IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Michael Brown's letter to 'The Boss'

Dan Abrams blogs, "Well, it looks like the president will ignore the letter and we'll see Brown on the hill tomorrow squirming yet again under the glare of a senate committee.  In a mob movie, they call it hanging the guy out to dry or ratting him out.  In this case, it’s called telling the truth for the sake of your country. "

Michael Brown's letter to 'The Boss'  (Dan Abrams)

"Unless there is specific direction otherwise from [the boss], including an assurance [the boss] will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify."

Sure sounds like a veiled threat, almost Tony Sopranoesque.  The captain is going to "flip" on Tony and talk to the feds about the big guy if the boss doesn't provide a lawyer.  

The problem?  This is not a fictional letter to a mob boss.  It's a real letter to the President of the United States from an attorney for former FEMA Director Michael Brown.  He sent it to the president on Monday, just days before Brown's scheduled testimony before a Senate committee investigating the pathetic government response to Hurricane Katrina.

So far, the administration has refused to turn over certain documents to the Senate, claiming it would jeopardize the confidentiality of conversations between the president and his closest advisers.  But Brown isn't a presidential adviser anymore.  He resigned days after Katrina hit, under pressure from the White House.  So now, his lawyer says he's just a private citizen and is no longer obligated to keep what he knows under wraps.

Brown's lawyer reminding the president of that, writing "If [Brown] receives no guidance to the contrary, we'll do as any citizen should do - and that is to answer all questions fully, completely and accurately.”

Um, shouldn't he do that anyway, rather than lawyer up?  This is a congressional inquiry after all.  How about doing the right thing, rather than sending threatening letters to the White House which sound remarkably like a form of blackmail?

Look, I think the president and the White House should turn over all relevant documents and correspondence to the Senate committee looking into the response to Katrina.  Something went horribly wrong on the Gulf Coast and full disclosure about what really happened will improve our nation's ability to prevent it from happening again.  And you would think that after having the national media and the American public's focus on his own disastrous response to Katrina, Michael Brown would welcome the opportunity to tell his story. Instead he seems to want to force the president to tell him to shut up. 

Well, it looks like the president will ignore the letter and we'll see Brown on the hill tomorrow squirming yet again under the glare of a senate committee.  In a mob movie, they call it hanging the guy out to dry or ratting him out.  In this case, it’s called telling the truth for the sake of your country.


Homicide came to Cubs Path   (Mike Barnicle)

This time, homicide came to a quiet cul-de-sac in a peaceful suburb, apparently driven by a growing wave of debt built on delusion that collapsed into a despair so deranged that the only escape route Neil Entwistle could allegedly identify was to grab a gun and kill his wife and 9-month-old daughter as both slept in a rented home on Cubs Lane in Hopkinton. The husband’s eyes and appetites were bigger than his abilities as well as his budget.

The District Attorney of Middlesex County, Martha Coakley, stood Thursday at a press conference in full command of the facts, unafraid to dispense information, telling the public that the instinct of detectives and prosecutors is that Entwistle could have had suicide on his mind when the nearly incomprehensible occurred in a neighborhood where barking dogs provide the only real noise. Of course, when that moment of potential self-destruction came – and quickly passed – cowardice overwhelmed the cold cruelty of double murder; Entwistle ran, all the way to the bedroom of the home where he was raised in a London suburb, ran across a whole ocean to the arms of his parents where he perhaps dreamt that his mother and father could salvage his own life from the nightmare he had allegedly spawned.

Now, his wife and child dead, Entwistle is handcuffed to a legal system intent on doing to him what he is thought to have done to his whole family – in-laws, parents, everyone: destroy all the years ahead with a conviction for double murder.

But this story is merely at the starting gate because we live in a cable culture where a simple tale of violence is just not enough for many to believe. We think there must be more. We want more. Demand more.

After all, how could a young man do this to the woman he loved and the infant both adored? How could anyone act so irrationally, with such evilness, over fear of bill collectors, bankruptcy or the embarrassment of admitted failure and joblessness? What else is there? Another woman? A huge insurance policy?

Unfortunately, the truth is often unsatisfying to those who cannot comprehend the human stories behind nearly every miserable homicide. Murders are almost always darkly interesting, sometimes complex, quite basic and usually sad when viewed from the landscape of survivors or next of kin.

They vary by geography, affluence and demographics but all have at least one item in common: that moment when the mind snaps, a trigger is pulled and a life is extinguished in a single second of irrational madness that can never be retrieved or replayed.

Rachel and Lillian Entwistle are gone. So is the concept of shock and disbelief in American life. The papers and TV are filled daily with stories that inoculate us all from the trauma of desperate tales. We read and see that three are killed in a basement in Boston, two more shot off a street-corner on a Saturday night, children die on sidewalks and schoolyards over a coat, a hat, a look, the wrong word. And then we turn the page and tune out because the notorious has become commonplace.

Homicide came to Cubs Path. And this morning, Neil Entwistle sits in a British jail, fighting extradition for crimes he has been charged with committing. His family is dead. So are their dreams; his too in a culture where the motive – no money – should not surprise anyone who has been paying attention.



Low-fat diet study: Back to guilty pleasures? (Dan Abrams)

The new comprehensive report suggests low fat diets do not -- I repeat do not -- reduce the risk of getting cancer or heart disease.

What? So, all of those years of eating no meat, less butter, those bland baked potato chips instead of tasty fried ones, even buying those low fat Oreo cookies…that was all for nothing?  I could have been eating pizza and McDonalds fries?

It was an eight-year long study funded by the National Institutes of Health, involving nearly 49,000 women 50 to 79.  It turns out the women who ate whatever they wanted had the same rates of cancer, heart attack and stroke as those who observed a low fat diet.  And they say the colon cancer and heart disease results apply to men also.  A doctor at the American Cancer Society called it the "Rolls Royce of studies."  It cost $415 million and it's been published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Sure, there are critics out there who say the low fat diet failed to differentiate between quote "good fats" and  "bad fats, "like olive oil versus value meals.  Others said the women in the study weren't as strict as they should have been with their diets.  Whatever.  I feel kind of duped, like I've missed out on some of the guilty pleasures in life while caught up in some low fat fad. 

Think of all those luscious cupcakes and ice cream I could have savored?  What's next?  I’ll learn I could have spent less time exercising and more time catching TV Land reruns? Or that I just embarrassed myself for nothing hiding under the beach umbrella to avoid getting fried by the sun? Or, worse--that red wine actually isn't good for my heart?

I know they still say that this study does not change the need to eat well.  It’s just a study about fats in food.  But, just in case, so I never look back on my life with regret, today I’ll celebrate with my favorite candy bar.



Defending boneheaded celebrities  (Dan Abrams)

Nobody else is willing to do it, so I‘m going to take a crack at defending those absent-minded, altered-minded, and sometimes just boneheaded celebrities who suffer greatly for relatively minor transgressions.  It‘s not the sort of politically correct populist argument you might hear from other cable hosts, but here goes. 

First up--Lindsay Lohan.  Not only does the bulimic, car-accident-prone pop star‘s dad get thrown in the slammer, but now, pages from her personal diary are apparently being shopped around to the press.  Doesn‘t anyone else feel sorry for her?  It seems that after a night of particularly hard partying in New York City, her personal diary was either lost or swiped and then returned with pages missing.  But not before those pages ended up in some gossip columnists’ hands.  Her lawyer is now fighting to keep those pages secret.

I know.  What was she doing drinking at her age?  Look, 19 year olds make mistakes.  And the rest of us who were or are 19, didn‘t or don’t risk having our most personal thoughts about boys and girls, relationships, and spats with friends published in the newspaper.  It’s a big price to pay for a little mistake. 

The same goes for the ever-embattled Paris Hilton who does much to bring scorn upon herself.  But that does not mean we should celebrate the fact that personal items she placed in a storage unit were put on the auction block by a pornographer and may be sold for $20 million.  Someone forgot to pay the bill for her storage facility in Los Angeles. Now, her 18 personal diaries, nude photos, and videos were sold to some sick unidentified buyer. 

Sure, it‘s hard to feel bad for someone when the problem stems from a member of her entourage failing to pay a bill.  But even for Paris, does the public humiliation fit the crime? 

And then there‘s the most recent offense--pop star Britney Spears driving away from the paparazzi with her 4-month-old son, Sean Preston, in her lap, but not in a car seat.  Not only has she done something really dumb, but she‘s broken the law.  Babies don‘t ride in your lap in a moving vehicle, even if you‘re driving a souped-up black Lincoln Navigator. 

But now Britney‘s effort to escape the paparazzi has created a national debate about her fitness as a parent.  One report even claims Britney is being investigated by Child Services.  Please.  For short drives, many of us take shortcuts.  That doesn‘t mean it‘s OK or irrelevant.  It matters.  But the punishment, in addition to a fine, seems to be the entire nation questioning her parenting skills.  That’s a tough price to pay.

OK, with all that said, I appreciate the fact that it‘s hard to pity any of these people.  But like a good lawyer, I‘m giving it a good shot.


February 7, 2006 |

Cartoon controversy is extremism at its worst (Dan Abrams)

In Webster's dictionary one definition of cartoon is quote—“a ludicrously simplistic, unrealistic, or one-dimensional portrayal or version.” 

Unrealistic.  Ludicrous.  So how do fringe elements of one religion turn a cartoon into an international uproar?  A call to arms so great that even the unusually unwavering U.S. media is now unwilling to broadcast the cartoons that generated the news? 

Four months after a Danish newspaper first published cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, one of which depicted him with a turban shaped like a bomb, violent protests have erupted in Lebanon and Syria, the Danish embassy in Beirut has been burned, and a Lebanese Christian neighborhood destroyed over the weekend.  On Monday, troops in Afghanistan opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least four.  In Somalia, a stampede killed a teenager.  In Iraq, protesters called for the death of anyone who insults Mohammed.  In Iran, the Danish and Austrian embassies were hit with Molotov cocktails by protesters. 

