The Crime That Crosses Class and Color Lines

Former prosecutor Rikki Klieman argues for prosecuting perpetrators of domestic abuse even when the victims refuse to testify:

These women do not like being beaten, and I literally recoil whenever I hear others blame them for staying. Their situations are complex and present a societal issue, not simply an emotional one. They literally cannot leave because they have been traumatized for months or years. They are completely vulnerable, having lost self-esteem even if they have successful employment or publicly appear as if everything is fine, particularly when both the man and the woman are otherwise reputable. Victims live in denial, blaming alcohol, drugs or gambling–anything but their abuser. Even if not in denial, they live in that deep valley of hope that things will get better, that they will work it out, that they can make things be what they were before, that he will change. They live cloaked in shame, feeling guilty that it is their own fault.

There are certainly other categories of crime that government will prosecute even without the participation of the victim, aren’t there? This seems like a good candidate for inclusion on that list.

Reeva Steenkamp, Model and Aspiring Lawyer, Murdered

Last Thursday Reeva Steenkamp, girlfriend of Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, was killed at the apartment she shared with Pistorius, who has been arrested and charged with murder.

Reeva Steenkamp, who was to have given a talk on Thursday at a Johannesburg school, had become a celebrity in her own right, said publicist Sarit Tomlinson. She was one of FHM magazine’s 100 Sexiest Women in the World for two years running, appeared in international and South African advertisements and was a celebrity contestant on Tropika Island of Treasure, a South African reality show. She was also the South African face of Avon cosmetics.

She was “continuously breaking the model stereotype”, Tomlinson said, adding that Steenkamp was “the sweetest, kindest, just angelic soul” and “a very inspiring individual, very passionate about speaking about women and empowerment”.

Steenkamp graduated from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Laws degree and planned to become a lawyer by age 30.

Radical Woman of the Day: Mary Gaudron

On this day in 1987, Mary Gaudron became the first woman to be appointed to the High Court of Australia. She had also previously been the first female Solicitor-General in Australia and the first female Queen’s Counsel in New South Wales.

While studying at the University of Sydney from 1961 to 1965 to earn her law degree, Gaudron sought articles of clerkship—a form of apprenticeship—from many lawyers but was turned down every time because of her gender. She worked for the Australian Public Service instead but had to quit by regulation when she got married.

Beginning her career as a barrister in 1968, she had to share her room in New South Wales with another female barrister, Janet Coombs, because other male-occupied barrister’s chambers had refused to sell her a room. She experienced a major career breakthrough in 1970, though, when she successfully argued for the plaintiff in O’Shaughnessy v Mirror Newspapers Ltd. After winning another major case in 1972 for the Whitlam government, she became the youngest ever Australian federal judge when the government appointed her Deputy President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1974.

Appointed to the High Court in 1987, Gaudron served as justice for 16 years before retiring at the age of 60. She subsequently went to work for the International Labour Organization where she is currently President of the Administrative Tribunal.

Best Back-Handed Compliment Ever

Last week the Supreme Court heard opening arguments from the defense lawyers for Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, who are apparently both making the same argument: that the government may discriminate against gay people by refusing them marriage rights because they are not capable of having babies by accident:

Conservative attorneys did not argue that gays or lesbians engaged in “immoral” behavior or lifestyles. Instead they emphasized what they called the “very real threat” to society posed by opposite-sex couples when they are not bound by the strictures of marriage.

The traditional marriage laws “reflect a unique social difficulty with opposite-sex couples that is not present with same-sex couples — namely, the undeniable and distinct tendency of opposite-sex relationships to produce unplanned and unintended pregnancies,” wrote Clement, a solicitor general under President George W. Bush. “Unintended children produced by opposite-sex relationships and raised out-of-wedlock would pose a burden on society.”

I had to read this a couple times before I understood the nature of the argument, which is (I think) that unintended births cost the state more money when out of wedlock than in, so the government is justified in offering the financial incentive of legal marriage exclusively to straight couples, who are the only people able to get pregnant unintentionally.

Saying that gay people are, by their nature, more responsible with their family planning seems like a backwards reason to keep them from getting married, but at least this argument has the merit of not being based on something like religious belief or fuzzy evolutionary concerns. Still, I’d like to see some numbers that actually show how the state benefits financially from incentivizing straight marriage.

Even then, I wouldn’t care, though. The long-term social cost of depriving an entire group of marriage rights disturbs me more than the threat of a little additional government expenditure.

India's Accused Gang Rapists Unable to Find Representation

Police reports revealed today that the six men accused of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student allegedly tried to run over over her after they raped and attacked her with an iron rod. That, on top of worldwide outrage, is making it really tough for these men to find legal representation. “We have decided that no lawyer will stand up to defend the rape accused as it would be immoral to defend the case,” said Sanjay Kumar, a lawyer and a member of the Saket District Bar Council.

This is an interesting ethical situation. I recently had a debate with some friends over whether a court-appointed defender could ethically refuse to lie on behalf of their client. My opinion: yes—all a just society can expect from defense lawyers is that they represent the accused person(s). “Represent” != “Represent with every technique available”. Hypothetically, if I was an Indian lawyer I might take this case in the interest of due process, but I would refuse to misrepresent the facts in the interest of “representing” my clients.


Francine Griesing filed a $200 million class action law suit against her former law firm, Greenberg Traurig, alleging that the firm discriminated against her and other female lawyers in its Philadelphia office because of their gender. Greenberg Traurig is one of the nation’s 200 largest law firms, and Ms. Griesing was a partner there from 2007 to 2010.

Ms. Griesing claims that many women partners received less compensation than did men with similar accomplishments. According to her law suit, there was only one exception to the inferior treatment afforded female partners: “GT [Greenberg Traurig] prioritizes, pays and promotes women who have intimate relationships with firm leaders or who acquiesce to sexualized stereotypes.”

So they do provide an equal opportunity!

"Come Into My Parlor"

Trigger Warning for Rape

The defense attorney in a gang rape case called the victim—an 11-year-old girl—a “spider”, as in, “the spider and the fly”.

Because having oral and vaginal intercourse with 20 different men in four months is something every pre-adolescent girl schemes to achieve.