California Bar Foundation's curated briefing on what's driving the social justice conversation
in California and across the country.
California Bar Foundation's curated briefing on what's driving the social justice conversation
in California and across the country.
TOP NEWS Meet Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, a fierce advocate who sentenced Larry Nassar to 175 years in prison
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina listened on Monday morning as yet another gymnast, one of scores coming forward in her courtroom, took her turn excoriating Lawrence G. Nassar, a prominent doctor for U.S.A. Gymnastics who has pleaded guilty to multiple sex crimes.
The young woman finished, and Judge Aquilina, who has now allowed nearly 140 girls and women, including several prominent Olympic gymnasts, to give statements against Dr. Nassar, leaned forward from the bench. She smiled at the gymnast, Bailey Lorencen, and delivered her own heartfelt statement in a manner and tone befitting a therapist.
“The military has not yet come up with fiber as strong as you,” Judge Aquilina told Ms. Lorencen, calling her a “heroine” and a “superhero.” She added: “Mattel ought to make toys so that little girls can look at you and say, ‘I want to be her.’ Thank you so much for being here, and for your strength.”
Belying the stone-faced image of dispassionate jurists, Judge Aquilina has emerged as an unusually fierce victims’ advocate in a sentencing hearing that has drawn national attention for the scope of Dr. Nassar’s abuse and for the role that institutions like U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University played in employing him for decades.
Judge Aquilina’s vow to let every victim speak has also unexpectedly turned the hearing into a cathartic forum that has emboldened dozens of women who had remained silent to come forward with accounts of abuse by Dr. Nassar. Court officials initially had expected 88 young women to speak when the hearing began last week, but the number is expected to top 150 by the time these proceedings conclude, likely Wednesday morning.
And, in an extraordinary session streamed live on the internet over several days, she has opened her courtroom to any victim who wishes to speak, for however long she wishes to speak. That goes for their coaches and parents, too.
“Leave your pain here,” Judge Aquilina told one young woman, “and go out and do your magnificent things.”
Judge Aquilina’s unconventional approach has not elicited any discernible criticism, but she has generated attention. Not only has she opened the floodgates to emotional testimony in a very pronounced way, but she seems determined to lend her voice, shedding any pretense of judicial distance.
Several victims — and their parents — have thanked Judge Aquilina, including Doug Powell, whose daughter Kassie spoke out last week as one of Dr. Nassar’s many accusers.
“Judge Aquilina, I applaud you,” Mr. Powell said after his daughter addressed the court. “We applaud you. This room applauds you.”
Judge Aquilina has repeatedly assured the women that she is listening to them and that “the whole world” is listening to them, too.
“Thank you,” she says. “What would you like me to know?”
Article by NY Times. Read More Here>>>
Speaking Of… Judge Aquilina’s 10 most powerful quotes from the Nassar hearings
After Nassar wrote a letter to the court expressing concern about his ability to withstand multiple days of testimony, Aquilina replied:“Spending four or five days listening to them is minor, considering the hours of pleasure you've had at their expense, ruining their lives…. You may find it harsh that you are here listening, but nothing is as harsh as what your victims endured for thousands of hours at your hands.”
After hearing the testimony of Amanda Cormier, a music lover who said she couldn’t write or perform after Nassar’s abuse, Aquilina said:“It seems to me, after this, you can finish writing. You found your voice. It's a strong, effective, brave voice, and you have a child coming. Maybe what you need to do is start and finish a lullaby.”
Responding to Taylor Cole, a woman who testified she suffers from anxiety and lack of sleep because of Nassar, Aquilina said:“Push away those nightmares. He’s gone. Your words replace what he’s done to you.
The judge also imagined what she'd like to do to Nassar if not for the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:"Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls—these young women in their childhood—I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others.”
And also:“Leave your pain here and go out and do your magnificent things.”
Read the rest at of Judge Aquilino's quotes on Glamour>>
Watch This Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her #MeToo moment
#ChangeLawyers Are felons fit to be lawyers? Increasingly, the answer is yes.
Tarra Simmons, a former drug addict who had been incarcerated twice, earned a law degree with honors. Then she went through a moral character and fitness review to become a licensed lawyer in Washington State, where she lives.
The licensing panel voted to block her from taking the bar licensing exam. While the committee’s rationale is under seal, it likely had something to do with the fact that she had committed felonies and gone bankrupt.
