteen-year-old are blaming the video game Grand Theft Auto.  They have filed a $ 600 million wrongful death suit against four companies for selling the game to a minor and making and marketing the game.

To hold the stores and game makers liable for the actions of a crazy child is ludicrous.  I asked if makers of violent movies are in trouble because they show violence.

Joann Fischella from Las Vegas writes: “What is different about violent movies and video games is that these games involve interactive violence where you are the actual perpetrator.  The one who commits the most violence is the 'winner'... there should be personal responsibility, but I think the person responsible is the person who makes a game designed to program our kids to kill."

I suggested that this is the ultimate example of avoiding personal responsibility.  Many of you agreed including Kathleen Cooke from Indiana who writes, "In most crimes it seems that something or someone made them do it.  It is time that criminals were held responsible for their acts and these ridiculous excuses for killing, etc. are no longer accepted."

From Denton, Texas, Michael Leza: "Good thing that kid didn't watch “Hamlet” or he might have killed the Queen of Denmark. They really dodged a bullet on this one!"

Rich Reilly from Gaithersburg, Maryland writes: "I am sick of people blaming video games, music or movies... when I was a teenager, my grandmother thought I was sure to kill somebody because I listened to Ozzy Osbourne and played 'Dungeons and Dragons.' I didn't and now it's Marilyn Manson and Grand Theft Auto."

Tosha Moorefield from Virginia writes: "Retail stores have policies in place to stop kids from buying violent games, but no way to stop the parents from buying it for their own underage children. To blame the makers of these games, who admit freely that the games are not for children, is ridiculous."

And Kevin A. Kehoe from Terre Haute, Indiana:  “Thanks to an ‘80s game that shall remain nameless, I have spent the last twenty years gorging on flashing dots, fruit and ghosts and am now morbidly obese."

February 18, 2005 | 2:31 p.m. ET

Michael Jackson's celebrity justice ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor)

“Where are all his friends?”

“Where are the Liz Taylors, Chris Tuckers and Diana Ross’ of the world?”

Michael Jackson and defense attorneys answered those questions, asked recently by Jermaine Jackson, in an auspicious way this week. They are all on the witness list in Jackson’s upcoming molestation trial.

Taylor, Tucker, Ross, Kobe Bryant, Stevie Wonder, Steve Harvey, Jay Leno, Barry Gibb and a host of other celebrities top the list of more than 300 witnesses Jackson attorneys say they may call to testify on behalf of the embattled pop king.

“I find it kind of incredible that names like Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones are on that list,” said Bob Jones, a long time publicist and trusted confidante of Jackson.

“He hasn’t had a relationship with many of these people in years. Didn’t want nothing to do with them,” Jones told me.

The relationship between Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson hasn’t been the same since the uber producer put down shuffle beats and doo-woops behind Jackson on the singer’s Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad albums.

“There is a lot too that story and the falling out, which took place over a decade ago, was really about jealously,” Bob Jones said.

Also, in April 2004, Quincy Jones reportedly refused Michael Jackson’s request to be added to Jones’ We Are The Future music extravaganza.

The show, a benefit for a charity that raises money and awareness for young victims of violent crimes, featured artists such as Jay-Z, Norah Jones, Josh Groban, Sting, Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder.

Since the concert was held in Rome, where Jackson isn’t allowed to travel because of his legal problems in California, Jackson had asked to perform via satellite but Jones wasn’t interested.

Also, members of Jackson’s camp have said repeated attempts to contact a reportedly ailing Elizabeth Taylor have been unsuccessful.

Kobe Bryant was incredulous when told he had made the defense witness list. As he rolled his eyes in apparent disbelief, the Los Angeles Laker star shrugged his shoulder and acknowledged that he has “spoken to Jackson,” but stopped short of referring to the singer as his friend.

In a conversation I had with Stevie Wonder two years ago, Wonder said he hadn’t spoken with Jackson in years and often mused about how Jackson takes so long to produce an album.

The good news, however, for Michael Jackson is that actor Chris Tucker and news personalities such as Ed Bradley and local weatherman Fritz Coleman can perhaps offer first-hand testimony about Jackson’s accuser and his family.

Tucker is said to be prepared to offer first-hand information about how well Jackson took care of the accuser and his family and to debunk charges that Jackson attempted to kidnap the family as alleged in the indictment.

Jackson faces 10 counts of child molestation, attempted child molestation, administering alcohol to a minor to assist in a felony, and conspiracy to commit kidnapping and extortion. He faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.

Send your e-mails to Sidebar@msnbc.com.

February 17, 2005 | 5:17 p.m. ET

A U.S. Marine died mysteriously at boot camp just one day after cameras recorded him refusing to take part in training exercises.  We have an exclusive report tonight with the Heather Brown, the South Carolina reporter who uncovered the story.  Don’t miss ‘The Abrams Report’ at 6 p.m. ET tonight on MSNBC.

February 17, 2005 | 5:05 p.m. ET

CIA:  guardian of terrorists (Dan Abrams)

The Central Intelligence Agency and its new stand on keeping a watchful eye on terrorists is no surprise.  Though, the CIA says it may have to back off its role as guardian of some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists. 

Three-dozen terrorists are being kept in secret prisons around the world.  Now, the nations’ top intelligence officers are reportedly afraid their legal authority to keep these individuals at bay is on shaky ground.  A former lawyer in the CIA General Counsel’s office recently told the New Yorker magazine he “doesn’t think anyone’s thought through what we do with these people.”

There’s absolutely no precedent here, but trying to turn global terrorists into your run-of-the-mill criminal defendants isn’t going to work.  Here is the problem:  The U.S. legal system doesn’t have a playbook for dealing with these guys and anytime special accommodations are considered, civil rights groups howl.

Individuals like Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who planned the 9/11 attacks are so dangerous and know so much about Al Qaeda that just sticking them into the legal system or even the military justice system would be both dangerous and counterproductive.
But the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that all detainees at Guantanamo Bay have a legal right to attorneys and a hearing.

Zacaria Moussaoui, allegedly in cahoots with the 9/11 hijackers, is being tried in a civilian court. The judge has ruled that he’s entitled to access to intelligence information and witnesses.  After three years of frustrating delays, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Moussaoui probably should not have been tried in a civilian court.  It seems a military tribunal would have been better, considering the rules are not quite as protective of defendants.

As we decide what to do with these so-called ghost detainees, who today remain in various interrogation rooms around the world, let’s remember the lesson of the Moussaoui case.  Let us also keep in mind that these terrorists intentionally tried to prey on the weaknesses in our system.  So, let’s not let those weaknesses offer the terrorists a technical sword to use as the final weapon against this country.

Your rebuttal
I’ve had my say, now it’s time for your rebuttal.

Christopher Pittman was found guilty of murdering his grandparents while they slept when he was 12-years-old.  Pittman’s attorney’s claimed he was under the influence of the anti-depressant Zoloft when he killed them.  I said this was the right verdict, but this child should have never been tried as an adult. Some of you agree.

Craig from Idaho writes: “Why is it that a 12-year-old who commits murder is old enough to understand what he has done and can be treated like an adult, but a 12-year-old who has sex with an older woman is too young to understand?"

Russ Bullman from East Alton, Illinois: “Well, if 12 is too young to drink, too young to drive, too young to smoke, too young to vote and too young to buy Playboy, then it's too young to be tried as an adult."

On the other side, Kenna Nauenburg in Riverside, California writes: “Christopher Pittman gave up his childhood or his right to childhood when he picked up a shotgun and killed his grandparents, set their house on fire, ran away and then lied."

Jay Cee from Hartsville, South Carolina: "Maybe if you saw the medical examiner's pictures of the two victims with there heads blown off, you'd think differently."

And Deb in Plymouth Massachusetts: “Surely you are aware of cases where children are deemed as psychopathic and can indeed commit violent crimes and murder without showing an ounce of remorse... it is sad for the children, even sadder for the victims."

Email u sat Sidebar@msnbc.com.

February 16, 2005 | 2:35 p.m. ET

Bloggers demanding action (Dan Abrams)

A prominent news executive is learning a hard lesson about speaking off the cuff.  This is something I know a lot about through having a live talk show every night.  

Eason Jordan, who ran most of CNN’s international coverage for almost two decades, has stepped down after he apparently made some inflammatory comments at an economic forum in Switzerland.

Accounts of his statements vary, but it seems pretty clear Jordan said something about the United States military targeting journalists in Iraq.

It also seems Jordan tried to clarify his remarks when announcing his resignation on Friday. He said that he never "stated, believed or suspected that the U.S. military forces intended to kill people they knew to be journalists."

There is a big difference between soldiers killing journalists working in the war zone in Iraq — which has occurred — and soldiers deliberately targeting journalists — which is a serious accusation that I have seen no evidence to support.  Any supposedly objective news executive who espouses that theory better have some hard evidence to back it up or expect to face the consequences.

Since no transcript or videotape of the event has been released, Jordan stepped down based entirely on varying recollections and reactions — recollections that exploded on the Internet among certain bloggers and the conservative media into what one blogger titled "Easongate."  One blogger got nearly 2000 signatures on a line petition demanding that Jordan resign.

