Seema Iyer

Seema Iyer

The Most Memorable Quotes from the Adnan Syed Hearing

15 February 2016 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

Ferbruary 16, 2016

Last week I attended the post-conviction hearing of Adnan Syed in Baltimore, Maryland. (I wrote about it for The Dean's Report.) Syed, the subject of the immensely popular Serial podcast, is getting another chance for a new trial after being convicted in 2000 of murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in January 1999. The five day court proceeding, included many notable quotes. These are some of my most memorable:

Phil Dantes (fmr friend & attorney for Cristina Gutierrez):

-       On Cristina Guitierrez, “not appearing to be in control” & “looked like she was losing it.”

* BOTH STATEMENTS were struck from the record

Asia McLain (‘The Alibi’) thought former prosecutor, Kevin Urick, would have worn a “white hat”

Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah cross-examining Librarian, Michelle Hamiel:

-       Question: “Would it surprise you to learn the library has no records of cameras being installed until February 2000?”

-       Answer: “No. We didn’t keep records.”

Asia McLain on when she realized the time period in library was significant: “(it) placed greater weight on my heart”

Asia McLain on reason for testifying, “(so) justice could be fairly evaluated”

 Justin Brown, Defense Attorney, on Security Officer Steve testifying anonymously: “The public has a right to see witnesses and have witnesses identify themselves”

 Christopher Nieto, Defense Attorney, referred to Deputy AG Vignarajah’s staff as a “legion of minions.”

 Agent Chad Fitzgerald, State cell phone expert, on cross-examination by Justin Brown:

-       “it’s offensive that you handed me manipulated evidence”

-       In response to whether he worked all weekend on the case, “don’t flatter yourself.”

Criminal Defense Attorney Expert, David Irwin to Deputy AG Vignarajah on cross-examination:

-       “You’re begging the world to think she (Gutierrez) had a strategy……(there was) no analysis, no strategy”

Christopher Nieto cross-examining Security Officer Steve:

-       Question: “Can you say for certain whether Mr. Syed was in the library (on January 13, 1999)?”

-       Answer: “No.” (this was in complete contradiction to his direct testimony)

Justin Brown, closing statement:

-       “I am proud to represent this man and stand beside him in his defense.”

-       “I’ve been walking in her (Gutierrez) footsteps for 7 years.”

-       On Gutierrez, “She wanted to win, she tried to win, she was a fighter BUT there was something wrong….too many signals, too many red flags.”

-       On Asia McClain, “the diamond slipped through the cracks.”

-       “No defense attorney can defend not contacting an alibi witness.”

Deputy Attorney General Thiru Vignarajah, closing statement:

-       “State’s responsibility is to do justice, not to bend to what’s fashionable.”

-       “what is popular is not always just.”

-       submits Gutierrez thought “Asia McClain is not a weapon for the defense, it is a weakness.”

-       Referring to Adnan Syed’s case as “a fight that should not end in victory.”

Andrea Seabrook, journalist, from inside the press room……..

-       “I don’t sleep. I don’t eat. All I do is drink and write.”


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  She is an MSNBC legal analyst.   Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


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The Adnan Syed Hearing: My week in Baltimore

11 February 2016 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

Ferbruary 11, 2016

Pulling up to the mosque I didn’t know what to expect but I dressed for the occasion…..I guess???  I wore what I’d wear to temple, a long salwar top and jeans. But was this appropriate for a community briefing on the post-conviction hearing for the now infamous anti-hero of the "Serial" podcast, Adnan Syed? 

A room filled with brown people who looked like me immediately brought a sense of comfort. Rabia Chaudry, an attorney as well as Adnan Syed’s advocate and family friend, had just started speaking.  “For 17 years Adnan has maintained his innocence….” her voice being broken by tears.  It struck me that after all this time a few words about Adnan so quickly moved her.  I had gotten to know Rabia a bit over the past year – she was tough, smart, confident and clearly, human.

But Syed had much more than this packed room of supporters, probably tens of thousands more outside these mosque doors.  Was I one of them?  Standing in the crowded basement of adults and children adorned in #FreeAdnan t-shirts…..not exactly.

I came to Baltimore, Maryland to attend Adnan Syed’s second post-conviction hearing.  Syed was the subject of the phenomenally popular Serial podcast that reexamined his conviction for murdering his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999.  After listening to Serial, I attempted to interview the trial prosecutor, Kevin Urick, in January 2015, but he stood me up.  I then contacted Rabia along with Susan Simpson, an attorney and blogger who was instrumental in getting Syed ‘another bite at the apple’ as we say.  We proceeded to do three one-hour Serial ‘specials’ dissecting different aspects of Syed’s case for

Still, I do not know whether Syed is innocent of this crime.  As a criminal defense attorney I think about guilt versus innocence all day, every day.  But with Syed here is what I know: this kid got screwed from every single facet of the criminal justice system from the police to the prosecutor to his lawyer and even the trial Judge.  I’ve read the trial transcripts, reviewed some of the evidence, spoke to many experts and bottom line, Syed did not receive a fair trial.  Full stop.

So when Syed got another chance at a new trial through a second post-conviction hearing I knew I couldn’t miss it.  Now that I was peripherally acquainted with the significant parties, now that I knew way too many flaws in the process I didn’t just want to read about it.  I had to witness it all unfold for myself. 

What exactly was I going to do there?  I was not asked to go for television purposes, and although I’m a renowned trial-junkie in my New York City courthouse was I really going to spend money on travel to just sit and watch this hearing?  And just not work? 