Now all of us in the media here in the United States are rightly afraid of what impact showing these cartoons could have.  Freedom of the press is a nice principle, but if it‘s going to lead to people being hurt or killed, it can and should cloud one’s journalistic judgment.  I am not surprised that media outlets--including this one--are not broadcasting the cartoons in question.  But free press is not the point here.  Why don‘t we see protests like this when terrorists impugn the prophet Mohammed by killing civilians and then claiming it was done in his name?  Not since a later-retracted piece in “Newsweek” magazine reported about a Koran being flushed down the toilet by American interrogators at Guantanamo has the press been so scapegoated.  There, some blamed “Newsweek” for more than a dozen deaths among protesters. 

Now the Danish and other European editors who printed the cartoons are taking the heat.  And while it seems some bad decisions were made, let‘s be clear--in both cases, the violence stems from extremism.  We‘re talking about caricatures, much like the ones that regularly appear in the Arab press demeaning Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League releases a list every month of anti-semitic cartoons, which appear in the Arab press.  Not to mention how Christ, the Virgin Mary and other symbols sacred to Christians are sometimes mocked.  Look at the animated series “South Park,” for example. 

Cartoons are caricatures.  That doesn‘t mean they‘re funny or appropriate.  But let‘s not lose our focus on what this is about.  It‘s an excuse, a way for a few to take advantage of the deeply held religious views of many others. 



Media is not an 'axis of evil' (Dan Abrams)

I've had it with criminal defense attorneys blaming the media for their clients' woes.  It’s never the evidence, or the facts, or even the prosecutors.  Instead, it’s always the media.  From OJ to Michael Jackson, Timothy McVeigh to Scott Peterson--according to their lawyers, they were all little lambs taken out to slaughter by the media.

Please.  Peterson's ex-attorney Mark Geragos is now taking his show on the road telling a legal organization last week that Peterson is innocent.  And that media coverage prevented him from receiving a fair trial.  The network morning shows, cable news and the tabloids are, according to Geragos, an “axis of evil.”

This coming from the same guy who went on CNN's Larry King before he was retained by Peterson and pronounced:  "…the most damming piece of circumstantial evidence comes out of his own mouth and his own hands, when he hands the police that receipt from the very location where two miles away she was found. I mean, that is just a devastating thing."

Yes, it is.  Unless, of course, you become his attorney. 

Geragos and others are quick to remind people about the beauty of our jury system, how we need to withhold judgment until the jurors hear all the evidence.  Um, that is, unless the jurors rule against him.  Then the jurors get dissed.  They were gullible, too easily influenced, and misled, not by the facts as the judge instructed them, not by the witnesses they saw for weeks or months, but by media coverage they were instructed not to watch.  

It’s not just Geragos, whom I respect.  It’s become the mantra, the go-to talking points for many criminal defense attorneys in high-profile cases--never take the blame, divert attention from the facts, try to find a scapegoat like detective Mark Fuhrman in the OJ Simpson case.  Otherwise just blame the media.

Speaking of Simpson, there I think the media was too fair. Many of the illogical arguments put forth by his defense team were given the same coverage as the real facts.  By making everything two-sided, with both a prosecutor and defense attorney offering analysis, the media coverage helped make Simpson's outlandish arguments seem well…outstanding.  The fact that he continues to complain about the media coverage of his case is laughable. .

And Michael Jackson's top notch attorney Thomas Mesereau has also been on a “blast the media” tour.  Huh? Despite the fact that a grand jury indicted Jackson, the coverage so often focused on the credibility problems with the accuser's family. Yet it seems Mesereau is furious

Jackson did not emerge with a squeaky clean image.  That, of course, would obscure the reality that Jackson's behavior is and was bizarre and, at best, inappropriate. It would also ignore the reality that he settled more than one multi-million dollar lawsuit with the family of a young boy who accused him of abuse.

Look, there are lot of times when the media deserves to take heat for everything from inaccuracies to bias.  But, I don’t want to be lectured on bias by a lawyer who was paid handsomely to take that position.



Trump the billionaire? (Dan Abrams)

He's 83rd on the latest "Forbes" list of the 400 richest Americans.  The magazine says he's worth $2.7 billion. 

But is he really? Claims by anonymous sources--that Donald Trump is  " … Not remotely close to being a billionaire ..." have the Donald marshalling his forces to take on the dark side.  Trump's filed suit against New York Times business reporter Timothy O’Brien for putting those claims in his book "Trumpnation: The Art of Being the Donald."

Trump says O'Brien is knowingly misrepresenting his net worth, which those anonymous sources estimate is a measly $150 to $250 million.  He's also not happy that O’Brien allegedly told people at a "Trumpnation" promotion that the developer was "'…The walking embodiment of financial pornography ... and a train wreck of a businessman ..."

Of course, if O’Brien's claims are true, they could also damage Trump's own publishing career.  How can you possibly "Think like a billionaire" (the name of one of Trump’s books) if you're only worth a paltry $250 million?  And would you really want to follow the Donald's "Way to the Top" (the name of another one of Trump’s books) if it stopped short of putting you in the billion dollar tax bracket?

Of course, if Trump wins his suit and actually collects from O'Brien and his publisher, he won't have to worry about those pesky numerical details.  He is asking for $2.5 billion in compensation and another $2.5 billion in damages. 

Maybe Trump's next best-selling "how-to-be-rich-like-me" book will focus on topping off your assets with some hard-fought lawsuit billions.


January 25, 2006 |

ABA ratings: They can't have it both ways (Dan Abrams)

I am getting tired of hearing certain Republicans touting Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's well-qualified rating from the American Bar Association--not because I dispute the rating, but because I can’t stand the hypocrisy.  They are clearly suggesting that with the ABA's stamp of approval, there's no explaining why eight democrats on the committee would vote against him.  Yesterday, President Bush joined the chorus:  “His judicial philosophy is clear and his judicial temperament is sound. That's why the American Bar Association gave him the highest possible rating."

Well, I'm glad to see the President and Senate Republicans showing so much deference to the ABA ratings.  After all, President Bush is the first president in 50 years to shun the ABA’s advice when considering nominees for the federal courts.  As far back as President Eisenhower, the president informed the ABA ahead of time who it was considering for the federal courts.

A 15-member committee then evaluates the candidate's professional competence, judicial temperament, and personal integrity.  An ABA report then offers one of three ratings: well qualified, qualified or not qualified. A  "well qualified" rating means the nominee is considered to have won the ABA’s stamp of approval.  They are not asking how judges would decide cases, just whether they are qualified to do so--a legal evaluation, not a political one.           

Nevertheless, in his first year in office President Bush announced he wouldn't use the ABA to screen judicial appointments anymore.  Apparently he buckled under pressure from some conservatives still bitter over past ratings of then Judge Robert Bork and current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The ABA still issues reports once the nominee's name is made public.  "Not qualified" ratings have been rare--only six so far since President Bush took office, a number entirely consistent with previous administrations

They can’t have it both ways.  If this administration doesn't trust the ABA enough to give it the same respect it has been afforded by presidents from Reagan to Kennedy, Bush I to Nixon, then don't cite them.

I'm still hoping this signals the extension of an olive branch to the ABA.  That by citing the ABA so widely, the administration and the ABA critics in Congress are acknowledging a mistake in excluding the ABA--An organization that is as fair and impartial as a group can be on a topic this sensitive.



Should single guys trade their pinstripes for prison stripes?  (Dan Abrams)

Is it just me or is it starting to feel like single guys should trade in their pinstripes for prison stripes?  It seems just about every convicted murderer from a high-profile case has a bevy of babes waiting in the wings once they get to prison.

Back in 1987, the Supreme Court unanimously held that prison inmates have a constitutional right to marry and it seems most of the wel- known ones are freely exercising that right--sometimes more than once.

Convicted murderer Daniel Pelosi is the latest this weekend.  He and his new 28-year old wife Jennifer Zolnowski married at a state prison in upstate New York.  Pelosi was convicted of bludgeoning wealthy New York financier Ted Ammon in 2001.  

Jennifer may want to limit the amount of spending money she brings on prison visits.  After all, Pelosi married Ammon's widow shortly after the murder and managed to spend $6 million of her money before he was arrested.

The very high-profile inmates could go head to head with B-rate rock stars when it comes to numbers of marriage proposals.  Just a few weeks ago, I interviewed Tammi Menendez, the wife of man who topped the most eligible jailbirds list.  Erik Menendez, one of the infamous and now "prison-hot" Menendez brothers, convicted of murdering their parents back in 1996.  Tammi and Erik have never spent time together outside of the prison visiting area over their 7 years of wedded bliss.

Erik's older brother, Lyle Menendez, has actually been married twice while in prison.  The first time, he married pen pal and former model Anna Erikkson.  They married over the phone in 1997.  But Lyle and Anna divorced in less than a year after she found out he was cheating!  He was writing to another woman.  Lyle remarried magazine editor Rebecca Sneed in 2003.

California death row inmate Scott Peterson has apparently received scores of marriage proposals while on death row at San Quentin for killing his wife Laci and their unborn child.  “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez--also known as the “Death Row Romeo”-- killed 13 people but still married his prison pen pal Doreen Lioy, a magazine editor, in 1996. He said he married her because she was a virgin.  Considering the fact that Ramirez is still on Death Row, I guess she still is. 

Former Green Beret Jeffrey Macdonald has been in prison for nearly thirty years, convicted of murdering his wife and two young daughters.  His case became a bestselling book, "Fatal Vision."  A young Maryland woman named Kathryn Kurichh wrote to Macdonald and eventually married him in a prison ceremony in 2002.  You have to wonder, fatal or tunnel vision?