That makes me nervous.

What I appreciated about the impact of the bloggers in the Dan Rather and National Guard documents story was that they were citing facts and forcing CBS News to address evidence it apparently ignored. 

But this case is different.  This is blogger/editorialists demanding action based on comments that have not been verified.  More power to those doing opinion columns.  I do them too.  But at the same time we have to try to distinguish between objective and opinion-based programming.   I hope that distinction is apparent with the bloggers as well.

I hope he was not just ousted based on a poorly-phrased sentence taken out of context by partisans.

But if he said that U.S. forces are targeting journalists, he dug his own grave.  In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow "I cannot say one thing and mean another."

Your Rebuttal
Last week, we discussed a proposed law in the state of Washington that would allow parents to listen to their children's phone conversations.   This comes after the state Supreme Court ruled that teens have a right to privacy in their own homes and parents who listen to their childrens’ phone conversations are violating that privacy.

I said that it’s the parents home.  In that home, children have fewer rights and protections afforded to everyone else.

Jo Lynn Siedelmann writes: “As a parent, I am responsible for any criminal actions my child may commit, but I can't listen in on her phone conversation?"

Jim and Kim Haskett write: "I have the right to know what my child is doing and will continue to monitor what they're doing until someone else assumes the responsibility for the results of their actions."

Stuart Stuebing writes: "Why are parents not allowed to listen to their children's phone calls in Washington State, but when the parents go to work, they can be listened to at work and on the job?"

Brad from Scottsdale, Arizona writes: "Consider how a child living in fear of their parents eaves dropping on their conversations will feel toward the constitutional protection of free speech... if the parents cannot stop the child from using the phone they pay for, then listening in is no more than entrapment."

Finally, Mary Ann Hemmingson from Tempe, Arizona writes: “I don't want to eavesdrop on my 14-year-old daughter's phone conversation. I learned my lesson the hard way when I accidentally picked up the phone when she was on it. I overheard her say, 'you don't want to do the project at my house between four and five, because my mom watches some freaky guy named Dan Abrams.'"

E-mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com

February 15, 2005 | 2:45 p.m. ET

Jackson hit with the flu ( Stacy Brown , MSNBC contributor)

I just spoke again with Jackson's sister Rebbie and his mom, who along with others, are headed to hospital. Jackson was exhausted from the flu for the past couple of days and it hit him late last night and early this morning, his family says. Fans, friends and media have been calling already from places like Singapore, Japan, Great Britain and Spain, they said.

"He's not feeling too well, he's tired," Katherine.

"He'll be okay," Rebbie.

E-mail Sidebar@MSNBC.com

February 14, 2005 | 4:37 p.m. ET

Your rebuttal (Dan Abrams)

The other night on the program I talked to Tamara Green, the second woman to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual abuse. This came weeks after another woman claimed she was drugged and molested by Cosby. Green said she had a similar incident with Cosby more than thirty years ago...

I asked Ms. Green to respond to accusations made by Cosby's attorneys in a letter sent to NBC questioning her credibility.

Some of you were not happy, including Dottie Mille: "No wonder she didn't come forward 30 years ago. Why are women treated so badly when men abuse them? Go Tamara!"

From Nebraska, Elizabeth Cahoe: "So let me get this straight, a woman has to be pure as the driven snow in order to come forward and say that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually molested her as well... I was surprised that you didn't say things such as she once cheated on a test in third grade, she pushed a girl down on the playground in second grade, she once gave a boy cooties."

But Tony Eisfelder seemed to recognize that Ms. Green appreciated the opportunity: "She seemed to welcome responding (to your questions) and had a reasonable answer to everything. Also, she was willing to come forth with explanations on her own unrelated problems, even volunteering into before it was asked of her."

Jeanne Marie writes: "I appreciated Dan Abrams treating her comments with respect and giving her space to speak them."

But a lot of you don't buy her story from Placentia California, Jim Worth: "I found it amazing that she remembered in detail what she told Mr. Cosby that night, yet was so wasted she walked out in front of her place and almost got hit by a car. I'm not even an attorney, but give me 15 minutes with her on the stand and there will be no doubt that she is a liar."

Steve and Bonita Carter in Charlotte, North Carolina: "how is it that she can recall with any clarity the events of that supposed night when she admitted to being stoned out of her mind?"

Finally, Debi Blaustein: "As a woman who was brutally raped 20 years ago and did come forward, I am so angry at con artists like her, who degrade the process and ruin it for women who truly have been violated, molested or raped."

Send me e-mails at Sidebar@msnbc.com

February 11, 2005 | 3:44 p.m. ET

Polanski pulls out all stops to outwit legal system (Dan Abrams)

Director Roman Polanski has once again managed to outwit the legal system.  He remains a fugitive from justice in the U.S. while also suing Vanity Fair magazine from the convenience of his own home in France.

In 1977, Polanski invited a 13-year-old girl over for a photo shoot.  After giving her alcohol, drugs and taking topless pictures of her, Polanski had sex with her and drove the ninth-grader home to her mom.  He asked her to keep it a secret.  She didn't and Polanski was charged with six felonies. 

He pled guilty to one — having sex with a minor — as part of a deal he made with California prosecutors.  But Polanski fled before his sentencing hearing because he still feared a light prison sentence.  He has stayed out of the U.S. ever since. 

For the past thirty years, the director has lived in Paris and made movies like " The Pianist".  It just so happens that having sex with a minor is not considered an offense serious enough to justify extradition in France.  Conveniently, he shoots his movies in countries that won't send him back.

Now, he has the gall to sue Vanity Fair over an apparently false report in the July 2002 issue that he tried to seduce a woman within weeks of the murder of his wife Sharon Tate, who was killed in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson.

But he didn't sue in France.  You see, the libel laws work better for him in England.  So he sued there.  Of course the Brits would send him back to the U.S. so what is a fugitive to do?

Apparently, he will testify via videolink since he can't actually attend the trial.

In a 3-2 decision, a British court ruled that he can do just that.  It's great to hear that the Brits are so concerned about preserving the "civil rights" of fugitive sex offenders. 

Winning an Oscar should not entitle anyone to pick and choose which parts of the legal system to use and disregard.  Polanski ends up getting "justice" by winning big bucks because his reputation was allegedly damaged.  While the State of California continues to wait for justice, he sips Bordeaux along the Seine with his newfound cash.

Your rebuttal
I've had my say, let’s hear from you.

Wednesday night we debated laws that make it a far less serious crime for a husband to rape his wife.  I said it’s a violent crime. If you assault your neighbor, it’s the same as assaulting your wife and the same should apply to rape.

Andrew Hopkins from California writes: "Equating penalties for rape and spousal rape would simply open the floodgates for an endless amount of frivolous criminal prosecutions.  If an otherwise happy couple has a fight, a disgruntled wife can run to the law and cry rape just to get back at her husband."

Why can't that same disgruntled wife cry assault as well?  It’s a violent crime.

Lee from Virginia: "There is a difference between being beaten and raped by a stranger, and being raped by a "friend or husband."  Both are traumatic and wrong, but not the same.  If you are raped by someone who you have had consensual sex with in the past, it is not as traumatic as with a violent stranger!"

So a woman remarries and a few later her ex-husband breaks into her new home and violently rapes her and that is a less serious crime??

Lyndsay Bowes writes: "The betrayal of being raped by the man who is supposed to love, cherish and protect you would be even worse in many ways than being raped by a stranger.  When you are raped by a stranger at least you have your husband to turn to."

Terry Nell Morris from Tennessee responds to the man in a wheelchair who says the rules to get an "interview" as part of the apprentice show discriminate against him based on his disability: "It is an application to be on a show.  I am 50 years old and I don't fall into the eligible group either.  So should I file a suit for discrimination?  Maybe I should apply to be a Victoria's Secret model too.  Oh wait, I don't fit their requirements either…. Give me a break."

Email: Sidebar@msnbc.com.

February 9, 2005 | 4:29 p.m. ET

Lawyer jokes case dismissed (Abrams Report staff)

Previously reported on 'The Abrams Report', a senior citizen who swapped lawyer jokes with a friend outside of a New York courtroom was charged with disorderly conduct.  Now, as it turns out, seventy-year-old Harvey Kash has the last laugh: a grand jury dismissed the case.  Kash testified that he was just expressing his First Amendment rights.

Send your e-mails to Sidebar@msnhbc.com and tune into 'The Abrams Report' at 6 p.m. ET for all of your latest legal news and updates.

February 8, 2005 | 7:02 p.m. ET

Low rider law stoops to new low (Dan Abrams)

How low can you go?  Apparently, not that far in Virginia, if the state’s House of Delegates gets its way.

The House has spent some of its precious time passing a law making it illegal to wear low-riding pants that exposes underwear.  Police who find anyone intentionally exposing their underwear in a "lewd or indecent manner" can fine them $50.

But how are the police supposed to decide who is showing their underwear to make a fashion statement and who might just be suffering from a temporary case of plumber's butt?

It’s ridiculous how state-elected representatives even spent time debating this law.  But, it’s more alarming to note that it passed overwhelmingly — 60 to 34 — by the Virginia General Assembly.

