A newsletter for vigilant optimist. NEWS BRIEF is a hand-picked collection of social justice stories that are driving the local and national conversation, available every Wednesday night.
TOP NEWS Meet the lawyers behind “Time’s Up”, the new legal defense fund against sexual harassment
A group of 300 women across the entertainment industry and elsewhere have come together to fight allegations of systematic workplace sexual harassment in a new initiative dubbed Time’s Up.
Part of the initiative’s goals is the establishment of a legal defense fund to be spearheaded by Christina “Tina” Tchen, who joined Buckley Sandler in October after serving as chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama, and prominent former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison litigator Roberta Kaplan, who hung her own shingle last summer.
The National Women’s Law Center, which will administer the defense fund, will also help subsidize the costs for lawyers and communications professionals representing individuals who have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or assault during their careers.
“Either on the legal bullying side that you saw documented in some of the news reports that happens to victims after they come forward or for victims who know don’t know what their rights are and can’t assert them, clearly we needed an ability to get folks—especially low-income workers—a way to access legal resources,” Tchen said.
Kaplan, who now runs New York-based litigation boutique Kaplan & Co., became involved in the initiative as a result of her representation of Melanie Kohler, a Hawaiian woman sued in November by film producer Brett Ratner following her allegation on social media that Ratner had raped her following their meeting in a nightclub a dozen years ago.
As Kohler’s case continued, Kaplan said it became clear that more needed to be done.
“We quickly realized that [Kohler] wasn’t the only one,” Kaplan said. “There were going to be a lot of women out there who were either sued for speaking out or otherwise threatened with legal action or may even have claims of their own. There really wasn’t any kind of adequate mechanism out there to make sure that they had legal counsel.”
While some of the finer details about cost-subsidization still need to be ironed out, NWLC legal director Sunu Chandy said this approach emboldens more women from a range of backgrounds to believe they can fight back but also encourages more lawyers to take part in the fight against sexual harassment.
“This is a powerful moment,” Chandy said. “And now is the time to really take that to the next level and take action to fight back through the legal system.”
Other lawyers working with Kaplan and Tchen in making Time’s Up a reality are Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll of counsel Anita Hill in Washington, D.C., who was recently tapped to chair a newly formed commission looking at sexual harassment in Hollywood, and Nina Shaw, a high-profile entertainment lawyer and diversity advocate who works at Los Angeles-based Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano.
Article by The Recorder. Read More Here>>
#ChangeLawyers Reform prosecutor Larry Krasner sworn into office today
For the first time in his decades-long legal career, Larry Krasner is a prosecutor.
The 56-year-old lawyer — who built a reputation in Philadelphia by suing the government and defending activists and protesters — was sworn in Tuesday as district attorney, promising to bring sweeping changes to an office he described as “off the rails” during his campaign to lead it.
“A movement was sworn in today,” Krasner said after taking the oath of office at the Kimmel Center. “A movement for criminal justice reform that has swept Philadelphia … and is sweeping the United States.”
He has promised to end use of the death penalty, seek to end use of cash bail, and reduce the number of people behind bars.
Krasner grew up in St. Louis and the Philadelphia suburbs, the son of a crime-fiction author and an evangelical Christian minister. He graduated from the University of Chicago and Stanford Law School, then worked in Philadelphia as a federal public defender before opening his own practice in 1993.
He was part of a team of lawyers who defended about 400 protesters arrested at the 2000 Republican National Convention, has represented Black Lives Matter activists, and has sued law enforcement or the government on behalf of clients 75 times.
Article by Philly.com. Read More Here>>
Watch This After California wildfires, indigenous Mexican immigrants struggle in silence & isolation
The following video is the story of Mariano Alvarez, a community worker for California Rural Legal Assistance. California Bar Foundation is proud to support CRLA’s life-changing legal work for rural and immigrant communities.
Two months after wildfires tore through Northern California, communities of indigenous language speakers from the south of Mexico remain in crisis.
Click here to support the Wildfire Legal Fund
More of This A group of judges in North Carolina formed a pact to cut court costs for the poor
In North Carolina, it costs inmates $10 a day to stay in jail before they’re even found guilty of a crime. Yet most people jailed pretrial are there because they can’t afford bail. It’s a predicament Mecklenburg County Public Defender Kevin Tully points out time and again to judges: that those who can’t buy their own freedom are charged for their own confinement.
Now, district-court judges in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, are banding together to change how the courts impose fines and fees.
Starting last month, they committed to consulting a “bench card” during every case—a piece of paper they use to remind themselves to thoroughly assess a defendant’s ability to pay before setting a fine or fee, as well as which ones are waivable or can be reduced on a sliding scale. It’s a simple act, but one that could have significant consequences for low-income defendants and their families.
Tully cited a recent case where a judge’s discretion had positive consequences for his client. A few months ago, the client was in jail on a trespassing charge, and he couldn’t make a $100 down payment to a bail bondsman. After seven days—and a $70 tab—he had a hearing to review his pretrial conditions. Tully remembers telling the judge that his client’s court date was still two weeks away. “If you don’t allow him to go home today because he doesn’t have the $100 to pay for his freedom, at his trial he will have run up a bill of $210 to stay in jail,” Tully said. “How on Earth is this court going to expect him to pay [that] when he can’t pay $100?”
The judicial pact in Mecklenburg County was born of a working group; judges, public defenders, district attorneys, and court clerks had been strategizing since the spring of 2015 on how to reduce the county’s jail population. An analysis revealed that 18 percent were there because they failed to pay court costs, fines, or fees; and they stayed for roughly four to seven days, said district-court judge Becky Tin, who’s part of the working group. “A lot of these [legal financial obligations] that defendants were being arrested for not paying were set … without ever conducting an ability-to-pay hearing,” she said.
