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Kennedy Acquitted; Rape Charges for Former NFL Star; Congress For Sale

Aired February 28, 2014 - 12:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Her family name on the line. Kerry Kennedy found not guilty of DWI, after testifying that she took a sleeping pill accidentally before crashing into a tractor-trailer.

Also this hour, a former NFL star and five-time pro bowler now suspected of drugging and raping women in five different states. Darren Sharper turns himself into police. The former Saint now an accused serial rapist.

And, oh, say can you believe? California school orders students to cover up their American flag T-shirts to avoid offending Latino students. And a federal appeals court says no problem. Our legal team cannot wait to sort out the stars and gripes in this case.

Hello, everyone, and happy Friday to you. It is February the 28th. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW. It's great to have you here with us.

We're going to begin with this case, not guilty. That's the verdict in the high-profile case of Kerry Kennedy. Big name, big case. Not so much. She was accused of driving under the influence. Not many of those make it to the press, but this was a highly potent prescription drug that she was accused of taking and then driving.

The jurors, though, returning the verdict in a second day of deliberations, but really not even a second hour. Just an hour and 10 minutes of deliberations. Kennedy is the daughter of the late senator, Robert F. Kennedy. She was accused of driving after taking Ambien, and then crashing her SUV back in 2012. Our Jean Casarez covering the case live. She's at the courthouse in White Plains.

A big courtroom. They had to move it just to a big courtroom just to accommodate all the press. So apart from the applause in the courtroom, what's been the reaction to the verdict?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, the reaction to the verdict, I think, overall is that it was expected. But what was unexpected, Ashleigh, was that after the jury foreperson said, we find the defendant not guilty of this misdemeanor, the jury was thanked for their service, they left and then just sort of spontaneous eruption of applause I think thanking the jury, who may have not even heard it, for that verdict.

But I did see Kerry Kennedy stand up, walk over to the two prosecutors and shake their hands. After that, I asked her if there had been any change in her life, if this influenced her in any way, the entire experience. She told me, no. But then she stepped outside and she spoke to the public. Let's watch this.


KERRY KENNEDY, ACQUITTED OF DUI: I want to really thank my extraordinary lawyers. The best -- the best. Gerald Lefcourt, Bill Aronwald and Faith Friedman. And I want to thank my family and friends, my mother, Ethel Kennedy, and Kara Kennedy Cuomo, my daughters, everybody who's been so supportive.


CASAREZ: You know, the verdict came so unexpectedly, because the judge just walked into the door and told really the defense, we have a verdict, that Ethel Kennedy, her 85-year-old mother, was outside of the courtroom at the time, and so I saw a family friend go and get her. And her mother has been so supportive here every day in the courtroom, along with her brothers, her sisters and family friends.

And, Ashleigh, I just got a statement from prosecutors. They told me, quote, "we prosecute 2,500 impaired driving cases annually here in Westchester County. This case was treated no differently from any of the others. The jury heard all the evidence in the case, and we respect their verdict."


BANFIELD: All right, Jean Casarez, live for us in Westchester County. Thank you for that.

I want to bring in our legal panel to talk over the Kerry Kennedy verdict. Danny Cevallos is here and Lisa Bloom is here as well. Danny's a criminal defense attorney and Lisa is the author - well, she's a friend first, but she's also the author of "Suspicion Nation" about the Trayvon Martin murder case and we're featuring it prominently. We're going to talk a little bit more about that book actually later in the program.

First, though, this case. We don't usually convene to discuss a DUI verdict, but we're going to on this one.


BANFIELD: Do you sense there was anything about fame that played into what the jury did, or was this a really easy case for Kerry to win and not easy for the prosecutors to win? Danny, have at it.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: First, this was not an easy case. This was a very difficult case. An involuntary intoxication case in a DUI is always difficult. So she had to prove and be credible that, in fact, she accidentally took an Ambien. But part two, your question does who she is factor into it? Absolutely. But not because she's a Kennedy. Because, instead, she is a regular citizen who is going to work and going to the gym. And those facts made it credible, more credible, because the jury asked the question, who in the world would take an Ambien before they went to the gym? That's important. Because if instead it was Friday night and she's at the bar and she says I accidentally took an Ambien while I was having a glass of red wine, then that becomes a little less credible. So who she was factored in, but not because she was a Kennedy. Because she was somebody on the way to the gym --

BANFIELD: That they could identify with?

CEVALLOS: That she could - that the jury could identify with.

