#ChangeLawyer Criminal justice reformer ousts Ferguson DA who refused to bring charges in cop killing of Michael Brown
Wesley Bell, who cast himself as a reformer committed to changing a local criminal justice system widely criticized following the 2014 killing of black and unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer, won St. Louis County’s Democratic primary for top prosecutor on Tuesday in a major upset.
Bell, a city council member in Ferguson, Missouri, where Brown was killed, defeated Robert McCulloch, who had served in the prosecutor’s post since 1991. McCulloch was harshly criticized by many for failing to file charges against the officer who shot Brown, and Tuesday’s vote was widely seen as a referendum by local residents on his handling of the case.
Bell’s primary victory effectively means he is set to become St. Louis County’s next prosecuting attorney, given that he faces no Republican challenger in November’s general election.
Bell, 43, campaigned on pledges to never seek the death penalty, eliminate cash bail for nonviolent offenses, publicly oppose legislation that would create new mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes and adopt other policies that advocates for criminal justice reform favor.
He won the endorsements of numerous progressive groups, including influential political action committees such as activist Shaun King’s Real Justice and Color of Change, both of which focus on electing reform-minded prosecutors.
McCulloch, 67, has been a controversial figure for decades. Critics have cited his close ties to local police departments as an impediment to him holding officers accountable for possible misconduct.
But McCulloch is best known for not bringing charges against Darren Wilson, the policeman who shot and killed Brown during a confrontation between the two on Aug. 9, 2014.
Brown’s death sparked several days of protests in Ferguson and around the nation over police interactions with largely black communities.
“While Wesley Bell’s victory may come as a shock to many around the country, it’s no surprise to the Color of Change PAC or to many in the Black community,” said Rashad Robinson, spokesperson for the Color of Change PAC, in a statement. “This ousting of a 27-year incumbent shows the country what Black voters have demonstrated for decades — that we demand to be heard and that we will make criminal justice reform a ballot-box issue in 2018 and beyond.”
Ninety-five percent of elected prosecutors are white, and 79 percent are male. Only 1 percent of prosecutors are women of color. The majority of prosecutors — 85 percent — run for election unopposed. They are rarely punished for misconduct, and a 1976 Supreme Court ruling gives them absolute immunity from civil suits.
Story by HuffPo >
Watch This HBO’s John Oliver goes after prosecutors
John Oliver explains how prosecutors use, or in some cases misuse, their power within our criminal justice system and why it’s important to know whether or not your district attorney is a dog.
More of This Business are refusing to hire DACA recipients. So they’re fighting back…and winning.
Daniel Marques would probably be working as a financial adviser for a big investment firm in New Jersey right now.
David Rodriguez might have landed an internship with Procter & Gamble in Miami.
Sandy Vasquez might be an engineering intern in Silicon Valley.
Ruben Juarez might have snagged a finance internship in Connecticut.
All four of them went to college and graduated with honors. And all four of them say they were denied jobs, even though they had valid work permits because they are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA.
As the legal battle over DACA continues to wind its way through the courts, a related legal battle is on the rise. DACA immigrants are suing US employers for denying them jobs because they aren’t citizens.
So far, DACA workers seem to have a good chance of winning. In April, a federal judge in Florida ruled that DACA recipients are a protected class, and allowed the lawsuit to proceed.
The first DACA worker to file a discrimination lawsuit was a 25-year-old college graduate from Yonkers, New York. It was 2014, and Ruben Juarez had just graduated with an undergraduate degree in accounting.
But a year earlier, Juarez was denied a paid internship at the largest life insurance firm in the United States because of his DACA status. A recruiter for Northwestern Mutual had contacted Juarez about the internship in 2013 after receiving his résumé.
Later, in an email, the recruiter told Juarez that he needed “to be a US citizen or hold a green card” to get the internship. So he didn’t get it.
Juarez argued that the hiring practices violated his equal rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1866.
In Juarez’s case, lawyers for Northwestern Mutual said they weren’t discriminating against noncitizens because they hire immigrants with green cards.
But Katherine Forrest, a federal district judge in New York, rejected that argument, saying that a company cannot discriminate against some authorized immigrants as long as it hires another group of authorized immigrants.
The Los Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) has filed four similar class-action lawsuits against Merrill Lynch (owned by Bank of America), Procter & Gamble, and Allied Wealth Partners. This month, the nonprofit legal group plans to file a lawsuit against a Silicon Valley cloud computing firm called VMware, which told a DACA recipient in January that the company only hires US citizens and immigrants with green cards.
It’s unclear how many DACA workers have been barred from jobs in the past six years. Thomas Saenz, president of MALDEF, suspects that it happens pretty often.
