Watch This He spent 7 years behind bars. Now he teaches formerly incarcerated people how to live life outside of prison
A Little Inspiration The judge risking his life to save homeless people from COVID 19
“Anybody want to test my accountability by walking with me in a few moments down to skid row?”
U.S. District Judge David O. Carter leveled the question at a room full of attorneys on a recent Tuesday afternoon.
“Do you all believe me, or do you want to see it?” he pressed. “Do you want to see it?”
At 76 years old, Carter knows he should be at home and away from people, not in a cavernous ballroom in the basement of the Alexandria Hotel surrounded by attorneys and journalists, or outside leading a tour of the largest concentration of homeless people in the country. Public officials have warned that his age puts him at high risk for contracting the coronavirus and dying of COVID-19.
But as the pandemic has unfolded, Carter, long known as brash, verbose and stubbornly hands-on, has been on a mission to force changes in the living conditions for the homeless people of L.A.
He is the judge assigned to a lawsuit filed last month against the city and county of Los Angeles by the L.A. Alliance for Human Rights. The group of business owners and downtown residents, among others, is demanding solutions to what they see as unsafe and inhumane conditions in encampments — especially given the pandemic.
On this particular Tuesday, two attorneys representing the county and several others representing advocacy groups decided to take Carter up on his offer to see whether the new hand-washing stations on skid row actually worked. In court, Carter had been frustrated that the stations the city was touting didn’t have water in them. He knew many were empty because he had checked them earlier.
So for two hours, the group marched around the squalor of skid row in the rain. Carter’s determined gait left other, much younger people scrambling to keep up, shivering in their soaked business attire.
He led them from station to station, demonstrating which ones worked and which ones didn’t. He wore gloves, but then shook the hands of several homeless people. Although he had on an N95 mask, he would pull it back so people could hear him. He also often stood closer to others than the recommended distance of six feet.
Read the story on LA Times
Speaking of… The most diverse court in the country includes judges who are Black, gay, female, immigrant, disabled and Native
Donald Trump’s presidency has been a disaster for judicial diversity. His judges are overwhelmingly straight, white, and male. Many are wealthy corporate attorneys born into privileged American families whose connections guided them along a path to power. In other words, Trump judges do not look like the country they serve.
While the federal bench grows more homogeneous by the day, Democratic governors are diversifying their state judiciaries to an unprecedented degree. On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, elevated Grace Helen Whitener to the state Supreme Court. Whitener is a disabled black lesbian who immigrated from Trinidad. She joins Inslee’s two other appointees: Raquel Montoya-Lewis, a Jewish Native American who previously served on tribal courts, and Mary Yu, an Asian-American Latina lesbian who officiated the first same-sex marriages in the state.
Whitener has been an outspoken advocate of judicial diversity and sought to educate marginalized communities about the legal system. “We have a limited number of judges of color on our benches here in Washington State,” she said in 2019. “It’s not reflective of the population that it serves. And one core cannon of our judicial system is trust and confidence—building it on our communities. And having a judiciary that is reflective of the community that it serves is truly important in raising trust and confidence in the services that we provide as judicial officers.” Shortly before her nomination to the Supreme Court, Whitener said: “I believe, as a marginalized individual—being a black gay female immigrant disabled judge—that my perspective is a little different. I try to make sure that everyone that comes into this courtroom feels welcome, feels safe, and feels like they will get a fair hearing.”
Yu has also noted the value of diverse perspectives on the bench. “The more we reflect the community we serve,” Yu said in 2016, “the greater confidence we instill in what we do. We are our best when we have diverse perspectives at the table and we are at our best when we are racially and geographically diverse.” At her own swearing-in ceremony, Montoya-Lewis also spoke about the ways her identity informs her jurisprudence. “I was raised to remember that I come from those who survived,” she said, referencing the struggles of her Jewish and Native American ancestors. She explained how that family history helped her form a perspective on justice not an “abstract concept” but as “a term of action.” “I’m honored to bring that perspective to the Supreme Court,” Montoya-Lewis said, “as well as the stories that helped me to formulate it.”
Read the story on Slate
More of This The activist and student who joined forces to fight coronavirus
Jamal Trulove and Elina Kostyanovskaya were both working in different ways to serve marginalized communities in the Bay Area before the coronavirus hit.
Trulove, an actor, activist and San Francisco resident notable for his role in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” is focused on the criminal justice system: He spent over six years in prison before being acquitted in a 2015 retrial. (He received a $13.1 million settlement for being framed by police for murder.)
Kostyanovskaya, a Ph.D. candidate in developmental and stem cell biology at UCSF, has worked as an organizer on issues of housing and justice.
The dire need for supplies like masks and hand sanitizer has now forged an alliance between the two.
They, along with a group of volunteers, have been producing and distributing hand sanitizer to incarcerated people and low-income neighborhoods in the Bay Area since mid-March, working to get crucial supplies to those who need them the most.
Trulove said at the beginning of the crisis he looked for hand sanitizer and face masks in many local stores without any success. For many low-income people, he said, there's a lot more to worry about with the coronavirus.
“People are worried about food, people are worried about rent ... And a lot of these families, they're living five to six people in a two bedroom, it's tough,” Trulove said. “If there's not attention being shown in our communities,” in regards to prevention and testing, “we won’t find out the cases, we’ll only find out about the deaths.”
Trulove noted that the African American, Latinx and Native American communities have been hit the hardest.
