by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
#ChangeLawyers I’m 31, a lawyer, and I still get stopped by police
The following editorial was written by David Ourlicht, 31, a public defender with the Legal Aid Society in New York City after graduating from the CUNY School of Law. He was a lead plaintiff in the Floyd v. City of New York class action lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk practices.
Late one afternoon in March 2018, I had just left work to meet a friend in Brooklyn when cops stopped me on the street. I had just graduated from law school, so I knew enough to keep my mouth shut. I invoked my rights, but it didn't matter. They still tried to get me to admit to something I didn't do.
After seven long hours in the precinct, they told me I could leave without charging me with anything. I had a big test coming up the next morning—the MPRE, the professional ethics portion of the bar exam. By the time I returned home from the precinct around 2 a.m., I couldn’t sleep. I was still going on adrenaline.
Still, I showed up and took the exam. And I passed. But when I got home, that's when it all hit. That's when I started crying and thinking about how, even at this point in my life, despite everything I have accomplished, this is still happening to me.
The first time, when I was 15, I was leaving my apartment building to walk my dog. I lived on the second floor, so I took the stairs down like I always did. As I was coming down, I noticed several firemen in the hallway. I guessed that somebody had gotten stuck in the elevator.
When I came back and tried to go back up the stairs, one of the firefighters said, “You can't be in here.” I tried to explain that I lived there and always took those stairs. Then one of the firefighters signaled to two cops in the area.
All of a sudden, I was being lifted by the collar of my shirt and thrown up against the mailboxes on the wall. I felt like I was a full two feet in the air, but who really knows.
My immediate reflex was to grab onto the person who was grabbing me. Then the cop slammed me to the ground, pinned me to the floor with his knees on my shoulders and he just started to beat me up. My face, the back of my head. He picked me up, put me in handcuffs and put me in the back of the cop car.
He must have realized that I was really young, because I could tell he started getting a little nervous.
When the cop asked how I was doing, I started cursing at him. Meanwhile, my dad, who had joined me in the back of the cop car, was trying to calm me down.
All I felt was rage. It was just anger.
When we got to the precinct, they said, “We can charge you with assaulting an officer, but because you are 15, we won’t. Sign your name in a book, and that's it. Nothing will happen to you.”
But that wasn’t my last encounter with the police.
A few years later, I was going to college in New York City, and one day I was walking back from class when I saw this cop riding past me on his scooter. We locked eyes. I wasn’t thinking anything of it, but once I got to the corner, he pulled up beside me. He asked for my ID, and when I asked him why he wanted to see it, he said, "It looks like you have a gun on you.” As he's saying that, he starts patting me down. I'm thinking, motherfuckers get shot and killed by the New York Police Department all the time. It was just safer for me to submit.
Then another patrol car came.
That cop got out, and then the first cop told me, All right, now you're getting the full treatment. He threw me up against the wall, searched me, dumped everything out of my pockets and threw it on the floor. Three cops were surrounding me while I was on the ground. We were on the corner near my bodega and my laundromat. It was around 2 p.m., so kids were coming out of school. The people around there knew me. I felt embarrassed.
Then the cop says, "Let me get your address." I tell him I live on this avenue between this and this street. He says, "You're lying to me. Tell me your address." I tell him the same thing. Again he goes, "You're lying to me. Tell me your address. If you don't give me the right address, it's a crime." I tell it to him again, and he tells me you can’t live on an avenue between two streets.
I had to explain to him that avenues go this direction and streets go this direction. In New York, you can live on an avenue between two streets. After, he wrote me a ticket for disorderly conduct.
As I'm walking away, I say, “You think I'm some young dumb kid that's not going to stand up for myself, but I am, and I will, and I'm going to fight this." He laughed and he said, "Go ahead. I love it when you fight it. You're not going to win.”
Later, I would win the Floyd v. City of New York class action lawsuit challenging unconstitutional stop and frisks by the NYPD with this cited as the first incident.