I concocted a way to be useful to the masses who couldn’t attend but who would be glued to social media for updates.  I’d tweet, do video interviews and periscope, (didn’t even know what that was until boarding the train for Baltimore whereupon I accidentally buttscoped twitter, ooops!).  Having access to Rabia, Susan and perhaps others who would go on camera during the court breaks may allow me to provide a novel service.  I was hoping…..

The first day of the hearing I walked into the courthouse with Rabia but when I entered the press room and she walked down the hall our paths diverged more than logistically.  I wasn’t there as a member of #TeamAdnan; I didn’t sit with Rabia, the family, Susan and other supporters; I was going to sit with the press. 

Walking into the press room was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. Of course the first person I saw was Sarah Koenig.  Koenig who hosts "Serial" was, to me, the singular reason Syed got this far.  I’ve said this before and I will say it again – there is no Justice without exposure.  And that is the remarkable feat that Sarah Koenig accomplished for Adnan Syed.

The press room was filled with reporters; real ones, not the pseudo lawyer/journo that I was attempting to be.  And despite how intimidating that was, I did what I always do.  I manufacture confidence.  I’m an experienced trial attorney, I’ve been working in news for a while too, I could do this. 

With the group of reporters, we march into the courtroom for the grand entrance of Syed; no one has seen recent pictures of him so there was some curiosity.  A bit after 930am a door in the back of the courtroom swings open and Syed enters flanked by officers.  He’s wearing light blue prison attire, a kufi on his head donning a long beard – and he is HUGE.  Seriously.  BIG.  Like prison jacked lifting weights in the yard BIG.  After that moment I ceased to pay much attention to him, unlike many others.  Maybe that’s the lawyer side of me.  I was fascinated with the attorneys, the witnesses, the entire process; but what “the defendant” was doing was not relevant.  During the hearing his role appeared minimal at best. Strange….almost like being a guest in your own home.

Getting into the groove of watching testimony, then sprinting to the press room to tweet was quite daunting, especially because coffee was initially banned. Balancing what tidbits from court needed immediate tweeting versus what was better left for interviews required circus like juggling. The one constant in the frenzied week was the comradery of the press room. Every reporter I met was gracious in sharing information, helping this outsider and supporting my endeavor – it was astounding. Lawyers don’t play as nice.

The quality of reporting challenged me every minute to raise my game; the effort was thoroughly exhilarating. Because there is no tired, there is no hungry, there is no limit when you feel absolute joy in doing good work. Still it was not lost on me that my self-satisfaction sprung from a young couple’s tragic plight.

I am fortunate to have a small, albeit undefined, role in this particular pursuit of justice. Yes, I am a lawyer. Sometimes, I am a journalist. And for a week in Baltimore I was simply, the messenger.



Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  She is an MSNBC legal analyst.   Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq




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Kalief Browder: Walking Dollar Sign to Lawyers

15 June 2015 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

June 15, 2015

The recent suicide of Kalief Browder gained national attention because his story of solitary confinement, false arrest and interminable court delays captured our attention. But why Kalief? There are hundreds of Kaliefs, maybe some sitting and sweating in Rikers (where he was incarcerated) right this very second. The difference is that Kalief Browder became the cause de celeb of Rand, Rosie and many others. Okay, so how did he get there? How did a poor kid from the Bronx raise our collective conscious on the decrepit justice system?

Welcome to the big business of civil rights law.

Browder was a walking dollar sign as are most plaintiffs in these types of cases. The lawyers like to claim they’re on a “quest for justice” - they march in parades, lead midnight vigils, hold press conferences - all for that pot of gold on the other side of settlement rainbow. The “sleazy underworld” of civil rights claims, is how one prominent New York City Attorney, who for obvious reasons chose to remain anonymous, put it.

A civil rights matter is frequently referred to as a “Section 1983” case because of how it’s codified under the Civil Rights Act of 1871. To be successful you must generally prove that you were deprived of some right or privilege by a person, or group of persons, who were acting under color of law. Color of law can be police, corrections and even a city as a whole. Section 1983 cases can be brought in state or federal court.

So when you’ve been wrongfully arrested, beaten by cops, and/or mistreated by corrections officers in jail – you have a civil rights claim. If you’re poor, not to fret, you don’t have to spend a dime on getting a lawyer. You can hire one on a contingency basis.

A contingency fee can be one of the shady deals in this practice area. According to the American Bar Association, a client pays this “only if the lawyer handles the case successfully”; this type of arrangement is used only when money is being sought. In a contingent fee agreement the lawyer usually agrees to accept one-third of the recovery.

However, it can be more, or less. Sometimes it’s as much as 50% and rarely it’s as little as 15%. To be fair, the fee also depends on the projected award – how much the case is worth.

The money train doesn’t stop there. The Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Act of 1976 allows a Court, in its discretion, to award reasonable attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party (unless the plaintiff is a prisoner in which case the cap is 150% of the damage award). The Court will consider several factors such as labor, skill required, novelty of legal issues, standard hourly fee, time devoted, outcome and whether there is a contingency arrangement. Still, in 1989 (Blanchard v Bergeron with a 40% contingency agreement) the US Supreme Court decided contingency fees don’t limit the amount of attorneys’ fees; - and, putting contingency aside, the payout on just attorneys’ fees can be HUGE.

