by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
by California ChangeLawyers
News Brief is the newsletter for vigilant optimist. A curated collection of social justice stories, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday night. Thanks for reading!
#ChangeLawyers The first ever undocumented immigrant to pass the bar exam in California just became a US Citizen
The undocumented law graduate who fought for nearly five years to be allowed to practice in California has a new piece of paper to display alongside his Juris Doctor diploma: A certificate of U.S. citizenship.
Sergio Garcia was sworn in as a U.S. citizen last month—25 years after arriving in the country from his native Mexico with his family, and five years after becoming the first undocumented immigrant admitted to the bar since 2008. Attaining citizenship marks the end of a long, bureaucratic journey for Garcia, who now has a thriving solo personal injury practice in Chico, California. His dogged pursuit of a legal career opened doors for other undocumented lawyers in California and other states.
“It felt great,” Garcia said of the citizenship ceremony, which was held June 20 at a Sacramento-area Air Force base. “It was this weight off my shoulders that was 25 years in the making. It felt great to have that over with. At the same time, it was a little bittersweet considering everything that’s going on right now with the border and detention camps.”
Garcia grew up in poverty, and said he only later understood why adults laughed when he shared his childhood ambition to be a lawyer. They thought it was an impossibility given his undocumented status and lack of financial resources, he recalled. (He first applied for legal status in 1994.)
Garcia persevered, graduating from Butte College with several associate’s degrees and obtaining a paralegal certificate from California State University, Chico. After that, he worked days and attended evening classes at Cal Northern School of Law—a state accredited campus in Chico. At times he took only one or two classes because he couldn’t afford a heavier course load, he said. He graduated in 2009 at age 32 and passed the bar exam on the first try.
But more hurdles awaited. State law prevented Garcia, and all undocumented immigrants, from joining the bar after a citizenship question was added to the character and fitness review in 2008. Garcia sued, and eventually lobbied state lawmakers to allow undocumented people to obtain state licenses. The law passed in 2014, and Garcia was sworn into the bar the following day.
Read the story on The Recorder
#BlackLivesLawyer Meet the civil rights lawyer on legal crusade against police brutality
Five years ago, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in St.Louis, I asked Crump why he became a lawyer. It was the day of Michael Brown Jr.’s memorial service. Thousands of people had gathered in the street outside, their faces contorted by grief and rage, tears streaming down their cheeks, chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “No Justice, No Peace.” He told me about growing up in a little North Carolina town called Lumberton, about his mother working in the tobacco fields, about watching one of his uncles get beat up by a policeman for the crime of getting into a white college: “I guess he wanted to let him know that no matter where he went, he was always going to be black.”
Some of his stories seemed honed through retelling to an unbelievable perfection, like parables from the Bible, and a phrase he often used to introduce them — “I’ll never forget” — was tinged with the reverence of an oath. He’d never forget his great-grandmother, who raised at least a dozen grandchildren while their parents worked, some not even family. If you said you were too sick to go to school, she’d hold up a switch and say, “Are you gonna die? No? Then you can go to school.” His mother taught him about unions and working-class solidarity. When he won first prize in an essay contest, and her supervisor at the Converse factory wouldn’t let her take the day off to go to the ceremony, she said, “I don’t care what you do. I’m gonna be there to support my son.” When she got back, he fired her. So she cleaned hotel rooms and worked in the tobacco fields. And he was born in 1969 — this wasn’t ancient days.
Many of his stories centered on the railroad tracks that ran through the middle of Lumberton. The white people lived north of them, the black people on the south side. The only hospital was on the north side, the only library was on the north side. But when he was going into fifth grade, his mother told him the white kids and the black kids were going to start going to school together because of a lawyer named Thurgood Marshall and a case called Brown v. Board of Education. September came and the school bus took them across the tracks. “And I’ll never forget,” he said, “there was this little white girl who had a hundred-dollar bill. My mother would have had to work a whole week — maybe two weeks — to get a hundred-dollar bill. I was like, ‘Who gave you that?’ She’s like, ‘My parents gave it to me, and I can do what I want with it!’ ”
You had to cross the tracks to play on Lumberton’s youth football team too, so Crump’s uncle Jesse — the only person he knew who had a car — used to drive him and his friends to practice, six or seven of them packed in like beans in a jar. Then the city issued a rule that all football players had to have a phone at home. “That pretty much ruled out most of the black kids,” Crump said. But Uncle Jesse had a phone, and he told the recreation lady, “These are my boys, call me.” She said, “Jesse, you trying to tell me that all of these are your children?” “Yes, they’re all my boys,” he said again, trying avoid a direct lie. “No way are all of these your biological sons,” she insisted, and Uncle Jesse got stubborn. “Yes, they are,” he said.