Freshman delegate Algie Howell, who sponsored the bill, says he's received lots of positive feedback from constituents who are tired of seeing young people's thongs and boxers.  He says that he's not violating anyone's constitutional rights.  He's just asking for common courtesy.

Even if the law passes in the Senate, I promise it won't ever survive in court.  The commonwealth of Virginia can't regulate how people dress unless it can show a compelling reason for doing so, as it has in some public schools and in prisons.

More importantly, aren't there other more pressing issues to address?

Supreme Court Justice Douglas once famously wrote that the government doesn't belong in people's bedrooms.  Algie Howell and his fellow Virginia reps should stay out of people's drawers.

Your rebuttal
Now it's your turn to speak out.

Monday night on the program, female soldiers mud-wrestling at a detention center in Iraq were caught on camera.  One female soldier was demoted for indecent exposure after flashing her breasts and the army says other servicemen and women are being investigated.

I said soldiers in combat should be able to blow off some steam.  One of my guest stated this is essentially a college prank.

From Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Lisa Wood, wife of a U.S. National Guard officer who recently returned from Iraq, writes: "What you describe as college pranks can devastate military families that are already paying a big price for this war.  You consider this harmless because you do not understand all of the ramifications that transpire from seemingly meaningless acts."

From Indianapolis, Indiana, Eli Sotos asks: "Would womens’ mud wrestling be tolerated in a corporate environment? Would it be tolerated in any professional environment?"

I asked, if men had been in their underwear wrestling in mud, would anyone really care?

Retired navy veteran Peggy Perez in Jacksonville, Florida thinks so: "Any person who is even remotely conscious today knows that exposing the body, especially a woman's body, is abhorrent to the Muslim culture.  This incident can only offend them."

Twenty-year retired air force veteran William Lackey: "Mud wrestling is tame, no one was hurt and no one died.  In that part of the world, that's a very good night — to be able to throw a party before rotation back to the U.S. is a right of passage.  It shows that you have survived, you have made it."

From Bedford, New Hampshire, Rob Kroeger: "Those men and women put their lives on the line for you and me, and people are giving them a hard time for having fun?"

And John Dimeo with a reference to the TV series “Mash”: "As ‘Hawkeye’ (Pierce) used to say, 'if we don't go crazy once in awhile, we'll go crazy'.  Our troops should be encouraged to blow off some steam!"

Finally, Audrey Paules from Wisconsin with a response to one of my guest's inquiries: "Elaine Donnelly asked 'when was the last time you saw two men mud wrestling?'  Actually, you can see that every summer, five times a day at the Bristol Renaissance Fair in the wholesome Midwest on the Wisconsin / Illinois border.  She also commented on what the women were wearing while they wrestled.

I guess they forgot to pack their bathing suits when going off to war. What did she want them to wear?

Email us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

February 7, 2005 | 4:41 p.m. ET

Breaking news: Ex-priest found guilty (Abrams Report staff)

Defrocked priest Paul Shanley was convicted on all counts of child rape today by a Massachusetts jury.  Shanley faces life in prison.  For more information, click here .  For all of your legal up-to-the-minute legal news, tune into 'The Abrams Report' at 6 p.m. ET tonight.

What do you think about the verdict?  Send your e-mails to Sidebar@msnbc.com.

February 2, 2005 | 7:21 p.m. ET

Michael Jackson juror questionnaire (Abrams Report staff)

Potential jurors in the Michael Jackson trial were given a 41-question, seven-page questionnaire to fill out, which has just been released to the public.  Questions ranged from if they knew about past or current accusations of child sex abuse against the pop singer to their feelings about race.

Would you make a strong juror in the Michael Jackson case? Take the questionnaire yourself by clicking here.

Tell us how you did at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

February 2, 2005 | 7:06 p.m. ET

Michael Jackson pre-trial round-up (Abrams Report staff)

The trial of the people of the state of California versus Michael Jackson began Monday. Jackson is accused of giving alcohol to a 13-year-old boy and then sexually molesting him. But from his first entrance in court, you would think Jackson was sliding into the backdoor of an auditorium for a sold-out concert, instead of the front door of a courthouse where the 46-year-old could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, if convicted.

The scene
A couple hundred fans of Michael Jackson’s showed up at the courthouse. All morning they played music, put up signs, chanted Michael Jackson’s name, amid chanting insults at the prosecutor in the case.  Strikingly, nearly 1,000 people asked for media credentials because you need it to even get into this area. Rows and rows of media were present, a lot of them from around the world -- just for the jury selection process. Just imagine what it’s going to look like once the actual trial begins.

Jackson wore the white of innocence with a jewel encrusted vest and belt. A flunky with an umbrella kept him in the shade like a virgin bride at a reception. While fans in white greeted their hero with screams, signs, and applause, inside Jackson passed through metal detectors before entering the courtroom where two panels of 150 prospective jurors were paraded in front of his lawyer and jury consultant, and a deputy D.A.

The ideal jurors
The defense and the prosecution have ideal jurors in mind, ones that will sympathize with their side.

For the prosecution, they’ll want someone who is conservative - and, debatably, they'll want women. They’ll want people who appreciate the horrors of molestation and yet unimpressed by Michael Jackson; people who might think of him as effectively a "freak" from Hollywood.

The defense needs a jury made up of open-minded people, people willing to question authority. The defense will want men, maybe even divorced men who feel they have been falsely accused by their exes.

The beginning of a circus?
Since the O.J. Simpson trial, which Dan covered from inside the courtroom, we’ve seen a few other high-profile cases. The Peterson trial was one of the biggest. But remember, Scott Peterson never had any worldwide number one hits or rock videos, nor did he run around calling himself “the King of Pop.”  We don’t remember  seeing many Japanese or German reporters chasing Amber Frey for exclusives either.

E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com

February 1, 2005 | 4:16 p.m. ET

The Jackson case no match to O.J.’s (Dan Abrams)

Will the nation be transfixed with the Michael Jackson case?  For the sake of ‘The Abrams Report,' I hope so. But I am not so sure. 

Lawyers don’t make high-profile cases fascinating.  The “who-done-its” or “could-he-have-done-it” aspect of the case are intriguing, especially because people feel they have a stake in the outcome.

We came to care about Jon Benet Ramsey, for example, and asked ourselves whether the parents really could be suspects.  Every nugget brought us one step closer to the truth.  The same applies to O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson.  Many came to feel like they knew them or knew what really happened and consequently cared about the result.

In the Laci Peterson case, so many could just relate to them: Laci and Scott seemed like the couple next door.  Could he have really killed his pregnant wife to further an affair?  Inquiring minds want to know.  But that was murder.

In the Jackson case, it’s a question of whether or not he fondled a boy. And if he did, what was his intent? Apart from the severity of the crime, there is actually something more repugnant about following all the details involved in this kind of case. 

Few can really identify with Michael Jackson; he seems so foreign.  Since the alleged victim is a child, he will be shielded from the public.  So no one will really get to know him either.  

Unlike these other cases, it's not that hard to believe he could have done it.  It’s just not that long a leap from sleeping in the same bed.  It certainly doesn't mean he did in this case.  It does mean that the fascination factor may be surprisingly low.

Despite the fact that Jackson is one of the best-known people in the world, I just think the world will really care what happens.  It will be a fascinating trial, but then again, I find everything from Supreme Court arguments to the Robert Blake case fascinating.

Your rebuttal
I've had my say, now it's time for your rebuttal...

On Friday, reports that female army interrogators used "torture" techniques on suspected Muslim terrorists at Guantanamo Bay's Camp Delta.  Techniques included wearing mini-skirts and thong underwear, sexual touching and pouring fake menstrual blood on prisoners.

I said this is no different than the lies and deception police use all the time in situations where there's a lot less at stake.  They probably crossed the line here, but that it’s really not such a big deal.  Many of you agreed. 

But not Sean Wyland.  He writes: “You talk about crossing the line ‘just a little bit’ — how would you feel about a guy who raped a girl ‘just a little bit’? The cruel treatment by the U.S. Military is fully inexcusable." 

Kelly Morgan in Ontario, Canada writes: "While I am not actually persuaded that walking around in a tight t-shirt and underwear to obtain information is an effective technique, I do know that I would never call it inhumane.  Stupid, yes. A waste of time and effort, probably.  But to label it as abuse is appalling when compared to the torture that so many men, women and children of Iraq suffered under Saddam Hussein and his sons."

And Mark Luedtke: "There is absolutely nothing wrong with humiliating a terrorist in order to get valuable intelligence.  Assuming it's successful — not for someone's perverted fun — why are we even discussing it?"

Finally, Doug Fraser writes: "Torture my —!  Sounds like a free lap dance to me.  Americans being interrogated should be so lucky!"

E-mail me at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 31, 2005 | 4:06 p.m. ET

Michael Jackson trial cheat sheet

  • Michael Jackson is charged with molesting a 13-year-old cancer patient after supplying him with alcohol and conspiracy for child abduction.
  • Jackson arrived for a court appearance today in Santa Maria, California.
  • Jury selection began today at 9:30 P.T.
  • Final jury selection could take one month or longer.
  • The first 150 people in the jury pool are also at the courthouse; 150 more will arrive this afternoon for interviews.
  • Another 300 people from the prospective jury pool will arrive tomorrow.
  • A final 150 people are scheduled to arrive Wednesday.
  • The jury will be comprised of 12 jurors and 8 alternates.
  • Yesterday, Jackson issued a court-approved video statement on his website , telling viewers he deserves a fair trial, and says he will be acquitted.
  • Many supporters have camped out all night long to catch a glimpse of the singer.