And then there was young TV journalist Jodie Bell.  She was a reporter in Baton Rouge, when she landed a prison interview with infamous Louisiana murderer, Billy Wayne Sinclair.  They began corresponding and eventually she came to see another side of Billy.   She became Jodie Sinclair in 1982.  When he's released in 2011, they will have been married for 30 years.

They all believe their -no- snuggle bunny is either innocent or redeemed.  And membership in this club has its privileges.  None have to worry about their man cheating, at least not with another woman.  And they always know where to find him.

It makes you wonder--do the single guys behind bars have more options than the free ones who go to bars?


January 16, 2006 |

Covering Alito (Dan Abrams)

A note to those complaining that we should have covered the Alito hearings without interruption rather than offering explanations and context: I have a nice little stack of e-mails here echoing that sentiment. 

Frank Holcomb from Bradenton, Florida says: "I don’t really need to be hearing you or your guests try to explain what is going on.  Many of the viewers can think for themselves."

Andrew writes more simply "shut up." 

In effect, they and others would like me/us, and the other cable networks covering the hearings to become C-Span for the course of the proceedings.  Well, I guess those few purists are a lot smarter than I am. 

For days, I have been watching and listening to each and every word of the hearings.  The senators often made reference to specific cases, obscure legal principles or used acronyms. Ribar, qui tam, qualified immunity, Lopez, unitary executive, stare decisis, EDPA...the list goes on and on.

To only a few of us are these terms and hearings self-explanatory. Sure, as the legal correspondent I knew many of the cases, but still found myself on the set asking my guests questions for clarification.  Then in many instances, I would ask them those same questions on the air.

Now to be honest, we received far more mail from those of you asking for explanations of terms or concepts than from those asking me to shut my yap. But beyond that, at other times the proceedings were just downright dull with senators droning on more about themselves than trying to elicit information from Judge Alito.

C-Span is a wonderful network.  I watch it sometimes. But, I hope that we offer more than that.  That is not to say that we should never cover an event without interruption.  Thou shall not speak is an often ignored commandment for many anchors.  We should and I do try to let compelling and important live events speak for themselves. 

But in my years of covering long-form legal stories at Court TV and here I have become convinced that context and analysis can make sometimes Byzantine legal language accessible to everyone, including me.  So, while I am sure Frank, Andrew and the other critics understand all of the proceedings without any clarification, those who aren’t lawyers and aren’t journalists found some of it to be arcane. And I hope they appreciated what expert guests can add.  



Andrea Yates: New trial a waste of resources (Dan Abrams)

I can't believe Texas mom Andrea Yates was back in court today preparing to be tried again for killing her five children.  What a waste of time and resources.  This trial will be the antithesis of a search for the truth. We know what happened.  She drowned her five kids in the bathtub and then called the police. She has never denied it and experts from both sides also agree she suffered from severe post partum depression and schizophrenia.  She apparently thought she had to kill her kids to save them. 

OK, but under Texas law you are only legally insane if you did not understand what you were doing was wrong.  The jurors did not believe that was the case here. After all she did call the police.  But they did not give her the death penalty because of her mental illness.  The first verdict was thrown out because a key prosecution psychological witnesses testified falsely.
Since the verdict was overturned, she has been in a secure mental institution instead of a prison. The only question now is what should happen to her.  Where should she be held? The prosecutors want her back in prison immediately.  I say, what is the rush?

Would it be so horrible if this mentally ill woman continued to improve psychologically at a secure mental institution? If the concern is that she might be deemed cured and then released.  Well, let me allay those concerns.  She hasn't been tried for two of the children's murders.  And there is no statute of limitations for murder so if they are going to release her.  Prosecutors can re-try her then to make sure she never walks free.

If everyone agrees she is and was mentally ill when she killed her kids why can't they work out a deal that would get her help, save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and yet also ensure she does not walk.  Let’s not let grandstanding lawyers or politicians prevent that sort of real justice from taking hold.  



The lovey-dovey pre-nup (Dan Abrams)

Exhibit A that even a lovey dovey contract can't save a marriage. 

Sally Erickson and Renzie Davidson thought they had the ultimate cutesy tootsy pre-nuptial agreement.

She promised to cook breakfast at least three days a week and once each weekend in return Renzie Tenzy promised not to wake her up on her "days off."  He also pinky swore in the prenup it said he would rub her back three times a week for five minutes.         

And he had to pay five dollars each time he complained, nagged or made a "fuss about Sally's expenditures."         

She promised with a cherry on top to do an hour of yard work if she ever used the F word.         

Well shocker, this lovey dovey marriage pooped out within three and half months, he decided to go bye-bye.         

Maybe here is what happened: The breakfast eggs were too runny because she was spending too much time in the yard after dropping F bombs.  Maybe she was just angry because her back was getting sore from all the raking and he wouldn't give her deep tissue instead of just an ordinary Swedish massage. Who knows?  To top it off she sued saying she didn't even know he had moved forward with it and gotten a divorce.           

But for the pre-nup to have any bite it would have been better if it said if we get divorced he has to come over every day and give massages to her and her new boyfriend whoever that may be, or she gets to use the F word at his new love at least twice a week, whatever.         

Well, all's well that ends well.  After she sued, he asked the court to throw out the divorce, he probably promised the judge that he would be a very good boy.


December 20, 2005 | 5:23 p.m. ET

Some shopping advice (Dan Abrams)

Only a few more days until the holidays and I have another holiday shopping tip.  This one for the men out there who still haven't bought the perfect gift for that special someone.

Recent polls confirm that men are significantly more likely than women to do their holiday shopping at the last minute.  My advice -- don't give in and do the last-minute, over-the-top jewelry purchase.  A story in the Washington Times yesterday said that "the most dangerous place to be on Christmas Eve is between a desperate husband and a jewelry counter."  It doesn't have to be that way.  You don't have to choose the easy, pricy way out just because you are a champion procrastinator, although jewelry stores are counting on suckers like us showing up this Saturday.  A circular that went out to jewelers recently stated:

"Holiday shopping is stressful for men, they do it later than women, and spend much more than usual on gifts (up to 70 percent)...The last Saturday before Christmas-this year, also the day before Christmas-is the year's busiest shopping day. Stock up for last-minute shoppers. Repolish, retag, and rebox slow-moving merchandise."  

Don't be the guy who buys the repolished, retagged, and reboxed slow-moving items!

Show a little creativity.  I know, it's hard to be too creative at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve when the stores close in an hour.  But here are some suggestions to save you from the inevitable credit card bill holiday hangover.

Tip number one? Spend some extra time on the card.  Tell her how special she is to you, even think about writing a poem or at least choose your words carefully.  Some choice words can make up for the lack of choices at the store the night before Christmas. 

As for the gift, how about a spa package? A massage, facial, manicure, whatever.  What woman will not appreciate your desire to help her relax? And it's so easy.  You just pick the services and then present her with the decorative card.  I can't tell you the number of times I have been scrambling for a last minute gift and I have been saved by the spa gift certificate.  It never disappoints.  And if you can, why not throw in a bath package from one of those fancy bath stores?  You know candles, the whole shebang.   

Or how about booking a weekend at a great hotel? Or even promising a weekend at a particular hotel?  You can deal with the details later.  If you are really strapped for time, print out the home page from the internet to give her, but make sure you characterize it as a romantic getaway, even if it's right off Route 5. 

What not to get?  The most recent "Shopping in America" survey ranked gift cards as the top last-minute holiday gift,.  Twenty percent of procrastinators choose one.  While it's practical, it's about the least romantic thing I can think of.  Also -- and this is important -- do not, I repeat do not try to buy shoes unless you know exactly what she wants.  Other types of clothing are ok but say no to shoes! If it's shoes versus jewelry this Dec. 24, then bang away at the window of the jewelry store late on Christmas Eve.

One caveat to all of this that my primarily female staff wanted me to add.  I am single and many have said that it's not by chance.


December 19, 20059:14 a.m. ET

Attention Kazakhstan, it's a joke! (Dan Abrams)

With Alabama's governor and the family of missing 17-year-old Natalee Holloway calling for a boycott, what could be tougher than working for Aruba's tourism department right now?

Well, I still think it would be tougher to work at Kazakhstan's tourism bureau.  Yes, the former Soviet republic is fighting what has become an absurd campaign to improve its reputation here in the United States.

It seems the nation's leaders cannot contain their anger at becoming best known in England and the United States as the home country of Borat Sagdiyev, the fictional character created by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen on HBO's "Da Ali G Show."

Borat claims to be the leading television personality in Kazakhstan who visits western countries to report back to Kazakhstan on western culture and customs.  He also educates westerners about what he claims are customs in Kazakhstan, like drinking horse urine instead of wine and the practice of having sex with relatives.  Kazakhstan has threatened to sue Cohen.  The Kazakh foreign minister said last month, "We do not rule out that Mr. Cohen is serving someone's political order designed to present Kazakhstan and its people in a derogatory way."

Borat recently announced publicly that he supports a lawsuit:  "In response to Mr. Ashykbayev comments, I like to state I have no connection with Mr. Cohen. I support my government's decision to sue this Jew."

Well on Friday, Kazakhstan tried a different route, paying for a self-promotional, four-page, mail-type insert in the New York Times where Kazakhs describe themselves as the quote "tiger economy of Central Asia" and salute their political achievements and religious tolerance.  But the ad is written with the same insecurities as are evidenced by the desire to sue Ali G. "Of course there are aspects of Kazakhstan's record that are open to criticism," the ad said. "Kazakhstan continues to suffer from corruption, the rule of law is developing tentatively, and the democratic system certainly concentrates power in the hands of the president." 

