Essay of the Week Lawyers have a duty to hold judges accountable
The following essay was written by Bianca Sierra Wolff, a lawyer and Strategic Partnerships Director at California ChangeLawyers.
The #MeToo movement has exposed the sexual violence perpetrated by men in positions of power on a national scale.
And the legal profession has not been immune from this reckoning as more and more survivors of sexual violence come forward and share their truths, including former judicial law clerks.
In the legal world, few people hold as much power as judges. Within their sacred chambers, judges are revered. The power differential is almost palpable. But as often happens with positions that hold great power, abuses are probable if left unchecked.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is currently being accused by at least two women of sexual violence. And while these accusations deal with time periods before he became a judge, they come to light at a time when he is being considered for the highest court in our nation.
But this essay isn’t about Brett Kavanaugh. We already know the problem is more widespread than a single judge.
For instance, Kavanaugh’s mentor Alex Kozinksi, a powerful judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, recently resigned as numerous women stepped forward to report years of sexual abuse. His chambers were described as “hostile, demeaning, and persistently sexualized”. He showed female clerks pornography without their consent, propositioned them for sex, and even groped them.
So where do we go from here?
I’m a lawyer, so to me, the answer is simple: the burden to stop abuses of power from judges, particularly when those abuses result in sexual violence, rests on the shoulders of people like me -- on lawyers.
Lawyers know how the Court system works. We know that “law clerk” is just a fancy name for a young, right-out-of-school lawyer. We know that our industry strongly encourages young people into clerkships because they are viewed as prestigious and necessary to obtain a successful legal career. But it’s also where they may experience harassment with no protections. Worse yet, many of us have heard the rumors, the whispers of abusive behavior and felt powerless or too afraid to speak out.
I’m not the first lawyer to call for an end to abuses of power by judges and I shouldn’t be the last. Lawyers have many privileges, and one of them is knowing how to seek recourse for injustices committed. We need to start using that privilege. We need to advocate for structural reforms to protect judicial employees, like clerks, from predatory judges. Reforms should include creating a statutory civil cause of action for sexual harassment.
It’s time for lawyers to be vigilant. It’s time for lawyers to protect students and young attorneys. And it’s time for lawyers to speak out against abuses of power and hold everyone in our profession accountable, no matter how much power or prestige they hold.
Story by California ChangeLawyers on Medium >
#ChangeLawyers Yale Law students stage sit-in to protest Kavanaugh
Yale Law School students protested Monday in Washington and Connecticut, opposing the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
More than 100 students traveled Monday to Washington to protest at the Supreme Court and to meet with senators, while others staged a sit-in at the law school. In Washington, students held umbrellas and signs aloft outside the Supreme Court in the rain, while on campus in New Haven, they filled the hallway of the law school.
Kavanaugh, a graduate of the university and the law school, was accused by a professor in California, Christine Blasey Ford, of assaulting her when they were at a high school party. Ford said Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and covered her mouth when she screamed.
Catherine McCarthy, a third-year law student, said it was moving to see the main hallway of the school filled with people wearing black and sitting silently Monday morning; she had never seen it so quiet.
About 300 students participated in the protests on campus, and 115 others traveled to Washington to demonstrate, said John Gonzalez, a second-year law student who said the protests included the majority of the student body of about 600. He had just marched from meetings with senators back to the Supreme Court to continue demonstrating outside with other organizations
“This is an institution that has a role to play and a moral obligation when its own community members and members of the legal community are not being treated with respect,” McCarthy said. “Today is really about the larger national conversation, and how Yale Law School, as an elite legal institution, is involved and implicated in this conversation.”
“The Senate’s treatment of our own alumna Anita Hill more than two decades ago sent a crystal-clear message to women and to all people who have experienced sexual violence: We don’t care about you,” said Dana Bolger, a third-year law student at Yale who was formerly co-director of Know Your IX, which advocates against sexual violence in schools.