E-mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com

January 27, 2005 | 7:30 p.m. ET

Salute to Iraqi people (Dan Abrams)

Elections in Iraq are scheduled for Sunday.  Terrorists are busy distributing leaflets, which threaten to kill or maim anyone who votes.  One note left at a polling place vowed to wash the streets with voters’ blood... 

But officials are still hopeful that 50 percent of eligible voters will show up.  Even if 40 percent turn out, that would still be a higher percentage than in many American elections.

It seems Iraqis living abroad are not quite as brave as their brothers and sisters in Iraq are expected to be.  Only 10 percent of the eligible Iraqis in this country have registered to vote so far and the turnout worldwide has been far lower than expected.

MSNBC's question of the day shows that only 38 percent of people surveyed said they would risk their lives to vote if they were Iraqis.  That’s easier said than done, so that number might actually be a lot lower. 

Whatever you think about the war effort, it’s an amazing moment in history.  Iraqis will literally be risking their lives to have their voices heard, to participate in a form of government some of us just take for granted. 

Your rebuttal
I've had my say, it's time for your rebuttal...

Defrocked Catholic priest Paul Shanley just started trial.  He was accused of molesting dozens of children.  But now he faces his first and likely only criminal trial.

The sole witness and accuser in this case relying on memories of abuse in the 1980s that he says he forgot--and then "recovered" after the priest-abuse scandal made news three years ago.  One of our guests did not buy the whole concept of repressed memories.

Carol Stricklin in Germantown, Tennessee writes: "I too used to think the whole idea was absurd. Then one day, about six years ago, I suddenly remembered a molestation by my grandfather when I was 6 years old."

And from Lebannon, Pennsylvania, Ginny Yingst: "Up until five years ago, I had repressed memories of the rape that I experienced in 1981 at the hands of a 'friend'.  When you experience something so traumatic, not only once, but on a repeated basis, repressing the memory becomes a coping mechanism."

Finally, Michael Tancredi in San Diego, California: "As a revert catholic, I am very curious as to why the media pays no attention to the sex abuse charges in other denominations.  My presumption is the anti-catholic bias in the media.  Unfortunately, sexual abuse by clergy happens across all religious backgrounds and denominations."

You know we got a number of letters like this and its just nonsense.  This was a problem that extended well beyond just a few priests: 800 of them have been temporarily suspended.  Approximately 80 to 90 percent of archdioceses have settled cases.  Is that media bias? Come on Michael.  The first step here is admitting that there was a huge problem.

Please send us your e-mails at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 26, 2005 | 2:25 p.m. ET

Arab nations snub U.N. holocaust ceremony (Dan Abrams)

It seems many of the Arab nations showed their true colors on Monday at the United Nations.  Some refused to show up at a commemoration ceremony for the Sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps

Secretary General Kofi Annan and author and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel were just two of the speakers.  But the audience was sparse; except for Jordan, the Arab countries refused to participate.

This was not a celebration of Israel.  No one was asking Syria to stand and recognize the plight of the Jews in the West Bank.  This was merely to recognize the end of a genocide , perpetrated primarily by Germans, who as it turns out, also showed up for the event.

If the Arabs want their concerns revolving aorund the Palestinians to be taken seriously, they have to at least concede the issues like this one.  Instead, the U.N.’s Arab group says it deserves credit for even allowing the event to happen.  

I guess compared to the revisionists who overtly deny the holocaust occurred, they’ve got a point.  These nations not only failed to recognize the State of Israel, they don’t seem to appreciate the underlying reasons why the U.N. decided the nearly-exterminated Jews needed a homeland.

By failing to simply show up and sit in their chairs for the ceremony, delegates from the Arab countries spoke volumes about what they really believe.

Your rebuttal
Let’s hear from you…

After hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts from the Catholic Church, Paul Shanely, the defrocked Catholic priest, is finally standing trial for the rape of a young alter boy in the 1970's.  I said I don't expect to see justice served because legal technicalities, civil lawsuits and traumatized witnesses could mean that Paul Shanley will walk out of the courtroom a free man.

Jim Tanski writes: "Aren't you a lawyer, or at least a law school graduate? Maybe you should have mentioned the difference in the burden of proof in a civil case compared to that in a criminal case. You and the rest of the press created such a likelihood that any civil jury would find against Shanley and the church, it made sense for the church to shell out big bucks to make the civil cases go away."

Oh so its the media's fault that the church moved Shanley from parish to parish after they got reports of his abuse? It’s the media's fault that Shanley wrote about sex between men and boys.  The media should have reported more on this story a long time ago. 

And we all appreciate the lecture on the difference between the civil and criminal systems, but that doesn't change the fact that this pervert could go free.

Finally, the other night we dedicated a segment to a NBC entertainment legend, Johnny Carson, who passed away Sunday.

But Tom Harmon in Ann Arbor, Michigan asks: "What does Johnny Carson's death have to do with law and justice? C'mon now."

Tom, Johnny Carson served as a judge of talent and in that way he was an honorary member of the bar. Nah, I am just kidding.  Fair point.

Email us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 20, 2005 | 5:07 p.m. ET

Poster boy for a Catholic Church cover-up (Dan Abrams)

The defrocked priest Paul Shanley is a poster boy for the Catholic Church's cover-up of sexual abuse in the priesthood. After hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts from the church, Shanley is one of the few to see the inside of a courtroom. 

He is now on trial for the rape of one young altar boy in the 1970s.  But don't expect to see justice served, and it's not because the evidence against Shanley isn't overwhelming. 

More than a dozen boys accused Shanley of taking them out of religious education class and raping them in the church confessional, the rectory or the restroom. He had even publicly voiced support for sex between men and boys. Internal church documents show that Shanley's superiors simply moved him from parish to parish in Massachusetts as a result of the allegations.

But by the time the priest abuse scandal broke and the church was forced to open up its archives, the statute of limitations had passed for charging him in connection with most of those cases.

Nevertheless, prosecutors in Massachusetts scraped together a case with four more recent alleged victims.  But as of this week, four witnesses are down to just one .  Two had inconsistencies in their stories; prosecutors dropped the third after Shanley's lawyers subjected him to such intense questioning that he left the courtroom, vomited, and then disappeared.

The only accuser left is now a man in his twenties who says he didn't remember that Shanley molested him as a child until he saw reports of the church sex abuse case in the media. 

The defense team will portray the lone accuser as a witness with a creative memory who wanted a piece of the payout.  In reality, the church settled for big bucks with all of Shanleys alleged victims

But the defense in the criminal case very well could work thanks to legal technicalities, civil lawsuits and traumatized witnesses.  It could mean that Paul Shanley will walk out of the courtroom a free man — yikes.  

Your rebuttal
Okay.  I've had my turn.  Now it’s time to hear from you.

On Monday, we told you the FDA has until the end of the week to decide whether to make the morning after pill available without a prescription .  It’s essentially a highly concentrated birth control pill because it prevents a woman from getting pregnant up to 72 hours after she has sex. 

I said I see no reason why this pill should be offered over the counter if the regular birth control pill is available only by prescription.

Drew Joslin in Norfolk Virginia writes: "While a woman should obviously employ other methods of contraception before the fact, a woman should not have to plan her sex life around her doctor's office hours, in case of an emergency."

From Georgetown, Texas, Jane Thompson: "The normal pill is taken daily and fundamentally changes the way a woman's body works. It can have dangerous side effects, which I would not think would be true if only one dose were taken."

But that is the point Jane.  If it is offered over the counter, it may be taken a lot more than once making it more dangerous than the pill.

And Jen Smith in Suffolk, Virginia: "You are advocating the position of 'planning' an emergency, which is an oxymoron."

Well, Jen I would assume then that you do not have a homeland security kit ready in your house or a fire extinguisher, just in case. 

Lynnette Walker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania suggests: "If the FDA says 'no' to acquiring this pill without a prescription, then all condoms should be prescribed by a physician.  What is good for the gander is good for the goose!"

Yeah except there is no evidence that condoms can have the negative medical effects these pills can have.

Judy Willingham from San Antonio, Texas takes me on from the other side because I said I had no problem with doctors prescribing the pill for women to have in their medicine cabinets just in case.

"Can't you see young teenage girls taking this pill like candy every time they have sex?  It is obvious you don't have a daughter."

Interesting Judy, many on the other side might be surprised you take the position you do if you have a daughter.

Also on Monday, we discussed the case of three-year-old Evan Scott who was taken from his would-be adoptive parents that he lived with his entire life. The boy was returned to his birth mother after she sued to reclaim Evan when she found out his biological father might get custody.

I said the biological father didn't even know about the child because he'd beaten the mother so badly that she wanted to hide the pregnancy from him.  We received plenty of e-mails about little Evan.

