by Elizabeth C. Tippett, University of Oregon and Charlotte Alexander, Georgia State University
Imagine what a lawyer does on a given day: researching cases, drafting briefs, advising clients. While technology has been nibbling around the edges of the legal profession for some time, it’s hard to imagine those complex tasks being done by a robot.
And it is those complicated, personalized tasks that have led technologists to include lawyers in a broader category of jobs that are considered pretty safe from a future of advanced robotics and artificial intelligence.
But, as we discovered in a recent research collaboration to analyze legal briefs using a branch of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, lawyers’ jobs are a lot less safe than we thought. It turns out that you don’t need to completely automate a job to fundamentally change it. All you need to do is automate part of it.
While this may be bad news for tomorrow’s lawyers, it could be great for their future clients – particularly those who have trouble affording legal assistance.
Technology can be unpredictable
Our research project – in which we collaborated with computer scientists and linguists at MITRE, a federally funded nonprofit devoted to research and development – was not meant to be about automation. As lawprofessors, we were trying to identify the text features of successful versus unsuccessful legal briefs.
We gathered a small cache of legal briefs and judges’ opinions and processed the text for analysis.
One of the first things we learned is that it can be hard to predict which tasks are easily automated. For example, citations in a brief – such as “Brown v. Board of Education 347 U.S. 483 (1954)” – are very easy for a human to pick out and separate from the rest of the text. Not so for machine learning software, which got tripped up in the blizzard of punctuation inside and outside the citation.
It was like those “Captcha” boxes you are asked to complete on websites to prove you’re not a robot – a human can easily spot a telephone pole, but a robot will get confused by all the background noise in the image.
A tech shortcut
Once we figured out how to identify the citations, we inadvertently stumbled on a methodology to automate one of the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of legal practice: legal research.
The scientists at MITRE used a methodology called “graph analysis” to create visual networks of legal citations. The graph analysis enabled us to predict whether a brief would “win” based on how well other briefs performed when they included a particular citation.
Later, however, we realized the process could be reversed. If you were a lawyer responding to the other side’s brief, normally you would have to search laboriously for the right cases to cite using an expensive database. But our research suggested that we could build a database with software that would just tell lawyers the best cases to cite. All you would need to is feed the other side’s brief into the machine.
Now we didn’t actually construct our research-shortcut machine. We would need a mountain of lawyers’ briefs and judicial opinions to make something useful. And researchers like us do not have free access to data of that sort – even the government-run database known as PACER charges by the page.
But it does show how technology can turn any task that is extremely time-consuming for humans into one where the heavy lifting can be done at the click of a button.
A history of partial automation
Automating the hard parts of a job can make a big difference both for those performing the job and the consumers on the other side of the transaction.
Take for example, a hydraulic crane or a power forklift. While today people think of operating a crane as manual work, these powered machines were considered labor-saving devices when they were first introduced because they supplanted the human power involved in moving heavy objects around.
Forklifts and cranes, of course, didn’t replace people. But like automating the grind of legal research, power machines multiplied the amount of work one person could accomplish within a unit of time.
Partial automation of sewing machines in the early 20th century offers another example. By the 1910s, women working in textile mills were no longer responsible for sewing on a single machine – as you might today on a home sewing machine – but wrangling an industrial-grade machine with 12 needles sewing 4,000 stitches per minute. These machines could automatically perform all the fussy work of hemming, sewing seams and even stitching the “embroidery trimming of white underwear.” Like an airline pilot flying on autopilot, they weren’t sewing so much as monitoring the machine for problems.
Was the transition bad for workers? Maybe somewhat, but it was a boon for consumers. In 1912, women perusing the Sears mail order catalog had a choice between “drawers” with premium hand-embroidered trimming, and a much cheaper machine-embroidered option.
Likewise, automation could help reduce the cost of legal services, making it more accessible for the many individuals who can’t afford a lawyer.
Indeed, in other sectors of the economy, technological developments in recent decades have enabled companies to shift work from paid workers to customers.
Touchscreen technology, for example, enabled airlines to install check-in kiosks. Similar kiosks are almost everywhere – in parking lots, gas stations, grocery stores and even fast-food restaurants.
At one level these kiosks are displacing paid labor by employees with unpaid labor by consumers. But that argument assumes that everyone could access the product or service back when it was performed by an employee.
In the context of legal services, the many consumers who can’t afford a lawyer are already forgoing their day in court altogether or handling legal claims on their own – often with bad results. If partial automation means an overwhelmed legal aid lawyer now has time to take more clients’ cases or clients can now afford to hire a lawyer, everyone will be better off.