BANFIELD: Lisa, I only asked if it was easy, because I've got to be honest with you, the statistics were not in her favor. I think in this county, and you probably will know better than I, I think somewhere like 0.2 of these DUI cases that go to a jury trial actually prevail, like (INAUDIBLE).


BANFIELD: It is incredible.

BLOOM: Well, you know, most cases, the prosecution wins in American courtrooms. And that's because the prosecutors decide which cases to take to trial. If they have weak cases, they don't take them to trial, right? And defense attorneys generally consider it a win if they win on anything other than the top charge. So, you know, that's not surprising.

I do think that her celebrity status had to have helped her. I think generally, in American courtrooms, having watched high-profile cases for many years, as you have, Ashleigh, it certainly helps to go in with a little bit of star power. But I don't think that the evidence was here for the prosecution. What evidence did they have that she intentionally took a sleeping pill on the way to the gym, as Danny said? I think the harder question for the defense was, once she took it, did she really not know that that drowsy, sleepy feeling was as a result of the Ambien that she had been taking for 10 years?

BANFIELD: Guess what, as it turns out, their own expert, the prosecution's own expert, had to concede that point to the defense.

BLOOM: Right.

BANFIELD: Like, yes, actually, this drug she wouldn't have known.

BLOOM: Right.

BANFIELD: So it was like, oh, man, sorry about that, you know.

BLOOM: And a lot of people have these terrible effects from Ambien. We've been hearing about that over the years.

BANFIELD: We all have our own crazy stories. I won't even get into the war correspondent who we all took Ambiens for these long - these long flight and crazy things would happen.


BANFIELD: But, guys, stick around, I have a lot more I want to talk about with you. Thank you for that. Lisa Bloom is going to come back and talk about that book as well. Danny Cevallos is going to stick around.

Some people in southern California are packing up right now and heading to higher ground because a real gully washer of a rain storm is hitting the Los Angeles area. It's kind of good news and bad news. Honestly. This rain is going to help the state's unbelievable drought that it's going through right now, but really too much rain and really dry conditions means flash flooding. It also means mudslides, too. A flood warning is in effect right now. It's going to last through most of this weekend, as well.

OK. Really? Fire shooting up from the street? This is not supposed to happen. I think that's the understatement. But in Columbus, Ohio, in the wee hours of the morning today, an explosion shot a manhole cover into the air. Yes, that's really not supposed to happen. More than one manhole cover, too, blowing up, blowing out this morning because of a fire that was burning in an underground electric plant. Nobody was hurt, but it did knock out power to several square blocks and thank God no pedestrians seem to have been congregating in that area. Again, wee small hours, thank you.

A high school that stopped kids from wearing American flag T-shirts did not violate anybody's constitutional rights. And that's the finding of a federal appeals court. That court agreeing that the school did the right thing to prevent racial tensions from escalating. This all goes back to 2010 on Cinco de Mayo when the school told students to take off or cover up their shirts that were sporting large American flags. Schools said they did this for safety reasons, to stop the violence. The court agreed. Stay right there, because we're going to talk about this in depth with my legal panel in just a few minutes.

A former pro football star turns him in after more women accuse him of rape. The legal view on what Darren Sharper is facing, straight ahead.


BANFIELD: A former pro football star has some brand-new rape charges against him this morning. It's Darren Sharper. He's five-time Pro Bowl safety with a Super Bowl ring from 2010 when he was with the New Orleans Saints. He's already got a court date for two rape charges. That's in L.A. And now he's turned himself in on two fresh counts of aggravated rape, this time stemming from an incident in New Orleans and he turned himself in, in California for that one. CNN's Tory Dunnan is watching this story for us.

So what do we know about these new charges and there's just sort of a confusing array of many other investigations out there? Can you sort of figure it out for me and let me know where this case stands?

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Ashleigh. They're starting to stack up and they involve lots of different jurisdictions. But basically the headline is that Darren Sharper now faces rape charges in two different states. Police are confirming that the former NFL star made arrangements and surrendered to LAPD yesterday evening after he was charged in New Orleans with two counts of aggravated rape.

Now, prosecutors in New Orleans say the two alleged rapes happened in late September in an apartment there. If convicted, Sharper faces a possible sentence of life in prison without parole. It is important to point out, though, that Sharper was in Los Angeles because just last week he pleaded not guilty to charges, including two counts of rape by use of drugs. He was free on a $1 million bail and must remain in Los Angeles County by court order.

So this morning I've also reached out to Miami Beach Police. The reason is because investigators there are saying that there's actually an open, active investigation that's involving Sharper. But they also tell me that no arrests have been made.

