Monday, April 17, 2006


The upcoming Duke lacrosse rape trial could be OJ, Part 2

(This column will appear in the April 20, 2006 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

About a year after I got out of law school, I was in Atlanta for a seminar, and after the class was over I had some free time in the afternoon. In those days, downtown Atlanta had some upscale “gentlemen’s clubs” and on a lark some of my buddies and I decided to check one out. The girls were attractive enough, but after a few minutes I realized that without a frontal lobotomy, I could never enjoy watching strippers or pole dancers perform. Because I couldn’t view the dancers as sex objects; to me, they were human beings with lives, with pasts, with reasons for doing what they were doing for a living.

In my career as a lawyer I’ve represented women who made questionable career choices- prostitution and stripping being the two most notable. For the most part, they weren’t coeds working their way through college or young single mothers trying to pay the rent. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes of conversation to learn that most women in those trades are damaged goods- molested or physically abused as children, products of broken homes with one or more alcoholic parents, women with low self esteem or no self esteem. Many of them are drug users or alcohol abusers themselves.

Embarrassed police fail to land a prostitute

As easy as it is to generalize, not all women in these professions are hapless victims lacking self-esteem. Back when Herbert Phipps, who now serves on the Georgia Court of Appeals, was an Associate Judge of the Dougherty County State Court, he conducted a preliminary hearing in a criminal case where a young lady was charged with solicitation of prostitution.

The genesis of this legal proceeding had occurred a few weeks earlier when a covey of police had gathered in the basement of the courthouse to prepare the insertion of one of their own (pardon the pun) into the infamous “Joe’s Cellar.” Joe’s was a strip joint (not for gentlemen) located a block from the courthouse, in the basement of the old Lee Hotel- it’s now a prisoner halfway house- at the corner of Flint and Washington. Local law enforcement had somehow brilliantly glommed onto the fact that South Georgia country girls were selling their wares inside while the intoxicated patrons downed shots and occasionally cast an eye at the dancers on the small stage. What Albany’s finest hadn’t counted on was that the local prostitutes weren’t totally dedicated to their profession.

Judge Phipps patiently listened as the undercover policeman- he was middle aged and not a very attractive man (not that there’s anything wrong with that)- described his near close encounter with the young woman in the dock. He had been wired by his cohorts and sent across the street and down the stairs into the devil’s den. Once there, he approached my client and asked her how much she charged to perform oral sex. So she quoted him a price- it was probably around $25-- and he told her he’d go upstairs and wait outside for her. He headed out, and she stayed right where she was. After a few minutes, he came back down inside the club, found his mark, and asked her again to meet him upstairs. He went back up, waited a few more minutes-- but no prostitute. Totally frustrated by this point, he went back down, arrested her, and charged her with solicitation of prostitution.

An obviously amused Judge Phipps listened to this tale of intrepid police work, then dismissed the charges. As he explained to the perplexed policeman, “it seems like you asked her what she did for a living, and she told you. Then you asked her what she charged, and she told you. But she wasn’t interested in you and never solicited you for a sex act- it was the other way around.” The unlucky officer had run into one plucky prostitute who was picky about her johns.

Duke University’s Dark Side

Recently, my law school alma mater has made the news, and not in a good way. The Duke men’s lacrosse team managed to hit the trifecta with charges of sexism, racism, and classism, all in a single night. On March 13th, the team had held a party at the residence of some team members on Buchanan Road in Durham, N.C., a few miles from the Duke campus. One or more of the testosterone fueled team members had the bright idea of importing two “exotic dancers” from a local club to entertain the party goers.

According to one of the dancers, in the course of the evening’s entertainment, she was raped, beaten, and choked by three players in the bathroom. One neighbor reported that he heard the young men taunting the stripper when she stumbled away, "Thank your grandpa for my nice cotton shirt." The Duke lacrosse team is virtually all white- it has one black member. The typical Duke students are well to do- tuition now runs over $30,000 a year at the school students used to proudly call “The Harvard of the South” when I was on campus in the mid 1970’s. (My ironic response to them was: “you ought to make your school so good that Harvard will call itself ‘the Duke of the North.’”) The contrast could not have been more stark- the alleged victim is female, black, poor, and attends a low profile historically black college, North Carolina Central, in Durham. Her alleged attackers are male, white, rich, and attend an internationally renowned university.

Rush Inserts Large Foot in Own Mouth

What should have been treated as a local sex crime has been transformed into an international furor- it’s been all over CNN and I found one story on it in England’s Guardian newspaper- and a national Rorschach test on race, gender, and class. Eminently fair and balanced radio commentator Rush Limbaugh called the two black women “hos” on his March 31st radio show, then quickly backtracked and halfheartedly apologized:

“... Sharpton's working on a New Orleans deal, too. He's trying to figure out how he can get involved in the deal down there at Duke where the lacrosse team uh, supposedly, you know, raped, some, uh, hos....

CALLER 2: Rush, did you just call those young ladies "hos" on the nationally syndicated program?

LIMBAUGH: Yes....I'm running on fumes today, [caller], and I felt terrible about it. And I knew somebody was gonna call and give me a little grief so I'm takin' the occasion of your call to apologize for it. That was, it was a terrible slip of the tongue. I'm sorry."

In Durham rallies and marches have featured outraged feminists and local black residents. The Durham County District Attorney has an election in a few weeks and is milking the publicity for all its worth. Defense lawyers have countered with press conferences defending the innocence (but not the judgment) of the Duke lacrosse team members. One team member has been suspended from Duke for writing an outrageous e-mail in which he envisaged committing depraved acts of violence on women. Duke’s President, Richard Brodhead, sent an e-mail to Duke alumni in which he pulled no punches:

“Allegations against members of the Duke lacrosse team stemming from the party on the evening of March 13 have deeply troubled me and everyone else at this university and our surrounding city. We can’t be surprised at the outpouring of outrage. Rape is the substitution of raw power for love, brutality for tenderness, and dehumanization for intimacy. It is also the crudest assertion of inequality, a way to show that the strong are superior to the weak and can rightfully use them as the objects of their pleasure. When reports of racial abuse are added to the mix, the evil is compounded, reviving memories of the systematic racial oppression we had hoped to have left behind us."

As this column is written, the Durham Herald-Sun reports that the Durham grand jury has returned sealed indictments naming two team members, although the exact charges have yet to be disclosed. If Court TV carries the trial, we may get another national look at racism and violence against women, 10 years after the O. J. trial became a litmus test on race and crime. With a black female victim and white male defendants, the roles will be reversed this time.


Blogger Travis said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Balanced overview.

The media smells blood they can feed off and incite the public for a long time. When that happens it could even be more difficult, if at all possible, for the judicial system to deliver truth and justice.

That "elite" schools, "priviledged" backgrounds, "african american," "white boys" are even factors in this story tells us -- that in the mind of the media, feeding the public mob -- truth and facts have nothing to do with this.

Tragic for all sides.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you make clear, strippers have hearts of gold... ditto prostitutes. But as many others are making clear, these rich Duke players are white and rich and MEN!

Nuf said.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim, let's see less self-righteousness on your part and more substance instead. Thanks.

4:57 PM  
Blogger M. Simon said...

You might be interested in this article on the relation of child abuse to drug abuse:


Why are we punishing these folks instead of helping them?

BTW is the woman in question was a heroin user it could explain the quick onset of incapacity.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Joey said...

Thank you, anon. 4:14. In 2011, we know now how this case turned out (and the lawsuits are STILL ongoing).

1:48 AM  

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