In addition, tech-enabled legal services can help consumers do a better job of representing themselves. For example, the federal district court in Missouri now offers a platform to help individuals filing for bankruptcy prepare their forms – either on their own or with a free 30-minute meeting with a lawyer. Because the platform provides a head start, both the lawyer and consumer can make better use of the 30-minute time slot.
More help for consumers may be on the way – there is a bumper crop of tech startups jostling to automate various types of legal work. So while our research-shortcut machine hasn’t been built, powerful tools like it may not be far off.
And the lawyers themselves? Like factory and textile workers armed with new power tools, they may be expected to do more work in the time they have. But it should be less of a grind. It might even free them up to meet with clients.
As unemployment benefits, eviction moratoriums and other pandemic related safety nets expire, millions of people will find themselves in legal situations they are unprepared to handle. When my legal issues started after my 2011 jobloss, my legal research skills became some of my most valuable assets. Court.rchp.com exist in part because just about every other self represented person I saw in court lost cases they should have won, just as I won most of my cases in court.
If you know you're at risk for adverse legal action, don't wait before it's too late, start educating yourself now! Court.rchp.com contains a wealth of free self-help legal information that you can use to begin more knowledgable about the law.
by Lauren Sudeall, Georgia State University and Darcy Meals, Georgia State University
Judge Richard A. Posner, a legendary judicial figure, retired abruptly in 2017 to make a point: People without lawyers are mistreated in the American legal system.
In one of his final opinions as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, he expressed frustration at the dismissal of one self-represented litigant’s lawsuit, writing that the prisoner, Michael Davis, “needs help – needs it bad – needs a lawyer desperately.”
Unfortunately, Davis’s circumstances are far from unique. Many lower-income people have no lawyer to help them navigate the legal system, either in civil or criminal cases.
Eighty percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, and only those who are actually incarcerated are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. Many people facing misdemeanor charges can, if convicted, be subjected to significant fines and fees, or face the loss of benefits (including housing) or deportation. Yet, they have no right to an attorney, and those who cannot afford a lawyer will go without one.
Unlike in the criminal context, there’s no federal constitutional right to counsel in civil cases. Civil cases can involve a range of critical issues, including housing, public benefits, child custody and domestic violence. And while some civil litigants may be entitled to counsel in certain jurisdictions, in most of these cases, people who cannot afford a lawyer will be forced to go it alone. Doing so may mean that they fail to make it through the process, have their case dismissed or lose what otherwise would have been a winning case.
As directors of the Center for Access to Justice at Georgia State University College of Law, we agree with Judge Posner. People like Michael Davis desperately need help. Without legal assistance, their issues will likely be unresolved or, worse, wrongly resolved against them.
In some states, as many as 80 to 90 percent of litigants are unrepresented, even though their opponent has a lawyer. The number of these “pro se litigants” has risen substantially in the last decade, due in part to the economic downturn and the relationship between poor economic conditions and issues like housing and domestic relations.
The Legal Services Corporation, the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation, reported in June that 86 percent of low-income Americans receive inadequate or no professional legal help for the civil legal problems they face. Here in Georgia, state courts heard more than 800,000 cases involving self-represented litigants in 2016 alone.
In some types of cases, not having counsel can make a dramatic difference. Take the example of low-income tenants facing eviction. Across the county, roughly 90 percent of landlords are represented by counsel, while 90 percent of tenants are not. Simply having a lawyer increases the odds of being able to stay in one’s home. When tenants represent themselves in New York City, they are evicted in nearly 50 percent of cases. With a lawyer, they win 90 percent of the time.
Navigating the system
Why is having a lawyer so important? The reality is that even the most mundane legal matters can require dozens of steps and complex maneuvering.
In one study, researchers identified almost 200 discrete tasks that self-represented litigants must perform in civil cases – from finding the right court to interpreting the law, filing motions, compiling evidence and negotiating a settlement. Some of these tasks require specialized knowledge of the law and of the court system. Almost all require time away from work and caring for children. Many also require the ability to get to the courthouse, to read and to speak English or access a translator.
The Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School has also tracked how labyrinthine the justice system can be. Just starting a routine process – like establishing a legal guardian for a minor – can take many steps, and even these can vary in unexpected ways, given the natural variation among judges and the particulars of a specific case.
Regardless of the type of case, missing just one step could mean you have to start the process all over again or even cause the case to be dismissed, sometimes without the option to refile.
People often quip that there are far too many lawyers. Yet the reality is that, while there are a lot of lawyers in certain geographic areas and certain specialties, in many rural areas – sometimes referred to as “legal deserts” – there are actually far too few lawyers.
