#ChangeLawyers Three Sikh Lawyers Walk New Jersey’s Halls of Power
In the 1980s, when Sikh immigrants from India began arriving in New Jersey in significant numbers, they lacked a proper house of worship, so they set up a tent on a patch of dirt and began to pray.
Much has changed since then. The tent in Glen Rock, a town in northern New Jersey, has been replaced by an imposing gurudwara, or temple, with a red brick facade and white domes. The congregation that once comprised 10 families now has hundreds of families drawn from across New Jersey and New York, two states that have among the largest populations of Sikhs in the country.
Today, after a long history of dealing with bigotry, Sikhs have begun to acquire power.
The worshipers in Glen Rock include Gurbir Grewal, New Jersey’s attorney general, and Ravi Bhalla, the mayor of Hoboken, along with Mr. Bhalla’s older brother Amardeep Singh, a founder of the Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights organization.
All three grew up together and have attended the temple since they were children — Mr. Grewal and Mr. Bhalla served as best man at each other’s wedding. They are now in their 40s and embody the political maturation of Sikh Americans. They gathered recently in a conference room at the temple to reflect on how their faith has shaped their progressive values.
Now Sikhs are starting to gain more political prominence across the country. They include Manka Dhingra, a state legislator in Washington; Preet Didbal; the mayor of Yuba City, Calif.; and Harmeet Dhillon, a Republican Party leader in California.
Still Mr. Grewal, who was appointed by Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, and is the first Sikh to serve as a state attorney general, has had to contend with intolerance. In July, two New Jersey D.J.s, Judi Franco and Dennis Malloy, called him “turban man” and Mr. Malloy said he would not refer to the attorney general by name until he stopped wearing a turban. After a public outcry, the two were suspended for 10 days.
“Sikhs have been seen and treated in America as perpetually foreign and automatically suspect and since 9/11, as potential terrorists,” said Valarie Kaur, a prominent Sikh American activist. “Ravi and Gurbir’s visible presence on the nation’s stage as public servants is breaking down these stereotypes and reshaping the nation’s moral imagination for ‘who counts’ as American. In a time of heightened racism and bigotry, their leadership provides hope and inspiration and offers us a glimpse of the America that is possible, the America worth fighting for.”
Ms. Kaur said she and other Sikhs regularly draw upon “the Sikh spirit of Chardi Kala,” meaning a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity.
This principle may help explain why the three childhood friends from the temple in Glen Rock are optimistic about the country’s future.
“People far greater than us and far braver than us have overcome far more than us in our nation’s history,” Mr. Grewal said. “And this is just another moment that’s testing the foundations of our nation’s democracy.”
“And,” he added, “I think the institutions will survive.”
Story by The New York Times >
Perspective For immigration lawyers, legal and emotional tests in navigating changed system
After months of separating migrant families at the southern border, the Trump administration was under a federal court order to undo the damage by July 26.
But for Elizabeth Caballero, a lawyer in San Antonio, the deadline came too late. Her client, a Honduran father separated at the border from his five-year-old daughter, had already been deported without her being alerted. That was a shock to her, a first for her immigration practice, and another sign of just how much the ground for immigration rights has shifted under the Trump administration.
Rafael, whose name has been changed to protect his privacy, is one of 463 parents who have been deported from the US without their children. When Ms. Caballero first met him early last month, he said his priority was reuniting with his daughter, even if that meant being sent home.
At their third meeting early this month Rafael told Caballero his daughter had been released to his sister. Over the next few weeks she would call the detention center where he was being held, but he never called back. Then he was gone – sent back to Honduras.
“To hear nothing from this father who wanted to be with his little girl...and then he’s gone, is just – it’s odd,” she says. “It’s just out of the norm for us, and I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years now. I think we’ve stepped into a new era and I can’t get used to it.”
While hundreds of families have been reunited, many more are still waiting. The administration has said it needs more time to comply with US District Judge Dana Sabraw’s order to release 2,551 migrant children ages 5 and up to their parents or other guardians. So far, more than 1,000 families have been reunited.
Judge Sabraw said the government should be commended for its efforts to reunite families, but added that greater transparency was needed to complete the process, CNN reported.
"It's the reality of the case, it's the reality of a policy that was in place that resulted in large numbers of families being separated without forethought as to reunification and keeping track of people. And that's the fallout we're seeing. There may be 463, there may be more, it's not certain, but it appears there's a large number of parents who are unaccounted for or who may have been removed without their child," Sabraw said.
Indeed, the chaos and confusion of the past two months over family separations have only accentuated what immigration attorneys say has been a general increase in hostility from the government in immigration matters. Whether it’s opposing routine court motions, demanding higher bond payments, not complying with court orders, or just a general rudeness in court, there has been a dramatic shift in how immigration cases are being litigated, lawyers say.