When I got home, I called my parents to tell them what happened and I started crying, just really upset with what had just happened. I was a college kid doing what society was telling me I was supposed to do.
After that, I knew I had to go to law school. I had stood up in this big legal case, and I couldn’t sit back down. I had to continue the fight.
During my first semester at law school, I saw Professor Babe Howell speak.
She was formerly a public defender in Harlem, a law clerk, and a housing rights advocate. Just the way she spoke, her intensity, her intellect, her ability to challenge the system, her passion. She's a warrior, and I'm a warrior. I thought, This is who I'm going to be.
It was that moment when I realized there was no other role for me in the justice system than being a public defender.
It's more than just a job for me. It's personal. I believe in the work I do. I challenge the system for my clients, for myself, for the future people who may have to come through the system. I can relate to the clients who sit across from me. I can say that I've been in their shoes.
Read the story on The Marshall Project
#ChangeLawyers Part 2 Chicago’s mayor—a lawyer—permanently bans ICE from the city
The following letter was written by Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago and a lawyer.
Dear President Trump,
On Friday, I ordered my city’s police department not to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on any activities within the city of Chicago and not to allow ICE agents access to our police databases.
These actions cut off ICE access to the Chicago Police Department’s databases and prevent the department from facilitating raids, setting traffic perimeters for ICE checkpoints, or otherwise aiding ICE in arrest or deportation activities. Our law department issued new specific protocols advising all personnel working at city-owned facilities, including libraries, Park District buildings, senior centers and schools, not to cooperate with ICE. And we significantly increased funding for the city’s legal defense fund to offset legal costs for undocumented Chicagoans.
I took these steps in response to a set of policies from your administration that don’t make us safer or stronger as a nation.
We can all agree that our current immigration system is broken. We must do better — both for our residents and for those who come to our borders. Comprehensive, humane immigration reform can and must be a bipartisan imperative. Yes, we need reasonable border security — but we must achieve it in ways consistent with our values and our history as a country built and nurtured by immigrants.
The administration’s aggressive anti-immigrant posture does not advance these goals. It has caused alarm and long-term harm without moving the needle toward comprehensive reform.
There are approximately 180,000 undocumented people living in the city of Chicago, working, riding the public transportation system, sending their kids to public schools and attending City Colleges. Every day, when I talk to immigrants, asylum seekers and advocates, what I hear is fear, confusion and anxiety. Fear of families being separated, confusion about the scope of their rights and anxiety that the next knock on the door, the next traffic stop could irreparably upset the lives they have built for themselves in our city.
The threats and realities of stepped-up enforcement have not had the deterrent effect you intended, because the people you are targeting are not actually the problem. They came to the United States in search of a better life, free from violence, crushing poverty and oppressive governments that restrict their basic rights. They work in our local businesses, they build and repair our streets, buildings and other infrastructure. They are our neighbors, they are our family members, they are part of our community. They contribute to our economy in meaningful ways. Countless business organizations attest to this fact.
Attacking these members of our communities also hurts our local economy, because they are at times afraid to go outside to shop for the necessities of life.
I urge you to rethink the harmful policies that your administration is promoting both at the border and within the homeland. Like most Americans, I see images on the news of unsanitary and unacceptable facilities along our border. As a parent, I have been horrified by the treatment and death of children in detention. It is unconscionable, contrary to our core values and will waste taxpayer dollars through costly and avoidable litigation.
Mr. President, you sit at the top of a government unmatched in prestige and power. I urge you to honor your office and the people you serve by standing as a leader who accomplishes what has eluded other presidents — humane, comprehensive immigration reform. Spend your capital on that mission.
Consider the lasting harm that the mere threat of these raids is doing to children all over this country — children who go to bed every night and off to summer camps or playgrounds every morning with the constant worry that ICE agents will take them or their parents away.
Any such efforts by ICE in our city will be met with fierce resistance from Chicagoans who have been organizing tirelessly in their communities, and with an unshakable resolve to stand with, and never against, our immigrant neighbors.