From Wichita, Kansas, attorney Carroll Hoke: "As a fellow lawyer, you know that no matter how bad the father was, his objection before the adoption was final should have been a huge red flag to the adoptive parents.  This makes the adoptive parents culpable as well of the pain they are suffering."

Red flag, yes. The Scotts are partially responsible for the pain here but that is not the end of the inquiry.

From Surf City, North Carolina, Tom Noe: "The adoptive parents are a big problem here, they kept fighting for the boy by appealing and appealing.  They are the cause, not the solution here. The boy would have had a home years ago without all their tears."

Well, maybe— except remember that the mom did not decide she even wanted the child until late last year.

On the other side, I said the home video the foster parents took bothered me.

Marilyn Barrio in Healdsburg, California: "I am amazed that you cannot understand why the adoptive parents made the video. It was to show the pain, anguish and damage done to the little boy."

E-mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com

January 19, 2005 | 7:02 p.m. ET

No clean slates after Abu Ghraib  (Dan Abrams)

Graner deserved to be convicted . His defense hardly a match for the photos with his smiling mug looking more like he was on vacation at a wax museum than at a real prison — with real prisoners.

He blamed his superiors but could not force them to come in and testify.  As a legal matter, it’s not good enough to say, ‘well they told me to do it’.  He should have known better and is paying the price.

However, his defense is relevant in assessing why it happened, and helps to ensure it does’t happen again.

I haven't seen any evidence to indicate that Graner was told to stack naked prisoners in pyramids and to make them masturbate.  But, it is clear Graner and other lower-level soldiers were encouraged to “soften” the prisoners up.  I have got to believe some of his superiors, at the least, ignored evidence of the abuses.

Mark my words: I predict no higher-level officers will be held criminally accountable.

General Ricardo Sanchez may not get his fourth star and but what about everyone in between? It seems the goal here is to minimize the damage.

If you want to argue that this entire incident is not that a big a deal, as Graner’s attorney seemed to suggest in his opening statement, fine.  A military jury didn't buy it.  I don't buy it either.  But at least that argument does not only demand accountability from a few low level officers for what sure seems to be a far more widespread problem. 

Graner was not the scapegoat, as he claims.  But there is no doubt in my mind that there is a lot more to this story that we’ll probably never hear inside a courtroom. 

Your rebuttal
I’ve had my say, now it's your turn.

A preacher faces up to 47 years in prison on felony charges of riot, criminal conspiracy and ethnic intimidation after he went to a Philadelphia gay pride parade in October with a megaphone shouting things like "homosexuality is sin" and "Christ can set you free".

Based on the videotape of the scene, I said he should have been charged with nothing more than disorderly conduct, if that.    

Amber in Knoxville, Tennessee: Just like the KKK, it's ok to speak your mind.  But when you speak of hate and prejudice, like this group, then you don't have rights when you speak of hate."

Well amber actually the KKK does have the right to speak of hate as long as they do not cross the line towards trying to incite a riot.

From Detroit, Michigan, Jase Tobey: "Once upon a time, people used the bible to justify hate against African Americans.  This is no different than if someone were to go to an African American rally and preach to them about how they were doing something that they considered evil."

That may be true but again that does not provide what is called a heckler's veto; someone listening does not have the legal right to say it would make me so upset that I might have to commit violence. 

R. Zeke Fread in Tampa, Florida: “They always claim they were only attempting to minister the word of god, to save our souls and so Christ will set us free. Oh please, give me a break. They spew bigotry, intolerance and hatred in an attempt to disrupt the event and incite violence."

If the goal was to incite violence, that is a different story.  But I did not see that.

Minister Glen Mauro in Wall, New Jersey offers some advice to the preacher: “The Christian goal is conversion. It does not come by shouting or counter-protesting to a crowd that needs to be taught and loved in order to even hear the message. Do they want to convert or intimidate homosexuals?"

Also, in a rare event last week, Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer debated whether the U.S. Supreme Court should ever let decisions made in foreign courts impact their rulings on American law.

I said the U.S. Supreme Court has occasionally mentioned, in passing, what other courts have done on some difficult issues.  So what?

Tom Harmon in Ann Arbor, Michigan: “Once we start basing our judgment on case law made outside the United States, we open ourselves up to legalizing drugs, prostitution, the cutting off of hands and other prized body parts, and execution without due process. 'It's legal in Uganda' should never be a valid argument in our country."

Oh I love the sky-is-falling-argument here Tom.  In limited circumstances to explain how other countries highest courts have resolved difficult issues is just that an explanation, nothing more.  Relax.

From Chester Virginia, Christina Barksdale: “It's as plain as the nose on your face that too many U.S. liberal judges are making a mockery of our constitution with their 'European-like' attitudes on moral issues, abortion and marriage for example."

Christina I hate to break the news to you but our abortion laws are generally more liberal than most countries in Europe.  So maybe, according to you, those darn Europeans aren't so bad after all.

E-mail me at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 18, 2005 | 1:55 p.m. ET

‘Not the maximum’ isn’t a.k.a ‘getting off’ (Dan Abrams)

The difference between “not the maximum” sentence and “getting off” is an issue that often comes up on this show.  Every time we discuss a topic, ranging from the guy facing up to 25 years for shining a light laser at an airplane to Texas mom Andrea Yates who killed her five kids, the degree of punishment comes into question.

Some people in favor of only the maximum punishment get defensive; they change the subject by saying ‘anything but the max means they would be getting off;’ they ask, ‘how would you feel if a laser was pointed at your plane?’

If our discussion suggested that Yates or laser man should serve no time, those would be appropriate responses. 

However, what we are asking is if the punishment fits the crime? How does it compare to other crimes? 

Obviously for Yates, the question is her mental illness status.

For laser man, it’s more a question of whether idiocy and, perhaps, a prank with no relation to terrorism is an offense that warrants many years behind bars.

Crimes can be treated (and sentenced) seriously without going to extremes.  We should focus on why a crime was particularly heinous, and determine the sentencing from there.

On a related note, my regular viewers know I tend to be tough on crime and criminals.  But I also want to maintain my credibility with you.  So I am not going to automatically say the max is the only option — as do some hosts and legal analysts who sound like politicians trying to the toughest on crime.  Not with me.  You will get a case-by-case assessment.  Sometimes you will agree and sometimes you won't, but you will always know I’ll be giving it to you straight.     

Your rebuttal
I've had my say, now it's your turn.

Actor Robert Blake's murder trial opened December 20.  We've covered his trial five times since the opening statements.

But Judith Homewood in Washington wants more:  “I watch your show most evenings. I would be interested in hearing some reporting and analysis of the Blake trial.  To date, I have not heard anything.  Is there a reason for this?"

Well Judith, I don’t think most people are that interested in the case. . Am I wrong? Write back and let me know...

Thursday night, we had some laughs with two senior citizens who were arrested at a Long Island courthouse for telling lawyer jokes.

Jess Woodward in North Carolina: “Have those guys who were arrested for telling lawyer jokes on your show again! They could probably tell those jokes for the entire hour! What a blast!"

But attorney Patricia Davis in Houston, Texas writes:  “I was thrilled to hear of the arrests of two men who were telling lawyer jokes outside a courthouse.  But were they arrested for harassment or for telling bad jokes?"

Rim shot please…ba doom doom tsss...

E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.  Hold the bad lawyer jokes, please.

January 14, 2005 | 5:25 p.m. ET

Your rebuttal (Dan Abrams)

Wednesday night, we talked about the threat of aiming laser pointers at airplanes on 'The Abrams Report'.  There have been thirty incidents reported in the past two weeks, including one New Jersey man who was caught and charged under the Patriot Act.  If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

I said that while this is criminal and the people doing it must be stopped, this is not near the top of my list when it comes to terror threats; 25 years maximum is extreme for this crime.

Geri Kraft in Seattle Washington writes: "Twenty-five years in prison is just about right for use of a laser to intentionally harm an airplane pilot.  If you were intentionally blinded, would you be happy that the perpetrator got off with a slap on the wrist?"

Geri, there is nothing to indicate that this was intentionally blinding a pilot.  If that were the case and if prosecutors were alleging that — which they are not — I might agree with you.

Donna Rockwood: “I know your argument is that the punishment does not fit the crime.  Once again, I say tell that to the judge and jury of those who lost their lives on 9/11."

Again, we are not talking about any fear of these lasers being used to fire missiles.  This is a nuisance, and a dangerous one at that, but it has nothing to do with 9/11.

And Kristofer Biskeborn: "There is only one reason to shine a laser at an aircraft, to see if you can make it crash.  These people demonstrate a dangerous mix of malice, disregard for the lives of others and curiosity, in addition to idiocy."

Kristofer, prosecutors don’t believe there was any intent to see if he could make the plane crash — and the law is all about intent.

But Roger Williams in Murrieta, California: "This is just a chest-pounding display of foolishness by a bunch of politicians acting like monkeys, anxious to get some attention."

And from Tyler, Texas, Josh Duncan: "We have more important stuff to deal with then this nonsense."