Ms. Simmons, 40, has appealed the ruling successfully. “At first, I was afraid that appealing would mean they were going to shame me in public,” she said. “I did have problems, but I overcame them. This was the gateway to practice, and I had to go through it.”
Whether people like Ms. Simmons should be allowed to practice law is a hot question these days. Acceptance for those with less-than-impeccable pedigrees seems to be rising.
Ms. Simmons had an abusive childhood and was homeless by age 13. After being convicted of drug offenses, the mother of two was incarcerated for 20 months. Behind bars, her debts mounted and she lost her home to foreclosure. She entered drug treatment in prison.
After her release in 2013, Ms. Simmons graduated magna cum laude from Seattle University School of Law. She later won a fellowship from Skadden Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, a law firm based in New York, to spend two years providing civil legal services to the poor.
After the bar licensing panel rejected her application last spring, she appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court. It agreed to hear her case — the first such character and fitness screening case on its docket in more than three decades.
Ms. Simmons arranged for Shon R. Hopwood to represent her. Mr. Hopwood is an ex-felon, too.
Arguing before the state Supreme Court at a one-day hearing last November, Mr. Hopwood acknowledged Ms. Simmons’s prior misconduct. But, he noted, “character is not static.” He urged the justices to decide that it “cares about rehabilitation and values that over prior misconduct.”
The same day, the court voted unanimously that Ms. Simmons should be eligible to take the bar licensing exam. She is scheduled to take the test in February. When she is not studying for the bar, she is working with Mr. Poulos to help inmates re-enter their communities.
Article by NY Times. Read More Here>>
More of This These college students are teaming up to pay dollar bails for detained people
A dollar doesn’t buy you much in New York City—but it can sometimes be the price of your freedom. Across the five boroughs, hundreds of people have been held in jail for a bail priced at just one dollar. The challenge posed by dollar bail is not generally affordability but the bail system itself—once someone is in jail, the process of bailing them out is extremely difficult, involving time-consuming travel, capricious security checks, and complicated paperwork. Even embarking on this process depends in the first place on detained people’s being made aware of the amount of their bail, which doesn’t always happen.
In this dilemma, New York University student Amanda Lawson saw an opportunity. You don’t have to be affiliated with a charitable organization to bail people out; anyone who can physically appear in jail can do it. And college students, with their relatively flexible schedules and pockets of free time, make a perfect volunteer force to provide a physical presence. That, and one dollar, is all that’s needed to bail out many New Yorkers held in jail with dollar bails.
“The hours and the minutes are extremely important,” said Ezra Ritchin, director of the Bronx Freedom Fund. “It’s difficult to fully understand how traumatizing a jail stay can be.” For the low-income communities of color who are most affected by this, it could mean risking your job, your home, and even your health. Many clients have had chemotherapy treatments interrupted by pretrial incarceration. In one case, a client being held on a one-dollar bail missed her child’s funeral.
In December 2016, one month after the presidential election, Lawson introduced the problem to fellow residents in our dorm, screening Ava DuVernay’s documentary on mass incarceration, 13th, and inviting Ritchin to lead a discussion after. That night, 85 NYU students were outraged. All 85 students, myself included, signed up to be a part of the “Dollar Bail Brigade.”
Since the initial event at Lawson’s dorm, the Dollar Bail Brigade has freed 78 people and grown into a network of more than 600 volunteers.
Volunteers sign up online with their availability for the month. The Dollar Bail Brigade receives referrals from the Bronx Freedom Fund and NYC public-defender groups such as the Legal Aid Society. When lawyers find out their clients are only being held on one dollar, they reach out to the Freedom Fund or directly to the brigade to find someone who can bail the client out.
In some cases, volunteers recount being misled by correction officers. According to Lawson, when attempting to pay his client’s bail, one NYU student was told by a CO, “You’re lucky that I’m feeling nice today and that it’s only a dollar.”
“The priority is not to help people, or make their process easy.… it’s just to file them through because there’s so many arrests to process, because we’re arresting so many black and brown people.”
A few months ago, some time between my morning ethics class and an office-hours appointment with my professor, I bailed a stranger out of jail. The process was simple; all it took was one dollar and a few hours, and my “client” was released.