“They’re all my boys.” So they all got to play football that year.
By the time he left that town, at 13, Crump knew what he wanted to do. He got his law degree from Florida State University in 1995 and started a two-man firm in Tallahassee with a classmate, Daryl Parks, splitting time between bread-and-butter work like personal-injury cases and “trumped-up charges against black people.”
Crump and Parks won some impressive settlements — $10 million for a man whose face was burned off by a gas explosion, $13 million for the family of a mother and child who were killed in a plane crash, $5 million for the family of a preacher who was killed by a drunk driver. Crump had a way of selling a vision that was more like a political rainmaker than like another courtroom lawyer, a settlement counselor named Fernandez Anderson told me, giving the example of a difficult negotiation with an Avis executive who was nickel-and-diming them over the payout for a man who’d been paralyzed for life by an Avis car. “It was right before Christmas, and Ben does something only Ben can do — he appealed to the humanity of the guy. He said, ‘Don’t you want to go home and tell your son you did something good for Christmas?’ It had nothing to do with the law, nothing to do with facts, it was just one person talking to another person. And we walked out of there with the deal done.”
In the case that put him on the road to national fame, he sued the Florida state government over the death of a 14-year-old boy named Martin Lee Anderson in one of its “boot camps” for troubled teenagers and came away with $10 million. Even better, Florida shut down all its teen boot camps.
But seven guards had beaten Anderson for more than 30 minutes, then held him down and forced him to inhale ammonia until he suffocated. Still, the coroner said he died from a blood disorder. Without the protests and media uproar, Crump says, they’d be beating black kids in boot camps right now. And despite all that, the jury that sat in judgment of the guards a year later — an all-white jury — brought back a “not guilty” verdict. When it comes to the police-violence cases, Crump’s track record is not as impressive as he wants it to be. That’s not because he doesn’t win — he’s fought about 250 so far and won cash settlements in almost all of them. But the killing goes on. “I used to think that if we made a city pay $5 million or $10 million every time they shot black or brown people, they would stop doing it,” he says, “but as we’ve seen, the only way they’re going to stop doing it is if they go to jail.”
Read the story on NY Magazine
More of This Kids’ lemonade stand raising money for detained immigrant kids
Two Kansas siblings are turning a lemon of a national crisis into lemonade.
Ben Wilson and his 8-year-old brother, Carter, are raising money for immigrant children at Mexico border facilities.
“We are just selling lemonade to people for $1 each and all the money that would be made from it would go to kids at the border,” 10-year-old Ben Wilson told the Kansas City Star.
The sign at the Overland Park City boys’ stand reads: “Lemonade: All (proceeds) go to kids at border.”
John Wilson, the boys’ father, told the paper that the kids thought the lemonade stand would be a fun summer activity.
“We’ve made a lot of money from just working out here,” said Carter Wilson.
John Wilson said his sons were inspired into activism after watching news stories about the ongoing crisis.
“They thought they would want to do something to help,” he said. “So, my wife and I started looking online of things that we could try and do to just help what’s happening at the border during this time.”
Read the story on NY Daily News
Even More of This How criminal justice reform gave this man a second chance after 27 years in prison
Maurice Smith stood anxious and alone, as the crowd of graduates around him hugged and chatted a few feet away. He was cloaked in the same black gown and donned the same black cap, but that was about all that he and the rest of Goucher College’s Class of 2019 had in common.
When they were 19, they were starting college. When he was 19, he was starting a prison sentence for murder that would last 27 years, one month and seven days — longer than his fellow graduates had been alive.
“There are many roads to this moment,” said Mr. Smith, 47, as he held up the cellphone he had recently learned to use and snapped a picture of himself against a backdrop of squares and tassels. “They took theirs. I took mine. But we’re all here.”
Mr. Smith’s journey from inmate to college graduate has been cheered on by a bipartisan and ideologically diverse coalition that has pressed the case for criminal justice. The path he took was quietly extended in the last year to thousands of other prisoners across the country. Mr. Smith was able to complete his bachelor’s degree through the Goucher Prison Education Partnership while serving at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, using federal Pell grants offered through a pilot program called Second Chance Pell.
Started in 2016, the program doled out $35.6 million to educate 8,800 incarcerated students at 40 institutions in its first two years, and is one of the only Obama-era education initiatives that has survived the Trump administration.