Our center recently published a map of Georgia’s legal deserts. In our state, there are five counties without any lawyers at all and another 59 with 10 lawyers or fewer.
To make matters worse, in many of those counties, public transportation and internet access are sparse, and a significant percentage of the population doesn’t even have access to a vehicle.
The Self-Represented Litigation Network, a nonprofit focused on reforming the system to help those representing themselves, has also used mapping tools to depict how access to the justice system can vary across the country and sometimes even within the same state.
One of the most shocking aspects of ou systems is that under US law, children arrested for illegally entering the country don’t have the right to demand a court-appointed lawyer or interpreter. The video below, "UNACCOMPANIED: Alone in America", demonstrates how heartless our legal system can be.
Changing the statistics
So, what do we do about the fact that the legal system is, for many people without a lawyer, nearly impossible to navigate? We believe that it will take a variety of different approaches to solve this issue.
In Washington, nonlawyers can be trained and licensed to offer legal support to those unable to afford the services of an attorney.
Still others, like Self-Represented Litigation Network founder Richard Zorza, emphasize simplification of legal processes, including changing or eliminating the procedural and evidentiary rules that make the process so difficult. For example, the Tennessee Supreme Court has approved plain-language forms and instructions, written at a fifth- to eighth-grade reading level, for use in uncontested divorces between parties with minor children.
Which approach is best? It may depend on the case – and an effective solution will include a combination of the above. Some cases will require nothing less than full-service representation by a lawyer, while in other contexts, streamlined procedures and simpler forms may be sufficient for pro se litigants to get a fair shake.
Whatever the solution, the problem is clear: Self-represented litigants’ grievances are real and, for too many, justice is out of reach.
Republished with permission under license from The Conversation. NOTE: The Immigrant Children segment was added by Randall Hill and was not apart of the original article.
by Carol Marbin Miller and Daniel Chang, Miami Herald
ORLANDO, Florida — On the day Reggie Jacques was born, doctors at Winnie Palmer Hospital in Orlando told his parents that there was no hope, that his brain had gone too long without oxygen during his difficult birth. But Reggie refused to die.
On his sixth day, said parents Jean and Ruth Jacques, doctors urged them to remove Reggie from his ventilator. They said he would surely stop breathing. The couple agreed a month later. But Reggie wouldn’t die.
Around day 60, doctors asked the couple to sign a “do not resuscitate” order. They declined. And Reggie still refused to die.
For 95 days, Reginald Jacques refused to die.
But on the 96th day, Sept. 19, 2016, something felt wrong. Ruth Jacques surrendered to an irresistible impulse to hold her son after a day’s work for an Orange County social services agency. “I was driving the car like a madwoman,” Jacques said of her early evening trip to the hospital.
Jacques flew through red lights. Uncharacteristically, she left her car in a parking space for disabled drivers. She ran up three flights of stairs to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where, she said, Reggie’s monitor was beeping, and he appeared to be in distress.
She picked up her infant son from his bassinet — all tubes and bandages and chirping monitors — and placed him gently on her chest. “With the little strength he had left, he lifted up his head and looked back at me,” she said.
“One minute later, his heart stopped. It was more like our heart stopped.”
Four years later, Ruth Jacques’ heart beats for two as she wages a campaign to demand answers from the doctor who delivered her son. She believes Florida’s state-sponsored Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA, robbed her of the right to seek justice through the courts for the harm he suffered at birth and three months of agony as he fought for life.
Florida lawmakers created NICA in 1988, responding to obstetricians’ complaints that their malpractice insurance premiums were too high. The law bars parents like Jean and Ruth Jacques from pursuing lawsuits against doctors and hospitals when a baby is born with catastrophic, even fatal, brain damage from oxygen deprivation or asphyxia during childbirth.
If the birth injury meets NICA criteria, even in cases where the doctor or hospital may have made a glaring error, parents typically have little choice but to forgo a lawsuit and accept the program’s compensation, which consists of a $100,000 settlement upfront, and “medically necessary” and “reasonable” health care for the duration of the child’s life.
If the child dies, there is an added $10,000 funeral benefit.
The Jacqueses hoped to sue their obstetrician and hospital for negligence, only to learn from their attorney of the law that created NICA. Stripped of that right, they settled for filing a malpractice complaint with the Health Department. They received a form letter saying their complaint had been dismissed because the doctor’s actions did not violate the profession’s “standard of care.” There was no further explanation. Ruth Jacques said neither she nor her husband was interviewed by investigators.