Who would have known about those problems and issues without the ad? It's as if they are concerned they are going to be outed by Borat.  As Borat said in his recent response to the government's threats:  "Since the 2003 reforms, Kazakhstan is as civilized as any country in the world. Women can now travel on inside of bus. Homosexuals have no longer to wear blue hats. And age of consent has been raised to eight years old. Please, captains of industry, I encourage you come to Kazakhstan where we have incredible natural resources, hard working labor and some of the cleanest prostitutes in whole of Central Asia."

It's a joke!  He is kidding! He is not a real character!  Kazakhstan is just making it worse.  The more you try to repair the damage, the more the rest of us will look for Borat on television.


December 15, 20057:23 p.m. ET

Why is Bush analyzing DeLay case? (Dan Abrams)

Imagine this introduction:  Joining us now to discuss the case is our president George W. Bush.  Sure, it is far fetched.  But it does seem the president has gotten into the legal analysis game.

During an interview with Fox News, President Bush was asked about the case filed against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.  He said he believes DeLay is innocent.  This, only a few weeks before his trial is expected to begin.

Now, if the president was a legal commentator like me who offers up opinions on all ongoing cases and is often ignored, that would be one thing.  But this is the president.  A president who has repeatedly refused to comment on any criminal investigations and cases.  Even when the president was asked about the indictment of the vice president's chief of staff Scooter Libby.  He said: "I have told you before that I am not going to discuss the investigation until it is completed."

So, why the willingness to offer up his opinion that Tom DeLay didn't launder money through his political action committee?  White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today the president was exercising quote "presidential prerogative."  What?  Look, I have said I think the DeLay case is going to be a tough case for prosecutors to prove, but I am not the president and I have not refused to comment on any other ongoing cases.  The president didn't offer any explanation for his confidence in DeLay's innocence.  He just said that he hoped to see DeLay back in the majority leader's seat because quote:

"I like him, and plus, when he's over there, we get our votes through the House."

Aha!  Well, maybe that's the reason. And even if that's not it, it sure makes it seem awfully selective for the president to speak up just for this defendant.  A case mired in politics.  So much so that four separate elected Texas judges were assigned to preside over the case before both sides were ready to move forward.  Judge after judge has been accused of being too political.

Now don't tell me this president was forced into answering the question.  When President Bush does not want to answer, he doesn't answer.  He also knows that when he speaks, people listen.  And that's why it was not a real good idea to pick a highly charged political case that is only weeks away from jury selection to begin his career as a legal analyst. Although, he is invited to be a guest on this program to discuss any subject we cover.    


December 15, 2005 9:53 a.m. ET

This is getting petty (Dan Abrams)

The silly debate over what to call publicly displayed Christmas or holiday trees has now been taken to a new level of absurdity.  A handful of organizations and media types looking to incite trouble are trying to encourage boycotts of stores or retail chains that use "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Come on!

The instigators are trying to make this seem like some sort of war on Christmas as opposed to just a benign effort to be nice to as many people as possible. They say the vast majority are shopping for Christmas or preparing to celebrate Christmas and that stores should embrace, not shy away from it.  OK but aren't these pro-Christmas activists generally the same people who despise the commercialization of Christmas? The ones who say Christmas has become too secular? So as part of that effort they want to make sure that stores in malls are better using the religious holiday to sell clothes, electronics and jewelry? That retail stores are appropriately advertising their 30% off sales by referring to Christmas?  That is how they want to preserve the meaning of Christmas?

As one Christian shopper said to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution "I'd prefer that a corporation not cheapen my experience by profiting from the birth of my savior."
For companies and stores, it is the holiday shopping season, buoyed by robust sales. primarily for Christmas, but also for other celebrations.  Isn't it possible that Happy Holidays could also be referring to the coming new year? 

Look, stores selling items to hang on Christmas trees should call them Christmas tree ornaments.  Employees should feel free to wish those shoppers a Merry Christmas.  But trying to force these stores to use the term Christmas exclusively rather than the more general and inclusive term holidays is just petty.

I know how much some want to create a mountain out of a menorah but as I have said before, it's the Christmas season, the holiday season, whatever! Let's try to show a little more holiday spirit.


December 8, 2005 | 5:11 p.m. ET

Who cares what it's called? (Dan Abrams)

It's just a tree, whether it's called a Christmas tree or a holiday tree, or even if you call it a Hanukkah bush.  A few people are trying to get the rest of us riled up over what to call and where to place a festive tree decorated with colorful lights and ornaments this time of year.

From local debates over whether the trees can be displayed in public buildings to the semantic debate in Washington, D.C. over whether to call the national tree a holiday tree or a Christmas tree.  A few on both sides are trying to make a big redwood debate out of what should be a little fern.

Who cares what it's called? Some are horrified about calling it a "holiday" tree because they feel Christmas is being "censored" or secularized while others complain that just the vision of the tree or of Santa Claus makes them feel excluded because they are divisive religious symbols.

Give me a break.

I assume I am not alone when I say I just think the tree or bush or whatever you call it looks nice in many places this time of year.  Last time I checked there was no reference to the Christmas tree in any holy book.  Sure it's associated with Christmas. .It's also true that the tree has become secularized here in the United States much to the chagrin of some.  I start to think some just want to complain for the sake of complaining.  On one hand they shriek it should be called a Christmas tree and yet on the other hand they defend keeping it in public places by saying it's really not that religious? Huh?

Remember we are not talking about any aspect of the true history of the religious holiday.  This is not about crosses or nativity scenes.  In fact, the tree is a relatively recent addition to the Christian celebration of Christmas here in the U.S.  And why don't we hear these ferocious debates over the Easter Bunny? 

If you want to put up a nice looking Hanukkah menorah or Kwanzaa kinara next to it, fine. Just make sure it's not one of those ugly faded plastic menorahs where the lights don't work.  It's legitimate for Jews to complain if you have a beautiful nativity scene next to one of those decrepit menorahs.

But does it really matter what we call the tree? It's a Christmas tree, it's a holiday tree to some, it's just decorative to others its Christmas.  But let's just agree to see it our own way.  It's the holidays for all of us.  Let's try to keep up the holiday spirit.


December 5, 2005 | 4:58 p.m. ET

Time for more than lip service (Dan Abrams)

Why does it seem so difficult to get the government to take the fight against terrorism seriously right here in the United States?

Today, what was the bipartisan 9-11 Commission issued a final report.  And it's bleak, giving the United States more F's than A's in 41 different areas, from the sharing of intelligence by government agencies to the failure to curtail the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  The group, now working as a non-profit, says the government has failed to make the necessary changes.

In 2004 President Bush called the Commission's recommendations "constructive." Well, it's time for more than just lip service. 

The report was issued on the same day that a suicide bomber tried to attack an Israeli shopping mall. Police said the bomber blew himself up on a line of people going through a security check at the mall's entrance.  A guard spotted the bomber and as he approached him, the bomber blew himself up.  Five were killed, 35 wounded.  No question many, many more would have died if the terrorist had made it inside or targeted an American mall for that matter.  There would have been no security line, no customary security check, and likely no guard to notice someone suspicious.

What does one have to do with the other? Well Israel is a lesson in what a nation can do to combat terror.  To date, there has never been a successful breach of an Israeli shopping mall by a suicide bomber, despite more than a hundred attempts.  And while setting up security checkpoints at shopping malls was not on the 9-11 commission's list of recommendations, many more obvious and basic recommendations were, such as creating one comprehensive no-fly list to keep terror suspects off planes, as opposed to each agency keeping a separate list.  Or making sure emergency responders have radio communication capabilities...or allocating homeland security money to states based on actual risk, as opposed to how powerful a state's senators are.

Since 2002, Israel's security measures have prevented 95% of Palestinian terror attacks.  And while they have a unique issue, we've been lucky that the attacks of 9-11 have not been repeated.  Yet just about everyone agrees that it is not a matter of if but when.  Don't let it take another attack on U.S. soil to convince the administration and Congress that preventing terror at home should be priority number one.

The 9-11 Commission was bipartisan for a reason.  So people would listen without the roar of politics being heard in the background  


Dec. 2, 2005 |

1,000th execution calls for evaluation (Dan Abrams)

Early this morning, the 1,000th United States inmate was executed since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1977.  That is not a cause to celebrate but a reason to evaluate.

I support the death penalty but think this is a time to remember that it should be the punishment of last resort.  As I have said before, prosecutors use the death penalty too often.

It is no longer reserved for the worst of the worst and instead has become a garden variety punishment, which means more mistakes and less faith in the fairness of the sentence.  But since some prosecutors seem unwilling or unable to better choose which cases should qualify, maybe it's time to make it harder for jurors to impose it in the 38 states where the death penalty is an option.

Jurors generally have to weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances and determine whether the aggravating circumstances — or reasons whether or not to execute outweigh the mitigating ones.

Maybe the standard for death should be beyond any doubt rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.  And are we really comfortable with the fact that in five states a death recommendation need not be unanimous? 

DNA has proved that a good number of people on death row were innocent, leading some states to re-evaluate all of their death row cases.  These death cases also clog the court system with appeals taking years and years.

I want to ensure the death penalty remains on the books but for serial murderers, those who torture their victims, or kill children — the most heinous of crimes.  We have to make sure that the right person is convicted and for a penalty so severe.  The criminals ought to be the type of people most reasonable people would want to execute — not the getaway driver in a botched robbery where someone else shot the gun.  For him, is life without parole really a travesty of justice?

For the death penalty to survive, it is going to have to adapt to changing times: Getting it right, but not necessarily getting it as often.  



Why no prenup for Nick and Jessica? (Dan Abrams)

Who would have thought it would take the breakup of Nick and Jessica for me to do a closing about prenuptial agreements?