Article by the Nation. Read More Here>>>
Less of This Judges in Florida are turning their backs on abused young immigrants
In October 2015, Lucia, 13, was raped and impregnated. When she told her parents, they called her a “cualquiera,” or “slut,” and tried to send her from their home in Florida back to Guatemala. A case worker had to inform Lucia’s parents that they couldn’t dispatch their daughter against her wishes to another country. Unable to discard her, Lucia’s parents forbade her from reporting her rape to the local police. Finally, when she was four or five months pregnant, Lucia’s parents told her she needed to pay her “debts,” so Lucia dropped out of high school and got a job at a plant nursery. At that time, her parents began to charge her $350 a month in rent.
To Lucia’s attorney, Rina Gil, her story was an obvious example of parental neglect and abuse, and Lucia, an undocumented minor, should therefore be eligible to apply for a green card under a program called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).\
“I figured—this is a child. She was raped… She’s not in school. She has no one taking care of her. There’s no way that you can say that this child was not neglected or abused or abandoned,” Gil said.
Despite acknowledging Lucia’s father’s mistreatment, the judge denied her dependency and, with it, her best shot at protection from abuse and deportation. “I just don’t know what happened that day,” Gil told me.
Robert Latham has spent a lot of time here as a lawyer and the associate director of the Children and Youth Law Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, where he represents kids in custody hearings, dependency, and anything else having to do with children and the law.
As more unaccompanied minors were resettled in Florida, judges started to raise concerns about these cases, Latham and other lawyers said.
Latham and other immigration attorneys have pointed out that these questions are never asked of children who are US citizens. “This idea that a parent could be absolved of the neglect of a child by the passage of time,” Latham said, “no one does this for native kids. It’s only with immigrant kids that this abandonment was too long ago.”
Angelina Castro, an immigration lawyer in Stuart, Florida who has been working on these types of cases for almost two decades, said she started to notice judges using pronouns like “these” and “those” in their rulings, which seemed to make a distinction between US kids and foreign kids.
“Call it what you want, but it’s still wrong. Our laws specifically say that we do not deny justice based on someone’s color, nationality, race, gender. We’re not supposed to do that, and we’re doing it. We do it everyday.”
Gil told Lucia that she wanted to appeal her case to a higher court, but in December of 2017, Lucia told Gil that she didn’t want to fight it. “She said she didn’t want to go through it again. She said she was done with it. And I don’t blame her,” Gil said.
“The scary thing is that a lot of [the unaccompanied minors] don’t understand what they have gone through is not right. They treat rape, they treat abuse, they treat punching and kicking like it’s something normal, like it’s something that you have to go through,” Gil said. “You have to explain to them that this is wrong, that in this country, you are not allowed to hit a child. What I always tell my kids after I sign a case is that, this country protects children. And after this case, I just felt like, how do I say that now? I don’t know that I am telling them the truth.”
Article by the Nation. Read More Here>>
Podcast of the Week Why does our justice system fight so hard to keep innocent people behind bars?
In his new book, Blind Injustice: A Former Prosecutor Exposes the Psychology and Politics of Wrongful Convictions, University of Cincinnati legal scholar Mark Godsey examines why the system fights so hard to keep innocent people in prison. Godsey was a former prosecutor who would later go on to co-found the Ohio Innocence Project.
Job Opportunity California Bar Foundation hiring Development Officer
At California Bar Foundation, we believe that a state as diverse as California needs a justice system led by advocates of all races and ethnicities. That’s why we invest in the next generation of bright, diverse scholars so that they have the opportunity to enter and succeed in the legal profession—and change the world!
Fellowship Opportunity KIND hiring legal fellow to represent unaccompanied minors
With support from California Bar Foundation Legal Fellowship Program, KIND seeks a full time Legal Fellow to provide representation to unaccompanied immigrant children living in the Central Valley (primarily Fresno, Kings, Merced, Madera, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Tulare counties).
Fellowship Opportunity Transgender Law Center hiring legal fellow
The Legal Services Project Staff Attorney, a position made possible by California Bar Foundation Legal Fellowship Program, will provide direct legal services to transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) people.
Scholarship Opportunity $5000 cash award for 3Ls taking the bar exam
California Bar Foundation is now accepting applications from 3Ls planning on taking the bar exam in February & July of 2018. The scholarship includes a $5000 living stipend.
Deadline to apply is February 15.