Side-room negotiations and agreements with Obama-era federal agencies had been helpful in making a notoriously backlogged immigration court system run a little more smoothly. To free up more court time, participants agreed not to litigate minor issues, such as co-signing a plaintiff’s application for a green card while their removal proceeding was under way.
In recent months, those kinds of negotiations and agreements have been replaced by stone walls; plaintiffs are spending longer in detention as arguments wait for a judge to hold hearings.
“These are people, they’re not inanimate objects,” Mr. Flores says. “They want to go to school, they want to work, support their families.”
For some families, the July 26 deadline did bring relief.
Sandra Elizabeth Sanchez and her daughter Chirsthel were among those reunited in recent weeks. They had been arrested after crossing the Rio Grande and separated on June 18, three days after Christhel’s birthday. It had been her quinceañera, and her mother bought a cake to celebrate their reunion as they recalled their time apart.
“They handcuffed us in chains, like we were criminals,” says Sandra, who wears an ankle monitor. “It was freezing” in one of the several facilities she was detained in, and “they left the lights on, so we didn’t know when it was day or when it was night.” She says they now plan to travel to Washington state where she has another daughter and three grandchildren.
Caballero remembers when the process was less adversarial, how easy it was to be friends with opposing attorneys, to be on first-name terms with judges, who knew all about her three children. It was how things got done, she thought, not by fighting every point so that judges and federal officials dig in their heels.
“Now it’s not that,” she says. “I’m way more aggressive than ever before, because that’s the only way I think that my client is going to be protected.”
Could she have done more to protect Rafael? Should she had pushed harder to advance his asylum claim? The thought nags at her. “I just feel like maybe we didn’t do enough,” she says.
For now she’s still hoping he calls.
While the latest reunification deadline has passed, the issue of the 463 parents deported without their children is almost certain to be litigated further, says Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.
“There’s still going to be a set of questions as to where the government goes next after these reunifications,” he says. This could include litigation on behalf of deported parents like Rafael so that they are afforded the same rights to be with their children.
For Caballero, a silver lining is that Rafael’s daughter has been released and can now pursue her own asylum claim.
“She’s not with him, but she’s not detained, so that’s – I’m OK with that,” she says. “I’m glad that she’s out. That’s what he wanted.”
Story by Christian Science Monitor >
Podcast of the Week Lawyers need to come out of the courtroom and into the community
In the wake of the Freddie Gray tragedy, it became clear that more needed to be done to support the Baltimore community. Inspired by the prominence of public libraries during this tumultuous time, Maryland Legal Aid launched the Lawyer in the Library clinic to bring lawyering directly to the community.
In this podcast, Meaghan McDermott discusses her work as the project director of the Community Lawyering Initiative for Maryland Legal Aid. She discusses the incredibly successful Lawyer in the Library program, which helps the people of Baltimore with a variety of legal issues, including criminal expungements, child custody, bankruptcy, estate planning, and veterans’ benefits.
Story by Above the Law >
Read This Bill to End Bail in California Headed to Gov. Brown’s Desk
The state Assembly approved a bill 41-27 late Monday that would radically change how California treats people accused of crimes by ending the state's cash bail system and giving judges more power to decide who is safe for release.
On Tuesday, California state senators approved Senate Bill 10 by a vote of 26-12, one day after it was passed by the Assembly.
If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, California would become the first state to completely end bail for suspects awaiting trial.
The vote comes 14 months after the Assembly failed to muster the votes to pass an earlier version of bail reform, and nearly a year after Gov. Jerry Brown and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said they supported the concept of bail reform and asked for more time to negotiate a compromise.
That compromise was unveiled last week, and the changes appeased some concerns judges and law enforcement had raised. But many of the criminal justice reform groups that pushed the Legislature to take up bail reform are now opposing Senate Bill 10, saying it gives too much power to judges and will result in more people staying in jail while they await trial.
SB 10 would end bail starting October 1, 2019 and instruct county courts to adopt risk assessment tools that use algorithms to predict both whether a criminal offender is likely to pose a risk to public safety if they are released -- and whether they are likely to show up in court.
The bill instructs courts to release nearly all misdemeanor defendants after they are booked. Offenders deemed low and medium risk could also be released, with conditions like probation supervision or an ankle monitor if a judge thinks that's necessary.
People deemed high risk -- including those facing violent felony charges and those with past violent felonies -- would generally be held in jail until their trial.
Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who has helped shepherd the legislation, said the bill would represent a huge step forward. He said that it would end a system that both discriminates against the poor and allows people who are actually dangerous to buy their freedom.