On Monday, Heather Gerken, dean of Yale’s law school, wrote to the campus that the allegations against Kavanaugh “are rightly causing deep concern at Yale Law School and across the country,” and that many professors and students are taking action, including the 50 faculty members who signed the letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and students gathered in Washington and on campus.
“As dean, I cannot take a position on the nomination, but I am so proud of the work our community is doing to engage with these issues, and I stand with them in supporting the importance of fair process, the rule of law, and the integrity of the legal system.”
Story by Washington Post >
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Emily Bazelon is a journalist and law student at Yale Law School.
More of This Court rules in favor of intersex activist’s quest for a non- binary passport
In 2014, Dana Zzyym, who is intersex and nonbinary, had their passport application denied when they refused to mark either “male” or “female” on the document. In their view, neither option was accurate, so they could not in good faith and under penalty of perjury simply choose one or the other.
On Wednesday, in a rebuke to the U.S. State Department and its binary-only gender marker policy, federal judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled in favor of Zzyym.
This marks the second time Jackson has sided with Zzyym. In November 2016, Jackson found that the decision to deny Zzyym a passport was “arbitrary and capricious,” remanding the issue back to the State Department for resolution. The following May, Zzyym’s application was once again denied as the government claimed to be reviewing the policy. Without a speedy resolution in sight, Zzyym brought their case back to court, where it would again be heard by Jackson.
Lawyers representing Zzyym at Lambda Legal cheered the decision. “It is well past time for Dana Zzyym and other non-binary citizens of this country to be recognized and respected for who they are, to live openly and authentically, and to be able simply to travel freely about the world,” senior attorney Paul D. Castillo said in a statement from the organization.
“It’s been nearly four years since the State Department first denied me a critical identity document that I need to do my job and advocate for the rights of intersex people both in the United States and abroad. The agency’s refusal to issue me a passport has already cost me opportunities in Mexico City and Amsterdam,” they said as part of Lambda Legal’s statement. “I’m not going to lie on my passport application, I shouldn’t have to, and the judge here, twice, has agreed with me.”
Perhaps Zzyym’s legal battle will be the nudge the U.S. government needs to take this important step forward. For now, however, they wait in hopes that the State Department will finally issue them an accurate passport.
Story by Them >
Less of This This agency tried to reduce the racial disparities in juvenile detention. Then came Trump.
For two decades, the number of children behind bars in the U.S. has been on the decline—but the racial disparity has been dramatically worsening, with black youth several times more likely than their white counterparts to be incarcerated.
A little-known Justice Department agency is supposed to tackle this problem: the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which has been mandated by Congress since 1988 to try to shrink the racial gap by providing grants and training to local juvenile courts and law enforcement agencies.
But with an appointee of President Trump at the helm, the office has taken a quiet but decisive turn away from that mandate.
Under new administrator Caren Harp, who took office in January, the agency is essentially dissolving its research arm—which had been the only federal team regularly compiling information on racial patterns in juvenile arrests and incarceration.
It has also rescinded multiple training manuals that juvenile justice officials around the country had been using to improve racial disparities, in what Attorney General Jeff Sessions said was a correction of unnecessary regulation.
“OJJDP is dismantling protections for kids of color. It’s that simple,” said Lisa Thurau, executive director of Strategies for Youth, an advocacy organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that focuses on police interactions with teens.
Black children get into fights, steal property, carry weapons and use and sell drugs at about the same rates as white kids, according to an analysis of federal data by the Sentencing Project—they just get disproportionately policed for it.
In the new grant application—slimmed to one page—states will no longer be expected to submit data on how often black and Latino children have charges filed against them, are convicted or are put on probation.
The agency has also issued new language guidance for its employees, instructing them to refer to children in the justice system as “offenders,” to use the phrase “all youth” instead of “underserved youth” and to describe crime as a “public issue” not a “public-health issue.”
As another official sees it, that’s like saying, “Hey Mississippi, if you don’t want to do anything about this race thing anymore, that’s OK with us.”
