#ChangeLawyers Meet the two lawyers helping AOC reform Washington
One is the daughter of an immigrant from Nigeria who wanted to understand the causes of her mom’s plight, starting a search that would lead her to Spelman, Oxford, Harvard, Georgetown, the State Department and, eventually, the halls of Congress.
The other was raised by a single mother in trailer parks and public housing in eastern Tennessee, becoming an avowed foe of the ultrawealthy whose Twitter handle reads: “Every Billionaire Is A Policy Failure."
The two have landed the two policy jobs with first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who received about 5,500 job applications for her office — a record, according to experts.
Ariel Eckblad, 31, the congresswoman’s legislative director; and Dan Riffle, 37, a legislative assistant, will help steer Ocasio-Cortez as one of the most high-profile members of Congress.
They will help shape how Ocasio-Cortez works as an activist hoping to refashion the Democratic Party, while she also tries to serve as a more typical member building coalitions and moving legislation.
Ocasio-Cortez’s team made its first high-profile mistake late last week, as staffers accidentally released and then retracted a fact sheet about the Green New Deal that had won the support of most of the party’s 2020 presidential candidates and more than 60 House Democrats.
Many freshman lawmakers avoid the national spotlight, and it is very rare for their staffers to speak out. But just as Ocasio-Cortez is blasting away some of the conventions of politics, so is her team.
In an interview in Ocasio-Cortez’s office earlier this month, Riffle, a former pot activist, said: “I remember getting to the Hill thinking, ‘The staffers here are going to mostly be activists and idealists.’ Then I got here, and I found out that’s not true at all. These are careerists. These are people who grew up on the Upper West Side and went to Ivy League schools.”
“I don’t mean to paint too broad a brush. But these are people who don’t think big and aren’t here to change the world. They’re here because it’s a good, safe, stable job, and this is a good platform to get to K Street. Which is what the vast majority of Democratic Hill staffers do.”
He added: “They only conceive of the world as it is, and work within that frame. They don’t think, ‘Here’s the system; it sucks and we should burn it down.’ ”
Read the story on Washington Post >
More of This LA will tear down dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail and build a mental health hospital
Los Angeles County supervisors narrowly approved a plan Tuesday to tear down the dungeon-like Men’s Central Jail downtown and build at least one mental health treatment facility in its place.
The new plan modifies a $2.2-billion proposal that would have created the Consolidated Correctional Treatment Facility, which was slated to house 3,885 “inmate patients” in a rehabilitation-focused center in the footprint of the Central Jail, which was built in 1963.
Under a key provision approved Tuesday, the Department of Health Services would oversee the new facility, rather than the Sheriff’s Department, which currently manages all jail operations. The new space, called the Mental Health Treatment Center, would be staffed by the Department of Mental Health, with a limited number of deputies providing security.
The county would also consider building a series of smaller mental health centers instead of a single, large hospital. The plan marks a signature shift in philosophy in housing inmates and a recognition of the changing nature of the jail population: Inmates who are medically or mentally ill now make up an estimated 70% of people held in the county jail system.
“Sheriff’s deputies will never receive enough training to become mental health professionals, nor should they,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who coauthored the motion outlining the plan with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “Jailers armed with Tasers and pepper spray are inherently detrimental to creating the safe environment necessary for mental health care.”
Hahn said the ultimate goal is to divert inmates to community-based care wherever possible.
Read the story on LA Times >
Even More of This An interview with formerly imprisoned activist Eddy Zheng
Eddy Zheng, a community educator in some of America’s hardest-to-reach communities, got his own education in unlikely places. At age 12, he emigrated to Oakland, California, from China with his family, and was quickly plunged into poverty, cultural alienation and social dislocation. At 16, he was convicted as an adult for armed robbery and kidnapping, and faced a life sentence. During the two decades he ultimately spent in California’s San Quentin prison, Zheng developed a political consciousness forged through radical thinkers and writers of color – from historical pioneers such as Frederick Douglass to his mentor, Japanese American revolutionary Yuri Kochiyama. It was a grassroots education that, in his words, “saved my life”.
