Top Story How San Diego lawyers at the border are pushing back against “zero tolerance”
San Diego’s federal court system, the Southern District of California, has been unique among federal court districts along the border for decades.
In the ‘90s, then-U.S. Attorney Alan Bersin decided he would no longer prosecute misdemeanor cases against migrants who entered the country illegally, and would instead focus on felony cases against those who’d been deported multiple times or who had serious criminal records. Prosecutors had been filing thousands of misdemeanors for decades, draining resources but failing to deter illegal crossings. He’d focus on felony cases and leave the rest to immigration officials, who have their own separate civil process to detain and deport migrants.
His successors for the most part carried on the tradition – until April.
That’s when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a zero-tolerance policy across the border and mandated that prosecutors try to charge everyone caught crossing illegally with a crime. The following months saw a surge of hundreds of misdemeanor cases each week and eventually, in July, the district created a new special courtroom and new procedures just for these cases.
The change has been met with fierce resistance from defense attorneys in San Diego, who have been trying to slow and stop the prosecutions on multiple fronts, including enlisting the help of The Bail Project to get defendants out of criminal custody and filing broad legal challenges to the separate court system under which they’re adjudicated.
Read the story on Voices of San Diego >
Speaking of… A defendant shows to immigration court by himself. He’s 6.
It was shortly before Thanksgiving in an immigration court in San Antonio, and the third defendant to come before Judge Anibal Martinez walked into the courtroom without an attorney, wearing a gray winter hat that was stitched with a pair of blue googly eyes and a floppy red yarn mohawk.
When the bailiff asked his name, he piped up proudly: Wilder Hilario Maldonado Cabrera.
“How old is Wilder?” the immigration judge asked.
An attorney, who was there with other clients, came forward and volunteered to stand in for Wilder. She turned to the boy and in Spanish asked his age.
“Seis años,” he said, 6, his legs dangling from a chair at the defendant’s table.
Wilder, a smiley, pudgy Salvadoran boy, missing his two front teeth, was the youngest defendant on the juvenile docket that day. But that wasn’t all that made him special. He was one of the last children left in government custody who had been affected by the administration’s widely criticized zero-tolerance policy, and who were still awaiting reunification with parents detained in the United States.
Read the story on Pro Publica >
More of This Civil Rights lawyer Stacey Abrams file election reform lawsuit
Allies of Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who narrowly lost the Georgia governor’s race, filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday calling for sweeping changes to the state’s election procedures, and accusing Brian Kemp, the Republican victor, of systematically disenfranchising poor and minority voters when he was secretary of state.
Lauren Groh-Wargo, Ms. Abrams’s campaign manager, said the lawsuit would “describe, and then prove in court, how the constitutional rights of Georgians were trampled in the 2018 general election.”
Standing with supporters and lawyers in front of a federal courthouse in downtown Atlanta, Ms. Groh-Wargo acknowledged that the governor’s race was over, even as she described Mr. Kemp as Georgia’s “secretary of suppression.”
The lawsuit, she said, would seek “wide, large-scale reforms” to improve future elections. One of its demands is for renewed federal oversight to protect minority voting rights.
Read the story on NY Times >
#ChangeLawyer He was convicted of a felony. Now, he’s a valedictorian who wants to become a lawyer
By all accounts Antonio Reza has completely changed his life around, but in the Alameda County courthouse in Dublin Tuesday, he got some additional help from what would seem to be two unlikely sources-- the Fremont police detective who arrested him, and the deputy district attorney who prosecuted him.
"My entire adult life has been dictated by those actions. And now it is gone," said Antonio Reza.
Seven years ago at the age of 19, Reza, who grew up in Newark, was the getaway driver in four armed robberies in the East Bay.
Reza plead guilty to felony robbery, was sentenced to jail and probation.
"I asked him what could i have done differently as a mother. I did what i could. We could see he was going down a difficult path," said his mother, Jackie Reza.
But that was then. This is now.
Reza is graduating valedictorian at the University of San Francisco next month.
"I turned my felonies into 4.0's" Reza said, referring to his GPA.
He wants to go to law school. But the felony conviction makes being able to take the bar exam nearly impossible.