Kostyanovskaya and Trulove were linked up through recently elected San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Trulove said he reached out to Boudin to find out if the city had hand sanitizer or masks he could bring to underserved communities. Boudin then connected him to Kostyanovskaya, who had previously worked on the Boudin election campaign and was just beginning to make hand sanitizer as part of a project with the UCSF Science Policy Group.
Read the story on KQED
Less of This Trump Administration is refusing to help business owners with criminal records
Michelle E. of Scottsdale, Arizona, was relieved when President Trump last month signed into law the sweeping stimulus package intended to keep the U.S. economy afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
Michelle and her husband have owned a small hardwood flooring business for 18 years. She hoped the law’s $350 billion for small-business loans would help them avoid laying off any of their five employees, whom she said are like family. So she got a loan application through her bank.
But as she filled it out, Michelle saw the question: Had any of the business owners pleaded guilty to or been on probation for a criminal offense? Michelle immediately thought of her husband, who is on probation because he took a guilty plea on a theft charge after taking home the scope of someone else’s rifle on a hunting trip, something he says he did accidentally. His name and her last name are being withheld because his criminal case, and the couple’s loan application, are pending.
“Because of that, our employees can’t get help from the United States government?” Michelle said.
It’s a little noticed frustration compared to the logistical problems of the Trump administration’s rollout of the CARES Act. A set of new regulations for implementing the law, issued by the Small Business Administration, prohibits small-business owners with criminal records from accessing the desperately needed loans.
“We have never seen such a sweeping mandatory disqualification based on a criminal record, in any area of the law,” wrote the Collateral Consequences Resource Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan website that tracks how federal, state and local laws affect people with past charges or convictions. The site is run by Margaret Love, who was the U.S. Pardon Attorney during the Clinton administration.
Read the story on the Marshall Project
Perspective How do I defend people now?
Chrissy Madjar is public defender in the
Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy
D.* had his first court appearance via Skype, his plea was taken via Skype and all communication with his lawyer took place via Skype. He did not have a private room; he just had a computer that he could only hope was confidential.
Even in counties that are embracing technology amid the COVID-19 crisis, it is a poor substitute for in-person representation. A public defender’s job is 75 percent interactive. Normally, we are constantly in courtrooms. We are at jails and prisons several times a week meeting with our clients, and we spend multiple hours with the same person. We are negotiating with prosecutors and interacting with family members, witnesses, the court clerk, bailiffs and law enforcement agents, just to name a few.
There is no virtual substitute for many of these duties. As a result, we now can accomplish only the bare minimum, namely emergency hearings and arraignments (those first court appearances). What isn’t happening in many counties are competency hearings at which we would argue that a client is not being properly evaluated by mental-health professionals. Hearings for mitigation specialists that might show that a client has faced trauma are on hold because we cannot obtain records from closed schools and social-service agencies. Drug and veterans courts are closed too. And we can’t have trials, because it would be impossible to convene a jury or to subpoena witnesses to appear with current social distancing rules.
All the while, the bar for “justice” constantly gets lowered. J., another client, took a plea because the prosecutor agreed to release her from jail, where the virus may spread, if she admitted guilt.
Others, like K. are foregoing the review of evidence in their cases to speed up the process and get out of jail. J., another client, is behind on child support. He was making payments but lost his job due to layoffs caused by the coronavirus. So now he has to serve 6 months in jail. And if the virus enters his cell, he’ll be facing a possible sentence of death.
Is any of this justice?
Read the story on the Marshall Project
Tuesday May 5 at Noon
Learn strategies for persuasive and accessible legal writing, including writing for the busy reader, easy approaches for starting briefs, and how to write in a team. From cleaning up your grammar to avoiding legalese, learn how better writing helps your clients by helping your judge. Join us for the writing training you didn't get in law school, but wish you had.
April 5 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
May 14 at Noon
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a harsh reminder of our financial fragility. During times of uncertainty, it becomes especially crucial to focus on what’s within our control. In this free webinar, we will walk you through four steps of navigating this and any financial crisis. Topics include organizing financial accounts and debt, bridging unemployment and income uncertainty, prioritizing outflows, and constructing credible support systems. The CARES Act and what to do with your stimulus check will also be discussed.
May 14 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
May 21 at Noon
70% of the general population struggles with Imposter Syndrome, the feeling that one is not cut out for the work one is doing or aspires to do, combined with a fear of being discovered as a fraud. Ironically, high achievers and those in certain fields (such as the law) are at unique risk of this often hidden epidemic and suffer a greater sense of isolation and anxiety because of it. This webinar will explore this common barrier to true confidence and will help participants better recognize and address limiting beliefs within themselves and each other.
April 5 at 12:00 Noon. Register here
We're seeking a criminal justice fellow
With support from California ChangeLawyers℠, UnCommon Law seeks to hire a full-time, year-long legal Fellow to support the work of our New Pilot Program. The Fellow will be a part of a team of advocates, counselors and attorneys supporting Pilot program participants in navigating the discretionary parole process, including supporting those participants in developing new self-narratives to heal from past trauma.
We're seeking a civil rights fellow
With support from California ChangeLawyers®, Council on American-Islamic Relations (SF-Bay Area) seeks to hire a full-time, post-Bar Legal Fellow to support the work of our civil rights and immigration programs, and increase the projects capacity to build a removal defense docket, provide naturalization services in the American Muslim community, and support first-time callers seeking civil rights and immigration legal assistance.