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.
Zahra Billoo is a lawyer and Executive Director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. We’re proud to fund CAIR’s critical and timely work to protect the civil rights of Muslims in California.
Change the World Meet the lawyers who fought the travel ban at O’Hare airport
When news broke in January that the Trump administration had banned travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, emails circulated among Chicago’s legal community asking attorneys to volunteer their expertise to help affected passengers coming into O’Hare. Within a couple of days, 600 had, and dozens of them at a time were stationed outside customs at the airport to assist asylum seekers, green card holders, and others concerned about potential legal challenges to their entry into this country.
“We had green card holders come up to us asking if their green cards were going to be revoked,” says Sufyan Sohel, an attorney in the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Lawyers were drafting petitions for habeas corpus, which challenged travelers’ extended detention, pretty much on the fly.
It became clear early on that there needed to be some structure to what started as an organic movement, so Sohel and three other local attorneys—Iman Boundaoui and Jamie Friedland, who both work at major law firms, and Matt Pryor, who works with Cook County on federal antidiscrimination compliance—led the organizing efforts.
“We wanted to be at the airport and just be visible so we could publicize what we were doing and gather info from people coming off flights,” Friedland says.
Attorneys are no longer stationed at the airport, though should new travel restrictions be put into place, volunteers are on reserve—and are now just a phone call away. With the help of CAIR-Chicago, the group has added a 24-hour hotline for issues that arise. “It’s a beautiful thing to see everyone spring into action,”
Article by Chicago Magazine. Read More Here>>
Watch the Video Interview
More of This How California is leading the way on marijuana criminal justice reform
Eddy, a burly 65-year-old professional musician, walked into a free legal clinic in Los Angeles County one July morning hoping to clear his record. More than three decades ago, he served two years probation for attempting to sell a few gram bags of marijuana, a felony that put the immigrant, a legal United States resident with a green card, at greater risk of deportation.
Thanks to Proposition 64, the California ballot initiative that legalized the recreational use of marijuana last November, Eddy has a chance for a clean slate. Under one provision of the law, many people with pot-related convictions can apply to have them reduced to lesser offenses or expunged, the legal term for having a case dismissed.
A little more than a year after the passage of Proposition 64, at least 2,660 petitions have been filed to reduce sentences for people convicted of pot-related offenses. At least another 1,500 petitions have been filed to re-classify old felony marijuana convictions as misdemeanors or to dismiss them altogether, depending on the offense, according to the Judicial Council, the policy-making arm of the state courts.
Eddy's conviction was ultimately vacated. Now that his rap sheet is clean, he says he'll pursue citizenship. "I'm lucky to live in California," said Eddy, whose father brought him to the U.S. from Central America when he was nine.
Few states have made it possible to clear past marijuana offenses. In the last three years, at least nine states have passed laws addressing expungement of certain marijuana convictions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But no state goes as far as California.
Proposition 64 "gives people the opportunity to recreate themselves and become people instead of statistics," said Nick Stewart-Oaten, a deputy public defender for L.A. County.
Ingrid Archie, a legal clinic coordinator with A New Way of Life, an L.A. non-profit that supports formerly incarcerated women, didn't want to rely on mostly white, wealthy California legislators to pass meaningful criminal justice reforms. That's why she campaigned for Proposition 64 in the communities affected the most by marijuana prohibition—people of color and low-income neighborhoods.
Archie, who lined up to be one of the first people to apply for expungement under Proposition 64 last year—she started the paperwork a little after midnight on election night last year—hopes organizers and reform advocates in other states follow California's lead.
Article is a collaboration between the Marshal Project and PS Magazine. Read More Here>>
Less of This Why is it so difficult for former inmates to become lawyers?
In August 2014, 15 months after she left prison, Tarra Simmons began her law degree at Seattle University. Just before she graduated this past summer, demoralizing news arrived: Her application to the Washington state bar had been rejected because of her past criminal convictions, and she wouldn’t be allowed to take the bar exam.
“Individuals serve time incarcerated. One would think once they’d done that, we would welcome them back into society and facilitate their reentry,” Annette Clark, dean of Seattle’s law school, told me in an interview. “Because these are folks we need—I think we need Tarra Simmons as a lawyer.”
Simmons’ experience is common for aspiring attorneys with criminal records. In many states, they routinely have their applications delayed or rejected because of requirements that they demonstrate good moral character and fitness to practice law. In theory, and understandably, these policies are intended to protect the public from corrupt representation.
But the rules nevertheless create collateral punishments that can endure years after a person’s sentence formally ends and can hinder professional achievement among those who have already shown a capacity for rehabilitation.
Simmons' inability to find employment—and to repay financial debts that had accumulated while she was in prison—led her to consider becoming a lawyer. “I just felt in my spirit: If I’m going through this, there are probably thousands of other people going through this and it is not fair,” she told me. “That’s what led me to law school, to try to change the laws to help people who have made mistakes, changed, and deserve second chances.”
People with criminal records often don’t consider applying to law schools, because they see the legal profession as out of reach, said Debbie Mukamal, who heads a research institute at Stanford Law School. “What we’re all realizing is that individuals who have gone through those life experiences can make some of the best attorneys,” Clark told me. “They know what it’s like. They have credibility. They oftentimes come with a great deal of passion and compassion.”
Article by The Atlantic. Read More Here>>
Commentary A “routine” top almost ended my career as a lawyer
The following account was written by Johnathan S. Perkins, an attorney at the Office of the General Counsel at Harvard University.