Read the story on NY Times
Speaking of… Lawyers are suing Florida over “poll tax” law that makes former felons pay to vote
For people with felony convictions in Florida, the fight for voting rights wages on. The state is now facing four lawsuits over a newly enacted measure that critics say undermines one of the largest expansions of voting rights in recent decades and creates an unconstitutional “poll tax” for people previously disenfranchised due to felony records.
On Friday evening, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed SB 7066, a bill that includes a measure requiring Florida residents with felony records to pay all financial penalties connected to their sentence — or have these penalties excused by a judge or converted to community service hours — before they can have their voting rights restored.
The measure was passed by the Florida legislature at the beginning of May, following a contentious legislative session in which lawmakers debated how to implement Amendment 4, a popular 2018 ballot initiative that received 65 percent of the vote and restored voting rights to people “who have completed all terms of their sentence, including parole or probation,” except for those who were convicted of felony sexual offenses or murder.
Around 1.4 million Floridians were estimated to be eligible to regain voting rights under the amendment, which went into effect in January. But Republican legislators in the state argued that the law needed to be clarified, introducing measures that limited how many people would be able to immediately register to vote.
After two standalone bills on the matter came under scrutiny and attracted the ire of voting rights groups, lawmakers settled on SB 7066, a larger elections bill that was amended to include the financial obligations requirement.
Voting rights advocates say that requiring a person to pay all of their fines and fees before registering will deny voting rights to hundreds of thousands of Floridians with felony convictions — a group civil rights organizations are calling “returning citizens.” Estimates have suggested that more than half a million people will be affected by the new financial obligation-paying requirement, and many will need to wait years to finish payments before they can vote. Others may never be able to clear their debts, meaning that they will be permanently disenfranchised.
Critics say that the financial payment requirement is simply a modern day “poll tax”— a reference to the illegal practice of demanding voting fees that has historically been used to limit African Americans’ voting rights.
Read the story on Vox.com
Less of This How electronic monitoring is driving defendants into debt
On Oct. 12, 2018, Daehaun White walked free, or so he thought. A guard handed him shoelaces and the $19 that had been in his pocket at the time of his booking, along with a letter from his public defender. The lanky 19-year-old had been sitting for almost a month in St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution, a city jail known as the Workhouse, after being pulled over for driving some friends around in a stolen Chevy Cavalier. When the police charged him with tampering with a motor vehicle — driving a car without its owner’s consent — and held him overnight, he assumed he would be released by morning. He told the police that he hadn’t known that the Chevy, which a friend had lent him a few hours earlier, was stolen. He had no previous convictions. But the $1,500 he needed for the bond was far beyond what he or his family could afford. It wasn’t until his public defender, Erika Wurst, persuaded the judge to lower the amount to $500 cash, and a nonprofit fund, the Bail Project, paid it for him, that he was able to leave the notoriously grim jail. “Once they said I was getting released, I was so excited I stopped listening,” he told me recently. He would no longer have to drink water blackened with mold or share a cell with rats, mice and cockroaches. He did a round of victory pushups and gave away all of the snack cakes he had been saving from the cafeteria.
When he finally read Wurst’s letter, however, he realized there was a catch. Even though Wurst had argued against it, the judge, Nicole Colbert-Botchway, had ordered him to wear an ankle monitor that would track his location at every moment using GPS. For as long as he would wear it, he would be required to pay $10 a day to a private company, Eastern Missouri Alternative Sentencing Services, or EMASS. Just to get the monitor attached, he would have to report to EMASS and pay $300 up front — enough to cover the first 25 days, plus a $50 installation fee.
White didn’t know how to find that kind of money. Before his arrest, he was earning minimum wage as a temp, wrapping up boxes of shampoo. His father was largely absent, and his mother, Lakisha Thompson, had recently lost her job as the housekeeping manager at a Holiday Inn. Raising Daehaun and his four siblings, she had struggled to keep up with the bills. The family bounced between houses and apartments in northern St. Louis County, where, as a result of Jim Crow redlining, most of the area’s black population lives. In 2014, they were living on Canfield Drive in Ferguson when Michael Brown was shot and killed there by a police officer. During the ensuing turmoil, Thompson moved the family to Green Bay, Wisconsin. White felt out of place. He was looked down on for his sagging pants, called the N-word when riding his bike. After six months, he moved back to St. Louis County on his own to live with three of his siblings and stepsiblings in a gray house with vinyl siding.
When White got home on the night of his release, he was so overwhelmed to see his family again that he forgot about the letter. He spent the next few days hanging out with his siblings, his mother, who had returned to Missouri earlier that year, and his girlfriend, Demetria, who was seven months pregnant. He didn’t report to EMASS.
