THE RODNEY LAW FIRM
THE RODNEY LAW FIRM


Holness Not Fit to Lead

 

You think President Donald Trump is bad? Well Jamaica's Prime Minister Andrew Holness is even worse. He wears a baseball hat like Trump and many of his political allies are no strangers to the courtroom just like Trump.
 
Jamaica's recent election was tainted by politicians buying votes, voter intimidation and voter fraud. The election was certainly not free and fair. The good news is, most Jamaicans did not vote for Mr Holness. Despite the millions of dollars allegedly spent on buying votes, only 37 percent of those eligible to vote did (the 2nd lowest voter turnout rate in Jamaica's history).
 
Many people didn’t vote because the election was held in the middle of a spike in coronavirus cases. Mr Holness' popularity was declining because of how he handled the outbreak so it appears that in an attempt to retain power he called the election. He disregarded the health and safety of Jamaica’s citizens. Jamaicans were sacrificial lambs on election day. Many will suffer and many will die because Jamaica’s health system does not have the resources to adequately prepare for the pandemic.  
 
Mr Holness once promised big houses for all Jamaicans, but it appears that the only ones who have been able to afford a mansion like the one he has, has been his friends. I once had high hopes for Mr Holness as the youngest Prime Minister in Jamaica’s history. But I am now disappointed. There has been a resurgence of crime, police killings and corruption since he has been in office. He now claims that he will be tough on corruption but if the past is any indication of the future, he will not be. Until he can explain and prove how he was able to afford a house that cost millions of US dollars on the menial salary he received as a member of parliament, he will always be tainted by the stench of corruption. One of the members of his cabinet even had his US visa stripped from him. Mr Holness seemed not to care about such trifles.
 
The most popular Prime Minister in Jamaica's history is Michael Manley. Mr Manly was beloved and respected throughout the world for his stance on justice for the oppressed. He hosted Mohammed Ali in Jamaica and gave him the key to the city of Kingston and he was friends with Nelson Mandela former South African President. Mr. Holness possibly because of a deep-seated jealousy of Mr Manleys good looks and dynamic personality, harshly criticized Mr. Manley recently. But despite the shortcomings Mr Manley may have had, he didn’t exploit disasters and risk lives to win an election. He didn’t have to. But I digress. 
 
Mr. Holness has less integrity than even Mr Trump has. Mr. Holness is simply not fit to lead and based on the extremely low voter turnout most Jamaicans agree with me. Do you want to hear the really bad news? Mr Holness was reelected and retained the power he so desperately needed. 
 
The next time you're in Jamaica, try to ignore the dangerous roads, poor children begging in the streets and the police in tanks with machine guns and just enjoy the beach, the white rum, all the marijuana your heart desires and Bob Marley's beautiful voice blasting from the speakers. Welcome to Jamrock.

FIFTEEN YEARS OF LEARNING

 

As my 15th anniversary of practicing law approached I couldn’t help reflecting on the last decade and a half. With the almost doubling of the number of law schools in Florida and the influx of lawyers from other states, the legal landscape has certainly changed since I started practicing. Now it’s easier than ever to go to law school and become a lawyer in Florida. I’ve met dozens of new lawyers who have unfortunately confirmed that.

 

I also reminisced about the many clients that I represented over the years. I think that I learned more from them, than they learned from me. Many clients taught me the meaning of resilience, loyalty and courage. I’ve seen many young men take responsibility for their behavior and despite tempting sweet deals from the prosecutor for a lighter sentence, they refused to ensnare anyone else in the criminal justice system. I will never forget my first murder trial, where I represented a client who was so courageous against such unbelievable odds. We won the trial and he got his life back in part because of his courage and resilience.

 

Additionally, I reflected on the day that the Honorable Wilkie D. Ferguson swore me into the Florida Bar. Judge Ferguson was one of the first African American U.S. Federal judges in Florida. His illustrious legal career spanned four decades and he was known as a shrewd, evenhanded and courteous judge. The new Federal Courthouse in Miami is named in honor of him. A befitting honor because the state of the art courthouse is one of the best in the United States.

 

On the day of my swearing-in ceremony, Judge Ferguson and his assistant were the most gracious hosts. They treated my family and I as if my swearing-in ceremony was the most important event on his calendar that year. I nervously recited the oath as my adoring family looked on. I was so proud to be a member of the bar. At 24 years old, I was one of the youngest members sworn in that year. And I had the zealous idealistic visions of changing the world that every 24 year old should. I haven’t managed to end racial profiling, illegal search and seizures or unjust convictions like I had envisioned but I have managed to impact and sometimes change the lives of my clients.

 

 I have been disappointed by many miscarriages of justice in the American justice system ranging from Abu Gharib, Guantanamo Bay and the unjust conviction of Reggae legend Buju Banton. However my mentor and friend Mr. TJ Cunningham, Sr. can testify on how far we have come. He reminds me that inevitably things will improve. Mr. Cunningham, a civil rights pioneer, has been a member of the Florida bar for 53 years (when he started practicing in 1960 there were only approximately 20 African American lawyers in the entire state of Florida). He is a living legend known for his legal skills and for his trademark cowboy hat.

