Testimony of the Week How to create a sense of belonging in the law
Read Chris’ testimony here
#ChangeLawyer He acted as his own lawyer and was acquitted of murder after 13 years in prison
Wearing a suit felt like a sham.
Hassan Bennett had been locked up for nearly 13 years — 4,614 days, he said — and so when he recently stood before the jury in a Philadelphia courtroom, he didn’t want to pretend he had been anywhere else. He dressed for court each day in his powder-blue prison uniform, with “DOC” written on the back in big bold letters, and throughout the 11-day trial, explained to jurors why they could not find him guilty of second-degree murder.
“They told me not to wear a prison uniform. I’m here in front of you in a prison uniform,” the 36-year-old told jurors during his closing argument, as he recounted to The Washington Post. “They told me not to let you see my prison arm band. I show you my prison armband. They told me not to stand in front of you representing myself.”
And yet there he was — representing himself without the help of any attorneys, with a mandatory life sentence on the line. It was his fourth time on trial for the ambush shooting death of Devon English in 2006, and Bennett’s second time acting as his own lawyer. But on Monday, he made sure it would be the last.
Achieving an exceedingly rare feat, the pro se defendant with no law degree was acquitted of murder.
The jury deliberated for 81 minutes. For Bennett, it was 76 minutes too long.
“I was sitting in the holding cell thinking, after five minutes, what’s taking so long?” he said. “When the jury came in and they called me up, I already knew it was a not-guilty verdict.”
The brash confidence is a product of more than 12 years of preparation from a Pennsylvania prison, studying case law in the library by day and meticulously drafting legal briefs in his cell by night, using a flickering TV as a light source.
He told the story to The Post by phone on Wednesday evening while strolling with his goddaughter through a neighborhood park, periodically hanging up by accident because, he said, he is only just learning how to use a touch screen cellphone. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s my first time. I had to ask the kid what to do.”
His story starts on a September night in 2006, when police accused Bennett of masterminding a plot to kill 19-year-old English after losing $20 to him in a dice game; a second teenager, 18-year-old Corey Ford, was shot in the legs and the buttocks. Lamont Dade, 16, was also arrested in the shooting, to which he pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison.
In their original statements to police, both Dade and Ford identified Bennett as the shooter — but later, at Bennett’s trial, they recanted, saying a homicide detective coerced them into making the statements.
Read the story onWashington Post
More of This Mothers are the unsung heroes of prison
The following essay was written by Jerry Metcalf, 44, who is incarcerated at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Michigan.
Every day, come rain, sleet or snow, worried mothers flood prison visiting rooms across our great nation.
They sacrifice their time and hard-earned money to see their “babies” who have somehow ended up on the wrong side of the law.
These unsung heroes hold our prisons together, though the authorities, who search them before every visit, may think otherwise. I’ve seen disasters averted, assaults stopped, even a gang war set aside because another inmate said these five simple words: “What would your mother think?”
In here, oftentimes, the only person we have left is our mom. She sends us encouraging cards, much-needed food and warm clothing. She picks up our children and reminds them that Daddy still loves them. She acts as our conduit to the free world. Without her, we would never know that Cousin John finally married his high school sweetheart, or that our favorite aunt, Juanita, passed quietly in her sleep. We’d never know how much we are still loved, and still thought of with respect and dignity. We’d never know what type of world awaits us.
We’ve pierced our mothers’ hearts again and again with our selfish foolishness—not just our crimes—yet, for some reason that only a mom can comprehend, they continue to hug us and kiss us and forgive.
It is this unyielding love that shifts our moral tillers and sets so many of us back on the path to redemption. Over the years, many of the biggest changes I’ve accomplished in my incarcerated life have started with these other simple words from my mother:
“Jerry, what about this...?” “Have you considered...?” “I know things seem..., but believe me when I say…”
I wouldn't be the loving, caring individual I am today—yes, even here in prison, where I’m a good friend and neighbor and contribute to the world through my writing—without the guidance my mother has drilled into me until it stuck. I often recall a phone call she and I shared several years ago when I find myself feeling, for whatever reason, like it’s not my duty to care about and love all those around me.
“Hi, Jer,” my mom said, accepting my (at that time, $7.50-per-15 minutes) call.
“Hi, Mom,” I grumbled. Back then I was seldom in a good mood.
“What’s the matter?” Her voice sounded worried.
“Nothing.” I sighed. “It’s nothing serious. Mike keeps borrowing stuff from me and he hasn’t paid me back, so now I have nothing to eat.”
Mike is a good friend of mine and my mom knows this. She also knows both of Mike’s parents have passed away.
“Well, what’s he borrowing stuff for?” she asked.
“He got fired from his job ... You know how it is, he needs food and soap and stuff.”
My mom asked. “Then what’s the problem?”
“The problem is it’s my money," I said sharply.
“Your money?” my mom asked, voice hard. “More likely my money, or your father’s.” She sighed. “Look, Jer. Mike’s your friend—but even if he wasn’t, he’s in need of food and soap. The world, same out here as in there, would be such a better place if we helped those we cared about. You do care about your friend, right?”