Read the story on Washington Post
#ProgressiveProsecutors For the first time ever, an elected DA argues that the death penalty is unconstitutional
A petition before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court by two death row inmates could upend Pennsylvania's dysfunctional death penalty, and it has one extremely unusual supporter: the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
In a legal brief filed Monday night in support of the petition, Philadelphia D.A. Larry Krasner, who ran for office promising to never pursue a death sentence, argues Pennsylvania's death penalty is applied unreliably and arbitrarily, violating the state constitution's ban on cruel punishment.
To reach its conclusions, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office reviewed every case where a Philadelphia defendant received a death sentence between 1978 and 2017. The study found that 72 percent of those 155 sentences were ultimately overturned—more than half of them for ineffective legal assistance.
"Where nearly three out of every four death sentences have been overturned—after years of litigation at significant taxpayer expense—there can be no confidence that capital punishment has been carefully reserved for the most culpable defendants, as our Constitution requires," the office wrote in its brief. "Where a majority of death sentenced defendants have been represented by poorly compensated, poorly supported court-appointed attorneys, there is a significant likelihood that capital punishment has not been reserved for the 'worst of the worst.’"
The brief was filed in the case of Jermont Cox and Kevin Marinelli, who were sentenced to death for three drug-related murders in 1992 and a fatal 1994 shooting, respectively. Their petition argues that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court should strike down the state's capital punishment system because of its "pervasive unreliability" and "systemic dysfunction," citing the scores of reversed death penalty sentences, as well as six death row exonerations.
Cox and Marinelli's petition has attracted amici briefs from groups like the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania attorney general, the Philadelphia chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, and several groups of Republican state lawmakers filed briefs opposing the petition. But it appears to be the first time, at least as far as several criminal justice experts can tell, that a district attorney has argued broadly in court against a state death penalty.
Read the story on Reason.com
#BlackLivesLawyer Civil rights lawyer wants charges dropped against Black man accused of stealing hospital IV
Shaquille Dukes, 24, was out for a walk with his IV pole and hospital gown on June 9 when a hospital security guard accused him of stealing the IV equipment. Dukes was recovering from pneumonia and staffers at the Freeport Health Network in Freeport, Ill., told him he could get some air. Police were called and arrested Dukes and two other men for disorderly conduct after they argued with the guard.
Dukes’ crime was being “in a hospital while Black,” his attorney, Ben Crump said at a press conference on Thursday.
“What happened to Shaquille Dukes happens far too often in America; we refuse to ignore this case of blatant racial profiling. Mr. Dukes went to the hospital to receive treatment and care — instead, he left in handcuffs,” he continued.
Crump, a civil rights lawyer based in Florida, said his firm is investigating the incident and is pushing for the charges to be dropped.
”There are all kind of constitutional violations here,” he said.
Read the story on The Grio
More of This The lawyer who took down Jeffrey Epstein
By all accounts, there was, and is, an influential and well-organized network of men that has kept Epstein out of prison and the particulars of his alleged sex-trafficking enterprise out of the news. It’s taken an equally tenacious legal operation to keep the case against him alive.
“There’s an unspoken hero in this whole story,” Ward said in an interview with Slate’s Mary Harris earlier this week. She was speaking of Bradley Edwards, the Florida attorney who has represented a number of Epstein accusers for many years. After Acosta struck a nonprosecution agreement with the alleged child sex trafficker, Edwards sued, claiming that Acosta had violated the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act by keeping the agreement secret from the 36 underage victims whom prosecutors had identified. In February, 11 years after Edwards filed suit, a judge finally ruled that Acosta and his fellow prosecutors did indeed break federal law by granting Epstein and his alleged accomplices immunity behind the victims’ backs. Two of Epstein’s victims, known as Jane Doe No. 1 and Jane Doe No. 2, have since asked the judge for a series of remedies: financial recompense, a written apology from and meetings with the prosecutors who gave Epstein the sweetheart deal, and trainings to teach federal prosecutors in Florida how to support crime victims. They are also asking the court to partially or totally overturn Epstein’s plea deal. All of these requests are still pending.