In the 2007 case of Robinson v. City of Harvey (Illinois), Mr. Robinson alleged the police framed him, the jury awarded $275,000 and the attorneys’ fees were $500,000! It wasn’t reported if there was also a contingency fee, (my educated guess is there was) yet it’s clear that lawyers sometimes make out better than the actual injured party.

Much better in fact. In the 1986 case of City of Riverside v. Rivera (California), eight Mexican-Americans were at a party when the police, without a warrant, broke it up using tear gas and unnecessary force. The group sued and were awarded $33,350. The Court gave the lawyers a whooping $245,456.25 and the US Supreme Court even upheld that amount.

So let’s imagine the money made by the lawyers in these astronomical awards:

  • In a case from Colorado, Tim Masters was imprisoned for almost 20 years (1999-2008) for a murder he did not commit. He sued for false imprisonment and received $4.1 million dollars pursuant to a settlement agreement.
  • From Chicago, in 1991 Juan Johnson was convicted of murder, spent 12 years in prison until finally being acquitted after a retrial.       Johnson was awarded $21 million dollars.
  • A Jackson Mississippi jury awarded $23 million dollars to Dale Archey who was shot in the face by a police officer in 2007.

Back to Kalief Browder – he was wrongfully arrested, tortured in jail, and spent much of his three years incarcerated in solitary confinement. Sounds like a multi-million dollar case to me. But was it a good idea to parade this mentally fragile young man on “The View”? Maybe less media blitz, more mental health care would have been smarter.

Well it may not matter because his suicide hasn’t stopped the wheels of justice, which sounds remarkably like a cash register, from turning. His mother should soon be named his administrator and his civil rights case against the NYPD, Department of Corrections, Bronx District Attorney and the city will continue.

As you can see in my byline, I am partly a civil rights lawyer but, full disclosure, I only assess cases and then refer them to an outside firm. I am entitled to referral fees, which can be substantial, but haven’t been thus far. Perhaps you don’t think I am any better than the shysters I’m calling out, however; I would never exploit one of my clients for personal gain. And I’ve certainly been tested.

A few years ago I had a very high profile criminal case and…..Oprah called. Yes, Oprah. THE Oprah. Sure I thought about it, but not for more than a few minutes. The client, like Kalief, had severe mental health issues; that coupled with the fact that being on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” served zero purpose besides furthering my career made the decision easy. I may not have a lot of principles but here’s one - I talk about other lawyers’ clients on television – never my own.


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  Seema is also an MSNBC Contributor and Host of  "The Docket" on Shift/MSNBC‎.com.  Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


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"The Gate Crashers" - A New Comedy Starring The U.S. Secret Service

17 March 2015 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

March 17, 2015

Imagine a movie with Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Seth Rogen & Will Ferrell. Now put them in suits, give them badges, guns, earpieces and a presidential security detail. Sounds like the perfect buddy film about our nation’s Secret Service.

Tell me you can’t picture Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, after happy hour at the Old Ebbitt Grill, driving a car into a bomb scene investigation. The script is so good it practically writes itself.

And it wouldn’t be difficult because it’s all true. On March 4 two agents, one, second in command on President Obama’s personal protective detail and the other, a top supervisor in Washington, were caught on video driving into a security gate near the White House entrance.

The area was cordoned off after an unidentified woman stopped her car near the entrance, got out with something wrapped in a shirt, exclaimed she had a bomb, dropped off the object, then drove away. Luckily it was just a book. But at the time it was possibly a bomb.

The agents drove thru a police taped barricade almost right up to the suspicious package. Uniformed officers wanted to check their sobriety but a supervisor let them go. Ohhhhh……like Kevin James’ Mall Cop??? Am I right or am I right?

The latest Service hijinks is just the latest in a string of scandalous escapades by the agency over the last few years.

During the 2012 Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia a group of agents allegedly brought prostitutes back to their hotel. POTUS was attending which of course enhances the comedic value of the story. Are people actually surprised the Secret Service behaves this way? Give them a break – they’re in the middle of a snooze-fest where the President is set to talk about trade, energy and regional security. How are tequila and hookers not on the menu for after hours?

But they would never have gotten caught but for a fee dispute which later ensued. Picture if you will – a hung-away-over Seth Rogen, between trying not to vomit on himself and taking bong hits, negotiating with the bawdy Madam, his glasses smacking her boobs in the face.

Then there was the Amsterdam incident in March 2014. Presumably after many hours of drunken debauchery three Secret Service agents were sent home – again because they got caught. To Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson: Guys you really shouldn’t have let Will Ferrell pass out in the hotel hallway in his whitey tighties. Thank God no one caught him streaking down the streets of the Dutch city’s red light district…..

Soon after that debacle came the fence jumper in September. A 42 year-old Iraq war veteran who suffered from PTSD jumped the White House fence, ran inside through much of the main floor until he was stopped in the East Room. To get there he overcame at least one Secret Service Agent. The man, carrying a knife, was clearly ill; this was a dangerous situation that could’ve been deadly yet still evokes images of the bumbling Keystone Cops chasing Steve Buscemi through the corridors of the executive mansion. What? Isn’t Buscemi the perfect choice? Nobody does crazy better than him.

Political pundits proclaim the Secret Service has been an “embarrassment to the Administration”; that this is “hardly the image the Agency wants to portray” – blah, blah, blah. C’mon people, lighten up! They are dudes. Their jobs are a confounding mix of stress and boredom so who can blame them for letting off some steam after work. Someone’s just got to help these numbskulls from constantly getting busted.