In prison, Zheng sought to share this knowledge. He attempted, with other inmates, to launch Asian American literature and ethnic studies programs. But his efforts to redevelop prison schooling met with backlash from authorities and eventually landed him and his fellow activists in solitary confinement, which set off a dramatic public campaign – led by Asian American inmates and allies on the outside – to defend the free expression rights of incarcerated Asian Americans. The campaign led to the founding of the Asian Prisoner Support Committee, a volunteer-run organization that supports Asian and Pacific Islander inmates and now runs Roots, a pioneering ethnic studies curriculum centered on immigration history, intergenerational trauma and cross-cultural dialogue.
Upon his release, Zheng was confined again, almost immediately, as a consequence of his federal conviction – this time as an immigration detainee. While he was in prison, Congress had radically expanded the types of crimes that could be used as grounds for deportation, and had made these changes to the law retroactive. So he fought another court battle, to secure his right to remain in the United States, which reinforced his commitment to criminal justice activism. In 2015, he was granted a pardon, and two years later he became a naturalized US citizen.
As a grassroots activist and youth organizer, Zheng is focused on the impacts of criminalization and immigration enforcement on Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities. He works across racial and ethnic lines to bring Asian diaspora and immigrant experience into a dialogue on mass incarceration that is often devoid of such voices. He also advocates for solidarity between Asian Americans and African Americans, maintaining that a unified resistance is critical in the struggle against structural racism and pointing to the role played by the prison system and police brutality in aggravating tensions between minority groups. It is crucial, he says, for API communities to reach out to black communities to ask: “How can we be a better ally to you, so we can create more solidarity when we come together to fight for criminal justice and comprehensive immigration reform?”
When did you begin to come into political consciousness and what inspired your interest in education?
It was through the prison system that I actually was able to learn how to read and write and think critically. But I was just learning about everybody else’s history – about American history, European history and Latin [American] history. Nobody really learns about Asian American history or south-east Asian history. So I made a proposal to one of the coordinators at the college program. I said: “Hey, can we have some elective courses on Asian American literature and studies?” [Myself and several inmates] put it in the form of a proposal. Then we added on other demands, like getting the administration to create a student body and a faculty body, so the students could have an opportunity to express what they wanted to learn and the faculty could decide what to teach. Four people signed the proposal, three Asian Americans and a Jewish brother. And one by one, they made up different reasons to lock us up.
They put the three Asians in solitary. During the investigation, they took all our paperwork, all the books that we were reading, and combed through everything that we wrote. I ended up spending 11 months in solitary. We filed a civil rights lawsuit against them, and eventually they settled the case. It was during that process that my peer organization started, the Asian Prisoner Support Committee [co-founded with Viet Mike Ngo and Rico Riemedio – who with Zheng were known as the “San Quentin Three”]. The Asian American community had started a movement in the Bay Area to support me and my friends, and it was during that time that I was able to really see how movement-building works, and how powerful the movement could be.
Read the interview on the Guardian
Less of This They wanted to be immigration judges. But not under Trump.
Rebecca Jamil was sitting in a nondescript hotel ballroom in suburban Virginia when she realized that her dream job — being an immigration judge — was no longer tenable. It was June 11, 2018, and then–attorney general Jeff Sessions, her boss, was speaking to a room packed with immigration judges, running through his list of usual complaints over what was, in his estimation, a broken asylum system.
Toward the end of the speech, Sessions let slip some big news: He had decided whether domestic abuse and gang victims could be granted asylum in the US. Advocates, attorneys, and judges had been waiting months to see what Sessions, who in his role as attorney general had the power to review cases, would do. After all, it would determine the fate of thousands of asylum-seekers, many fleeing dangerous situations in Central America.
Sessions didn’t reveal to the room the details of his ruling but Jamil, based in San Francisco since she was appointed in 2016, learned later that day that the attorney general had decided to dramatically restrict asylum protections for domestic abuse victims.