"We have an opportunity today to seize the moment and do something that will make California safer, that will make California more fair, that will make California more just," he said.
But Abdi Soltani, executive director of the ACLU of Northern California, said the bill will result in more people being detained before their trials -- and expand all the problems that come with that.
"You know we are innocent until proven guilty and simply being arrested and charged does not constitute guilt," he said. "When a person is detained in jail awaiting trial -- even for a few days -- they can lose their home, their job, the custody of their children. And that can lead them to plead guilty when they're innocent."
Many Republican lawmakers also spoke out against SB 10, arguing that it has been rushed through the process and will put an entire industry out of business.
But powerful law enforcement groups -- including those that represent sheriffs, prosecutors and police chiefs -- dropped their opposition after the changes were made and are now "neutral".
"While the bill is not perfect, and will certainly require additional fine tuning (and a significant commitment of resources), it makes an important shift towards a pretrial system that is safer and fairer than what is in place today," California District Attorneys Association lobbyist Sean Hoffman said in a written statement. "To the extent that SB 10 allows us to seek preventive detention in appropriate cases, it gives us an opportunity that we don’t currently have, and ultimately puts that decision in the hands of a judge, not just an algorithm."
Some Democratic lawmakers said the bill is just a first step. Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-South Los Angeles, said the Legislature will have to revisit the issue next year.
"We are going to have to come at it again and again ... until we get the system that we want ... until we build a system that is equitable and provides justice for all," he said.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, said she shares some of the ACLU's concerns, noting that prosecutors and judges can be influenced by racial biases. But she called the bill a giant step forward.
"I have learned over all the years of my life, that change is hard, it is difficult," Weber said. "And often out of fear of change, we do nothing ... and things don't get better, they get worse, and it requires courage sometimes to step forward and not just make that change, but work to make that change right."
Story by KQED News >
More of this New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Approves Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission
New York on Monday became the first state to establish a standing independent commission to investigate prosecutorial misconduct by the state’s district attorneys. The bold initiative is designed to increase accountability for prosecutors, who are among the most powerful agents in the U.S. criminal justice system but rarely face punishment for misconduct.
The bipartisan legislation, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allows for a commission of 11 members, appointed by officials from all three branches of the state government, to investigate allegations of misconduct by the state’s 62 county district attorney’s offices.
“Our criminal justice system must fairly convict the guilty and exonerate the innocent,” Cuomo said in a statement Monday. “When any prosecutor consciously disregards that fundamental duty, communities suffer and lose faith in the system, and they must have a forum to be heard and seek justice. This first-in-the-nation Commission will serve to give New Yorkers comfort that there is a system of checks and balances in the criminal justice system, and to root out any potential abuses of power to ensure that our justice system is just for all New Yorkers.”
Public defenders and criminal justice advocates had for years urged the governor to take action against misconduct by prosecutors. Prosecutors in New York state have a long history of misconduct, which has often led to false convictions and subsequent exonerations. The state has one of the largest totals of exonerations in the nation (267 since 1987), according to the National Registry of Exonerations. And while many factors can contribute to a wrongful conviction, including mistakes or flawed evidence, more than 60 percent of those New York exonerations involved “official misconduct” by government agents, such as police officers or prosecutors.
Just last year, 11 of the 13 people in the state who were exonerated had cases tainted by official misconduct, the registry found, and about half of the dozen exonerations that have already occurred in 2018 also involve official misconduct. Additionally, a separate examination of cases in the state from 2009 found that “government practices,” which includes misconduct by law enforcement and prosecutors, were a key driver of wrongful convictions, affecting about 30 percent of the identified cases, according to the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Wrongful Convictions report.
“[The commission] will not be a cure for the problem, but it will go a long way towards holding those who abuse their powers accountable, and towards deterring those who may be tempted to break the rules,” wrote John Raphling, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a letter to Cuomo in support of the commission.
Prosecutors in the state lambasted the legislation, calling it unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional. They have even threatened to sue the state if Cuomo signed the bill into law.
The misconduct problem is not contained to New York, and it has reached “epidemic” levels, legal experts say. There are disturbing indications that a significant number of prosecutors engage in misconduct that severely undermines the fairness of criminal trials.
Still, across the nation, prosecutors are rarely punished for misconduct, and the cases that have led to disbarment or even criminal charges are few and far between.
Part of the trouble lies in identifying the misconduct in the first place. Because so much of what prosecutors do is behind the scenes ― gathering evidence and working with police and investigators as they build their case ― malfeasance is often not discovered until years, sometimes decades, after a person has been convicted.