And yes all you feministas of course the Service needs more women, but I hope they’d be more Melissa McCarthy, less Sandra Bullock, circa The Heat. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

So ask yourself - do you want to discuss net neutrality over a cold glass of Chablis with John McCain and Harry Reid; then go to bed at a reasonable hour because it’s a school night? Do you want to rankle over the past with Kevin Costner’s brooding depressive Bodyguard? Or do you want to party with the new face of the Secret Service – ‘The Gate Crashers’?


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  Seema is also an MSNBC Contributor and Host of  "The Docket" on Shift/MSNBC‎.com.  Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


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American Sniper: Mental Illness on Trial

24 February 2015 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

Ferbruary 24, 2015

The real American Sniper, Chris Kyle, engaged in charitable work helping vets suffering from mental illness. And in that vain, thought it wise to take an ex-soldier with a history of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to a gun range. That move got him killed.  

Eddie Ray Routh, a former Marine stands trial for murdering Chris Kyle and another military veteran, Chad Littlefield. The trial just happened to start weeks after the movie “American Sniper” was released. Quite coincidentally as well, the Oscars (the movie was nominated for six Academy Awards) were Sunday; the trial resumed Monday. Nicely played prosecutors.

It’s not a ‘who done it’. This only question is whether Routh was legally insane, at the time of the shooting, which would land him in a mental hospital, as opposed to prison.

And like in every other high-profile insanity trial, talking heads pontificate that insanity is almost impossible to prove. But no one ever says why. Here are some truths about using the insanity defense:

1. Most lawyers don’t understand mental illness but are expected to advocate their respective positions;

2. Many experts frame their opinion according to the side that is paying them because most defendants’ mental illness is not so black and white;

3. Jurors aren’t given enough time to be educated on insanity so it is just easier to convict;

4. When a defendant is on trial s/he is no longer as allegedly psychotic as during the incident (otherwise s/he would be incompetent to stand trial) thus the jury sees a ‘healthier’ person which hurts the defense case;

5. Many Jurors don’t care if the defendant is mentally ill; they’d rather see the person in prison than a hospital……especially if you murder an American “hero”.

I truly do not know if Mr. Routh is mentally ill or was legally insane at the time of the crime.

And I suspect at the conclusion of the trial we still won’t know.

The point of this piece is to address the flaws in the process of making that determination. Mental illness is complicated, nuanced – deep. It takes clinicians and physicians years if not decades to grasp its complexities. Yet we expect jurors to come to a verdict without the benefit of academics or training – or without ever even having had a conversation with the defendant.

And then there’s trial strategy.

The jurors were introduced to Routh as having PTSD but then each expert during the course of their testimony diagnosed Routh with having other types of mental illness. Defense says schizophrenia, which can be more successful than PTSD for an insanity defense, and the prosecution says mood disorder which wouldn’t prevent a person from distinguishing right from wrong (an element of the Texas insanity defense).

According to Jessica Pearson, a clinical psychologist specializing in forensics, “PTSD in conjunction with the insanity defense has been successful in the past….it works when there is a link between a particular set of PTSD symptoms and the instant offense, specifically, when the set of symptoms known as re-experiencing symptoms, especially flashbacks, are associated with the instant offense. For example, the veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD and has flashbacks where he is re-experiencing combat – he feels, thinks, smells, hears the combat environment and then engages in the offense….there can be triggering events that set off the flashback such as an actual event similar to those in combat (ie – noises).”

That certainly fits. Routh was diagnosed with PTSD in 2011. The offense occurred at a gun range where shooting akin to combat occurred.   Pearson adds, “I believe it is more successful when there is already an existing diagnosis of PTSD, prior to the crime.”

One of the biggest concerns when a defense attorney utilizes the insanity defense is malingering, or exaggerating illness. With PTSD many symptoms are self-reported, so malingering can be an issue, whereas with schizophrenia some behavior is observable. So, with respect to PTSD, getting information from collateral sources (friends, family, colleagues) who have observed the person experience flashbacks, nightmares, disrupted sleep, changes in mood, hyper-vigilance, hyper-arousal, is crucial. To that end, Routh’s mother and girlfriend testified about Routh’s behavior.

When Routh was arrested he said he was feeling “paranoid” and “schizophrenic” all day. A few problems with that statement. One, it sounds like feigning symptoms. Most truly ill people don’t have the insight into their illness to classify it with such particularity. Two, if he did know that he was feeling paranoid/schizophrenic then he had insight, he wasn’t that ill during the crime, and that insight, or awareness of his mental condition, should have prevented him from shooting the victims. And three, that statement may have been the impetus to pursue a defense based on schizophrenia rather than PTSD.

Hopefully the jurors have been made aware that a person can suffer from both PTSD and schizophrenia… do not want the jury to question the defense machinations.

After handling hundreds of cases with mentally ill clients what I have learned is that most individuals lie in a middle ground where one can argue either side of legal insanity, ergo the expert dilemma. There are very few people who are so gravely ill that both prosecution and defense agree the person was legally insane at the time of the crime.

This case amplifies not only the difficulties in defending the mentally ill but also in their treatment. Routh had been discharged shortly before the shooting from a Dallas veterans hospital in a reportedly unstable, heavily medicated, condition. Despite how much we know about the causal link between mental health and criminal behavior there are still no protections; not for the individual, not for society. There are scant alternatives other than jail or hospital if you are poor. And while being poor may bad, being poor and crazy…..well that’s simply put - a life sentence.