“These are among the five largest and most sophisticated companies in the country,” Saenz told me, referring to the defendants in the cases. “You would expect that if they are engaging in this conduct, then probably much smaller companies who don’t have access to high-powered lawyers must be doing the same.”
Despite the uncertainty over the future of the DACA program, the development in these civil cases has made one thing quite clear: DACA recipients have the same rights as American citizens under the law.
Story by Vox >
Less of This What it takes to become a lawyer if you’re not a man
The following essay was written by Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and the author of the forthcoming book Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction.
Last year, Elizabeth Faiella took a case representing a man who alleged that a doctor had perforated his esophagus during a routine medical procedure. Before the trial began, she and the defense attorney, David O. Doyle Jr., were summoned to a courtroom in Brevard County, Florida, for a hearing. Doyle had filed a motion seeking to “preclude emotional displays” during the trial—not by the patient, but by Faiella.
Faiella told the trial judge, a man, that Doyle’s allegations were sexist and untrue.
The judge denied Doyle’s request, saying, in essence, “I expect both parties to behave themselves.” Afterward, Faiella confronted Doyle in the hallway. “Why would you file such a thing?” she demanded, noting that it was unprofessional, sexist, and humiliating.
“I don’t understand why you are getting so upset,” she says Doyle replied.
Though Faiella has long since learned to expect the motions, every time one crosses her desk she feels sick to her stomach. “I cannot tell you how much it demeans me,” she said. “Because I am a woman, I have to act like it doesn’t bother me, but I tell you that it does. The arrow lands every time.”
In 2016, for the first time, more women were admitted to law school than men. In the courtroom, however, women remain a minority, particularly in the high-profile role of first chair at trial.
I began my career as a trial lawyer in 2001. I worked in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Los Angeles. I did not expect to be told in explicit terms that my gender would play a significant role in how I could defend my clients. “There are things I can do that you can’t, and things you can do that I can’t” was the way one of the male supervising attorneys in my office put it.
Let’s start with the clothes.
At one trial, I took off my suit jacket at the counsel table as I reviewed my notes before the jury was seated. It was a sweltering day in Los Angeles, and the air-conditioning had yet to kick in. The judge, an older man with a mane of white hair, jabbed a finger in my direction and bellowed, “Are you stripping in my courtroom, Ms. Bazelon?” Heads swiveled, and I looked down at my sleeveless blouse, turning scarlet.
Social-science research has demonstrated that when female attorneys show emotions like indignation, impatience, or anger, jurors may see them as shrill, irrational, and unpleasant. The same emotions, when expressed by men, are interpreted as appropriate to the circumstances of a case.
When I got angry, I had to stifle that feeling. When my efforts failed, I feared having come across as strident—or, worse, as a bitch.
Over the past year, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen female trial lawyers from across the United States. Their experiences bear out these grim findings. Beth Wilkinson, a lawyer based in Washington, D.C., told me that the number of women who litigate “bet-the-company cases”—in which millions or even billions of dollars are at stake and a corporation’s ability to survive absent a win at trial is in doubt—is “abysmally low.”
Wilkinson enjoyed a formidable reputation at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a white-shoe firm where she was a partner, winning cases, bringing in new clients, and earning a high salary. But she told me she was “never in the inner circle. Big Law is a male-dominated place, and it is very hard for women to thrive in an institution built that way.”
The situation is worse for female litigators who are not white.
Kadisha Phelps is a 37-year-old associate at a Miami-based firm. She worked her way up to first chair in part by bringing in her own business: She’s built a cottage industry representing former NFL players who claim that they were scammed out of their earnings by unscrupulous financial advisers. Phelps, who is African American, describes herself as “a pit bull in a skirt.” But she told me that when she goes to court, she often has to bring one of her male partners along—even if he knows little about the case. “That older white man at the table carries some kind of credibility,” she explained. “It gives judges the assurance that it’s not just some little black girl out there on her own.”
In July 2017, Phelps got into a heated debate with a male trial judge about how many depositions she would be allowed in a case her firm valued at $2 million. Phelps had asked Douglas Broeker to join her in court to play the role of the silent white partner. When Phelps pressed her point, the judge turned to Broeker. “Maybe you should take a few minutes and walk out and try to calm your associate down,” he said.
The problem isn’t merely that women are outnumbered in the courtroom. It’s that men occupy the positions of power in staggering proportions.
Romany McNamara is a public defender in Alameda County’s Oakland office. In 2011, she had just started litigating felony trials. McNamara had a third case that day. The judge waited until the end of the calendar to call it. When the courtroom emptied and McNamara started to walk out, she says, the judge beckoned her to approach the bench. As she stood before him, he offered a lukewarm apology, emphasizing the importance he placed on running his courtroom efficiently. Then he leaned in and said softly, “Don’t do it again.” McNamara says the judge then struck her on the back of her hand, hard enough to leave a mark.
