Essay of the Week A lawyer who gave voice to the unheard
The following editorial was written by Chris Punongbayan, Executive Director of California ChangeLawyers, in memory of Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected Public Defender for more than 15 years who unexpectedly passed away on Friday, February 22, 2019.
I first moved to San Francisco in 2004 as a newly-minted lawyer and was simply in awe of the fact that there was a person who looked like me -- a person of color -- Jeff Adachi, in a position of power and influence as head of the Public Defender’s office. Over the years, I had the privilege of meeting Jeff in person at various events. He was as kind a man as he was a fierce advocate.
Jeff’s life inspires me. He showed me that anyone can be a changemaker. Unlike so many lawyers who may come from elite backgrounds, Jeff didn’t. During World War II, his family was interned at Japanese American camps. He worked his way through community college in Sacramento before transferring to UC Berkeley and then earning his law degree at UC Hastings.
Jeff was a true social justice lawyer. Time after time, he went to bat for the most vilified members of the community, and he won. In 2017, in the throes of the national debate over immigration, Jeff’s team successfully defended an undocumented immigrant blamed for the death of a white Bay Area woman. Jeff also advocated for the creation of a special immigration team within the Public Defender’s office, only the third of its kind in the country, to safeguard defendants against deportation. He was a criminal justice reformer and spoke out against cash bail and police misconduct.
Jeff was also a cultural activist. He understood that social change happens by reaching hearts and minds. Jeff’s creative outlet was making films, many of which focused on racial inequities in America. I often thought to myself, “Is there anything this person can’t do?”
Jeff’s life and achievements have left behind a legacy that will inspire the next generation of social justice lawyers. Lesson number 1, show up. Lesson number 2, never give up. Lesson 3, do it with community. Thank you, Jeff, for showing us what it means to be a true ChangeLawyer. You made the world a better place. Your commitment to social justice for all will never be forgotten.
Read the story on ChangeLawyers Blog >
#ChangeLawyer This 27 year old is the youngest ever district judge in Pennsylvania
Democrats across the nation sent a message to President Donald Trump and his administration in November, winning historic state legislative seats and governorships. Many of them, frustrated with Trump’s policies, decided to run for office in an attempt to energize a disjointed and fractious Democratic Party.
Hanif Johnson is one of those Democrats.
Johnson won the seat in the general election for the Dauphin County Magisterial District in Pennsylvania on Election Day last year, becoming the youngest Magisterial District Judge in the state at 27 years old. The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native began his term in January and will preside over cases within the predominately black state capital.
“When you sit back, and you see Donald Trump become president, and you hear about all of these things we are being affected by, it seems like everything happens through the court system,” Johnson told HuffPost, explaining why he decided to run for the seat. “Everybody always says, well, we complain about stuff, but we never get up and do anything. This is me getting up and doing something.”
Johnson is no stranger to the other side of the law. He has been to jail three times and ran through the streets as a teenager before he discovered his passion: track and field. “One day, I decided this ain’t the way I want to live my life, so I started running track. Track actually saved my life,” Johnson said, later becoming a state champion. Johnson currently coaches track and field at Harrisburg High School.
As a student at Penn State University, Johnson ran afoul of the law again, this time as a member of his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi. While he was president of the fraternity, he was charged in connection with hazing allegations. “I went to jail for two weeks, then I went to trial. Thank God I won,” Johnson recalled. “That was one of the happiest days; I just felt like my life was going to be taken from me.”
“It’s crazy because I know how it feels sitting across from that judge and that jury when you’re innocent,” he said.
Read the story on HuffPo >
#ChangeLawyer, Part II The disability rights activist lawyer you never heard of
Yesterday, February 24th, the disability rights advocate community lost one of its mightiest members, Carrie Ann Lucas. Lucas was a nationally known disability rights attorney and a mother of four children, each of whom are adopted and living with disabilities. She was only 47 years old.
Her death was announced by family and friends on her Facebook page: “[Lucas] died after an arbitrary denial from an insurance company caused a plethora of health problems, exacerbating her disabilities and eventually leading to her premature death.”
Lucas lived with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which slowly progressed and she became reliant on a power wheelchair and a ventilator during the last few years of her life. She also lived with type 1 diabetes, as well as hearing and vision difficulties.