Thanks for responding.   Keep e-mailing us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 13, 2005 | 2:41 p.m. ET

A little love leads to lawsuit prevention (Dan Abrams)

Not surprisingly, people often turn to me asking whether they should sue over a variety of issues They recount stories of being intimidated, mistreated, fired or injured.  Sometimes the answer is go for it, you should sue.  But many times all people want in the end is, in the words of Aretha Franklin, a little respect.  

It happened to me recently.  I took a ski trip over Christmas and paid top-dollar for what was supposed to be an amazing room at an amazing resort.  Let’s just say it was a major disappointment, from the accommodations to the service.  I even considered suing because the room was so expensive and I felt so dissed.

Feeling shortchanged and furious the day I returned, I sent a detailed letter to the company — just a personal letter, not an MSNBC one — informing them of my complaints.

My critique was specific, constructive and polite.  Within a day, the CEO responded.  He seemed furious and apologetic and even offered to make changes and have us return-at their own expense.

Will I take them up on the offer? I have no idea. That is not even the point.  The point is I was treated with respect; my concerns recognized and addressed. 

Now, would a refund have been better? Sure. But they dealt with it and that helped avoid taking it to the next level.

It’s a lesson for CEOs, managers, doctors — you name it!  When we complain, just listen.  Take us seriously.  As long as we are not making outlandish or frivolous accusations, just lend an ear and maybe offer an olive branch.

And consumers see if you can resolve it on your own before you head to lawyers.  Talk to a manager.  Write a letter first.  Lawsuits are big headaches that can be psychologically debilitating.

In most instances, we all just want a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Your rebuttal
Tuesday, in exclusive deposition tapes obtained by NBC News, former congressman Gary Condit denied under oath that he ever had a romantic relationship with former Washington intern Chandra levy.  But he would not answer whether he had a sex with her.  It was part of his 11 million dollar defamation lawsuit against well-known author Dominick Dunne.

We asked if the media and the investigators are responsible for unfairly tarring Condit or whether he brought much of this upon himself.

Shirly in Westland, Michigan:  “I don't blame Mr. Condit for refusing to answer the question.  The only purpose in revealing that information would have been for the sensationalization of the story."

One of my guests, Daniel Horowitz, said Condit was "purely a victim".

Carol Pia-Sick in Toms River, New Jersey: “How can your enraged guests tell us that Gary Condit is this totally innocent victim of the media?  He played the Clinton word game and was stunned when the cops called him back four times for additional interviews."

After Levy's disappearance and the controversy that followed, Condit lost his "first election in 30 years.” 

Sara Rom writes: “One of the main reasons he lost his election bid was the town that once supported him was so outraged that he didn't come forward with additional information in the precious hours after finding out Chandra was mysteriously missing.  He thought he could save his own skin."

Also police in Truro, Massachusetts asked all the men of the town to give DNA samples to help solve a three-year-old murder.  The ACLU of Massachusetts says that's a "serious intrusion on personal privacy".

I said I understand the concerns, but no one is being forced and police said they're not going to keep the DNA in a database.  So what's the big deal?

Duane Gary in New Haven, Connecticut: “I find it hard to believe you are that gullible to think that the police department collecting DNA will purge the information from any database once the murder investigation is over."

Well let them prove it then. 

And Deno Ally: “The bottom line is you cannot rationalize away a person's right to privacy by appealing to the greater public good such a sacrifice might provide."

Deno it happens all the time.  What do you think metal detectors are?

Finally, Michelle Morrison in Virginia Beach, Virginia: “Holy cow, the world is ending!  I actually agree with the ACLU's stance on the supposed voluntary DNA samples."

Would you give a sample of your DNA, if asked?  Let us know at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 12, 2005 | 4:43 p.m. ET

Get it right (Dan Abrams)

Lawyers representing the media should never say, "Nobody ever gets it 100 percent right."  It just isn't good enough.

In the wake of the CBS disaster with the National Guard documents, I don't want lawyers defending media clients saying “there are always some details that are wrong.”

But that is exactly what Robert Dushman was quoted saying in The New York Times about his client The Boston Herald in the context of a libel case filed against them by a judge.

Details aren't always wrong. Most of us actually do get it 100 percent right, most of the time. If that lawyer’s goal was to further undermine media credibility then he was on the right track.      

Now I too have made mistakes. But I would never let my lawyer just argue that mistakes don't matter, because they do. In fact, any time we get a fact wrong around here, it is serious business.  

The legal standards in court are designed to protect the media from being sued for innocent mistakes.  When it comes to a public figure, the person has to essentially show that the media should have known better.

Fine. But what CBS seems to understand now is that credibility is everything, and lawyers who are speaking for the media should know that as well as anyone.

Your rebuttal
Monday night, Scott Peterson's girlfriend Amber Frey was on the program with her lawyer Gloria Allred.  We talked about Amber's new book, her involvement in the Peterson case and her future plans.  We received many e-mails about Amber.

Kevin in New York City writes:  “If Amber simply wanted justice, she would have told her story without the assistance of a loud mouthed, brassy attorney and would have gone back to her life. It seems like Amber was motivated by something other than clearing her name."

But from Sarasota, Florida, Suzanne Ray: "Amber Frey should hold her head up high and not be ashamed of one single solitary thing.  She is an example of what every law abiding citizen should do when the situation calls for it. Her book should be a lesson for young girls who are taken in by fast talking cheaters."

And Marie from Lathrop, California: "Unlike other interviewers, you did not speak to her with a pompous attitude.  It's easy to see why you are the most respected interviewer on TV."

Thanks Marie.

The other day, four senior CBS employees were fired after an independent report over that story about President Bush's National Guard service.

I spoke with CBS President Les Moonves and the men who wrote the report, which said there was no basis to believe the story aired based on any political bias.  I said I would defer to them. 

Howard Hyman wrote in:  “And the liberal media wonders why the USA is now a nation of blue states vs. red states? Nobody cares about this CBS story except the media itself!"

Yeah right, Howard.  If we had not covered the story of CBS being criticized by the panel, you would have been the first to complain and say it's a liberal media cover up!  Gimme a break.

On one final note, I have previously discussed the Geneva Convention in one of my blogs.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court may soon decide whether Al Qaeda detainees should be treated as normal prisoners of war under guidelines of the 1949 Geneva Convention or be treated as "enemy combatants."

We'll keep you posted on any developements.  In the meantime, e-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 11, 2005 | 1:53 p.m. ET

Viewers' Q and A with Amber Frey

Viewers asked, Amber tells.  In an interview with MSNBC’s Dan Abrams, Amber Frey answers questions that you didn’t hear inside the courtroom.

Q— Lori Adcock, viewer: Amber, what will you tell your daughter about this when she is old enough to understand?

A— Amber Frey: You know, fortunately, she will have my book to read and when she reaches that age of maturity, but only the truth.

Q— Moe, viewer: At the beginning of the investigation, was there any moment that you had doubts that Scott had been framed or was not guilty of the murder?

A— Amber Frey: Well that wasn’t for me to decide.  That was in the hands of law enforcement.

Q— Becky Hammond, viewer: I would like to know what you plans to do with the money she makes from this book.  I would hope she will establish some type of trust for battered women, a scholarship fund, or donate the bulk of it to her favorite charity in Laci and Conner`s memory.

A— Amber Frey: Yes, in regard to that question, I feel that donations or charity-type funds are something done privately, not publicly. 

Q— Joseph Barnes, viewer: Do you still have feelings for Scott?

A— Amber Frey: No.

Keep watching 'The Abrams Report' for all of your legal news.  The show airs weeknights at 6 p.m. ET.  E-Mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 10, 2005 | 3:47 p.m. ET

President of CBS News talks to Abrams Report

In a rare interview, Dan sits down with Les Moonves, head of CBS and Co-CEO of Viacom, to get the bottom of the CBS scandal.  CBS News fired fouremployees today following an independent probe that blamed the network for a "myopic zeal" to disregard basic journalism values when it aired a faulty story about President Bush's military record.  The investigation said the network failed to fully examine documents used in Dan Rather's report.

Lou Boccardi and Dick Thornburgh, the co-authors of the report and Linda Mason, Vice-President of CBS, will also join Dan tonight.

Plus, Amber Frey talks to Dan about her relationship with Scott Peterson.

This is one jam-packed hour of TV news that you won't want to miss!  'The Abrams Report' airs at 6 p.m. ET tonight.

E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 10, 2005 | 12:29 p.m. ET

Litigious Americans: Who's to blame? (Dan Abrams)

Last week, President Bush urged lawmakers to address the problems of class action lawsuits in the U.S., but it's not just the class action suits that are becoming problems. 

In our “Lawyers v.  America” series, we focused not only on lawyers, but on all Americans and the American lawsuit mentality.  It seems like every time something happens, people immediately talk about suing.

For example, a man sued NBC over a “Fear Factor” episode , saying it made him sick as he watched participants eat dead rats.  He wants $2.5 million.

He's not the only one.  There's an Alaskan woman who sued for $50,000 saying she suffered emotional distress because a bus driver told her she couldn't eat a Snickers bar due to the well-known “no eating on the bus” rule.

You‘ve all heard similar cases. 

So how did we get here? Is there any way to get out of this? 