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  She hosts the weekly legal show "The Docket" on Shift by MSNBC‎.com.   S‎eema also appears frequently on television as a legal analyst. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


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CODE RED: Cupid Is On the Prowl!

12 February 2015 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

Ferbruary 12, 2015

CODE RED:  The community is on high alert.  Valentine’s Day is around the corner and so is one cherubic little criminal – Cupid.  Aliases include Amor, Cupido and Eros.  Don’t be fooled by his rosy cheeks, chubby little legs and those damn ringlets that adorn his seemingly angelic face.  He is armed and he is dangerous.  His weapon of choice – a bow and arrow.

Cupid is allegedly the symbol of love.  In modern times he has become the spokesperson for Valentine’s Day which explains his annual reemergence around and during February 14th.  Several witnesses have confirmed that if Cupid shoots you, you will fall madly in love with the next person you meet. You’ve been warned.

Cupid has been called a hit man and an enforcer, “[T]hink Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator in leather jacket and sunglasses, and carrying a shotgun that shoots arrows.  But he doesn’t have a motorcycle; he has wings.  The man is a professional and out for business.”

Members of the community that should be especially vigilant are single men.  That is, anonymous sources have reported observing single women in their 30s conspiring with Cupid to take these men out.  Yes, the situation is dire. 

Gentlemen, if you are dating a woman who has recently mentioned: A) meeting her parents; B) having a drawer at your place; and/or C) her biological clock, then you are particularly susceptible. 

And take heed, Cupid is small and has wings.  He can easily fly into your home and strike you in the middle of the night.  That’s right.  Cupid has no qualms about burglarizing your home.  Add that to his lengthy rap sheet that dates back to 300 B.C. – attempted murder, conspiracy to commit attempted murder, assault, coercion, and criminal possession of a weapon, just to name a few. 

This CODE RED will begin February 13th, extend through February 14th and, God help us all, into February 15th due to Cupid’s infamy of striking during the night.  Just ask his wife Psyche.  During the beginning of their marriage he would only visit her at night in the shadows of the darkness.  WEIRD-O. 

So if you awake one morning during the period of high alert wanting to go to brunch….after linen shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond….followed by a couples photo shoot - do not hesitate.  Call 911 immediately.  You will need all first responders on deck.  You have been struck by Cupid’s arrow.

Be safe.  Be smart.  If you see Cupid don’t try to be a hero.  Call the authorities.  And Happy Valentine’s Day!


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  She hosts the weekly legal show "The Docket" on Shift by MSNBC‎.com.   S‎eema also appears frequently on television as a legal analyst. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


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"Serial" Prosecutor Blows Off Interview: Is He Hiding Something?

02 February 2015 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

Ferbruary 2, 2015

Through the blizzard armed with 3,000 pages of transcripts, maps and cell phone records, I headed out to meet Kevin Urick, one of the prosecutors from the Adnan Syed case. If you are in the 1 percent of the universe that does not recognize those names, I am referring to “Serial.” a 12 episode podcast that reexamines the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school student in Baltimore, Maryland. Syed, who was convicted of Lee’s murder, is currently serving a life sentence.

From the very beginning I hated “Serial.” Hated it! I despised how Sarah Koenig (host/producer) was blaming the defense attorney within 35 minutes of the first episode. The epitome of ‘liberal media bias’ – with utter disbelief in her voice, Koenig informs the listeners that after a six week trial the jury returned a verdict within two hours. Big Whoop. That happens ALL the time. A reporter wouldn’t know that, thus, delivering such information was irresponsible without collecting data on the frequency of fast verdicts.  

While I grew skeptical of the State’s case as well as the defense Syed received, I still remained neutral. I was on episode six at that point.

Then Mr. Urick gave an interview to The Intercept. But it wasn’t the whole story. I wanted that from Mr. Urick – on camera, in depth. I left him messages explaining that since I was a former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney, I was in a unique position to understand his. He returned my call.

We spoke several times, emailed dozens - we had a crew, a location, it was all set in stone way in advance. And then he cancelled. Sure he had a lame reason but he cancelled with a specific note that he would not reschedule. Why?

My feeling is that when I told him I had read the trial transcripts he grew fearful of what I discovered. That would be true. But there was more.

Certainly Koenig’s uncovering of inconsistencies led me to investigate deeper but it also led me to Susan Simpson. Susan is a brilliant young lawyer who through her blog, The View From LL2, dissects key pieces of evidence from Syed’s trial. Actually, no. That’s the problem. Susan was looking at materials that were not admitted at trial but should have been. Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Syed’s who was the impetus for “Serial,” has facilitated Susan’s quest and now she is doing the same for me.

Analyzing what I was reading frightened me. I became baffled by the call log, the testimony, the maps. What I was looking at simply could not be true. I will admit I wanted to confirm that Syed was rightfully found guilty. I always want to believe that the system works because…..that’s where I live.

“A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate. This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence and that special precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons.” (Rule 3.8, The American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct). I remember carrying those words on a piece of paper into my first interview at the Bronx District Attorney’s Office.

To me, being a ‘minister of justice’ always meant doing the just thing. My entire life, both personally and professionally, I decide everything on a case-by-case basis. I don’t do the party line. Sometimes I’m with the prosecution, sometimes I’m with the defense. My slogan is “fairness” – I don’t care who ends up in jail, as long as they got there the right way.