“I’d seen the faces of these families,” the 43-year-old judge said. “They weren’t abstractions to me.”
Jamil, a mother of two young daughters, had been shaken by the images and sounds that came as a result of the Trump administration’s policy to separate families at the border. As a judge who oversaw primarily cases of women and children fleeing abuse and dangers abroad, this was the last straw.
Soon after, she stepped down from the court.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she told friends. “I felt that I couldn’t be ‘Rebecca Jamil, representative of the attorney general’ while these things were going on.”
In many ways, her resignation underscores the tenuous position of immigration judges, who are overseen by the attorney general and susceptible to the shifting winds of each administration. To avoid potential conflicts, the union that represents the judges has long called for its court to be an independent body, separate from the Department of Justice.
The Trump administration has undertaken a monumental overhaul of the way immigration judges, which total around 400 across the country, work: placing quotas on the number of cases they should complete every year, ending their ability to indefinitely suspend certain cases, restricting when asylum can be granted, and pouring thousands of previously closed cases back into court dockets.
In the meantime, the case backlog has jumped to more than 800,000 under the administration and wait times have continued to skyrocket to hundreds of days.
The quotas in particular have made judges feel as if they were cogs in a deportation machine, as opposed to neutral arbiters given time to thoughtfully analyze the merits of each case.
“The job has become exceedingly more difficult as the court has veered even farther away from being administered as a court rather than a law enforcement bureaucracy,” said Ashley Tabaddor, an immigration judge who heads the National Association of Immigration Judges, a union representing around 350 judges.
And it’s not just Jamil who has departed because of the massive changes to the court undertaken by the Trump administration, according to observers within the Department of Justice and those on the outside. While some, like Jamil, have resigned, others have retired early in large part because of the policies instituted under Trump, they said.
For those remaining at the immigration court, the mood is bleak.
Read the story on Buzzfeed News
Less of This Too Police unions are trying to kill a new transparency law in California
Police unions across California are lobbying cities and suing local governments in a last-ditch effort to prevent the release of police misconduct records under a new law that promises greater transparency.
Senate Bill 1421, which went into effect on Jan. 1, requires law enforcement agencies to make public on request the investigative records of officer-involved shootings and uses of force resulting in great bodily harm. The law also requires disclosure of cases of sustained sexual misconduct and dishonesty.
Previously, these records were strictly confidential. Civil rights groups like the ACLU of California and news organizations including the California News Publisher Association support the new law as an accountability measure. Public defenders also favor the new rules.
“It’s a game changer,” said Brendon Woods, Alameda County’s chief public defender. “All police agencies should support this legislation and comply because it doesn’t require them to disclose much. It’s items they should want to disclose, information that the public has a right to know.”
After the law went into effect, Woods’s office filed records requests with every police agency in Alameda County, as have other public defenders in their respective jurisdictions. Information about officer-involved shootings and the misconduct history of officers could be used to defend poor clients who are arrested by officers with a history of dishonesty or other wrongdoing. Before SB 1421, the only way defense attorneys could obtain this kind of information was through a Pitchess motion, a request in which a judge would review an officer’s personnel file in secret and determine whether any of its contents could be handed to the defense. But even then, the material would usually still be sealed from the broader public.
Read the story on the Appeal >
Speaking Of… The “Joe Arpaio of California” keeps getting elected because nobody challenges him
When Barbara Doss went to claim her son’s body last June, his face was covered in bruises. “The left side of his skull was busted open,” she said, with “staples holding it together.” He had multiple abrasions on his lips and dark bruises on his cheeks.
Her son, Dujuan Armstrong, died soon after reporting to serve the weekend at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California. More than seven months later, Doss still did not know how her son died, who was at fault, or who, if anyone, would be held accountable. So in January she traveled from Oakland to Sacramento to confront Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern, whose office runs Santa Rita, and who was due in the state capital to preside over a lottery commission meeting.
“I don’t have any answers. I need answers,” she pleaded. “I need to ease my mind.”