Call me an unromantic pessimist.  Criticize me for being too pragmatic, and believing that you shouldn't let love interfere with making a wise business decision.  But I say if you have got some cash or may get some, do it do it do it.  It will simply be a worthless piece of paper if it all works out.  I promise only a tiny percentage of the 38 percent of marriages that fail predict doom at the outset.   

So why didn't Jessica Simpson insist that Nick Lachey sign a prenuptial agreement?  She apparently thought a prenup wasn't romantic and it was antithetical to her religious upbringing.  OK, well now under California law, he is entitled to half of their "community property" — that is, the combined total of what the two of them have earned since they got married.  And, since the couple's nuptials back in October 2002, Jessica has brought home a lot more bacon than former boy band member Nick.

We buy car insurance not because we want to get in an accident but because we just might.  We write wills not because we expect to die soon, but because who knows what' s going to happen tomorrow.  And we should sign prenups not because we don't expect to live happily ever after, but because the odds say it may not work out

Let me put this into Jessica’s terms.  You thought buffalo wings were made of buffalo.  Well, a celebrity marriage without a prenup is kind of like well, a fake Louis Vuitton bag.  It looks great when you buy it, but without that Louis Vuitton warranty, there's nothing to protect you when it just falls apart.

Nick really was the smart one.  Back when the two tied the knot in 2002, he was actually the bigger star, the lead singer of 98 Degrees, and a couple of the boy band's albums had just gone platinum.  Jessica hadn't come close to making the kind of money her contemporaries Britney Spears and Christina Aguillera were pulling in.  When asked about it back then, Nick laughed and told a reporter, "I didn't want to do one, because I know she'll end up making more money than me."

Nice.  Well, maybe Nick will be noble and let Jessica keep her earnings from everything from the Dukes of Hazzard movie to her own line of sweet-scented body creams.  But if he does not, well then Jessica has paid a pretty hefty price for loving Nick.  But as Jessica herself sings, her boots are made for walking.  Something tells me that even after paying Nick off, Jessica still might have enough cash left over to make sure that those boots are Gucci boots.



Sometimes winners are the real losers (Dan Abrams)

Winning the lottery — it seems like a dream come true.  A dollar and a dream right?  We all have fantasies about how winning could mean a life of carefree luxury.  But as they say, be careful what you wish for.

The stories of some lottery winners suggest that it can leave you a lot worse off than when you started.  First there is the obvious: Friends and acquaintances asking, sometimes begging for money.  Lives change too quickly. Many winners suddenly get sued and in some cases worse than that.

Last week, 51-year-old Virginia Metcalf Merida was found dead in her Kentucky home.  Merida won over $65 million in the Powerball lottery in 2000.  She and her husband Mack Wayne Metcalf split their Powerball winnings and then separated.  He died three years later at just 45 due to complications from alcoholism after serving four days in jail for drunk driving.

And now authorities are trying to figure out how Virginia Merida died.  There was no sign of a struggle and they think she may have been dead for days before she was found.  The Metcalfs are not isolated examples.

58-year-old Jack Whitaker, who won nearly $315 million in 2002 has become the poster child for how not to handle a stroke of what should be good luck.  He has had hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash stolen from his vehicles, house and office, including over $500,000 after he passed out in a strip bar.  He pleaded no contest to assaulting a bar manager, and had to surrender his driver's license and undergo substance-abuse counseling after being arrested for drunk driving for a second time.  The most disturbing — last year his 17-year-old granddaughter was found dead of a drug overdose underneath an abandoned van.

Another Texas lottery winner, Billie Bob Harrell, Jr. committed suicide less than two years after winning 31 million dollars in 1997.  One of the reasons? Everyone — family, friends and strangers -- had been hitting him up for money.

Minnesota lottery winner Victoria A. Zell crashed her SUV into a truck while driving drunk, killing one passenger and paralyzing another.  She was then arrested a few months later for possessing 0.7 grams of methamphetamine.

A study three years ago found that one third of lottery winners eventually went bankrupt.  One third! I know we all like to believe we would not be one of "them" that we would handle it better.  I buy a ticket on occasion and like to think that if I won, I’d quit my job and live happily somewhere else.  I did win bingo once when I was a kid and now that I think about it, I don't know what happened to that money. 

But coming back to the point, when you don't win, don't despair.  You might be better for it.



No lawsuit in Macy's parade incident (Dan Abrams)

Who would have thought?  A reason to celebrate this holiday season would be someone choosing not to file a high profile lawsuit.      

That’s right, the father of 26-year-old Mary and 11-year-old Sarah Chamberlain said he will not sue after the sisters were injured when a 500 plus lbs. M & M candy balloon hit a New York City street light at the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  The falling debris left Sarah with nine stitches and Mary, who is in a wheelchair, with a bump on her head.          

Stephen Chamberlain defined the holiday spirit when he said, "we just count our blessings that they weren't seriously injured."  “Accidents just happen" he said when announcing that the family would not sue. 

Bravo to the Chamberlains for avoiding the legal lottery mentality and bravo to Macy’s for making the Chamberlains feel cared for.  So many lawsuits could be avoided if companies or people for that matter just showed they care.  The Chamberlains’ mother Suzanne said, "everyone treated us like royalty."

Macy’s immediately offered to cover the family’s medical bills, pay for any damage to Mary's special touch-screen speaking device and offered up presents including tickets to the Radio City Christmas show and VIP treatment at next years' parade.  The parade director showed up at the hospital nearly in tears, and they had Santa pay a visit as well.

People who have been wronged want to know someone is listening and acting.  Now it is fair to question whether Macy's did it out of altruism or just necessity.  After all in 1997, a 33-year- old investment banker was left brain damaged after a light pole was struck by a cat in the hat balloon.  She sued and settled for millions, a payout she certainly deserved.  It led to some changes in the parade as well.  

So how could this happen again many will fairly ask?  That question is being asked by everyone from the mayor to all the executives at Macy's.  This is not one of those cases where a lawsuit is needed to exact necessary changes. 

Don't get me wrong, it’s not always bad to sue, but it is bad to always sue.  Regardless of Macy's motives, they did the right thing here. As did, it seems, the Chamberlains.

With all that in mind, 11-year-old Sarah still wants one more thing that should come as a relief to the makers of M & M's — a lifetime supply of the candy.  Seems she is still willing to let them show that the candies melt in your mouth not in your hands — or on your head.     



O.J. giving Blake advice (Dan Abrams)

Imagine for a moment that you are Robert Blake.  A semi-celebrity who has just been found responsible for the death of your wife, ordered by a civil jury to pay $30 million dollars after you were found not guilty by a criminal jury.

Who is the last person you would want out there publicly defending you?

OK, it would be fair to say you would not want Michael Jackson.  But there is one person who is worse. The only guy who went through the same experience with even more evidence against him.  No conviction by a criminal jury but found responsible for killing his wife or ex in his case, by a civil jury.   You got it — O.J.

Well rather than continuing to relish his good fortune that he is not behind bars for life, O.J. is speaking out against the system that found Blake and him responsible. 

O.J. said, "I still don't get how anyone can be found not guilty of murder and then be found responsible for it in any way shape or form."

About the lower burden of proof in a civil case? Having to only prove it was more likely than not rather than beyond a reasonable doubt, OJ added, "If that was the standard in criminal trials only 51% then so many people would be convicted that we'd have to build more jails."

That’s right, OJ.  But it is not the standard in criminal trials.  Despite the fact that this is just the usual OJ nonsense, it is a concept worth explaining. In a criminal trial, it’s not the victim versus the alleged perpetrator.  It’s the state, in these cases, California, saying this person's freedom should be taken away.  The standard of proof is higher and only the state can try to take someone's freedom away.

The victims aren't parties to the criminal case.  Both criminal juries found they did not believe there was enough evidence to take away O.J. or Blake's freedom. OK.  A civil case is a victim’s only chance to take on the person who wronged them for money, the only real revenge available. With no one's freedom at stake, it’s just a case between two individuals or groups.  Who is more likely right?  And in both the Blake and Simpson cases, the jurors just used their common sense to reach what I believe were the right verdicts.

So they are two very different types of trials.  O.J. is also offering up other advice for Blake on life after the verdict.

Let me chime in with a little advice for Baretta: Don't listen to OJ.     


Nov. 16, 2005 |

Alito 'wink, wink, nod' kind of guy (Dan Abrams)

As Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito does the rounds meeting with senators of both parties.  What are they, and we, really learning about his views on controversial issues like abortion?

If you believe everything Alito has said, the one thing I know for certain is that he knows what to say and when. The latest released documents show that in 1985 when applying for a job with President Reagan's Attorney General Edwin Meese, Alito wrote, "the Constitution does not protect a right to an abortion." And he endorsed government help in "protecting traditional values."  He emphasized that his government work thus far had included helping "to advance legal positions in which I personally believe very strongly."

Hmmm…how to explain those pesky strong personal beliefs to Senate Democrats with his confirmation hearing a mere eight weeks away?  Yesterday he told Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein that it was just the usual job applicant bravado. 

She recounted the conversation, " was different then.  He said, 'I was an advocate seeking a job.  It was a political job.  And that was 1985... I don't give heed to my personal views.  What I do is interpret the law.'"

Feinstein said she believes him and he has seemingly assured other Senate Democrats by talking about his respect for precedent.  Wink, wink, nod, nod…

This morning he told Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, that job application was from 20 years ago, Senator!  To those on the other side of the aisle who want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, those personal beliefs are deeply held and he is willing to review previous rulings. Wink, wink, nod, nod again. 

Alito assured conservative Sen. Sam Brownback that he was "open to a review of cases."  Brownback emerged from the meeting describing Alito as exactly the kind of nominee he's been looking for.  Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss walked out of his meeting with Alito and declared, "This man is a conservative...he's been a conservative all his life, and in 1985 when he was applying for a job, he reiterated that fact in his application."