For Edwards, who once told Law.com that he likes to live in a client’s home for a few days before trial to get a sense of their daily struggles, the fight to bring Epstein to justice has been drawn out, personal, and incredibly tangled. A year after he began representing Epstein’s alleged victims, Epstein sued Edwards for civil racketeering, accusing him of lying about Epstein’s sexual abuse to bring more money into his firm. (One of the partners at Edwards’ firm got a 50-year sentence for running a Ponzi scheme.) Epstein later dropped those charges. But Edwards countersued for malicious prosecution, saying Epstein had brought the case to intimidate him and his clients. That suit allowed Edwards to gather information on Epstein. For a while, it looked like Epstein’s accusers would be able to testify in court about their alleged exploitation, using Edwards’ suit as a back door into the courtroom after Acosta’s plea deal denied them the chance to tell their stories under oath. But Epstein and Edwards settled for an undisclosed sum in December, just before the trial was to begin.
The settlement allows Edwards to continue arguing for the remedies Epstein’s victims proposed: specifically, the reversal of the nonprosecution agreement Acosta made more than a decade ago. Edwards explained that he settled with Epstein because he, or his clients, wanted their allegations to be heard in a federal court on the topic of Acosta’s secret plea deal, not in a state court on the topic of malicious prosecution. “They’re willing to talk,” Edwards said. “They want to share their stories. This was part of their healing.”
Read the story on Slate
Less of This This immigration judge has rejected every single asylum seeker
OAKDALE, A SLEEPY TOWN of 7,600 in Louisiana, is home to a drive-through daiquiri stand, two Mexican restaurants, numerous shuttered storefronts, and, on its northeastern border, the Oakdale Immigration Court. This single-story building is white with a blue metal roof; one person described it to me, not unfairly, as resembling a large shed. Tucked deep inside a sprawling prison, the Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex, the immigration court is designed to be overlooked. There are no signs at the prison’s entrance to indicate there’s a court inside, and if you plug the court’s address into your phone, you will be directed to a location a quarter mile away, down a dead-end country road, where you will find yourself staring at a row of pine trees.
I arrive at the court on a damp April morning. A few minutes later, Homero López Jr. pulls up, dressed in a sharp gray suit and matching vest. López is one of the few immigration attorneys who frequently represent individuals at Oakdale, and he draws his clients from a nearby detention center, the Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center.
“You found it,” he says, cracking a broad smile. I follow López, who lives in New Orleans, some 185 miles away, into the court’s small lobby, where a portrait of Donald Trump hangs on a far wall. A guard informs López that the asylum hearing for his client, a Cuban immigrant named Luis, has been pushed back to later in the day, so López and I drive to a nearby McDonald’s to chat.
López, who is 34, has a neatly trimmed beard, thin black glasses, and the cheery disposition of a stubborn underdog. He previously worked at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans, where he mostly represented undocumented immigrants who had been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as their cases proceeded. (Unlike in criminal court, individuals in immigration court do not have a right to legal counsel.) But he watched as the number of detained immigrants in Louisiana began to rise—and then soar. ICE has more than tripled the number of beds reserved for detainees in Louisiana, putting it among the top five states with the largest number of migrants held in detention centers, including California and Texas. Last year, López and a colleague founded a legal services organization, ISLA, and they represent clients at Pine Prairie, where a mumps outbreak this year forced mandatory quarantines, because the 1,094-bed facility is “one of the most isolated detention centers in the country,” filled with people who have few resources to call on.