The judges brought in lawyers from Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Debt initiative who helped them develop the bench cards they now refer to. There are actually two cards: one for sentencing hearings and the other for hearings scheduled when a person fails to pay a fine or fee. Both instruct judges on how to determine a person’s economic means, like asking about their monthly income, existing debts, and any limitations on their driving privileges that would inhibit their ability to earn.
Mitali Nagrecha, director of the Harvard initiative, said that the cards were intended to “clarify” the law and “reset the tone.” She said other counties have expressed interest, and she hopes to release a statewide version in the coming months.
District-court judge Elizabeth Trosch told me she’s not worried about any legislative retaliation. “The whole point is that we need to be independent—we need to be constitutional,” she said. “There is consensus and all the judges are standing together. Part of what we’re saying is, ‘You’re not going to bully us or scare us into doing something that is wrong.’”
Article by the Atlantic. Read More Here>>
Less of This Black undocumented immigrants face double punishment, higher rate of deportation
If it were not for the Canadian leaf tattoo on his wrist, Chris Gustave may not be behind bars.
In October, 24-year-old Gustave was staying at a weekly motel in Phoenix, Arizona, when police arrived searching for his friend, who had violated parole. But then, Gustave claimed, an officer noticed the tattoo. “The dude just asked if I was Canadian, the next thing I knew I was in here”—“here” being the remote and sprawling Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Eloy, Arizona.
Gustave is one of more than half a million black unauthorized immigrants in the United States--about 575,000 as of 2013. Last week, The New York Times reported that the presence of immigrants from Haiti and Nigeria, who together represent roughly 20 percent of the foreign-born black population, vexed President Trump. The Haitians “all have AIDS,” Trump said in a June meeting with his top advisers according to the Times, while the Nigerians would not “go back to their huts” after seeing America, he said. (The White House denied the comments.)
Research suggests that because black people in the United States are more likely to be stopped, arrested, and incarcerated, black immigrants may be disproportionately vulnerable to deportation. The criminal-justice system acts like a “funnel” into the immigration system, said César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a University of Denver law professor who studies the nexus of policing and immigration law.
But Hernández sees something different in the large number of criminal convictions among ICE detainees. “Racial bias present in the criminal-justice system plays itself out in the immigration context,” he said. “There are so many entry points” to deportation, said Das, and “when you are a person of color who is also an immigrant, you face a double punishment.”
Like Gustave’s conversation at the motel, unexpected or routine encounters with police can put black immigrants on ICE’s radar—regardless of their criminal history. “Even if you take the undocumented part out, I’m more likely to be stopped while driving or walking,” said 25-year-old Jonathan Jayes-Green, the co-founder of Undocublack, an advocacy organization for black immigrants. Jayes-Green, who is originally from Panama, is currently enrolled in DACA, but because Trump cancelled the program this fall, he’ll lose his status in January 2019.
Every time he walks outside, he’s “more likely to come into the criminal-justice system,” Jayes-Green said. From there, “it’s a fast track to deportation.”
Article by the Atlantic. Read More Here>>
Second Chances Chef opens a restaurant. His training? Decades in a prison kitchen.
Candido Ortiz claims he can cook anything: mashed potatoes and gravy, pernil guisado, chicken cacciatore.
Mr. Ortiz honed his cooking skills in an unusual setting — a federal prison, where he was incarcerated for 26 years 10 months 17 days, and where he was a chef for 24 of those years.
Last year, Mr. Ortiz walked out of the federal correctional facility at Fort Dix, in New Jersey, his sentence reduced after President Obama granted him clemency. He left prison with no money, no relatives who could help him financially, no official identification and no career experience.
But with help from the New Jersey Reentry Corporation, a nonprofit run by James E. McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor, Mr. Ortiz was back in a kitchen five days later, as a chef at The Light Rail Café in Jersey City.
Mr. McGreevey ticked off all the steps needed to get Mr. Ortiz back to work: contact the office of the secretary of state for Puerto Rico to get a copy of Mr. Ortiz’s original birth certificate; put together job applications; scroll employment opportunities; make sure he passed drug tests, and establish a mailing address. All the tasks, Mr. McGreevey noted, are next to impossible for a recently released, long-term inmate, particularly at this moment in time.
“This climate has only exacerbated the tension and the need to have documentation immediately available,” Mr. McGreevey said, adding that he has a list of 70 lawyers statewide who help his organization.
Born in Puerto Rico, Mr. Ortiz moved to New Jersey in the 1970s. He grew up poor and said he turned to drugs — the trafficking network was in Paterson and Passaic — when he saw the potential for “fast money.”
“When you were young, you know, you want to get fast money, you see fancy cars, you want to drive one of them,” he said. “I just started selling drugs and you know, then making money. I was making a lot of money. I could buy whatever I needed.”
He was arrested in 1990 and convicted of distributing cocaine and using and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime.
Soon he was a head chef — he boasts that he was one of the best in the entire Federal Bureau of Prisons — cooking for between 1,500 to 2,500 inmates at a time in whatever prison he was in.
His family lives near his restaurant, and his mother and his girlfriend attended the grand opening, setting out platters of cheese and chorizo empanadas and fruit salad.
Mr. Ortiz jokes that his new life has already taken a toll on him.
“That’s why I gained weight. I taste it,” he said. “If it’s not going to be right for me, it’s not going to be right for you.”
Article by NYTimes. Read More Here>>
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.
Job Opportunity Root & Rebound hiring re-entry attorney
Root & Rebound’s (R&R)’s mission is to increase access to justice and opportunity for people in the process of reentry from prison and jail, and to educate and empower those who support them, fundamentally advancing and strengthening the reentry infrastructure across the state of California and the country.
Sonia Gonzales is Executive Director at California Bar Foundation.