What I loved about being a prosecutor is that if the evidence wasn’t there, if the cops screwed up, if there was extreme mitigation, you dismiss the charges. Why would a prosecutor sacrifice his job, his license, his livelihood, by falsifying a case? Perhaps that was the question Urick knew I would ask.

Imagine writing a script then calling central casting for the ideal villain to play the main character. The prosecution (Urick’s co-prosecutor was Kathleen Murphy) constructed a narrative and then orchestrated Syed’s role in it. We now know that to be true because the prosecutors, for instance,

  • Hid from the defense that Jay was given a free lawyer; (would’ve been easy to have her court appointed)
  • Arranged an invalid guilty plea for Jay and allowed for an alternative plea condition outside of what was contained in the plea agreement;
  • Didn’t test Syed’s phone to determine that it’s easily capable of misdialing; (they sure could have)
  • Improperly failed to mention the entire call log to the jury; of the 24 calls on Syed’s phone between 10:45am-8:05pm only 6 calls were possibly in the range of where the prosecution places the phone;
  • Didn’t introduce location of 3:32pm Nisha call at trial;
  • Didn’t reveal that the actual call which fits Nisha’s memory; that occurred on February 14, 1999, 7:17pm for approximately 10 minutes in the vicinity of the porn store; (according to cell phone records)
  • Inaccurately conveyed to the jury that the 5:14pm phone call was Syed calling his voicemail when it was actually someone leaving a voicemail; (from AT&T records the police obtained)
  • Failed to tell jury that only outgoing calls are reliable for location status NOT incoming (like the 7:09pm and 7:16pm that were allegedly places phone in Leakin Park while the body was being buried); (from AT&T records the police obtained)

I think you get the idea. There is so much more that Susan Simpson and Rabia Chaudry are working on and the world needs to hear all of it. I no longer have the confidence in the courts to do their job so perhaps exposing the real evidence – all of it – is what needs to be done. So that is what we are going to do…...

As for Kevin Urick, I understand why you stood me up. Really, it’s okay. But I gave you a shot to give your side of the story. Now just be prepared for what’s coming next because the gloves – are – off.


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  She hosts the weekly legal show "The Docket" on Shift by MSNBC‎.com.   S‎eema also appears frequently on television as a legal analyst. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


Follow The Dean's Report on Twitter

Egypt's LGBT "Witch Hunt"

18 January 2015 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

January 18, 2015

Is the recent acquittal in Egypt’s bathhouse trial a sign of progress for its LGBT community – or simply a judicial blip in a country notorious for its homophobia?

On December 7, 2014, a Cairo bathhouse was raided after prominent journalist, Mona Al-Iraqi, admittedly tipped off police then filmed half-naked men being dragged to detention. Al-Iraqi then aired the footage on her program ‘The Hidden’ noting that she exposed “a den of mass perversion spreading AIDS in Egypt.”

The men were arrested on charges of debauchery and performing indecent public acts. Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt. Allegedly.

Saying homosexuality is not criminal in Egypt is a cloak of pretext. Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961 titled, “Combating Prostitution, Incitement and its Encouragement” criminalizes the habitual practice of debauchery. This offense covers consensual sex between men…….so how is it not criminal to be gay in Egypt?!

Also startling is Article 40 of Egypt’s Constitution that claims, “citizens are equal before the law” with “equal rights and duties without discrimination between them due to race, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed” – see anything missing from that list folks? Sexual orientation and gender are notably absent. (Although it should be noted that there are still 29 states in the United States where people can legally be fired simply for being gay.)

The case was rushed to trial within weeks, for reasons which I am still unclear, but nonetheless gave a sense of urgency to secure a conviction. The verdict was a rare victory that doesn’t give everyone tremendous hope.

Omar Sharif, Jr., grandson of Hollywood legend, is an LGBT activist and spokesperson for GLAAD. Sharif explained to me that, “the Judge looked at the facts and decided this was a case without basis or merit; consisting of a fabricated story, fabricated evidence, false testimony and a rushed trial. Sadly though, it appears the men were found not guilty based on legal technicalities and not on substance.” The court did cite weaknesses in the case documents and the forensic report.

It is widely known that Egyptian authorities are on a quest to punish homosexuality. In the past 18 months, approximately 150 men have been arrested or put on trial for charges of debauchery. Sharif, who was partially raised in Egypt, appropriately describes the climate as a “witch hunt.”

He goes on, “it still remains extraordinarily difficult – if not dangerous – for LGBT people to live openly in Egypt.”

And their estimated population is significant at up to 12 percent. Compare that with a 2013 Pew Research study that finds 95 percent of Egyptians believe homosexuality should not be accepted by society. It quantifies the conflict, repression and fear.

As for the 26 men acquitted in the bathhouse trial, the prosecution has the right to appeal – twice. They have already filed a first appeal. Sharif is “cautiously optimistic that the verdict in the case will stand up to appeals.” 

Meanwhile, Tarek Al-Awadi, the defendants’ lawyer told the Daily News Egypt he will be suing Al-Iraqi for filming, reporting and mischaracterizing the defendants. He is also considering suing the police officer who headed the arrests.

Mona Al-Iraqi’s “report was dangerous, irresponsible, malicious and fictitious; it was a crime against LGBT people everywhere, an attack on basic humanity, common decency, and an assault on journalistic integrity” according to Sharif. Many join in his sentiment although the real issue is changing the law which Solidarity with Egypt LGBT is campaigning for.