Now, according to a police report, a Florida woman filed a sexual battery complaint against Sharper, stemming from an alleged incident happening back in 2012. On top of all of that, Los Angeles prosecutors say Sharper is also under investigation in Arizona and Nevada. Police in Tempe, Arizona, tell us they're waiting on a couple of results to come back from the crime lab, and they're actually expecting to file charges soon.

Now, one of his lawyers has disputed all of the rape allegations. That happened during a hearing last week, saying that this was all consensual. So we have put in calls to his attorneys again in light of the fact that he turned himself into Los Angeles police. But, Ashleigh, so far we haven't heard back. But as you mentioned, these are just piling on right now.

BANFIELD: So he is still an analyst for the NFL on their football network. Is he -- are they talking? Is the NFL commenting on all of this?

DUNNAN: Right. A lot of people know him as a football player. Most recently he played for the New Orleans Saints, up into 2010. But we've actually reached out to the NFL. Officially they have said no comment to this. We also know that he's an analyst for the NFL Network, which has already suspended him without pay until further notice. So, Ashleigh, that's where things stand on that point.

BANFIELD: All right, Tory Dunnan live for us in Atlanta. Thank you for that.

I want to bring back in Lisa Bloom and Danny Cevallos on this.

It's hard for the average guy out there who maybe doesn't understand the nuances of law not to say, ooh, where there's smoke, there's fire. Look at all of these cases. He's got charges in two states. He's got investigations in several more.

But the pattern or the appearance of a pattern, it's not always something you can bring into a case, is it, Lisa? BLOOM: Right. And certainly, we want to try people for the individual crime. If he is being charged with rape and tried for rape in one state, we're not going to bring in other charges that may be swirling around him elsewhere. The jury is going to have to decide each case on its merits.

It's very rare that prior bad acts -- that's what we call them --

BANFIELD: Or consecutive or concurrent bad acts and sadly this is what it appears like.

BLOOM: -- are going to come into a trial.

There are a few exceptions where it can, if somebody has a pattern or practice in engaging in a certain kind of bizarre behavior, there's a witness can say he did this last year, he did this last month, here he is doing it again today.

In some cases, like in a Phil Spector case, that might come in. Other women said that he'd pointed a gun at me and he's accused of pointing a gun and shooting a woman named Lana Clarkson and convicted of it. But generally, that stuff is not come in.

BANFIELD: Danny, what happens with all these different jurisdictions? Are they all working separately and keeping information to themselves?

Or do they all give each other a call saying, you know what, we've got the same guy, we're all working on it, let's try and share resources and all work towards a conviction, and to that end why don't you throw in who gets first crack at him?

CEVALLOS: That's a really interesting issue. I have to expect a little jurisdictional battle, because they have an equal right to him and may be dispute as to who gets first crack, as you say. As to prior bad acts, this is a tricky issue. Our rules of evidence say you can't admit prior bad acts to show somebody did a bad thing.

But my evidence professor will be very proud of me for remembering that the important thing is what is the purpose that you're showing these things.

If they have another purpose other than, hey, this is the guy who did the prior bad thing, for example, it shows his identity, or his motive or some other reason, then you can find another way to get that evidence in, and a creative prosecutor can do just that.

BANFIELD: If the judge will let you, which many times they won't. Our former colleague, Jack Ford, who's brilliant, law teacher, all the rest, he once explained it to me this way.

If someone goes around killing and leaves a lipstick "Z" on the mirror, that is a pattern in which you can start bringing in all those different cases where that mark was left behind, because it's so significant and so unusual. I thought that was a really good example to try and understand that.

Guys, stick around. More to come in just a moment.

What's your congressman up to this weekend? CNN uncovers some pretty posh weekend getaways where lawmakers routinely ask for cash from lobbyists, basically selling access to their power and influence.

And guess what? We have the details on it. It's coming at you, next.


BANFIELD: We're "Keeping Them Honest" today in Washington, where access is power. Money buys access, and access can be bought just about every weekend of the year.

Nearly every weekend, including this past one, politicians serve up retail -- serve it up, retail, inviting lobbyists and other influence seekers to fundraising getaways at posh resorts.

Lawmakers in both parties are doing it, including some who tell voters just the opposite, lawmakers who are actually on the record, saying they're fighting the good fight against lobbying.


SENATOR MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: We need a new corporate tax code and a regulatory system to eliminate lobbyist loopholes and giveaways, level the playing field between businesses, big and small, and foster a dynamic, globally competitive, private sector.