 

For those new lawyers who were recently sworn into the Florida Bar, if you are like me and had bright-eyed childhood dreams of being an attorney to change the world, I say follow your heart and stick with it. When you do what you love the rewards will come.

 

On some days it is difficult to remember that idealistic 24 year old. But my 15th anniversary has reminded me of who I was and who I still want to be.


 

This article was written in October of 2013.

 

 

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN COURT

 

I went to the West Palm Beach Courthouse on October 27, 2011 to do some legal research. To my surprise there was a media frenzy in front of the courthouse. I asked one of the deputies what all the fuss was about and he told me that Paul Michael Merhige, who was accused of killing his six-year-old cousin, aunt, and twin sisters, one of whom was pregnant, was going to take a plea to life in prison. Curiosity got the best of me and I took a detour to courtroom 10F. Once I arrived there, I noticed that there were several people including members of the press outside of the courtroom. I tried to go in but was told that there were already too many persons in the courtroom. I did not leave after this disappointing news; instead I stayed around and chatted with the deputies.

 

About 15 minutes later, the courtroom door opened and the lawyers, family members and onlookers quickly left the courtroom. Only Jim Sitton, the father of the six-year-old girl who was killed, his wife and his father stayed to talk to the press. Mr. Sitton blasted the prosecutor for not pursuing a harsher sentence and for coming to an agreement with the defense counsel. He thought that the punishment of seven consecutive life sentences that Paul Merhige received was too lenient and that he should have received the death penalty. In his rage he Mr. Sitton stated “I now have more faith in the prisoners and the fellow inmates of Starke to take justice than I do in the State Attorney's Office because at least in prison, they know what to do with baby killers”.

 

I can only imagine how Mr. Sitton feels. I know he must be filled with so much hurt and hate. However, in my opinion the prosecutors made a wise choice to settle this case with a plea deal. Lots of money would have been spent on a trial taxing a system already in need of funds and there is no guarantee that a jury would have given Paul Merhige the death penalty. His lawyers could have argued that he was insane at the time and not responsible for his crimes and this in addition to proof of a history of a troubled young man with a long history of mental illness, may have been very compelling to a jury.

 

This case reminds me of the Brian Nichols case where Mr. Nichols was accused and found guilty of killing several people, including a judge. In that case the defense was willing to plea to life but the prosecutor refused. After a trial that nearly bankrupt the indigent defense system, the jury refused to impose the death penalty and Brian Nichols got a life sentence. I commend the prosecutor in West Palm Beach for not pursuing the death penalty - in the face of so much disapproval and unrelenting criticism he did the right thing.

 

Of course Mr. Sitton now blinded by his pain is not thinking about how the plea deal Paul Merhige received affects the legal system finances of the legal system in Palm Beach County or the fact that a jury trial would not guarantee the death penalty.  Therefore his anger and hate is understandable.  However, for his sake, I hope that in time the anger and hate will recede and he will find a way forgive the unforgivable.

 

 

IT'S NOT AN EASY ROAD

 

Reggae icon Buju Banton, who has dominated reggae music for the last twenty years, is languishing in federal prison on trumped-up charges. And by federal prison, I don’t mean “Club Fed”. Buju is now being held in a jail in Groesbeck, Texas. The closest town is Waco, which is a 45 minute drive away. It was formerly a county jail for local inmates but recently began housing federal inmates. I am told that the conditions there are appalling, over-run with gangs and not suitable for human habitation.

 

I have followed Buju’s case closely and was shocked to learn that various U.S. agencies paid the informant in this case, a convicted Columbian drug trafficker, over three million dollars (tax-free) for serving as an informant over a number of years. Apparently, crime does pay. Additionally, this convicted felon, instead of being deported after serving his prison sentence, has been granted legal immigration status.

 

I was even more shocked to learn of the lengths this informant went to try to ensnare Buju in a drug deal. It all began when the informant “coincidentally” sat beside Buju on a flight. He pursued Buju for months, pretended to be a supporter of his music and promised him important connections in the music industry all in an attempt to befriend Buju and entrap him. After six months, under the guise of showing Buju a fishing boat, he convinced a reluctant Buju to meet with him. The informant had a far-reaching motive to relentlessly pursue Buju – the almighty dollar. He is paid well; more than police officers, fire fighters, teachers and even most lawyers.

 

Taxpayer dollars certainly could be spent more efficiently than on trying to entrap law-abiding individuals. Individuals like Buju who have contributed so much to society ought to be honored not locked away in prison. Throughout his career Buju has been the voice of the voiceless poor masses of the third world. He is a gifted artist, a Jamaican national treasure and revered all over the world. Right now, it is not an easy road, but Buju fans all over the world are optimistic that he will be released soon.

 

 

FEELING GOOD!

 

I am excited about opening my own firm. My childhood dream to become a lawyer has come true, and I have had the pleasure of defending and helping innocent people regain their freedom. I look forward to doing more of that. It's an honor to be a lawyer and be part of a justice system that is admired all over the world for its fairness. Despite reoccurring instances of injustice, I am still optimistic about the justice system and proud to be a part of it.

 

 

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