What he didn’t realize was that he had failed to meet a deadline. Typically, defendants assigned to monitors must pay EMASS in person and have the device installed within 24 hours of their release from jail. Otherwise, they have to return to court to explain why they’ve violated the judge’s orders. White, however, wasn’t called back for a hearing. Instead, a week after he left the Workhouse, Colbert-Botchway issued a warrant for his arrest.
Three days later, a large group of police officers knocked on Thompson’s door, looking for information about an unrelated case, a robbery. White and his brother had been making dinner with their mother, and the officers asked them for identification. White’s name matched the warrant issued by Colbert-Botchway. “They didn’t tell me what the warrant was for,” he said. “Just that it was for a violation of my release.” He was taken downtown and held for transfer back to the Workhouse. “I kept saying to myself, ’Why am I locked up?’” he recalled.
The next morning, Thompson called the courthouse to find the answer. She learned that her son had been jailed over his failure to acquire and pay for his GPS monitor. To get him out, she needed to pay EMASS on his behalf.
This seemed absurd to her. When Daehaun was 13, she had worn an ankle monitor after violating probation for a minor theft, but the state hadn’t required her to cover the cost of her own supervision. “This is a 19-year-old coming out of the Workhouse,” she told me recently. “There’s no way he has $300 saved.” Thompson felt that the court was forcing her to choose between getting White out of jail and supporting the rest of her family.
Read the story on ProPublica
Perspective I’m a lawyer who picked my job over my kids
The following editorial was written by Lara Bazelon (@larabazelon), a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and author of “Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction.”
I am a lawyer, a law professor and a writer. I am also a divorced mother of two young children. I’m often asked some version of: “How do you excel at work and be the best mother you can be?”
Every working mother gets this question, which presupposes that a “work-life balance” is achievable. It’s not. The term traps women in an endless cycle of shame and self-recrimination.
Like many women, I often prioritize my job. I do this because, as the head of a single-parent household, I’m the sole breadwinner. My ex-husband, who has joint custody, is an amazing father and my life would be impossible without him. Neither of us pays the other support.
My choice is more than a financial imperative. I prioritize my work because I’m ambitious and because I believe it’s important. If I didn’t write and teach and litigate, a part of me would feel empty.
In 2013, I was the trial lawyer on a case to free an innocent black man improbably named Kash Register. As a teenager in 1979, because of police and prosecutorial misconduct and witnesses who lied, he was condemned to serve life in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Thirty-four years later, he was still behind bars. Even though we had presented the district attorney’s office with what we believed was overwhelming evidence of my client’s innocence, it insisted on what was essentially a retrial in front of a judge.
At the time, my son was 4 and my daughter was 2. One month before the retrial started, I moved from San Francisco to a tiny apartment close to the courthouse in Los Angeles. I went long stretches without seeing my children. They were lovingly cared for by their father, their grandmother, my son’s preschool teacher and my daughter’s babysitter. When I would fly home, I was often not fully present. My client needed me more than my children did. So he got more of me. A lot more.
During these months, my son had a lot of questions. “Why are you gone so much?” “Why are you always on the phone talking about that guy with the funny name?” I explained what was at stake. The good guys are fighting the bad guys. If we lose, it means racism won and a man’s life was destroyed.
“Are you going to win?” he wanted to know.
“That’s my job,” I said.
I have missed meetings to take my kids to the park or a museum, and picked them up early to go to karate class. Recently, I turned down an offer to teach an extra class for a significant amount of money because I didn’t want to lose that time with them.
But there is always another client to defend, story to write or struggling student who just can’t wait. Here are things I have missed: my daughter’s seventh birthday, my son’s 10th birthday party, two family vacations, three Halloweens, every school camping trip. I have never chaperoned, coached or organized a school event.
Sometimes my choices make me sad. My daughter’s seventh birthday was the worst. She cried, and I did everything I could not to. I felt sick to my stomach. But I had a trial starting the next day, six hours away.
I had picked the date, not the judge, because I knew that the other side wasn’t ready. Delaying even a few days would have meant losing a crucial advantage. I wasn’t going to risk it knowing what was on the line for my client.
Of course, I sometimes feel doubt, shame and fear. I know I’m not a “normal” mom, because my kids tell me so. I remind myself that this does not make me a “bad mom.” I also remind myself that if I were a dad, I would be getting accolades for all the times I scheduled a doctor’s appointment or arranged a play date.
I am proud of what I have accomplished. I am prouder that I can support myself and my children. But sometimes I wonder if my choices will damage them.
Read the story on NY Times