Story by Marshall Project >
Less of This, Too The incalculable cost of mass incarceration
Every year states spend about $50 billion to lock up over 1.3 million people, or about $35,000 per prisoner per year.
The Brennan Center, for example, recently argued that releasing 576,000 low-risk inmates could save $20 billion per year (which is just $35,000 times 576,000—a calculation others make as well).
The problem with focusing on $35,000 per prisoner, or $50 billion per year, as the “cost” of prison is that it does not actually measure the real costs of incarceration, which are often in social harms. People are physically and sexually assaulted in prison. Mental health issues arise or worsen in prison. Prison is a vector of illness and STDs, which not only harms the inmates directly, but imposes avoidable costs on our health care system. The risk of death from a drug overdose rises sharply upon release. Prison exposure leads to elevated unemployment rates (and thus surely greater demands on governmental support programs), and in the short to medium term reduces life expectancy as well. Family members incur huge costs to visit people locked up in distant institutions, or suffer from not being able to see them at all (like the nearly 2,000 prisoners from Hawaii who are sent to Arizona to alleviate overcrowding in the islands’ prisons or the nearly 4,500 prisoners from Washington, D.C. who are turned over to the federal Bureau of Prisons and housed all over the country). Children grow up apart from their parents, partners from each other. In some places, so many men are in prison that it alters the nature of dating and relationships for the entire community.
We have no idea how large these costs are, but they are surely staggering. Since 1978, there have been nearly 13.5 million new admissions to prison.
So we are grossly understating what locking a person up costs us, by focusing on something that mostly measures the wages earned by guards, not the far greater, and far more unambiguous social costs borne by prisoners, their families, and society.
By ignoring the social costs of prison, we make it seem far cheaper than it really is.
Story by the Appeal >
Podcast of the Week A criminal justice conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates
In 2015, Ta-Nehisi published a piece entitled, “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration”, which looked at the history of mass incarceration and at how it continues to devastate black communities. We talk to him about race, mass incarceration, his list of suggested reading, and the responsibility of black leaders to address systemic injustice.
Listen to Episode 10 of Justice in America podcast
Job Opportunity SF DA’s office hiring Assistant DA
California ChangeLawyers encourages progressive Brown, Black, and Queer lawyers to become reform prosecutors, to reform the criminal justice system from the inside out.
Apply here >
Job Opportunity PANA San Diego hiring staff attorney
San Diego County’s refugee and muslim communities face ongoing and growing legal needs. PANA is hiring a full-time attorney to develop a legal program that will triage legal services for refugees and asylum seekers
Apply here >
Job Opportunity Legal Services for Children hiring Immigration Attorney
Founded in 1975, Legal Services for Children (“LSC”) is one of the country’s first non-profit law firms dedicated to providing free legal representation and social work services to children.
Please send cover letter, resume, brief writing sample, and contact information for three references to email@example.com, with “Immigration Staff Attorney” in the subject line. In your cover letter, please address the following in order for your application to be considered: LSC’s clientele is extremely diverse, and the majority of our clients are low income youth of color.
The Youth Law Academy at Centro Legal de la Raza is currently recruiting attorney mentors for this academic year. YLA is a legal diversity pipeline program working to open the doors of the legal profession for the next generation of underrepresented attorneys
Mentorship application here >
Free for Students Law school admissions conference at Pepperdine
This free event will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the law school application process. Panels consisting of law students and lawyers will share their pathways to law school and the legal profession and answer questions. Hosted by For People of Color, Inc.
October 20. RSVP here >
Free for Students How to become a United States Attorney
Informative discussion featuring Assistant United States Attorneys from the Criminal and Civil Divisions.
October 16 from 12:15 to 1:15pm. United States Attorney’s Office, 300 North Los Angeles St - 7th Floor (Weidman Training Room)
RSVP to Julia Choe at firstname.lastname@example.org