A 2013 report illustrated just how rare it is for prosecutors to face punishment of any kind. Using data from nine major studies that analyzed the prosecutorial misconduct at both the state and national levels, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity identified 3,625 cases from 1963 to 2013. Of those, only 63 prosecutors — less than 2 percent — were ever officially sanctioned for their wrongdoing. And in those rare instances when prosecutors were disciplined, they frequently received a slap on the wrist, the CPI report says. In New York, the same study identified 151 cases of prosecutorial misconduct from 2004 to 2008, with only three of those cases resulting in punishment.
Even one bad actor in a prosecutor’s office can have a significant effect on countless defendants and cases. Prosecutors have complete and unrivaled access to the evidence that can determine a person’s guilt or innocence, along with broad powers over how seriously to take a charge against an individual and how aggressively to pursue a case. They determine the charges a defendant will face and ultimately set the parameters for punishment. And they can pile on charges to produce sentences “so excessively severe they take your breath away” to coerce a defendant into taking a plea deal, a U.S. District Court judge in New York wrote in 2013.
The New York commission has full subpoena power and can request relevant documents, case files and evidence from prosecutors and witnesses. It can hold investigative hearings for prosecutors who are accused of misconduct and, if the commission finds wrongdoing has occurred, it can admonish, censure or even recommend that the prosecutor be removed from office.
Defense attorneys praised Cuomo’s move.
“New York will be the first state to show it will no longer tolerate the unethical and immoral actions of District Attorneys who abuse their enormous power in the criminal justice system,” said Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director and founder of Brooklyn Defender Services, a nonprofit public defense organization.
“New Yorkers deserve a court system in which decision makers are rewarded for fair and just choices and at the same time held accountable for ignoring facts that show innocence or witness perjury, withholding evidence or displaying a callous disregard for the rights of people facing an accusation,” she said.
Story by Huffington Post >
Criminal Justice US inmates stage nationwide prison labor strike over 'modern slavery'
Organisers say prisoners across the country are expected to refuse to work, hold sit-ins and even stage hunger strikes.
The first part of the prisons likely to be hit will be the kitchens, where stoves will remain unlit, ready-meals unheated and thousands of breakfasts uncooked.
From there the impact will fan out. The laundry will be left unwashed, prison corridors un-mopped, and the lawns on the external grounds ring-fenced with barbed wire will go uncut.
On Tuesday, America’s vast army of incarcerated men and women – at 2.3m of them they form by far the largest imprisoned population in the world – will brace itself for what has the potential to be the largest prison strike in US history.
Nineteen days of peaceful protest are planned across the nation, organised largely by prisoners themselves.
The strike is being spearheaded by incarcerated members of Jailhouse Lawyers Speak, a group of prisoners providing mutual help and legal training to other inmates. A few days ago they released an anonymous statement setting out their reasons for calling a protest that carries the risk of substantial penal retaliation.
“Fundamentally, it’s a human rights issue,” the statement said. “Prisoners understand they are being treated as animals. Prisons in America are a warzone. Every day prisoners are harmed due to conditions of confinement. For some of us it’s as if we are already dead, so what do we have to lose?"
Organisers have put together a list of 10 national demands. They include improved prison conditions, an end to life without parole sentences or “death by incarceration” as the authors call them, increased funding for rehabilitation services and an end to the disenfranchisement of some 6 million Americans with felony convictions who are barred from voting.
Story by The Guardian >
Event Funders' Learning Lab for Detained & Removal Defense
What happens after ICE picks up an immigrant? How will the case differ if she is released or remains in detention throughout her removal process? Join this two-part learning lab to gain a better understanding of the immigrant’s journey through apprehension, processing, and detention during the removal process.
Wednesday, September 12. Hosted by GCIR & Google. RSVP here >
Fellowship Opportunity Butler Koshland Fellowships seeking an immigrant rights fellow
Beginning in the fall of 2018, the Fellow will work full-time as a Butler Koshland Fellow at The University of California Immigrant Legal Services Center (ILSC) for the period of one year with the mentorship of its Executive Director, María Blanco. In this capacity, the Fellow will do important work to protect the rights of immigrant students, especially those eligible for the DACA program, while also learning about what it takes to lead a nonprofit organization.
Learn more and Apply >
Join our Board! California ChangeLawyers is inviting applications for open positions on the Board of Directors
Ideal candidates will be attorneys, judges, or members of the public with a demonstrated interest in and commitment to building a better justice system for all Californians. Applicants must have previous board, public, or community service experience, and be knowledgeable about and comfortable with charitable fundraising. We actively seek diverse candidates from across California.
Learn more and Apply >
Event Scholarships for Justice presented by California ChangeLawyers
Featuring former Attorney General Eric Holder and Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund founding member Nina Shaw.
October 4 at 5:00 PM. RSVP here >