All week last week, we focused on what lawsuits are doing to America, and we called the series "Lawyers vs. America." It's probably unfair for us to call this series that. The title is a bit misleading, because while there are unscrupulous lawyers soliciting work, there is unfortunately a sense of entitlement among many Americans.

Many Americans seem to want to win the legal lotto, looking at others who have won a lot of money in court. They think, “Oh he got it or she got it, why shouldn‘t I?”

By the way, one group of trial lawyers have been trying to send angry e-mails to my personal e-mail address in protest of this segment. We are saving these addresses and considering posting their addresses on our Web site for to you flood their inboxes. 

While I never particularly liked the title of the series, it does represent part of the problem— certain lawyers. 

That doesn't mean that ALL lawsuits or all plaintiffs' lawyers are ambulance chasers or take frivolous cases. But when that is true, it has had an enormously negative impact on our society and our system. And in that case, it IS the "Lawyers vs. America". 

For these lawyers' groups to complain that lawsuits are not the problem—  well, that's just nonsense.  It is the lawyers' fault in part. 

There are other problems— the insurance companies, the negligence of a few, and sue-happy plaintiffs. In truth, jurors are willing to award often disproportionate amounts of money. 

But lawyers drive the operation and in the end, for them to deny any and all responsibility for the problems with our current system is just downright dishonest or delusional.

I hope the discussions on 'The Abrams Report' have helped you decide for yourself where the lawyers are helping or hurting.

My take on the Gonzales hearings

This may have been a first in our history: A nominee for attorney general, the nation's top law enforcement job, was asked by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if he approved of torture. 

It was a question that came up more than once at Alberto Gonzales' confirmation hearing today.  And there were other issues— like a memo written by Gonzales that said parts of the Geneva Convention were obsolete, and another that seems to weaken standards for torture.
Questions were raised on whether the abuses at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers should be blamed on administration policies and on Gonzales. 

My take? There's no question that Alberto Gonzales is going to be the next attorney general. 

As for Thursday's hearings, I think the opposition to Gonzales is going to have a lot of trouble getting the so-called torture memos to stick, at least those that we know about.  I don't think the memo Gonzales wrote is all that controversial. It says terrorists aren't to be treated the same as uniformed soldiers.  I happen to agree.  

Send us e-mails at DAbrams@MSNBC.com.

January 6, 2005 | 2:27 p.m. ET

Lawsuits vs. Leisure (Lisa Daniels and Alexis Vena, Abrams Report producer)

Lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits are changing the quality of life for Americans, and changing the way we have fun, for better or worse: Countless playgrounds across America are missing those infamous “monkey bars”; tea cup rides at amusement parks that we all know and love — have you noticed? — they're spinning much more slowly; the price of a ski ticket is going through the roof; consumer warning labels bombard us with the dangers on everything from toothbrushes to ripping the tags off underneath pillows .  Courtrooms across America are a-buzz with lawsuits stemming from someone's good time gone bad.

One such suit led to a big change in many swimming pools, both public and private.  You’ll notice that many of them no longer have diving boards.  That might be because of a case in 1993 when 14-year-old Shawn Meneely was paralyzed from the neck-down, after diving into a neighbor's pool.  In the so-called “suicide dive,” the diver catapults himself headfirst off the board, with as much force as possible, and doesn't raise his arms for protection.

Shawn's family sued the pool builder, the diving board manufacturer, and the National Spa and Pool Institute and won over $8 million.  As a result of the family's suit and others like it, most swimming pool builders are reluctant to install diving boards.  In fact, diving board sales are down 25 percent from just five years ago.

It's a hard issue. We want to be safe, and we want to have fun.  But so did generations before us.  They survived. They didn't sue each other to this extent.  Sure, there were a few accidents. But freedom, as they say, is not perfect.

E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 6, 2005 | 11:43 a.m. ET

A 'Law and Order' twist: Andrea Yates' murder conviction overturned

An appeals court on Thursday overturned the capital murder convictions of Andrea Yates, ruling that a prosecution witness gave false testimony that may have influenced the jury that convicted her in the drowning deaths of three of her five children.

The court based its reversal on false testimony by a prosecution witness, psychiatrist Park Deitz, who stated during her March 2002 trial that the killings occurred shortly after an episode of the NBC television show “Law & Order” in which a woman drowned her children and later was acquitted by reason of insanity.

Jurors learned after Yates was convicted that the episode never existed.

Click here to learn more about this story, and tune in to 'The Abrams Report' tonight where Dan is sure to have more details.

January 5, 2005 | 7:48 p.m. ET

Some of our viewers wrote into sidebar@msnbc.com with their own poems after we published Dan's .  We would like to share their contributions with you.  Enjoy.

There once was a cad named Scott
who murdered his wife and got caught.
His lies, double life and secret boating
his mistress, phone calls and smirky gloating
told us all that his lawyer could not.
Liz Peters, Seattle, Wash.

There is a news anchor by the name of Dan
He's smart as a whip and a very cute man

I watched him closely during the Peterson trial
And got word that Jackson may be a pedophile

Dan is the best there is no doubt
I feel sorry for those who haven't figured that out

He is right at home reporting the news
And very forthcoming with his point of views

Dan is extremely easy on the eyes
Not just for women, but I'm sure for some guys

You are my favorite male newscaster
You rock, you rule, you are the master

There is no one that could take your place
There is no substitution for your face

You are definitely one of a kind
A diamond in the rough, one hell of a find.
Karen, Massachusetts

Wow. We think so, too.  Thanks for the poems.  Even if you're not feeling as creative as these ladies, we always want to hear your thoughts.  E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 5, 2005 | 2:35 p.m. ET

Lawyers v. America: Education (Lisa Daniels and Bob Lilly, Abrams Report producer)

The other night we focused on education in our weeklong series about how lawsuits are changing our country for the better and for the worse. 

Education and America’s public schools are a top priority for most parents with kids, and for President Bush who signed the “No child left behind” act almost two years ago.  Along with raising standards for students, “No child left behind” included the “Teacher protection” act, which helps protect teachers, principals, and other education professionals from lawsuits.

But despite that, more than half of teachers and principals who took part in a 2003 Harris poll said they feared lawsuits or legal challenges.  And larger majorities, over 60% in both cases, said that fear was affecting the way they taught their students and ran their schools.

Are teachers and principals right to be afraid?  Right now courts around the country are hearing suits on everything from parents demands for special education classes for their kids to demands that dodgeball be dropped from school sports.

Lawsuits are definitely a problem, especially in the schools.  But the real problem isn't the lawyers or the parents who are suing.

It's the lawmakers who wrote the laws. They're the ones who invited these problems, and they're the ones who should fix them.

Do you have a solution?  E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

January 5, 2005 | 12:57 p.m. ET

How Terry Nichols— and his defense team— are victimizing Oklahoma residents again ( Lisa Daniels , Abrams Report guest host and MSNBC anchor)

I've always had the highest respect for criminal defense attorneys. Their clients are sometimes despicable murderers who have no respect for life and death— criminals, whom frankly, I've had no desire to ever represent.

But there are people out there who are willing to represent these clients, not because they agree with what their clients did, but because they believe in the criminal justice system. I applaud their efforts.

Of that group, I've had particular respect for court-appointed attorneys.  The group of men and women, usually paid close to nada, who make sure our sixth amendment right to counsel is alive and working. 

Now you can cross one name off that list: Terry Nichols' defense attorney Brian Hermanson.

You remember Nichols— the convicted co-conspirator of the Oklahoma City bombings. It turns out, Mr. Hermanson and his team of lawyers spent almost $4.2 million of Oklahoma taxpayers' money to provide a defense for their client.

That's not so bad except Oklahoma taxpayers ended up paying for some excessive extras:

  • Expenditures for Terry Nichols
  • $50.19 for a law dictionary so he would be well-versed
  • $28.05 for "The American Terrorist," an account of the life of his friend, Timothy McVeigh
  • $3.99 for coffee sweetener
  • $26.95 for leisure reading in jail, spent on the best-seller "The Secret Life of Bees."

Expenditures Mr. Hermanson:

  • $58.95 per month for cable bill
  • $2,742.00 for an alarm system for his law office
  • Cash allowance to pay for his client’s dry-cleaning, shoes, shirts, stamps, etc.

(Prices quoted from a list of expenditures submitted by Terry Nichols' defense attorney).

That's a hefty bill, considering Nichols' defense attorney received an additional $1.9 million dollars for the actual representation of Mr. Nichols in court.

Who's to blame for this? Not just Mr. Hermanson and his unquestionable spending habits.  Oklahoma court officials, who first questioned some of the expenses, ended up approving these in the end.

Oklahoma residents have been victimized twice: First, when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blew up a federal building in Oklahoma city on April 19, 1995. This blast killed 168 people, 19 of them children. Now again, paying for certain luxuries that neither Terry Nichols or his attorney deserve.

It's bad enough Terry Nichols took the lives of so many innocent men, women and children. He and his legal team are adding insult to injury by taking your money.

E-mail Lisa through Sidebar@MSNBC.com

January 4, 2004 | 6:39 p.m. ET

Breaking News: Kennedy Smith case dismissed

A Chicago judge dismissed a civil lawsuit accusing William Kennedy Smith of sexual assault today.  For more details, click here .  Stay tuned to MSNBC for all of the latest news.