“Yes, Mom, I do,” I said, overcome with the shame only a mother can generate.
“I thought so. So stop your bitching and do what’s right and help him out.”
"Thanks, Mom," I said, not completely sure at the time that she was right.
But as the years passed and I began, more and more often, to think of others first, her words proved true. Thank you, Mom, indeed.
Read the story on The Marshall Project
Speaking Of… Let’s make it easier for kids to visit incarcerated parents
The following editorial was written by Jaime Joyce, a former teacher.
When I taught elementary school in New York City’s East Village, a student’s grandmother pulled me aside to tell me that the boy’s mom was in prison. She wanted me to know so that if he misbehaved, or seemed upset, I would understand what might be troubling him, she said.
In the United States, 2.7 million children have a parent in jail or in prison, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. That’s 1 in 28 kids. Over the years, had there been other children in my care like the boy in my third-grade class? I may never know. The stigma of incarceration leads many families to stay silent.
We can speak up for children separated from their parents by incarceration—advocating for programs and policies that make it easier for kids to visit their parents in prison. Inmates, institutions and children benefit. Research shows visits help reduce prison misconduct and recidivism. Evidence also suggests that visits can positively affect a child’s well-being and improve the chances that families will remain intact when a former inmate reenters the community.
Yet the time and money needed for travel to prisons can make visits difficult, if not impossible, for families already struggling economically.
Last June, I went to California to learn about Get on the Bus, a program of the Los Angeles-area nonprofit Center for Restorative Justice Works that for nearly 20 years has been bringing kids free of charge to visit parents in California state prisons. There are many ways families stay connected when a person is in prison—video chats, email, letters and brief phone calls—but there is no substitute for one-on-one time together.
A 2015 report by Prison Policy Initiative, using data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, notes that 63 percent of people in state prisons serve their sentences in facilities more than 100 miles from home. The distance is even greater—500 miles or more—for those in federal prisons; it is not uncommon for prisoners to be sent out of state. Since prisons are often located in remote areas inaccessible by public transportation, private transportation services have sprung up to bridge the gap. But they can be expensive.
In 2015, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights released a report on the cost of incarceration on families. It found that 65 percent of families struggled to meet basic needs as a result of a loved one’s incarceration. The cost of phone calls and visits alone caused one in three families to go into debt.
Read the story on The Marshall Project
Less of This Black girls don’t misbehave more, so why are they punished more?
For the first time in a long time, C’alra Bradley felt a glint of hope.
It was an unfamiliar feeling for the then-18-year-old whose life had been disrupted and derailed by one roadblock after another. Once an A and B student who loved to read, she was living out of her white 1997 Toyota Avalon, on her own for three years, scrounging to get by.
But on July 18, 2016, as she attended one of her first classes at a GED and job training program in Houston, C’alra finally believed things were about to change.
She beamed as a career coach outlined the course ahead: the stipend for good attendance, the training on construction builds, the high school diploma at the end. C’alra (whose name is pronounced See-er-uh) could almost clasp the glimmer of a better life.
Then, with the coach’s next words, the vision evaporated: The students needed to wear work pants and closed-toe shoes for job sites.
A shadow flicked across C’alra’s face. The dress and flip-flops she wore were the only clothes she had. She had no money. No idea what to do.
After class ended, C’alra reached out to friends for help, but they were all strained for cash. She texted the career coach, but she was in Bible study.
C’alra was too afraid to confess why she was calling, worried that she would get booted from the program for being homeless. She was not used to getting sympathy or second chances.
So C’alra went to a nearby Walmart, stuffed a bra, two pairs of jeans, four panties, a pair of socks, foundation and lip gloss into a roomy purse and headed for the door.
As she neared the exit, a voice boomed: “We got you. We got you. Turn around.”
C’alra’s begged the security guard not to call the police. She told him that she needed the clothes for school. She offered to return the items, to find some way to pay.
The store official taunted her: “You are definitely going to jail.”
C’alra made a mistake; she readily admits that. But she had also been failed, time and time again, by flawed systems that are weighted against black girls.
She was written off as angry when she was simply trying to learn, hampered by teachers who were swift to punish, but not to listen. She was treated as an adult when she was still a child overwhelmed by the legal system.
In interviews conducted by USA TODAY with more than two dozen researchers, academics, educators, juvenile justice advocates, legal experts and black girls, the same message percolated again and again:
Black girls are being criminalized at alarming rates. They are hobbled by negative societal stereotypes that stretch back to slavery. By educators, counselors, caseworkers and judges who fail to address their trauma and emotional needs. By school discipline policies that push black girls out of school and punish them more often and more harshly than their white peers.
Read the story on USA Today
Watch This The “adultification” of Black girls
Less of This Too Justice Breyer just warned us that Roe v. Wade is in danger
In 1992, the Supreme Court looked poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark case protecting abortion rights. They didn’t, however, and the main reason was respect for precedent—specifically, the legal doctrine known as stare decisis, or “let the decision stand.”