Sharif added these thoughts, “the only way for a culture to move forward towards LGBT acceptance and understanding is through honest, authentic interactions between LGBT people and ordinary citizens.   Sadly, sensationalist stories and images like these only push anti-LGBT attitudes to the forefront of the daily national discourse, making it even more difficult for LGBT people to live openly and freely.”

The Egyptian AIDS Society, Human Rights Watch and LGBT activists around the globe have also been increasingly vocal against Egypt’s crackdown on its gay population. Perhaps the bathhouse trial victory is giving a glimmer of encouragement that their cause indeed has support.

A movement for change needs leaders, action and numbers. Perhaps Egypt’s LGBTs have finally reached their moment where freedom is in sight and fear is fading.


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  She hosts the weekly legal show "The Docket" on Shift by MSNBC‎.com.   S‎eema also appears frequently on television as a legal analyst. Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


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Liberty And Justice For All, That Is Unless You Are A Sikh

09 January 2015 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

January 9, 2015

"Freedom and liberty for all."  That phrase, which closely follows the words from our own nation's pledge of allegiance, is one of the basic tenets of Sikhism. However, as one young Sikh man found out, the United States Army apparently doesn't think that freedom and liberty applies to Sikhs.

Iknoor Singh is a college student who has been repeatedly refused admission to the US Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program simply because he is a practicing Sikh. The Army is effectively giving Iknoor a choice: his country or his religion. Yet we see the US military making accommodations for other minority faiths.

One of Iknoor’s attorneys, Manmeet Singh, has transferred another Sikh principle, the duty of speaking out against injustice, into practice. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Singh to discuss Iknoor’s case, and to learn more about Sikhism.

 -Mr. Singh, I still find it surprising that many people do not know what Sikhism is; describe your religion to me.

It is the world’s fifth largest religion, which originated in Punjab, India. Sikhism is a universal religion, open to all – it recognizes and respects all human beings as equals. We do not acknowledge race, class, caste, or other earthly distinctions between people. Also, men and women are viewed as equal in all aspects of life. Our Sikh place of worship is called ‘Gurudwaara’.

-I didn’t know men and women are considered equals – how refreshing! I do know that Sikh men are to let their hair remain natural – why is that?

One of the primary means through which Sikhs practice their faith is ‘Kesh’ or uncut hair covered by a turban. However, it is important to note that Kesh is much more than just not cutting one’s hair. The significance of Kesh rests in the belief that allowing all the hair on one’s body to grow naturally is a sign of respect towards the perfection of God’s creation. For a Sikh, the practice of cutting one’s hair is an act that undermines and weakens their connection to God and to the Sikh community.

-Is the turban simply a hair accessory or is there some significance to it?

The most prominent of a Sikh’s outward appearance is the Turban. The Turban is a spiritual symbol; it is a conspicuous and public pronouncement of one’s dedication to God, the Sikh religion, and the community. 99% of the people in the world who wear turbans are Sikhs.

-Iknoor wishes to enlist in his college’s, Hofstra University, ROTC program; he has been denied four times – what is the basis?

The Army will not allow Iknoor to enlist unless he agrees to comply with the grooming

and uniform rules by removing the turban he currently wears every day, cutting his hair, and shaving his beard immediately upon enlistment. Which is why Iknoor, decided to seek a religious exemption before formally enlisting as an ROTC Cadet.

-And why isn’t the ROTC program granting Iknoor a religious accommodation at this point?

First he was denied because the accommodation may have an adverse impact on readiness, unit cohesion, standards, health, safety, or discipline – but without explaining how. Iknoor was also told that exceptions are rare and decided on a case-by-case basis. In a letter from October 2014 Iknoor was advised he would have to cut his hair, remove his turban and shave his beard, all before the religious accommodation request is decided. Something he cannot do.

-I’m aware that Sikhs are predominant in the Indian military but what about in the U.S.?

In their book Civil Rights in Wartime: The Post-9/11 Sikh Experience, Dawinder S. Sidhu and Neha Singh Gohil write: “Sikhs’ military ties with the United States have been robust in the past, Bhagat Singh Thind, a Sikh immigrant, joined and fought with the U.S. army in World War I. At the end of the war he requested U.S. citizenship, but was refused. Nevertheless, more Sikhs joined the ranks of the U.S. military in World War II, and thousands of others fought alongside the United States as member of the Allied Forces. Sikh Americans participated in the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. Today, Sikhs Work hand in hand with U.S. forces as UN peacekeepers or soldiers assisting with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Sikhs have fought valiantly in wars and currently serve in militaries all over the world. In all of these occurrences, the Sikhs turbans and beards have not been of any detriment to their service. Unfortunately, Sikh-Americans are excluded from the ranks in the United States military unless they depart from some of the most fundamental practices of the Sikh faith.

-There was religious accommodation for Sikhs in the past but has that since changed?

Yes, in 1981 the United States army decided that Sikhs were no longer exempted from the army regulation that prohibited the wearing of religious or any other headgear while in uniform. This new policy was premised upon the idea that permitting such an exemption opened the door too wide for religious communities. And there weren’t any safety or security reasons for the move. However, those Sikhs already in the army were grandfathered in and permitted to retain their Sikh apparel.

-After the policy passed has the Army granted any religious exemptions to its grooming/dress rules to Sikhs?