Lucas’ death was ultimately a result of her insurance company, UnitedHealthCare, refusing to pay for one specific inhaled antibiotic. She caught a bad case of the cold in January of 2018 but was denied access to proper treatment. As a result, she had to take a less effective drug, and she had a set of adverse reactions to this drug. This led to spiraling health issues, including the loss of speech, and she had numerous stays in the intensive care unit during the past year. The healthcare company refused to pay for the needed drug allegedly to save $2,000.
If you haven’t heard of Lucas and her work, then you are unfortunately not alone.
During this time of society when it has become acceptable to discuss topics that were once considered taboo, such as gay rights and reproductive rights, discussions surrounding disability rights issues are still kept in secrecy. Discussing disability issues often makes the mainstream population uncomfortable. It’s not as “sexy” as equal marriage rights or climate change.
When disability is represented in media, it is mostly through the lenses of pity or inspiration—never through a human rights perspective. Most of the featured stories are about someone overcoming the odds despite having a disability. There is a toxic tendency of the struggles and injustices of people with disabilities being eradicated from the mainstream social justice and civil rights movements.
Carrie Ann Lucas should be remembered and honored because of all the activism and changes she achieved despite societal and systematic discrimination that attempted to impede her every step of the way.
Lucas started her career as a teacher before earning her master's in divinity to pursue a life as a pastor. Soon after, she faced unsound discrimination based on her disabilities when trying to adopt a child and this motivated her to become a lawyer. She founded Disabled Parents Rights, a nonprofit that’s “dedicated to combating discrimination that impacts parenting for parents with disabilities. [Disability Parents Rights] provides direct representation, advocacy, and technical assistance to disabled parents, as well as their advocates and attorneys.”
Read the story on Forbes
More of This This Haitian immigrant lawyer is curbing Presidential abuses without anyone noticing
A few hours before President Donald Trump went into the Rose Garden last Friday to announce his intent to declare a national emergency so he could build his long-promised border wall, Karl Racine sent a shot across the bow: If Trump was serious about this, he was in for a fight.
“We will not hesitate to use our legal authority to defend the rule of law,” the 56-year-old attorney general of Washington, D.C., said in a terse statement.
It’s a posture that has become almost routine for Racine, who as co-chair of the national Democratic Attorneys General Association is playing a little-noticed but hugely influential role in fighting the Trump administration at the polls, in the courts and in the news media.
The past few years have been uncommonly high profile for the American legal system. The president finds himself in both personal and professional legal jeopardy. Several of his former aides and advisers have been criminally indicted. The administration’s every move is subject to major lawsuits.
But while the public has been mesmerized by Trump’s legal troubles, Racine has been quietly building out Democrats’ ability to check his administration at the state level. Without much notice, he’s quietly emerged as perhaps the single most important player in restoring Democratic clout in America’s legal system.
As D.C. attorney general, Racine is leading the ongoing emoluments suit against the president over foreign governments’ allegedly corrupt patronage of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington, along with Maryland AG Brian Frosh. As co-chair of DAGA, he has helped coordinate the legal and political strategies behind the lawsuits suing the Trump administration over issues including the separation of children and parents at the Mexican border, upholding the Affordable Care Act and protecting DACA recipients. And more substantial yet, Racine was the architect of one of the least-discussed but most far-reaching results of November’s elections: Democrats winning a majority of the nation’s attorney general positions—an electoral success with far-reaching implications for workers’ rights, immigration, civil rights, consumer protections and the ability to erect a judicial wall against the Trump administration.
All of that has put Racine on a trajectory for … well, what exactly? Washington, D.C., doesn’t have senators or a voting member of Congress. He could return to private practice, but his passion for public service and ambition to effect lasting change makes the public arena more enticing, which has led some friends and colleagues to speculate that he could be putting himself in line to take a senior post at the Department of Justice if a Democrat retakes the White House in 2020—perhaps solicitor general or deputy AG, or even, as he suggested to POLITICO, attorney general.
To a large extent, though, such speculation is beside the point: Without having any of those positions, Racine has already helped reshape the American legal system. Three days after he threatened legal action against Trump’s declaration of a national emergency, 16 states sued the president in federal court. Three of those states—Colorado, Michigan and Nevada—flipped from Republican to Democratic AGs under Racine’s watch.
But you won’t hear any bragging from Racine: “I was raised, educated and coached to not highlight my role in team efforts.”