What a legal lothario.  Swaying senators on both sides with a silver tongue, assuring each side that he is their perfect judicial mate.  Look, Alito wouldn't be the first Supreme Court nominee to tell the cast of senators what he thought they wanted to hear. 

But is it possible that Alito even spun his conservative, anti- abortion 90-year-old mother, Rose Alito?

“Of course he's against abortion," she told reporters after Alito was nominated.

Regardless of whether his personal beliefs would impact his rulings, we can all probably forgive Alito for spinning senators.  He wouldn't be the first.  But mom?  Nah, maybe mother knows best.  Maybe just maybe mom is the only one giving it and getting it straight.



In one area of radical Islamic society, and only one, it seems women finally may be one step closer to achieving equality.  Like men, it seems women have the right, if not obligation, to strap a crude bomb around their bodies and blow themselves up in front of innocent bystanders.

Jordanian authorities confirmed that last week's three bombings in Amman, could have actually been worse.  This Iraqi woman, Sajida Mubarak al-Rishawi’s, is suspected of being a wannabe fourth bomber.  In a video, she displays the belt loaded with explosives that she wore underneath her clothing.  She claims it failed to detonate after she walked into a wedding celebration at the Radisson hotel in Jordan with her husband.  Her husband killed himself along with 38 others at the wedding.  But after her explosives malfunctioned, al-Rishawi says she ran from the hotel along with the other guests.

According to her confession, her husband planned the operation and she did not even know about the mission until they were in Jordan.  But, if she did try to set off the bomb then she is just another terrorist, and her brother was apparently a terrorist too.  He was killed by U.S. forces so she may have felt that killing Jordanian civilians was some sort of revenge.  She joins the ranks of other women who killed or tried to kill civilians, mostly in Israel, Egypt and among Chechnyan Muslim separatists.

Studies of female suicide bombers have shown that they often have the same twisted view of the world as the men.  But even so, this is hardly separate but equal.  While al Qaeda allows women to participate in terrorist activity, they never hold any position of authority or leadership.  So far, they are just offered up the opportunity to kill themselves and others.   



It seems Philadelphia Eagles star wide receiver Terrell Owens and his agent missed the point yesterday at their press conference on Owens' front lawn.  Owens was sort of apologizing for negative comments he made about his team, and teammates.

He apologized to the head coach, saying he realized they didn't always see eye-to-eye. Owens apologized to veteran Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb for any comments that may have been negative.  And he apologized to the fans who had supported him, but said he was only fighting for what he thought was right.

Well, it might be too little too late.  It’s not the first time he has had this sort of issue with teammates.  The most recent slams include accusing the Eagles of "lacking class" for failing to celebrate his 100th touchdown.  He also told a sports reporter that the Eagles would be winning more games if they had a different quarterback other than McNabb. 

While it's Owens' right to speak freely, the Eagles are not the government.  They have every right to punish Owens as well.  What he does not seem to understand is that it's not just about him — it's about the team.  There is a reason that great coaches have been able to turn decent teams into Super Bowl champions and, on the other side, why talented players sometimes just don't create a great team.

Sure, some of his teammates have told him that what he does or says off the field shouldn't matter.  But again, the team needs to make decisions as a unit.

Owens is a guy with a $ 48.97 million contract.  Whether he gets suspended with or without pay or if he never even plays for the Eagles again, those are contractual issues they can fight about.  What matters here is that Owens doesn't seem to get it.

The official term for what Owens has been suspended for is "conduct detrimental to the team.”  Unlike some legal jargon, I think that says it all.  He accused the team of lacking class.  It seems that is one thing he should know a lot about.


Nov. 8, 2005 |
Bush backing the morning after pill? (Dan Abrams)

Who would have thought that the Bush administration might be helping to boost use of the morning-after pill?

The manufacturer of Plan B emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, is reporting that use of the pills has doubled over the past two years.  For those same two years, the Bush administration has been vehemently and publicly trying to block FDA approval to sell the pills over the counter.  Plan B — if taken correctly within 72 hours of unprotected sex — can "reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent.” Currently you need a doctor's prescription to take it.

FDA advisers and staff, as well as many major medical organizations, have endorsed over-the-counter sales to women 16 years of age and older.  Opponents claim if it is available over the counter, too many women, especially teenagers, will start using it as birth control and maybe engage in risky sex more often.

I’ve expressed concern about making it available over the counter.  I still don’t understand why this would be treated differently from the birth control pill, where a prescription is necessary. But forget the scientific debate — the irony is striking.  The administration's dogmatic efforts to keep this pill away from women have turned against them.  Instead, their abortion-like opposition has served as free marketing for the morning after pill, which is now being used by 1.6 million a year as opposed to 800,000 a year back in 2002. Sure, it’s possible other factors could explain the increased usage including more familiarity with the pills and their effectiveness.

But I am also certain that the efforts to demonize the drug, to turn it into some kind of public menace, have only led more to look into it and realize that it may be exactly what they were looking for. 


Nov. 7 |

The insane legal wrangling in the Tom DeLay criminal case is a supreme insult to all judges.  Both sides argue that various judges cannot be fair based on their political affiliations.  At first glance it sounds sensible.

DeLay is accused of illegal political fundraising and the defense is that its a purely political indictment.  The problem?  Most judges in Texas are elected — that’s just the system.  There won’t be any state judges without political affiliations at all.

But you just don't get to cherry pick your judge.  I've said before, I have a problem with the election of judges in part for this very reason.  It also means they are always running for something. But if that is the system you have, then you have to trust that the judges will rule based on facts and law — not politics — the way judges are supposed to.

To those who say well even the perception of bias is a problem, well then don't elect your judges.  If you do, then the bias had better be pretty clear and direct if you are going to have them removed.

I am not convinced we have seen that here.  Nevertheless judicial heads are rolling.  Tom DeLay's team picked the fight.  His attorney, Dick Deguerin, succeeded in having Judge Bob Perkins removed because he had made more than $5,000 in donations to Democratic candidates or causes that DeLay said opposed him.

Last week, prosecutor Ronnie Earle — the Democrat who sought indictments against DeLay —succeeded in getting rid of the Republican judge who was supposed to select the judge to hear the case. Judge B.B Schrowb recused himself after Earle pointed out Schraub had made more than $5,000 in donations to Delay's Republican allies.

Schrowb then said he would ask the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court — also a Republican — to name a judge for DeLay's case.  But late Thursday afternoon, the chief justice selected another Democrat, Senior District Judge Pat Priest.  He's been on the bench 25 years, but I wouldn't be surprised if DeLay had a problem with him too.

In the word of the infamous diet guru Susan Powter, "Stop the insanity!"

This tit-for-tat completely undermines and insults the ability of judges to decide cases impartially. I don't blame the lawyers for making the motions, but I am confident that whoever ends up presiding will inevitably be accused of playing politics.  That is bad news for all of us and a lesson in why we may want to rethink having judges who are also politicians.  


Nov. 3 |

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a major issue regarding election fraud in this country that should serve as a wake up call for every American — an issue we all can understand and appreciate.  We're not talking about presidential election fraud or even about statewide fraud.  We're not even talking about a local election for county treasurer.  We're talking about something much more personal: A battle being waged over the jealously guarded votes for homecoming queen.

The journal reporting that these elections have become so contentious and competitive that it sounds more like applying for a job with the FBI: background checks, applications, community service hours all impact the process. 

One Florida school used a familiarity with the state's touch-screen voting process, implemented after the Bush v. Gore voting debacle back in 2000.  Yes, that's right.  Wesley Chapel High School outside Tampa borrowed Pasco County's touch screen voting machines to conduct this year's vote for the homecoming court.  The unchallenged result?  Whitney Howard and Marc Quiles were crowned king and queen this past weekend at the homecoming football game against Mitchell high school.

My staff has been on top of this story.  Wesley chapel teacher Scott Nichols told the Abrams Report that because the homecoming elections tended to be quite "dramatic," he revamped the whole process this year.  In an effort to make it more of a "civics lesson" for students, he hopes students considered voting for Whitney and Marc a "practice run" for when they vote for president in 2008.

Yeah these elections can get competitive; I went to college in the south, where homecoming is a big deal.  But what’s next — encouraging passing notes in class to teach students how to be journalists? These homecoming elections are out of hand, claiming that these new substantive requirements make it less about popularity and more about qualifications is like saying the Miss America pageant is substantially different because of the question and answer session.  It’s nice that the kids will know how to use the voting machines but I’m concerned that when they go to vote for the real thing.  They will be thinking more about who would look better in the tiara than who should be the elected representative.


Oct. 31, 2005 |

P.C. police cause Halloween horror (Dan Abrams)

It’s come to this.  Somehow even Halloween has become a political/religious issue.  Who would have thought the P.C. police would be able to spook school officials into making Halloween off limits?

In Newton, Massachusetts, there are no Spidermans, ballerinas, Darth Vaders, or Harry Potters at Underwood elementary school today.  The principal forbid the teachers, staff and students from wearing costumes, and also canceled all Halloween arts and crafts activities.  But it’s hard to call principal Dr. David Castelline a ghoul or goblin.  Last year Castelline himself got into the spirit.  He even grew a beard so he could more accurately portray Boston Red Sox centerfielder Johnny Damon.

No, this year he just struck out by caving into pressure from a handful of ghastly parents who threatened to boycott school.  Some because they oppose the celebrations on religious grounds, claiming Halloween has pagan or satanic overtones and others who advocate the separation of church and state. One American Studies professor was quoted in news reports today saying Halloween "really gets to the heart of minority rights and minority feelings in a pluralistic culture.”