Yes. Major Kamaljit Singh Kalsi is an active-duty physician who has been granted a religious accommodation. Maj. Kalsi maintains unshorn hair and a full-length beard. He also wears a modified turban to ensure that it does not interfere with any military or emergency equipment—the same type of turban that Iknoor Singh would wear if he were granted an accommodation. While remaining a devout Sikh, Major Kalsi was deployed to Afghanistan, where he successfully performed his duties and earned the Bronze Star Medal for resuscitating two injured soldiers. Simranpreet Singh Lamba, a combat medic, and Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan, both Sikh adherents, were granted exemptions from the Army’s dress and grooming requirements as well.

The United Sikhs and the ACLU have filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Iknoor, what is your hope for the outcome of this case?

We sincerely hope that Iknoor will be given an opportunity to serve his country - a country where he was born and raised, for which he has enormous respect and, is willing to put his life on the line for.  Sikhs have proven time and time again that they can be Sikh, and soldier, simultaneously. History stands witness to this.

It certainly does.


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  She hosts the weekly legal show "The Docket" on Shift by MSNBC‎.com.   S‎eema also appears frequently on television as a legal analyst." Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


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12 Days of Christmas Gifts For The Lawyer in Your Life

22 December 2014 Published in Blog

By Seema Iyer, Esq.

December 22, 2014

Happy Holidays! I bet you need some help picking out a gift for that Type A control freak attorney in your life. Here’s one for every day of Christmas!

On the First Day of Christmas…..A PARALEGAL. Every lawyer needs one. From doing legal research and filing motions, to making that perfect cup of black coffee and enduring misplaced anger in the form of verbal abuse. We all need a legal sidekick. Unfortunately you won’t be able to purchase a paralegal for the lawyer in your life this holiday season. Apparently buying and selling people is frowned upon under the law. Something about human trafficking???

On the Second Day of Christmas…..A SUIT. Between the new crop of attorneys just entering the field and the ex-hippies, there’s a group of men that simply insist on bucking tradition. Some old-timers continue to wear jeans despite being continually reprimanded by Judges. And the newbies with their skinny suits? Well they’ll learn their lesson soon as they’ve eaten one too many chocolate Santas and their pants split in the middle of a vigorous cross-examination. As for female lawyers, skirt suits or pant suits are fine. Rubber dresses, micro-minis and jean jackets….. not so much.

On the Third Day of Christmas…..GLASSES. Stereotypical, cliché, whatevs. Glasses make us all look smarter. Deal with it. And it’s somewhat important (kinda? maybe?) to “look” intelligent in front of a judge or jury, even if you really are a bumbling idiot.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…..A BRIEFCASE. Nothing is more revolting to me than seeing a lawyer carry a backpack in court. Is it the summer before your senior year in college? Are you trekking through Europe with 2 pairs of underwear, a pair of socks, staying at youth hostels, bathing in sinks? ARE YOU???!

On the Fifth Day of Christmas…..SHOES. Let me be clear – dress shoes. Shoes that go appropriately with your suit. Not some weird hipster hybrid of a sneaker and an oxford. Save it for your weekend of composting in Seattle. Ladies, this one also includes you. Pumps are okay – open-toe silver strappy sandals ARE NOT.

On the Sixth Day of Christmas…..GROOMING. Buy that lumbersexual lawyer in your life a decent shave for God’s sake. Or at least a trim please. And tattoos need to be covered in the courtroom. Sleeves make that mostly easy but you’d be surprised how many attorneys sport neck tattoos. Not to fret. Macy’s has a splendid selection of scarfs and ascots.

On the Seventh Day of Christmas…..THE LAW. There’s an app for that. Really! So buy that legal eagle love in your life a downloadable penal! (It’s PENAL not…..oh grow up!)

On the Eighth Day of Christmas…..EARBUDS. Lawyers are often stuck in court all day so a mobile office is a must. Let’s say opposing counsel sends a 911 call or a video, headphones make reviewing in semi-privacy easy-peesy. Also useful for dance parties during jury deliberations. What? We get bored…….

On the Ninth Day of Christmas…..ANTACIDS. Practicing law is very stressful evidenced by a high rate of ulcers. So give your favorite counsel an extra-large, extra-strength bottle of chewable Tums. Chewable is essential because another hazard of litigation is lack of access to the facilities. Either you’re on trial and never get a bathroom break or you’re waiting for your case to be called and can’t leave the courtroom. Water is your kryptonite. Get used to walking around dehydrated with a hole burning in your belly. Good times.

On the Tenth Day of Christmas…..TOOTHBRUSH. The classic line every Judge uses before holding a lawyer in contempt is “hope you brought a toothbrush.” So make sure that lawyer in your life doesn’t neglect their dental health when they get thrown in the clink.

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas…..CASH. Bail money. (Your favorite lawyer’s in the big house, remember?) Or to take witnesses to lunch. (And by lunch do I mean give them a wad of dough after they testify? Do I????)

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas…..A FLASK. At the end of a long day in court a good swig of the hard stuff is mandatory before going to the bar. The courthouse bar is an entire block from the courthouse. No one should make that journey without adequate sustenance.

And for a stocking stuffer how about a mini-bottle of Jack Daniels? Now that’s what I call a Merry Christmas! ‘Tis the Season all!!!


Seema Iyer is a criminal defense & civil rights attorney with her own lawfirm in NYC.  "She hosts the weekly legal show "The Docket" on Shift by MSNBC‎.com.   S‎eema also appears frequently on television as a legal analyst." Follow her on Twitter @seemaiyeresq


Follow The Dean's Report on Twitter

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