Her voice was assured but uneven as she fought back tears. “My son was 23 years old,” she told Ahern. “He left behind a whole family and friends. Not just his mother. Everybody. He has children, understand me?”
Armstrong’s death was not an isolated incident in Alameda County. Three days after he died, another man died while alone in his maximum security cell. According to the sheriff’s office’s own data, 80 people have died in Ahern’s custody since he took office in 2007, a number that includes 18 suicides and 14 deaths ruled accidental. Most of the deaths were natural, Ahern pointed out, and there have been fewer in recent years. Yet between 2015 and 2018, Alameda County paid $4.6 million to resolve lawsuits arising out of five in-custody deaths.
Doss demanded her son’s personal belongings and his autopsy report. She also asked to see body camera footage that, according to officials, shows Armstrong acting “agitated, aggressive, and uncooperative” and saying he was under the influence of cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and prescription pills, before he was restrained and fell to the ground and stopped breathing. She wanted to know if the deputies involved were still on the job.
Ahern confirmed that the deputies were still working but said no other information could be released, citing an ongoing investigation by the district attorney. (A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office declined to comment further, but told The Appeal that more information would be shared when the investigation is complete.)
Before Ahern walked away, Doss asked him a different question, one that more and more people in Alameda County have been asking about the sheriff, who was recently elected to his fourth term: “Why are you the only person on the ballot?” she asked. “That’s what I want to know.”
Read the story on the Appeal
Read This Thread
Carl Takei is Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU Trone Center for Justice & Equality.
Nominate someone to serve on the Judicial Council
The Judicial Council is currently soliciting nominations to fill upcoming vacancies on a number of the Judicial Council’s Advisory Body Nominations. The deadline for submitting a nomination is March 29, 2019.
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Nominate yourself for a California Board or Commission
Governor Gavin Newsom has expressed a commitment to having his administration reflect the diversity of the great state of California. His team has created a portal to increase the number of people from underrepresented backgrounds applying for paid positions in the administration and for California Boards and Commissions.
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Sponsor/Host LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers
Regrettably, LGBTQ+ individuals who are fleeing persecution, violence, and discrimination in their countries of origin present themselves at the United States border, only to be detained indefinitely in traumatizing, neglectful conditions for the duration of their asylum proceedings.
The Santa Fe Dreamers Project, in conjunction with Diversidad Sin Fronteras, Freedom for Immigrants, and other immigration and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups are actively seeking and training individuals willing to act as sponsors, hosts and members of Community Support Networks these asylum-seekers. Sponsors and hosts help by providing free housing and support to asylum seekers who identify as LGBTQ+.
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California Women Lawyers Scholarship
The scholarship is awarded to a law student committed to issues affecting women and children
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Law School Admissions Conference at UCLA
La Raza Law Students Association & For People of Color, Inc.
This event will provide attendees with a comprehensive overview of the law school application process. Current law students and administrators will provide advice on how best to navigate the law school application process. Continental breakfast and lunch will be provided.
RSVP: Registration is required. This event is free and open to the public.
When: Saturday, March 2, 2019, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm
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Work for Community Water Center
With support from California ChangeLawyers, CWC seeks a full-time, year-long Legal Fellow to provide legal assistance to communities without safe water and local water board members; create and update resources for community members and legal practitioners regarding drinking water governance and advocacy; and provide legal and advocacy support for other CWC programs as needed.
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Work for Immigrant Justice Network
Immigrant Justice Network is looking for someone to help seed and grow the network to increase our impact. The Coordinator will be responsible for planning, implementing, and coordinating IJN activities including coordinating network members, technical assistance requests, supporting network activities, and coordinating strategic communications and public education efforts.
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Work for Legal Services for Children
LSC seeks an attorney to represent children in immigration proceedings. Clients will be living in the community in the Bay Area or in the Federal Foster Care program in Solano county. Clients are primarily monolingual Spanish speakers. We welcome applicants at all levels and provide opportunities for training and leadership.
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