Asylum seekers who arrive at the US-Mexico border and demonstrate what is deemed a credible fear of returning to their home country are either held by ICE in a sprawling network of detention centers and jails or released on parole or bond while their cases are pending. (Children and unaccompanied minors must be released after 20 days, due to a federal court settlement that dates back to 1997.) The decision to release individuals is supposed to be made on a case-by-case basis, taking in factors like flight risk; ever since Trump took office, the percentage of people who are detained in the US has risen sharply, from about 34,000 during Obama’s last year in office to more than 52,000 today. According to a lawsuit filed in May by the Southern Poverty Law Center, within the New Orleans ICE field office—which covers Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee—the rate of parole approval for asylum seekers dropped from 76 percent in 2016 to just 1.5 percent in 2018. In March, asylum seekers at a newly opened Louisiana detention center launched a hunger strike to protest their confinement.
Once in detainment, it is much more difficult for migrants to win asylum. Cases move quickly, which gives asylum seekers less time to gather evidence related to their persecution; in detention, gathering evidence from the outside, such as affidavits from witnesses, can be all but impossible. Detained immigrants are also less likely to have a lawyer, especially if they are locked up far from metro areas, a fact that further decreases their chances of being granted asylum. Pine Prairie is about three hours from New Orleans and Houston, and about two hours from Baton Rouge.
Asylum seekers at Pine Prairie also face one of the toughest immigration judges in the country: Agnelis L. Reese, 63, who was appointed to the court in 1997 by then-attorney general Janet Reno. (Reese is a registered Democrat.) The judge keeps a low public profile, but among attorneys in Louisiana, her reputation is feared. According to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees our nation’s immigration courts, Judge Reese has presided over more than 200 asylum hearings during the past five years. The applicants who have stood before her have come from all across the globe: Somalia, Eritrea, Mexico, Cameroon, Honduras. Some have lawyers, some do not; it makes little difference. Unique among her peers, during the past five years, Reese has rejected every single case.
Read the story on Topic Magazine
Perspective What happened when they told me “go back to your country”
The following editorial was written by Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, and founding director of its Center for Social Innovation.
"Go back to your country" and "love it or leave it" -- those were taunts thrown at me 28 years ago in high school. When the President of the United States tweeted something similar about members of Congress on Sunday, it brought back some painful memories but also some hopeful ones, that our communities can resist the forces of racial exclusion and demagoguery.
Racial tensions and disputes over American foreign policy were commonly discussed in the early 1990s, with news of the Persian Gulf War and the Rodney King beating. I was the editor of our school newspaper, and had written some critical opinion pieces about our domestic and foreign policies, as many editorial writers do. However, some students at the school were not happy with my outspokenness. They tried to shut me down through intimidation, putting up "wanted posters" across the school saying that if I didn't like how things were going in America, I should just leave the country and go back to India.
I had certainly felt my minority status before that incident. This was conservative, small-town central Massachusetts, a region at political odds with a state that has sent liberal stalwarts like Ted Kennedy and Elizabeth Warren to the US Senate. And I was one of about 10 nonwhites in a high school of 1,600 students (one of the others was my younger brother). Whatever racial exclusion our family had felt was of the subtler New England variety -- not much in the way of racial slurs or threats of violence, but plenty of jokes and innuendo.
The school leadership's initial reaction to the incident was not encouraging; the principal thought that the "wanted posters" were uncalled for, but he didn't think they were racist. We got to know each other better, however, and over time he came to understand how minority students experienced life in our school. He must have spoken to his friends and colleagues, too, because when I gave my valedictory graduation speech a few months later, pointing out the danger of false patriotism implied in "love it or leave it," I got a standing ovation from most in the room -- students, teachers, and parents alike.
What I said during my graduation speech was that critics like myself did not love America any less than those with opposing points of view. Indeed, criticism had a long and storied history in the United States to make the country better and stronger. I also noted that those seeking to shut down opposing points of view by wrapping themselves in the flag were actually peddling in a false kind of patriotism. True patriotism entailed listening intently to everyone, cheerleaders and critics alike, and figuring out ways to collectively improve America.
Read the story on CNN