Would it do the same today, with over 250 laws meant to test the case pending in states across the country?
An otherwise obscure case decided this week, Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt, suggests that a majority of the court would not.
Hyatt was, in large part, about stare decisis. A 1979 Supreme Court case, Nevada v. Hall, held that citizens can sue a state in another state’s court. In 1998, Gilbert Hyatt did just that as part of a tax dispute, with tens of millions of dollars at stake. This week, the court overruled its 1979 decision by a vote of 5-4 and tossed out Hyatt’s claim. The split was on ideological lines, with the court’s five conservatives in the majority and four liberals in the minority.
Of the 18 pages in the majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, 17 are about the legal question in the case, which revolves around states’ rights, sovereign immunity, and the Constitution. It’s no surprise that Justice Thomas, in particular, wrote this opinion, as states’ rights have been a focus of his for three decades.
What was surprising is that stare decisis warranted only 318 words in Justice Thomas’ opinion, almost like an afterthought, and that Justice Thomas summarily waved away this important judicial doctrine.
If this is how the court’s conservatives treat sovereign immunity, how will they treat abortion rights?
That’s what Justice Stephen Breyer asked in his dissent. Unlike the majority opinion, Justice Breyer’s dissent devoted over a quarter of its space to stare decisis. And he concluded, “today’s decision can only cause one to wonder which cases the Court will overrule next.”
It’s not hard to guess which cases Justice Breyer was wondering about. Because the same logic applied in Hyatt would overturn not only Roe v. Wade but also the court’s precedent on same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges.
Read the story on The Daily Beast
In Memory The lawyer who advocated for the rights of all women
Lenora Lapidus, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who expanded the organization’s fight for gender equality beyond the concerns of middle-class white women to include domestic workers, women in combat and others, died on May 5 at her home in Brooklyn. She was 55.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said the cause was breast cancer.
For nearly two decades, Ms. Lapidus (pronounced LAP-uh-dus) led the A.C.L.U.’s Women’s Rights Project. The project, co-founded in 1972 by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, now an associate justice of the Supreme Court, became the major legal arm of the growing movement for gender equality and a powerful force in urging the courts to see women’s rights as civil rights, with the same constitutional protections.
Ms. Lapidus started as a summer intern for the Women’s Rights Project in 1988. After law school, she served as legal director of the A.C.L.U. of New Jersey. She had been director of the rights project since 2001.
At that time, the project was not engaged in active litigation. But that quickly changed under her leadership, as she pursued a broad range of cases.
She fought sex trafficking of domestic workers and gender-based violence, which were not traditionally viewed as civil rights issues. This included challenging local ordinances that require a landlord to evict all members of a household — perpetrators as well as victims — if the police have been called repeatedly to settle domestic disputes.
“This puts victims in a terrible situation,” Ms. Lapidus said in January in an A.C.L.U. podcast about her work. “If they call the police, they risk being evicted.”
She created campaigns to inform farmworkers, food processing plant workers and nail salon workers about their rights under anti-discrimination laws, as well as occupational health and safety laws. She led litigation against Facebook for its algorithms that enabled employers to discriminate by gender in help-wanted ads; Facebook settled the case this year, agreeing to stop such sex-based ad targeting.
She also helped challenge the United States military’s ban on women serving in combat. After an A.C.L.U. lawsuit was filed in 2012 saying that the ban violated women’s rights to equal protection, the ban was lifted.
Read the story on NY Times
Attend this Mentorship Summit
The National Trans Bar Association (NTBA) is hosting their first ever Mentorship Summit from May 31 to June 2 at CUNY School of Law. This event will bring together trans and gender nonconforming lawyers and law students from around the country to gather and create community, learn from each other, and engage with NTBA’s new mentorship program. Sessions will encompass a range of topics from being visibly queer in the courtroom and coming out at work, to career development, self-care, and engaging in trans advocacy within your practice.
More info here >
Attend this Diversity Leadership Summit
Our Summit is an annual program to promote cultural and gender diversity and leadership in the employment law profession. We provide networking opportunities to law students and attorneys and expose them to various career paths in employment law that are exciting, challenging, and rewarding.
More info for Southern California summit here >
More info for Northern California summit here >
Apply to this Fellowship
The Open Society Foundations’ Leadership in Government Fellowship Program was founded in 2016 to support former senior-level government staff in the United States who have recently left public service and have played a significant role in advancing social change from within government in the United States at the city, county, tribal, state, and federal levels.
Apply here >
Apply to this Fellowship
The Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights fellowship for attorneys is a signature endeavor of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, which lasts for a three-year term, with possible extension. The Lawyers’ Committee views the causes we champion as broadly related to positions and ethical stances taken by Justice Thurgood Marshall during his distinguished legal career. This fellowship is designed for an attorney who has practiced for a minimum of three years and has a demonstrated commitment to civil rights law. It is our hope that the fellowship will enhance the Fellow’s understanding of civil rights law and prepare the Fellow for a career of promoting social justice.
Apply here >