Gephardt, whose become Reza's friend and mentor, heard about the dilemma, called the prosecutor, and the two agreed to ask the judge to change the charge to misdemeanor grand theft, and expunge the case from Reza's record.
The judge signed off on it Tuesday. Now Reza can go to law school and eventually take the bar.
Read the story on KTVU >
Less of This The tragedy of mental illness in America’s prisons
On the morning of April 13, 2015, a guard at Sullivan Correctional Facility, a New York State maximum-security prison nestled deep in the woods of the western Catskills, ordered a prisoner named Karl Taylor to clean his cell. By all accounts, the cell, in the prison’s E North housing block—a special unit for inmates classified as mentally ill—was a rancid mess, strewn with papers and clothes, and soaked with shampoo and other liquids. Taylor, however, had balked for weeks at cleaning it. He insisted that as part of an ongoing campaign of harassment, guards had trashed his cell and stolen his belongings while he was being held in a mental-health observation unit in a separate wing of the 550-inmate prison.
Taylor had been in prison since 1995, serving a minimum sentence of 27 years for a rape conviction in his hometown of Troy, New York. After his arrival in state custody, he was diagnosed with delusional disorder and paranoid personality disorder. By 2015, he had already made two trips to the state’s prison psychiatric hospital, where he’d received medication to quiet his symptoms. And while he had periods of relative calm, he had spent almost half of his time behind bars—nearly 10 years—in solitary confinement, a debilitating experience that experts say disorients even the sanest of prisoners.
Most witnesses to what followed on that April morning agree that after a guard opened Taylor’s cell door, the stocky, 51-year-old African American inmate walked away, shouting that he wanted to be left alone and sent back to the observation unit, where those in crisis are monitored by doctors and nurses. The witnesses differ entirely on what happened next: Guards say Taylor wheeled around without warning and punched the officer, a muscular, 27-year corrections veteran named Bruce Tucker, in the face. Inmates on the cellblock say Tucker, who is white, struck first, cracking Taylor over the head at least twice with his heavy wooden baton. “You heard two loud bangs,” an inmate named Malik Thomas recalls, “like you would hit a hardball in baseball.”
“Jails and prisons are among the least therapeutic environments in the world,” says Alisa Roth, who toured facilities across the country for her recent book, Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness. “You’re not bringing out the best in their behavior; you’re bringing out the worst in their behavior,” Roth told me.
Read the story on NY Times >
Perspective Prisoners need a new set of rights
The following editorial was written by Meek Mill (@MeekMill) is a multiplatinum hip-hop artist and an advocate of criminal justice reform.
I’m blessed — I’m busy recording an album and catching up with friends and fans as my family and I make plans to celebrate the holidays. It’s a far cry from last year, when the season passed with me behind bars. I send my prayers to all those who are still in the web of the system: Please know you are not forgotten.
Like many who are currently incarcerated, I was the victim of a miscarriage of justice — carried out by an untruthful officer, as determined by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, and an unfair judge.
My crime? Popping a wheelie on a motorcycle in Manhattan. Even though the charge was dismissed in a New York City court, a Philadelphia-based judge still deemed my interaction with the police to be a technical violation of my probation — stemming from a 2007 arrest — and sentenced me to two to four years in prison despite the fact that I didn’t commit a crime. The judge also refused my motion for bail, calling me a “danger to the community” and a “flight risk.”
Read the story on NY Times >
Volunteer at the Border
Al Otro Lado needs volunteers!! We need immigration attorneys, paralegals, doctors, nurses, EMTs, social workers, mental health professionals, art therapists, and nice people who want to help out! No special skills are required to volunteer - just let us know a little more about you in the application. As volunteer needs arise, we will email them out to the list. Volunteer opportunities are available in Tijuana, Los Angeles, and remotely.
Sign up here >
Fellowship Opportunity Community Water Center hiring year-long fellow
Over a million Californians each year lack access to safe and affordable drinking water. In addition to systemic racism, one of the root causes of water inequality is under-representation and unresponsive representation at the local level.
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.
Apply here >
Fellowship Opportunity Legal Services of Northern California hiring summer fellow
In the last four years, our 23-county northern California service area has seen at least one disastrous wildfire every fire season. With support from California ChangeLawyers, we seek to hire a full-time, the Fellow will work on a disaster relief project, as well as conduct client intake.
Apply here >