“I could see the outline of where he hit me in white before it turned bright pink,” she told me.
I tell my female students the truth: that their body and demeanor will be under relentless scrutiny from every corner of the courtroom. That they will have to pay close attention to what they wear and how they speak and move. That they will have to find a way to metabolize these realities, because adhering to biased expectations and letting slights roll off their back may be the most effective way to advance the interests of their clients in courtrooms that so faithfully reflect the sexism of our society.
Sometimes I worry that I am part of the problem, that I am holding my students back by using valuable class time to pass on the same unfair rules that were passed on to me. And then we go to court.
Story by the Atlantic >
In Memory Amy Meselson, lawyer who defended young immigrants from deportation, dies at 46
In 2006, an East Harlem high school’s upset victory in a New York City-wide robot-building contest proved to be bittersweet for Amadou Ly, a member of the winning team.
Not only was Mr. Ly prevented from boarding a plane to Atlanta for the national finals with the rest of his team, because he lacked government identification; he was also facing deportation as an illegal immigrant.
In 2004, when a car he was riding in got into an accident, the police reported him to the immigration authorities. But that encounter, after a series of frustrating court appearances, ultimately delivered him, to his good fortune, to Amy Meselson, a Legal Aid Society lawyer in New York.
Ms. Meselson had dedicated her career to defending hundreds of vulnerable immigrants from deportation and helping them navigate the gaps between the child welfare and national security bureaucracies.
Ms. Meselson helped bring Mr. Ly’s plight to public attention, namely providing information for a front-page profile in The New York Times. The article produced an outpouring of legal, public and political support.
Federal officials were persuaded to drop the deportation proceedings and grant Mr. Ly a foreign student visa. He graduated from Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, became a citizen, embarked on an acting career and moved to Hollywood.
Ms. Meselson, who had struggled with depression since she was a teenager, committed suicide on July 22 at her home in Manhattan, her mother, Sarah Meselson, said. She was 46.
Mr. Ly, now 30, said in a recorded tribute that he sent to Ms. Meselson’s family: “I was able to stay in this country, I was able to live my dream and grow up and feed my family and help out others because she helped me and she did it with open arms. She was my hero.”
Ms. Meselson worked in the immigration law unit of the Legal Aid Society in New York from 2002 until 2016, focusing on unaccompanied migrant children. She had recently become the managing attorney of the Immigrant Justice Corps, a volunteer program to provide free counsel.
Chief Judge Robert Katzmann, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, who was instrumental in founding the Immigrant Justice Corps, described Ms. Meselson in an email as “a life saver and life giver.”
“What Amy did was to give hope to immigrants and their families, to make it possible for dreams for a better life to be realized, for despair to be transformed into hope,” Judge Katzmann said.
Besides dealing with depression, she had recently been given a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder and extreme anxiety — all aggravated when she traveled to Greece two years ago to volunteer at a camp for Syrian refugees, Sarah Meselson said at a memorial service.
At the service, she said she wanted to recount her daughter’s maladies for two reasons.
“One,” she said, “is to emphasize what everyone already knows — that it is not always possible to comprehend the level of suffering that others may be experiencing, especially when they appear to be successful and to excel to the extent that Amy did.
“The other,” she added, “is to applaud my daughter for all that she accomplished despite her mental illness.”
Story by NY Times >
Podcast of the Week Racism and corruption in child protective courts
When we think about the criminal justice system, we don’t usually think of Child Protective Services (CPS), but the agency’s impact on communities of color and the poor is enormous. One case in Texas caught national attention: a seemingly compassionate white couple, the Harts, adopted African-American children taken from their mother by a judge in Texas accused of corruption and racism. The couple then drove their car off a cliff, with the children inside, a deadly act suspected to be intentional.
Fellowship Opportunity California ChangeLawyers offering year-long and summer fellowships
Legal Fellowship grants are awarded to legal aid organizations to cover the cost of hiring law students or recent graduates from diverse backgrounds. This is a double impact investment. We support organizations on the front lines of social justice while at the same time creating jobs for diverse lawyers.
Application closes on August 21. Apply >
Job Opportunity National Center for Youth Law hiring Youth Justice Initiative attorney
The California Youth Justice Initiative seeks to transform California’s juvenile justice system into a national model in which most youth in conflict with the law are diverted away from the system to community-based services, and all youth in the system receive developmentally appropriate treatment and rehabilitative services to improve life outcomes, community health and safety.
Apply here >
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 >