January 4, 2004 | 11:19 a.m. ET

Lawyers v. America: Medical malpractice (Dan Abrams and Amy Harmon, Abrams Report producer)

Last night we began a week long series to look at the ways lawsuits are changing the nation, often for the worse. We started first looking at medical malpractice.

Malpractice lawsuits, the threat of lawsuits, and skyrocketing insurance rates are forcing many doctors to relocate, or give up their high risk specialties all together, making it harder for Americans to find necessary medical care. The American Medical Association says 20 states are facing this crisis, with another 24 heading in that direction. 

In Florida, at least 11 hospitals were forced to close their obstetrics units or to reduce obstetric services, and 10 have eliminated or reduced neurological services.  In three years Kentucky lost 36 percent of its practicing neurosurgeons, 29 percent of its general surgeons and 25 percent of its obstetricians. And between 1997 and 2002 Pennsylvania lost approximately 600 general surgeons, 145 orthopedic surgeons and 35 neurosurgeons. Philadelphia alone lost approximately 450 doctors. And those are just some examples.

So who is to blame? Doctors blame the lawyers for bringing so many suits. Lawyers blame insurance companies for trying to make a profit. And insurance companies blame the doctors and lawyers.

Dan's take: There is no question some people deserve to collect from negligent doctors, but the system in place now is like the lottery.  There's got to be a better way to punish the bad doctors and protect the good, while maintaining the quality care Americans have come to rely on.

There should be no cap on actual economic damages; patients who are treated in a negligent manner must be able to recoup their costs. But pain and suffering should be limited and punitive damages— damages designed to punish— should go to the state rather than to the individuals. That would teach the doctors a lesson without allowing the lawyers to win jackpot verdicts

Tune in to 'The Abrams Report' tonight at 6 p.m. ET when we look at how lawyers and the legal system are changing America's schools.

Thoughts? E-mail us at Sidebar@MSNBC.com.

January 4, 2004 | 11:10 a.m. ET

We would be incredibly remiss if we didn't share links and information on how to help tsunami victims:

January 3, 2004 | 10:38 p.m. ET

The endless supply of legal stories (Dan Abrams)

The question I'm asked so often is, “Do you think there will still be major legal stories to cover in 2005 and what are you going to do now that the Peterson case is over?”

It's the same question basically I have been asked every year since legal stories became a staple of the news diet beginning in the early 1990s.

What are you going to do now that the Menendez case is over?  What are you going to cover now that the O.J. Simpson case is done?  Is your show going to have enough material now that the Kobe case went away? 

The answer is the same every time, every year.  There will always be stories to cover.  There will always be despicable crimes and despicable criminals-some of them famous, others just fascinating.

Almost all will insist the police got the wrong man or woman, and in turn their trial will captivate. And it‘s not just the trials— from abortion to gay rights to church and state issues, the legal stories never fail to deliver. It's true this has been a particularly fruitful year in the world of legal journalism, but as Steven Brill, the founder of Court TV used to say, "It is like being an umbrella salesman. You can count on the fact that there will always be more rain."

So stay tuned in 2005 as the program about justice continues.

Happy new year!

E-mail us at Sidebar@MSNBC.com

December 30, 2004 | 2:56 p.m. ET

Death penalty debate lives on (Rikki Klieman, Abrams Report Guest Host)

As we come to the end of 2004, one legal debate continues with bitter division throughout the country — the death penalty.  Who should live?  Who should die?  Who should choose the ultimate penalty in the first place?  Who should pronounce the sentence?  Whose life is it anyway? 

In Connecticut where there has not been an execution in nearly 45 years, serial killer Michael Ross decided that he will take that lethal injection on January 26 and no longer pursue any further appeals of his death sentence.  He says he's doing this to spare the victims' families any more pain.  A judge found that Mr. Ross is competent to make that decision and believe that it's his right to choose to die at the hands of the state.

But lawyers see things differently.  The state public defender's office is going to other courts still looking for stays of execution against the wishes of Ross.  They're challenging the finding of his competency and he doesn't like that one bit.  Ross claims that a public defender told him that if he didn't pursue a certain appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, then he might be responsible for the execution of others on death row in Connecticut. 

That's one responsibility Ross might not want to assume, but he has it whether he likes it or not.  To compound the problem, Ross' father is being represented by the Connecticut Civil Liberties Union.  They filed suit yesterday attempting to stop his son`s execution by challenging lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment. 

So how will it end? 

Is Ross allowed to be responsible for his own life and now his own death?  Or should society and the criminal justice system itself have a vested interest in the final result?  Are we all in some way responsible for the taking of a life by the state?  Or can someone just say "Time's up, I'm done, got to go?"

Email us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

December 28, 2004 | 7:03 p.m. ET

A rhyme with reason (Dan Abrams)

When I look back at the year's high profile cases there was plenty to cover, even without bronco chases…

Scott Peterson became a household name.
Not the best route to take for that sort of fame. 

This year’s Kato Kaelin? That luscious Amber Frey.
Two different kinds of houseguests called to help expose a lie.

Martha Stewart never thought she'd spend Christmas in the Klink.
But then who'd have pegged Bill O'Reilly as a loofah-loving kink?

The real story this year? The trials we didn’t see. 
Kobe's accuser decided there were places she'd rather be. 

He said I'm sorry, she pulled out of the case.
But for naughty boss O’Reilly it was about saving face.

He paid millions and the case went away
Hopefully she saved any tapes for, you know, a rainy day.

But the thriller was supposed to be Michael's trial.
Was he just a child lover or is that called a  pedophile?

Delays mean that one won't start until next year.
Leaving something on the horizon for news purists to fear.

Like it or not, the program about justice isn't going anywhere.  
We’ll be back in 2005 with more legal fare.

Send us a rhyme at Sidebar@msnbc.com.

December 27, 2004 | 5:47 p.m. ET

Passing the Buck (Lisa Daniels, Abrams Report Guest Host)

Only thing that annoys me more than incompetence: making excuses or "passing the buck".

This past holiday weekend, U.S. Airways and Comair , a Delta Airline subsidiary, were guilty of both.  It wasn't bad enough that Comair cancelled all its flights on Christmas Day.  It then blamed the mess on a failed computer, that manages flight assignments, and on Thursday's severe weather in much of the nation.

For its part, U.S. Airways cancelled more than 300 flights last week and then, to add insult to injury, it lost thousands of pieces of luggage just in time for Christmas. U.S. Airways also liked the weather excuse. But when that didn't cut it, hey pointed the finger at their own employees who called in sick.

My question is what type of operations are these two corporations running?  I understand, nobody controls the weather, so I'll buy that excuse — but not the other two. 

Computer problems and "sick” employees? These are excuses that I expect from a kid, who shows up to junior high without their homework — not from multi-million dollar corporations.  It's no wonder U.S. Airways is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy.

We all have a job to do and people rely on us to do it with competence.  My job tonight is to host this show. If you think I was totally incompetent, by all means, write to MSNBC and complain.  But you won't see me making-up excuses, like "I was just a substitute" or "it was too cold outside for me to concentrate."

I won't accept anything less from others.

This past weekend, the job of Comair and U.S. Airways was to get us travellers home.  Based on forecasts, they knew the weather was going to be bad. They knew a record number of travellers would be flying.

And what was their excuse?  Something along the lines of the dog ate my flight plans.

What do you think?  E-mail: Sidebar@msnbc.com

December 21, 2004 | 5:17 p.m. ET

Looking forward to 2005 (Jamie Rubin, Abrams Report producer)

It’s been quite a year in legal news.  From Kobe Bryant to Abu Ghraib, to some story about a guy in California who killed his pregnant wife, it’s hard to imagine that next year could possibly live up to the shock and scandal of this year’s headlines.  Remember, 2004 was the year we learned that talk show host Bill O’Reilly fantasizes about women and loofah sponges, former Illinois senate candidate Jack Ryan liked to frequent sex clubs with his wife, and Martha Stewart actually surrendered to a federal prison camp .

But time beats on and we’re looking forward to the stories out there on the ’05 horizon.  Of course we’re also anticipating those little blessings sent to us from the cable news gods: the fascinating legal stories that pop up on us when we least expect them to and carry on in newsworthiness for months at a time.  So we’re at the ready to cover the Jackson trial, a change in power at the Supreme Court, and of course we welcome the “unknown unknowns” of the news world, as Rumsfeld might say.

For now here’s some reading to prepare you for some of the stories that will keep us legal newsers busy until 2006:

And who knows which stories from ’04 will make their way back into the news in 2005?  Even though Dan is back from California and we think the Peterson trial beast is slain, you never know how the story will haunt us in the new year.  Appeal anyone?  For now, check out this profile of what was, for some time, the most important job in Redwood City.

Don’t miss two special Abrams Report year-ender shows when Dan wraps up the biggest cases of 2004 on December 24 at 6 p.m. ET and previews the stories that will make headlines in 2005 on December 31 at 6 p.m. ET.

What do cases do you think will be making headlines in 2005?  E-mail us at Sidebar@msnbc.com.


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