Say It Louder California lawyers push for eviction ban to combat coronavirus
Officials and tenant rights advocates in California are calling for dramatic measures to protect renters during the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. City leaders in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Oakland are moving toward adopting local eviction moratoriums. A statewide measure is also being considered: California Assemblymember Phil Ting announced yesterday he plans to introduce a bill to put a statewide moratorium on evictions for renters who cannot pay their rent because of the impacts of the viral outbreak, namely the sudden drop in business activity, especially at restaurants.
Evictions “can be a matter of life and death,” said Allyson Gold, assistant professor of clinical legal instruction at the University of Alabama School of Law. She said evictions often lead people to live without shelter on the streets, in homeless shelters, or doubled up with family or friends. “If we have overcrowding, we could see a quicker spread of infectious diseases in those circumstances,” she said.
Landlords can be less likely to rent to people with prior evictions, she noted, which means many end up in substandard housing, where mold, pests, and other hazards can cause chronic health problems. Furthermore, an eviction can often force renters to move out of communities where healthcare resources are more accessible, she said.
Tenant attorneys say housing security for everyone is essential to the success of basic public health strategies needed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are already in a housing crisis and now we have a housing crisis colliding with a public health crisis,” said Meghan Gordon, housing director of the East Bay Community Law Center, a nonprofit legal aid group in Oakland.
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More of This One woman’s journey from juvenile delinquency to law school
When the moment finally came, it was surreal for Carmen Day: She had accomplished her childhood dream to become a lawyer.
It began with a promise she made 13 years ago to a judge in Camden who showed her leniency when she stood before him as a juvenile delinquent. She could have faced prison time. Instead, she got a second chance.
Day, then 17, told the judge: “Maybe I’ll be a lawyer in your courtroom one day.”
This week, Day began working as an associate at the Brown & Connery law firm in Westmont. She landed the position two months after obtaining a Juris Doctorate with honors from Rutgers-Camden Law School. She is handling employment law cases.
”They put me to work right away, the first day,” she said with a smile Friday in the firm’s first-floor conference room. “It’s been very exciting.”
William Tambussi, a partner in the politically connected firm who will mentor Day, said he was impressed with her triumph over adversity. Unlike most hires, Day didn’t complete a summer internship at the firm or clerk with a judge.
”She had the smarts, was goal-driven and had the work ethic,” Tambussi said. “This is the kind of person we want.”
Her first exposure to the law had an ominous beginning when Day stood before Superior Court Judge Charles Dortch in December 2006. She had a plea agreement that called for 18 months’ probation. She begged for leniency, and the judge reduced her sentence to six months.
Read the story on Philadelphia Inquirer
Watch This The lawyer who created India’s first women’s legal rights portal
Less of This Immigration courts are refusing to close. That’s putting all of us in danger.
For weeks, public health officials have warned that the coronavirus will spread rapidly in the United States but the infection rate could slow with social distancing and severe restrictions on mass gathering. The nation’s judiciary did not listen. Civil, criminal, and immigration courts continued to operate normally, with very few exceptions, until late last week. Even on Monday, after both the president and most governors had declared a state of emergency, a huge number of America’s courts continued to operate, forcing judges, attorneys, litigants, defendants, immigrants, and court staff into close quarters with potentially infected individuals. Conversations with more than two dozen lawyers and court staff (who requested anonymity to avoid professional blowback) across the country reveal a system that is disastrously unprepared for a pandemic—and facilitating the coronavirus’s spread.
Because the American judiciary is so decentralized, there is no single contingency plan that governs all courts in case of an emergency. Most state and federal courts are making up their own rules as they go. All 94 federal district courts and 13 federal appellate courts are scrambling independently to devise a strategy for COVID-19. In many states, individual trial and appeals courts are also struggling to meet their legal obligations without contributing to the spread of the virus. Immigration courts are under the control of the discombobulated and ineffectual Trump administration. So are agencies, like the Social Security Administration, that hold administrative hearings to adjudicate individuals’ access to public assistance. Meanwhile, thousands of jails, prisons, and immigrant detention facilities remain unwilling or unable to meaningfully address COVID-19, putting both detained people and staff at risk of infection. The legal system is actively jeopardizing millions of people’s health and lives.
State judiciaries’ sluggish response to the crisis was on display Monday in courtrooms around the country. Slate spoke with defense attorneys in Florida, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Washington state, and the District of Columbia who witnessed large groups of defendants congregating in courthouses after police arrested them for low-level offenses. Many people had been jailed for at least one night for crimes like driving without a permit and possession of drug paraphernalia. In northern New Jersey, according to an attorney who was present, a prosecutor argued on Monday that defendants are, in fact, safer from the virus behind bars. But a defense attorney in the region told Slate that her clients in jail have no access to soap or toilet paper.
Read the story on Slate
Less of This Too ICE is still rounding up immigrants even while California is on lockdown
In the darkness of the early hours Monday, about a dozen immigration agents gathered outside a Starbucks in Bell Gardens.
For the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who make daily arrests, it was supposed to be business as usual.
But that morning, they greeted one another with elbows instead of handshakes; the Starbucks where they rendezvoused was only grab and go; and they passed freeway signs that read: “Wash your hands stay healthy avoid COVID-19.”
The ICE agents were about to spend the day trying to arrest targets on a most unusual of days: the day after the California governor and L.A. mayor ordered people to ramp up their efforts of social distancing over the coronavirus. The agents had N95 respirator masks in their vehicles, just in case.
With safety measures taken across the state, immigrant advocates have criticized ICE for its continued enforcement operations. More than 45 organizations signed a letter this week calling on the Department of Homeland Security to suspend such actions.
ICE said it would take precautions, given the new reality. But the arrests would go on.
Read the story on LA Times
Perspective Coronavirus and prison are a toxic combination
When Lauren Johnson reached for a squirt of hand sanitizer on her way out of the doctor’s office, she regretted it immediately.
In the Central Texas prison where she was housed, alcohol-based hand sanitizer was against the rules—and the on-duty officer was quick to let her know it.
“He screamed at me,” she said.
Then, she said, he wrote her up and she lost her recreation and phone privileges for 10 days.
The incident was a minor blip in Johnson’s last prison stay a decade ago, but the rules hold true today and underscore a potential problem for combating coronavirus: Behind bars, some of the most basic disease prevention measures are against the rules or simply impossible.
“Jails and prisons are often dirty and have really very little in the way of infection control,” said Homer Venters, former chief medical officer at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex. “There are lots of people using a small number of bathrooms. Many of the sinks are broken or not in use. You may have access to water, but nothing to wipe your hands off with, or no access to soap.”
So far, the respiratory virus has sickened more than 97,000 people worldwide and at least 200 in the U.S. More than 3,300 people have died. As of late Thursday there were no reported cases in American prisons, though experts say it’s just a matter of time.
To minimize further spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests things like avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, disinfecting frequently-used surfaces and washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
But these recommendations run up against the reality of life in jails and prisons. Behind bars, access to toilet paper or tissues is often limited and covering your mouth can be impossible if you’re handcuffed, either because of security status or during transport to another facility.
Read the story on the Marshall Project
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