The Left today no longer represents the little guy, but rather, the crony clients of the ever-expanding special interest state.

Progressives have become the party of Wall Street, K Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. We must become the party of Main Street, everywhere.


BANFIELD: That's Utah tea party Republican Senator Mike Lee.

Keeping him honest, though, when he's not publicly crusading against lobbyists, he's been privately asking them for money.

Drew Griffin reports.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: It's 8:00 a.m. in Snowbird, Utah, and that early gondola heading up the mountain an hour before the slopes of this luxury resort even open is filled with lobbyists.

But not just lobbyists, Utah Senator Mike Lee is here, too. In fact, it's his Political Action Committee hosting a fundraising ski getaway.

Cold weather not your thing? Tee off at San Diego's Torrey Pines Golf Course. It's a fundraising for California Democrat Congressman Juan Vargas, teeing off at the 9:40 tee time his special guest, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

For a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, this is the world of unlimited access. Political fundraising junkets leave D.C. every weekend.

They meet at luxury resorts where lobbyists schmooze, drink booze, dine slope-side, and get one lobbyist told CNN is the most valuable access you could have.

Critics say it's the epitome of pay-to-play politics. And surprisingly, less than a month ago, the senator having this slope- side lunch with lobbyists was one of those critics.

This is Senator Mike Lee giving the tea party State of the Union response, chastising the business as usual that goes on in Washington.

SENATOR MIKE LEE, (R , UTAH: Critics might push back and argue that my own party has been part of the problem, too often joining the Democrats to rig our economy to benefit the well-connected at the expense of the disconnected. I know because I'm one of those critics.

GRIFFIN: You won't find many of the disconnected here

Lobbyists have paid as much as $5,000 for the opportunity of a ski weekend with Senator Mike Lee, ski with the senator, eat lunch with the senator, apres ski drinks with the senator, all part of the well- connected crowd. Shortly after this slope-side lunch for 22 friends, we decided to ask Senator Mike Lee just why he's doing this.

Just want to ask you why they're so important? I mean, you're not the only guy that does these?

LEE: Yes. I didn't really consent to an interview right now I don't think

GRIFFIN: Well, I'm just wondering if we could ask you a few questions about why you have these -- in general why you have these kind of weekends for the lobbyists.

LEE: Politicians raise funds. And this is what we do.

GRIFFIN: Do you like to do it? You spoke so eloquently about the disconnected not being represented? I just wonder if you like this.

LEE: I enjoy skiing. Thank you very much.

GRIFFIN: You enjoy skiing?

LEE: Yes. Thanks a lot.

GRIFFIN: It may have been an uncomfortable moment, but in that brief interview, the truth

They're supposed to legislate, but this is what politicians do -- constantly raise funds

And according to one who did it, many do hate it. TIM WIRTH, FORMER CONGRESSMAN AND SENATOR: Their job in the Congress is now only two days a week at most. You know, it's a part-time job

The full-time job is raising money, so they're out raising money.

GRIFFIN: Former U.S. congressman and senator, Tim Wirth of Colorado, got out of public office more than 20 years ago because he saw then what's only gotten worse.

He says right now if you want to stay in office, stay in power, stay here, only one thing matters, money.

WIRTH: A lot of people up on Capitol Hill know that it's very poisonous. It's very corruptive to your system, so I left

That was 20 years ago, and that was kid's play compared to what goes on now.

GRIFFIN: And according to Wirth, as long as politicians need money they will sell the one thing every lobbyist wants on Capitol Hill -- access.

A cycle that creates government decisions, says Wirth, driven by special interests, especially the interests who can pay the price politicians demand.

What is the language? Are we talking about political extortion?

WIRTH: We are. I mean, extortion is one part of it. You know, bankruptcy is another part of it. Getting paid for political outcomes, you know, is a way of describing it

It's basically corrupt. And it is legalized corruption. And people aren't going to say that. They will recoil when you say it. But it's true.

GRIFFIN: And if you're looking for any change from within Washington, Wirth says forget it

There's too much money to be made and too much access to be sold, which this weekend includes a spring training trip to Florida, a spa weekend in Mississippi, or if you'd like, skiing in Alaska.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Snowbird, Utah.


BANFIELD: And Drew Griffin is great at this. In fact, for more "Keeping Them Honest" segments, tune into "AC 360" weeknights. He stays on it.

The headline pretty attention-grabbing, a court rules that students at a California school cannot wear images of the American flag on their T-shirts, because it might offend someone.

Really? Really? Can they appeal that? You're going to find out from two very smart lawyers in a moment.