Being randomly stopped and questioned by the police is par for the course for black men in America. It’s an injustice so familiar that it barely registers as an injustice. That’s something I knew intellectually. Still, I was stunned when officers stopped me while walking on my law school campus back in the spring of 2011.
That interaction led to the ruin of my reputation as a student and it almost ended my legal career before it started.
I was walking home from a party on the evening of April 1, 2011, when I was stopped by two officers from the University of Virginia Police Department. They told me that I “fit the description” of a man they were looking for. Soon, I was pushed against their car as they searched my body for weapons and went through my wallet. Humiliated, I complied with their every command.
At the urging of one of my professors, I decided to write an article in the campus paper to explain to my fellow law school students what happened to me and its implications.
Within hours, the police department assured the campus community that it would lead an internal investigation and justice would be served. Outrage grew with multiple newspapers, off and on campus, covering the story. To be sure, I felt vindicated.
On May 5, 2011, I was studying with a classmate when I received a call on my cell phone from an FBI special agent who said he was waiting for me at my car and needed to speak to me privately.
What proceeded was an exchange that lasted more than two hours and felt more like an interrogation than a conversation.
instead of asking me to recount my story as one might expect, the agent laid out a set of consequences if I continued to press my complaint.
He said that a swarm of FBI agents would descend upon Charlottesville to question my friends, family, and classmates. He said that agents would visit the office of the Philadelphia law firm where I had a post-graduation job lined up.
At the time, I was just scared. So I yielded and agreed to sign a statement, dictated by the agent, that recanted the facts set forth in my letter to the editor. Doing so has been my life’s chief regret.
Countless editorials branded me a liar, a race-baiter, the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and a prime example of the problem with affirmative action. I lost the law firm job I had secured. My reputation within the legal community was tarnished before I had even received my JD. Indeed, the event continues to cast a shadow over my entire life, both personal and professional.
My story is unusual in that I was a law student at a top university, and I made a public complaint that snowballed into a local controversy. It began, however, with a tragically ordinary event: the routine stop of a black man by the police.
Article by The Marshall Project. Read More Here>>
Perspective ICE Courthouse arrests undermine democracy
The following editorial was written by César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and publisher of the blog crImmigration.
At the door of the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver one Friday in April, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents tackled a man to the ground. A chilling video shows the man — who, according to his lawyer, was there to deal with a traffic ticket — yelling “No!” “My hand!” and “Why?” in Spanish. Sheriff’s deputies order passers-by to stand back, and the violent arrest continues.
The next month, ICE agents returned and arrested another man. His lawyer can be heard in a video of the incident asking the agents if they had a warrant. One responds, “Yes, sir.” The lawyer asks, “Can I see it?”
The agent’s response: “No, sir.”
This type of arrest is on the rise. Lawyers and judges in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington all reported in the first year of the Trump administration that immigration officials were breaking with tradition to descend upon their courthouses. Such arrests in New York have increased by 900 percent in 2017, according to the Immigrant Defense Project.
This is a deeply worrisome trend because arrests at courthouses don’t just derail the lives of the unsuspecting people who are detained, they threaten the very operation of our judicial system. Such arrests scare people away from the courts, keeping them, for example, from testifying at trials or seeking orders of protection. By using this tactic, the nation’s lead immigration law enforcement agency is undermining a pillar of our democracy.
That’s why California’s top judicial official asked the Trump administration to stop this practice. “Courthouses should not be used as bait in the necessary enforcement of our country’s immigration laws,” Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the state’s chief justice, wrote in March to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John F. Kelly, then the homeland security secretary.
Courthouses have a special place in American society. It’s only in a court of law that we can be confident that disputes will be mediated deliberately, and according to a set of rules intended to ensure justice for all parties.
Courthouse arrests by ICE deter not only undocumented immigrants but also people who are here legally but are nervous that they might have somehow compromised their status (or that an officer will think they have).
With no change to federal policy in sight, it is up to cities and states to push back. Elected officials must take seriously their legal obligation to keep courthouses accessible. In addition, the cities and states that own and operate most courthouses and ensure that no one uses their courts in a way that halts judicial business — protesters can’t block the doorway, bail bondsmen aren’t allowed to set up shop in the lobby — should do the same here for immigration agents.
ICE should no longer get free rein to tackle, handcuff and haul away immigrants, sending a message to others that they should think twice before trusting in the courts.
Editorial published by NY Times. Read More Here>>
Event Phenomenal Women Benefit
Join us for cocktails and light dinner as we celebrate Phenomenal Women of the Bay Area and discuss advancing equity and civil rights for women in the workplace. Featuring former attorney general Eric Holder and technology reporter Kara Swisher.
Tuesday, December 5 in San Francisco. Register here >>>
Job Opportunity Kids in Need of Defense hiring attorney to represent unaccompanied immigrant children
With support from the 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). The Direct Representation Attorney is based in KIND’s Fresno satellite office, which is located at UC Merced Fresno Center.
More info here >>>
Job Opportunity Transgender Law Center hiring transgender rights attorney
This fellowship is funded by California Bar Foundation. This fellowship provides recent law school graduates and new attorneys with a unique opportunity to gain first-hand experience in practicing transgender-rights law.
More info here >>
Job Opportunity Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project hiring summer fellow
With support from the California Bar Foundation, Esperanza is hiring a summer fellow for 2018 to provide assistance and representation to individuals who find themselves in removal proceedings as a result of the administration’s new enforcement priorities.
Contact Sheila Bapat at email@example.com for more information