Oh, please.  How do you explain this one to the kids? Well, honey you can't go to school today as a ballerina because Halloween is not just about candy corn and jack o lanterns.  No, it's a far more serious religious holiday…Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice.  What world are we living in? If you don't want to have your kids dress up then don't.  And you know what else? I hate to break the news to you, but it’s not a real holiday!! People still go to work.  It’s kind of like taking Groundhog day seriously. 

Sure, if you look back far enough you can trace Halloween rituals to more than just fun and games.  But that is not the reality today.  The few who still adhere to the origins of the Halloween holiday are a few fringe so-called witches.

What about Valentines Day? After all, February 14 celebrates the martyrdom of a Catholic priest named Valentine who conducted secret marriages.  Will parents now insist that their kids not give Valentine cards at school because they might actually be honoring a religious tradition?

Lighten up.  These are at worst, Hallmark holidays and at best, just fun.  Don't make me come over there and egg and toilet paper your house tonight.



Fitzgerald translated (Dan Abrams)

We didn't learn anything new beyond the indictment today of Scooter Libby, except the tone of it.  Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald made it very clear these charges are serious.

He responded to the allegation that may come from some, ‘Why just these technical charges?’ He said, effectively, "Scooter Libby threw the sand in our eyes."  He made a comparison to baseball saying, “We couldn't determine fully whether he violated the underlying crime, because he didn't tell us the truth in the context of this investigation, and that is extremely serious."

I thought it was very noteworthy that Fitzgerald used phrases like "her cover was blown" and "national security compromised." He said he wasn't going to get into whether Plame was covert, but calling her cover "blown" seems to indicate that they were seriously evaluating the more serious crime.

He also said there were particular provisions of the crime that may not have been satisfied.   But if you listen to what he's saying, it sure sounds like they weren't that far off from considering the underlying crime of the Intelligence Identities Protection act.

The case is about knowing information.  For instance, how do you know if Libby knew about Plame’s identity, if he's denying that he knew about it? That's effectively what Fitzgerald is saying.  Libby told the Grand Jury he didn't know anything about Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson's relationship, about her being a covert CIA agent, apart from reporters gossiping. That's where the prosecutor says crime came into play.



Ted Olson gets my vote (Dan Abrams)

In the wake of Harriet Miers pulling her nomination for the Supreme Court, you would think everyone from senators to pundits would have someone in mind he or she thinks should fill the spot.  Someone with the credentials, someone who can satisfy the conservative base while not completely infuriating the left.  But apart from Senator Lindsey Graham (who has openly supported Judge Karen Williams), it seems most are skittish about naming a name.

Well, not me.  I'll throw a name out there — one I think should be acceptable to everyone, an attorney with unassailable credentials and someone I know and like.  Ted Olson.  He’s the former solicitor general for President Bush, a well-respected appellate attorney, assistant attorney general to President Reagan, but probably best known for winning Bush v. Gore before the Supreme Court in 2000.  Olson is a solid mainstream conservative with a long paper trail, he's argued dozens of times before the Supreme Court and he is well respected in the legal community.  Some on the far right may say that at 65, he is too old.  Come on — considering that many justices serve well into their 80s and 90s, that should be a non-issue. We have heard that about another very well-qualified nominee as well: Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson, former chief judge of the Fourth Circuit (I like him for the spot as well).  If Olson were to be confirmed, six of the current justices would still be older than him.

Another possible issue — that, like Harriet Miers — he was the president's lawyer.  True, but there's no executive privilege issue here.  Olson worked for Bush when he was a candidate, not the president.  And as for the work he did for the administration as Solicitor General, the Senate will have more than three years worth of very public Supreme Court briefs to pore over, all clearly endorsed with Olson's name.

As for his judicial philosophy, sure, some liberal groups may whine.  Olson has argued against affirmative action, he's represented the right-wing American Spectator magazine, etc.  Well, that’s too bad.  It’s the president's pick to make and the Senate has a republican majority.  Furthermore, Olson has shown more than anything else, that he's reasonable and rational, not an ideologue.  In an April Wall Street Journal column, he asked fellow Republicans to take a well-advised step back and stop launching personal attacks on Supreme Court justices, reminding them that the United States' independent judiciary is the "envy of the world.”  In a speech to the American Bar Association this past summer, he warned the nation's lawyers that once the Supreme Court decides a case, it should be "off the table for the political process.”

I'm hoping the political process doesn't keep this lawyers’ lawyer, this well-qualified nominee off the nation's highest bench.


Oct. 26, 2005 |

Spokane mayor full of litigation glut (Dan Abrams)

What is a poor mayor to do if he is busted trolling gay websites on city time?  Even accused of promising a city hall job to an ambitious young man he met while surfing the net?  Do you resign? Do you try to lay low?

Not if you're Spokane, Washington Mayor Jim West. No.  Mayor West is adding to the litigation glut by announcing a lawsuit against the paper that caught him red-handed, so to speak.   

Back in May, the Spokesman Review newspaper reported that West offered a man he believed to be an 18-year-old gifts, favors, and even a city hall internship.  It turned out that sweet young thing was actually a computer forensics expert retained by the newspaper, hired after its own reporting revealed that West had a relationship with another 18-year-old man he met through a gay website.

West eventually acknowledged publicly that he had relationships with several adult men he met through gay websites.  OK.  But now local authorities are investigating whether he violated state laws by viewing sexually explicit sites on a state-owned computer.  The FBI is investigating whether he used his office to coerce young men and violated federal law.

West has refused to step down, pronouncing that the people of Spokane elected him to finish his term.  He's now facing a recall election in December. 

As he prepares for the December race, a new report says while traveling in his official capacity as mayor, he used his city hall laptop to search internet profiles of gay men in cities across the United States.

Uh Oh.  But don't feel sorry for the embattled mayor.  No, in the time-honored political tradition of passing the buck, the mayor announced he's suing the Spokane paper for invasion of privacy.

The legal standard in the state of Washington?  "The interference with a plaintiff's seclusion must be a substantial one resulting from conduct of a kind that would be offensive and objectionable to the ordinary person."

That's right.  Mayor West needs to prove that what the paper did to him was "offensive and objectionable.”  You want to talk about offensive and objectionable? How about that while being investigated by both his own state and the feds, he is threatening a frivolous lawsuit that will almost certainly get thrown out of court?

But the voters of Spokane can rest easy.  West has said he won't file the case until after the recall election because he doesn't want the lawsuit — and the entire episode for that matter — to become a "campaign issue.”  A campaign issue? Why does he think he is being forced to campaign again in the middle of his term?



Pick your numbers carefully (Dan Abrams)

If you're going to play a numbers game, be careful which number you pick.

Just ask Eric James Torpy, an Oklahoma felon convicted for shooting with intent to kill and robbery.  Torpy's lawyers pled him down to a 30-year sentence, only to find out he really wanted to serve 33-years in prison.

It seems Torpy is a big fan of retired Boston Celtics great Larry Bird so much, as District Judge Ray Elliott tells it, "he said if he was going to go down, he was going to go down in Larry Bird's jersey. We accommodated his request and he was just as happy as he could be."

But if Torpy had been a little more clever about it — I know, that seems like a stretch — maybe he could have turned his love for Larry Bird to his advantage.

Instead of Bird's uniform number 33, Torpy could have asked to be sentenced to bird's best season scoring average of 28 and had two years knocked off his sentence.
Or he could have really reduced his sentence, pleading down to Bird's all-star game appearances, which totaled 12.

But if Torpy and his lawyers really wanted to go for broke, they could have asked for Torpy's time to match the number worn by Bird's teammate Robert Parish on his jersey.  Parish's number was double zero.



DeLay:  All in the smile (Dan Abrams)

Congressman Tom Delay may be nicknamed “The Hammer” for his tendency to beat his party and opponents into submission as House Majority Leader.  But he must really believe in the words of the old song, “Let a smile be your umbrella”…or your political cover anyway.  Exhibit A: his mug shot.  Delay’s been indicted in Texas for conspiracy and money laundering, charges he insists are part of a political plot to destroy him.  So rather than look sulky and glum and hand his enemies a photo to hammer him with, Delay lit up like he’d just won the Power ball Lottery.

Its like he’s saying—could I really be this happy if I was guilty?  Could I really look this good? Nah! I am sure a lot of thought went into preparing for that shot.  Maybe they even took mock photos? Or maybe they just did a scared straight thing on him by showing him big Nick Nolte’s unfortunate mug shot.  I mean, if you give Nick some time, even he cleans up as well as anyone.  But it’s Delay’s huge grin that gets me. .

Like Bill Gates’ mug shot—Microsoft’s main man must have guessed way back in 1977 when he was arrested—possibly for traffic violations—that it would soon become just a tiny bump on his road to billions. 

Robert Downey Jr. seemed to be living that old slogan, “Have a Coke and a smile” during one of his drug arrests.  And actor Matthew McConaughey seemed unfazed when he was busted for marijuana possession and resisting arrest. 

But those were just smirks...this is a full-blown smile.  Sure actors fake it for a living, but I wonder whether politicians live to fake it.


Brent Shapiro Foundation (Dan Abrams)

As some of you may know, the son of famed attorney Robert Shapiro died last week from a drug over-dose in California.  I consider Bob a good friend.

His son Brent was a graduate of the University of Southern California who spent several semesters on the Deans list.  Bob tells us Brent had turned his life around.  He was engaged to be married and he had been sober for a one year and a half before he died last week.

I wrote Bob telling him how sorry I was for his loss and asked if there was anything I could do to help.  He informed me that his family is starting a foundation to educate children and parents about drug awareness.  It’s an effort to eliminate the stigma associated with drug abuse.  Their goal is to change perceptions and to get parents and kids talking about it.

If you would like more information, or to contribute to the Brent Shapiro Foundation for drug awareness, you can write to:

10250 Constellation Boulevard
Los Angeles, Ca 90067

Bob, our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.