Read the story on Politico
Even More of This San Francisco DA will wipe out pot cases going back to 1975
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced Monday that his office will wipe out more than 9,000 marijuana-related convictions in an unprecedented step following California’s cannabis legalization more than two years ago.
Gascón last year teamed up with Code for America — a nonprofit focused on using open-source technology to improve government — to find every marijuana case eligible for expungement or resentencing under Proposition 64. San Francisco will be the first city in the country to clear all eligible pot convictions.
On Monday, the district attorney’s office said it has identified 9,362 eligible cases dating back to 1975. Gascón will present the cases to a judge in the coming weeks for expungement.
Numerous studies show that marijuana convictions disproportionately affect the poor and people of color, and can limit access to federal housing and loans. A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union found that African Americans in San Francisco were more than four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as white people.
Before Gascón announced plans to wipe out eligible marijuana cases, only 23 people had come forward to petition to have their cases reclassified or expunged. People with prior convictions needed to hire an attorney, and the process was complicated and time-consuming, Gascón said.
“It’s incumbent that we, as law enforcement leaders, continue to evolve how we advance fairness and public safety in our respective communities,” Gascón said. “I hope that our success with Code for America can act as a catalyst for other leaders looking to engage in similar innovative and out-of-the-box methods to reform and rethink what our criminal justice system looks like.”
Read the story on SF Chronicle >
Perspective Justice Kavanaugh has begun to show how he really feels about reproductive rights
The following editorial was written by Bill Blum, a Los Angeles lawyer and former state administrative law judge.
On September 4, at the outset of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brett Kavanaugh pledged that if he became the 114th Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, he would serve as a fair decider of the law.
“A good judge must be an umpire—a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy,” Kavanaugh told the committee. “I don’t decide cases based on personal or policy preferences. I am not a pro-plaintiff or pro-defendant judge.”
Even before Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in late September that Kavanaugh had tried to rape her in 1982, when he was a seventeen-year-old high school student, Kavanaugh’s critics weren’t buying the umpire metaphor. They believed that Kavanaugh, if confirmed, would operate as a conservative judicial activist bent on moving the high tribunal hard to the right. Women’s groups, in particular, feared that Kavanaugh would provide a fifth and decisive vote to gut, and eventually overturn, Roe v. Wade.
It hasn’t taken Kavanaugh long to reveal his true ideological colors. He took his seat as an Associate Justice in October, and the big reveal came on February 7. That’s when the court voted 5-4 in the case of June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee to “stay” (i.e., block) a draconian Louisiana abortion law from taking effect.
Enacted in 2014, the Louisiana law would require that state’s abortion doctors to have active admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of any clinic where they provide abortion services. Currently, there are only three abortion clinics in Louisiana. Just four doctors staff the clinics, and only one has the requisite admitting credentials. If allowed to take effect, abortion-rights proponents charge, the law would put at least one and possibly two of the clinics out of business due to the location of licensed hospitals, especially in rural areas.
On its face, the Louisiana statute is clearly unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, in which the court struck down a nearly identical Texas law that required physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. By a 5-3 margin reached after the death of Antonin Scalia, the court held that the Texas law placed an undue burden on women seeking abortion access in violation of both Roe and the court’s 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which affirmed Roe’s validity.
Although a federal district court judge declared the Louisiana law unconstitutional, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the judge last year in a thinly veiled challenge to the Whole Woman’s Health decision. The circuit’s ruling allowed the statute to be implemented as the state’s abortion providers petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case on its merits.
Unwilling to wait months for the Supreme Court to decide whether to grant their petition, the providers asked the court in late January to stay the Fifth Circuit’s decision for the duration of the appeals process.
Under the Supreme Court’s rules, it takes five votes to stay a lower-court action. But with Chief Justice Roberts joining the court’s four liberal members, the court granted the requested stay in a brief unsigned order.
Kavanaugh, along with Justices Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch, dissented from the stay. Only Kavanaugh, however, wrote a separate signed opinion, setting forth his opposition.
Kavanaugh’s reasoning, according to Slate magazine’s legal-affairs columnist Mark Joseph Stern, is nothing less than “a declaration of war on Roe v. Wade.” While Kavanaugh’s dissent acknowledges that Whole Woman’s Health is controlling precedent, he nonetheless asserts that the abortion doctors who lack current hospital admitting privileges should be required to prove they cannot obtain those privileges.
Read the story on The Progressive
A Message to Future Lawyers