Lisa Green, a lawyer and legal analyst, agreed to speak at the JCC U at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly not long ago. (See box.) She’d said she’d talk about “the mountain of legal questions that pile up by the day,” the JCC U’s webpage says.
That remains true, she said, but “when we said we’d talk about about the legal issues of the day, we didn’t realize that the day would bring a host of varied legal topics, that certainly engender robust debate.” In other words, even a few months ago, questions on law and legality and the tension between the legal and the political, as well as questions about who or what is outside, above, or beyond the law were raging. Still, what seemed like a Niagara then looks like a tiny, sheltered little bay now. Now, it seems, that we are living in a Niagara of legal battles. A Victoria Falls of legal news. The Reichenbach Falls of legal danger. (Just to jog your memory, that’s where Dr. Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes first were believed to have plunged to death together.)
Now, though, there are a formidable number of legal issues being worked on in the courts or the Congress. Each one of them would be enough to fill a newspaper’s pages.
To begin at the top, there is the ongoing impeachment of President Donald John Trump. “Impeachment is not a straightforward criminal or civil legal proceeding, but it is replete with legal doctrines and legal issues, and it is embedded in our founding documents,” Ms. Green said. “It is hard to find an issue that better focuses us all. It is about government by law, about the separation of powers.
“It is a rich subject, and I know that people have strong opinions about it. If people come with their skeptical but polite questions, we can have a robust discussion about it.”
That’s just one possible subject, however, Ms. Green continued. “If that doesn’t float your boat, Harvey Weinstein will still be on trial.” Mr. Weinstein is the once hugely powerful movie mogul who has been accused of sexual assault and harassment both in New York and more recently in Los Angeles; most of the accusations against him are too old to be litigated, according to the statute of limitations, but they show a clear pattern of behavior, many people think. His defenders think otherwise, further enraging his opponents.
“This is an important case, with a massive impact for the #MeToo movement,” Ms. Green said. “What in the end will become of him has to do with his defense lawyers. Can they persuade this just-sat jury to see complications, so they develop some reasonable doubt and don’t convict him?
“There are no guarantees; something that seems like a strong case in the newspapers might not be such a strong case in the jury room.
“Weinstein embodies a lot of 20th-century power,” Ms. Green continued. “The power of Hollywood. The power of men in powerful positions. And even at a time of increased sensitivity to women’s issues and sexual violence, we cannot assume that the power cannot translate into an acquittal.”
At the JCC U, “we can talk about the the strength of the case, and about the possible flaws. It is highly interesting that it is not a case that prosecutors brought to trial quickly. It took a lot of time for the Manhattan DA to take it to court.”
A third topic Ms. Green would like to discuss is the college admissions scandal, which she finds to be “my favorite still ongoing legal story.” The scandal’s been nicknamed Varsity Blues; the man at its center, Rick Singer, “pleaded out,” Ms. Green said. “He’s not going anywhere.
Some parents have pled guilty; others have not. The most prominent parent to be arrested, Lori Loughlin, says that she is not guilty; she says, in fact, that she did what any concerned parent in her position would have done. “Anyone who has children or grandchildren who went to college should stick around for that discussion,” Ms. Green said. “I think that we all benefit from a clear-eyed look at what is widely considered to be an institution of meritocracy. Is that really true? Are prosecutors right in singling out those parents? What will change in the college admissions process?”
She knows a great deal about these and other legal issues because she’s made paying attention to them her job, Ms. Green said. Although she no longer practices law, “I am still a member of the bar in New York State, and so I am a lawyer in good standing,” Ms. Green said. “I have been a longtime student of and commentator on legal issues in print, in broadcasts, on podcasts.” She’s also on cable, on MSNBC.
Out of all the issues she’s studied, “what’s most special to me is my book about women’s issues.” The book, published in 2015, is called “On Your Case: A Comprehensive, Compassionate (and Only Slightly Bossy) Legal Guide for Every Stage of a Woman’s Life.”
“It’s meant to be an all-purpose guide for women throughout their lives,” Ms. Green said. “It’s about problems women might face, whether it’s at the workplace, or about divorce, or child custody, or whether — if you’ve been engaged and end it — you get to keep the ring. It’s about a whole host of interesting if predictable problems that women might face.”
So that brings us back to the beginning, to Mr. Trump. “I don’t think that you can really call impeachment a women’s issue,” Ms. Green said. But there is another peril that Mr. Trump might not be able to continue to elude. “It’s the defamation suits,” she said, particularly from Summer Zervos and E. Jean Carroll. “Those suits say that it is actionable for the president to call these women liars when they say that he sexually assaulted them. If they proceed as they seem to be proceeding, he will be deposed.” And that, she said, “would be amazing.”
So the world right now is full of legal issues; many of them fascinating, and many of them buried in the heap of other, even newer legal issues. Ms. Green will take on as many of them as she can — and the audience will be invited to consider them along with her — at the JCC U.
Who: Lawyer and legal analyst Lisa Green
What: Will talk about legal issues in the news
When: On Thursday, January 30, after lunch; the JCC U program begins at 10:30 with the day’s first speaker, former congressman Steve Israel.
Where: At the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades,
411 East Clinton Ave., Tenafly
Why: For the opening of the JCC U’s spring semester.
How much: $36 for JCC members; $44 for nonmembers
For more information: Call (201) 408-1454
or go to www.jccotp.org and follow the links through adult learning to the JCC U.