Oct. 17, 2005 |

Latest details on Vitale murder (Dan Abrams)

Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with criminal defense lawyer Daniel Horowitz over the phone, a good friend of this program.  Daniel's wife, Pamela Vitale, was murdered at their home on Saturday.  Daniel found her body and is now working with police as they search for the killer. 

The Contra Costa Sheriffs have also told us the reports of an arrest in connection with the murder of Pamela Vitale are absolutely false.  Daniel says he knows nothing about any arrest.

But he did tell me the following:

  • Horowitz believes his wife "fought like hell." He saw defensive wounds all over her body.
  • He believes the killer "cleaned up the crime scene."
  • Nothing was stolen from the home
  • The primary wound was on the front of her head. He is unsure of a knife was used.
  • They had obtained a temporary restraining order against a neighbor but it was never served.  Horowitz believes police are talking to that neighbor.
  • He believes the killer had to have known that Daniel left the house
  • Horowitz was initally "put in the back of a police car and treated like a suspect." But he says, "I expected it and I can't blame them. They are doing a great job."
  • Horowitz then reconstructed the crime scene with them. As a result, he is convinced his wife was killed shortly after he left the house for breakfast in the morning. They looked through dishes and other items to reconstruct what she had been doing. 
  • To him, the Polk case had anything to do with it.
  • There were no security cameras at his house.

We will be covering this very sad story later tonight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC. Stay tuned for more details.


Miers paper trail (Dan Abrams)

It turns out Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers does have a paper trail after all.  True, there are no records of her thoughts on the great constitutional questions of the day.  The president's Supreme Court nominee has never served on the bench or argued before the high court. Much of her legal work has been for corporations, and for Mr. Bush.

But thanks to the Texas state library and archives commission, we can now read some of her personal thoughts on the man who hired her.  They're embedded in notes ...The kind of notes you might find stapled in the back of a ninth-grader's scrap-book, with lipstick kisses in the margins.
From a greeting card to then-governor Bush in 1997, Miers wrote, "Hopefully Jenna and Barbara recognize that their parents are 'cool' — as do the rest of us."

Whatever the president's daughters thought about their dad, the seemingly awe-struck Miers seems to be channeling their thoughts.

In this note from 1995, she said, "Thank you for taking the time to visit in the office and on the plane back.  Cool!"

If its possible to flatter your way onto the high court, Miers may have been making an early bid for judicial greatness in this 1997 birthday card.  It reads, "You are the best governor ever - deserving of great respect."

Just to show the admiration ran both ways, here's how Mr. Bush answered back, "I appreciate your friendship and candor - never hold back your sage advice.  P. S. No more public scatology."

F.Y.I scatology is generally defined as a sort of obsession with excrement...

I'll bet senate investigators for both sides are already at work, tracking down any scatological comments.

E-mail me at


Litmus test baloney (Dan Abrams)

It’s time to blow through the smoke screens created by many opposed to Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court.  It’s actually quite easy to do.  The far right is afraid she is not far enough to the right, and they want proof.  Don't believe those who say there is no litmus test.  Of course there is.  If you do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade, if you don't want to limit the rights of gays and if you don't want to allow more religion in public buildings and schools, then they don't want you on the court period.  Your qualifications are meaningless.         

Apart from a handful of law professors and legal scholars, almost all of those who, at this time, are claiming that she is not qualified are just looking for an excuse.  I assure you the vast majority of them would welcome a poorly qualified but guaranteed hard-core conservative.  The far right is only resorting to talk about her judicial experience and qualifications because they want someone with experience that proves she'll vote their way — not because they truly are concerned about her ability to evaluate constitutional issues.

It is almost humorous to hear some of the same people who regularly mock the so-called elite, point out that her law school, SMU, is not amongst the nation's most respected.   

Now some on the left engaged in a similar type of dishonest attack during John Roberts' confirmation process.  They couldn't hide behind the cloak of inadequate qualifications.  After all, the Harvard law grad had worked for the Justice Department, repeatedly argued in front of the Supreme Court and had served as a federal court of appeals judge.

So instead the 22 senators who opposed Roberts claimed that they could not vote for him because they did not "know enough about him" or said "he had not answered their questions."  The reality? They could not be assured he would not vote with the conservative justices on many of the same controversial issues, in particular Roe v . Wade.  

Since when are senators entitled to guarantees about how a Supreme Court justice will rule? The Senate’s constitutional role of advise and consent is rapidly disintegrating into one of advocate and confront.  I’ll say it again, we cannot let the fringes on both sides hijack the Supreme Court nomination process.  But its even more insulting and dangerous when they aren't straight with us about what they are saying and why they are saying it.

E-mail me at


Bravo to one reporter who withheld (Dan Abrams)

Bravo to WNBC New York reporter Jonathan Dienst for withholding a story about the terror threat to New York City for two days at the request of the local authorities.  On Tuesday, Dienst was ready to report on the threat to the subway system.  But after the authorities said it would jeopardize an ongoing operation to capture three suspects, Dienst held off.

Mayor Bloomberg even thanked him yesterday at his press conference.

Where are the media windbags who spend much of their time criticizing their media colleagues?  Those same people who complain the media does not do enough positive reporting?  They should be giving kudos to Dienst for putting patriotism ahead of his own personal and professional gain.  But don't hold your breath.  Most of them are too proud to admit he had the story before them.  To those who say what’s the big deal? We should expect anyone,  Journalist or not, to do that whenever the authorities ask.  I say watch what you ask for. Throughout history, government officials have claimed issues relate to national security when in reality, they were just embarrassing to the government.  And yet, important to expose.

But not so in New York yesterday.  It seems the Mayor's only goal in asking Dienst to hold off was to try to catch bad guys.  Dienst and WNBC, the local NBC affiliate here in New York, weighed the significance of getting the information about the subway threat out immediately against the effect it would have on the investigation.  And they made the right call.  To those few journalistic purists who may say he violated his journalistic integrity by holding it, I say part of that integrity is being a good citizen first.

But this does demonstrate how important it is to for the public and the press to be able to trust the authorities.  If they are honest with us, we all can trust them back.  I am proud of Dienst and proud of WNBC — as a fellow journalist and as a fellow American.    


Oct. 6 |

Hijacking the Supreme Court (Dan Abrams)

The fringes in both parties are trying to hijack the Supreme Court confirmation process.  The latest salvo, the far right complaining that Harriet Miers, the president‘s nominee to replace Sandra Day O‘Connor, is not conservative enough.  Now, they don‘t know for sure that she isn‘t, but they have a litmus test and unless they can be pretty much guaranteed that he or she will support their position on abortion, gay rights, church and state issues, they don‘t want the person nominated, whether he or she is qualified or not. 

Kansas Republican Sam Brownback said, “I would like a nominee with a proven track record on important issues to all Americans, questions on her views on the Constitution need to be answered.”  It‘s so funny and at the same time pathetic is that the same language came from certain Democrats when we were talking about John Roberts.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, said I need to know exactly where he stands and I need to know whether he‘d fight to protect the rights and freedoms of the American people before she voted against him.

Both sides know that even once the hearings start, they‘re not going to get the sort of answers they claim to be seeking.  It‘s in large part their own fault.  They‘ve politicized the system so that any president who appoints a justice with much of a record does so at his peril.  The nominees‘ opinions and positions will almost surely be politicized if not misstated. 

We should want justices who have been engaged in the national debate over the most important issues of the day, writing law review articles or judicial opinions.  But now a nominee only has to answer specific questions about issues if he or she has written something on the topic.  What kind of incentive does that create?  Bottom line, it seems together these nominees are exactly what the country should have expected.  It is true John Roberts has a bit more defined and impressive conservative record and resume, but the president promised conservative nominees.

John Roberts and Harriet Miers are as far as any fair-minded person can tell right now, both conservative.  Not necessarily what those on the far right might have wanted, not the proven ideologues they seem to believe they‘re entitled to, and certainly not what many Democrats would have wanted, either.  But what we should all have expected and now the rest of us should say enough.  We will not let the extremes impact until we get on the supremes. 


Oct. 4 |

O.J. reality check (Dan Abrams)

It is hard to believe that 10 years ago yesterday, a jury found O.J. not guilty.  It is even harder to believe, or for that matter, to accept that 10 years later, the stain from that case is still clearly visible in courtrooms around America, as judges and lawyers still try with little success to wash it out by rubbing. 

For too many, that case still defines our legal system.  That‘s too bad.  It was the legal equivalent of a perfect storm. The conditions pristine, ideal for the storm.  An enormously popular and well-known African American athlete, seen by almost 100 million on a slow-speed chase; eventually accused of killing his gorgeous ex-wife; blood evidence everywhere, even a bloody glove found in his home.  Police officers accused of racism and corruption, of planting evidence, at a time when many African Americans had lost faith in the police.  A flamboyant defense team fueled the storm with, what I believe was, rhetoric, invective, and, on Johnnie Cochran‘s part, legal acumen that sent the prosecution, and even the judge, running for cover. 

But the eye would not have hit without the live television coverage.  I was in the courtroom, but most remember where they watched it.  In the end, I believe, the jury got snookered, and the system, the prosecution, and the media got unfairly blamed.  Sure, the defense exposed weaknesses in the system; the prosecutors were outgunned; and the media coverage, frighteningly voracious. 

But it was a legal storm that has not, and I believe, will not be repeated. 

The vast majority of guilty defendants, even celebrities, get convicted.  In just about every other case, I found a camera has no effect on the trial.  And yet, unfortunately, many seem to equate the case with American justice.  While many in the legal community equate a camera in the courtroom with a Simpson-like circus. 

It is time to get past it, to realize the case was an aberration.  It does not reflect the legal system, prosecutors, or media coverage of trials.  Kato Kaelin can move on to host a reality show about the law.  The rest of us should think about a reality check when it comes to the legal system.