The Jacqueses cannot appeal the investigation’s outcome, or even read about it, beyond the form letter. In Florida, those records are sealed and available only to the doctor.
That wasn’t the state’s only betrayal, Ruth Jacques said.
The day after Reggie’s death, overcome by anger and despair, she did the only thing she could think of: She printed leaflets warning prospective patients to stay away from Dr. Ricardo Lopez, the obstetrician who delivered Reggie. She said she handed them out in front of his Orlando medical office — and distributed a few to patients in his waiting room.
“I felt like the world was shutting me up,” she said. “I wanted to be heard.”
Ruth Jacques said she was silenced again. She learned that Lopez was free to do what she could not: file a lawsuit. Her attorney told her if she persisted in protesting she might end up a defendant.
A lawyer for Orlando Health, which owns Winnie Palmer and employs Lopez, wrote to the Jacqueses’ lawyer in January 2017: “I respectfully demand that Ms. [Jacques] cease and desist from further attacks on Dr. Lopez and [the hospital] regarding this matter.” Then the couple’s lawyer wrote to Ruth Jacques.
“I understand your anger,” the lawyer explained in an email. But, she added, “Any kind of verbal attack or public complaint about Dr. Lopez or Orlando Health could lead them to sue you and your husband personally.”
Lopez, who did not sue, declined to respond to the Miami Herald’s requests for an interview, forwarding the inquiry to Orlando Health.
Alayna Curry, an Orlando Health spokeswoman, said the hospital would not discuss Reggie’s calamitous birth, even though his mother has.
“Our medical team respects the wishes of our patients when it comes to their delivery experience,” she said in a prepared statement. “When a medical emergency arises during a delivery, time is of the essence and our physicians will speak with the patient about the recommended course of action.”
“You Better Push”
There is sharp disagreement over precisely what was said and when inside the delivery room.
Ruth Jacques provided the Herald a copy of her medical records, which contain a notation from Lopez that, based on “severe” fetal heart recordings, “a C-section was offered.”
“The patient refused,” Lopez wrote.
A nurse also reported “Pt refused C-section” in a notation dated two days after Reggie was delivered.
Jacques said she did no such thing, and the records do not contain a signed form from the mother refusing a C-section. The form is considered an industry “best practice,” but not a requirement.
In a 2017 letter to the state Health Department, Ruth Jacques said she insisted that Lopez never told her Reggie’s life was in danger.
“You better push, or you’re going to have a C-section,” she said she was told by the doctor. “In my understanding, he is threatening me [with] a C-section if I don’t push, not that the situation … was an emergency.”
Ruth Jacques did continue pushing, according to her medical records. Lopez attempted to deliver Reggie using a vacuum device, which popped off the infant’s head three times before the fourth pull succeeded.
Dr. Nicole Smith, medical director of maternal fetal medicine practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School’s teaching hospital in Boston, said in general the responsibility lies with doctors to explain their rationale and the benefits and risks of continuing in labor or moving to a surgical delivery.
“Mothers maintain the right to decline a C-section,” Smith said in an email, “but it is the provider’s responsibility to ensure that they understand the risks and benefits to the extent possible in what is typically a highly stressful situation.”
Smith did not review Ruth Jacques’ case or comment on the delivery.
Ethical guidelines of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also place the onus on the obstetrician to provide the patient with “adequate, accurate and understandable information.”
The group advises, however, that even a signed form does not guarantee that the ethical obligations of informed consent have been met.
Reggie’s parents believe their son would have lived had Lopez initiated a timely C-section, potentially preventing Reggie’s brain from being starved of oxygen. But they will never really know.
Like many NICA families, the Jacqueses said they had no idea that they had lost their right to file suit.
Ruth Jacques said she signed forms acknowledging that her doctor and the hospital had informed her of NICA before Reggie’s birth. But she didn’t read them. She said her OB-GYN had her sign them on her first appointment. At the hospital, the forms were tucked inside a stack of documents handed to her when she showed up in labor, distracted by impending motherhood, too late to change her mind and seek out another hospital.
After they lost Reggie and learned that a lawsuit was foreclosed, the couple said their sorrow would turn to outrage when they discovered that Lopez had a history with NICA.
Aside from Reggie’s case, the doctor has been named in four NICA claims, including two petitions filed prior to Reggie’s death. Not every NICA claim is accepted for compensation. But one of the first two lodged against Lopez was.
Two other claims were submitted after Reggie died. Those two were rejected because the newborns weighed less than 5.5 pounds — the legal threshold to qualify for NICA, a requirement intended to eliminate very premature babies from eligibility. In the case of a rejected claim, the family can sue. But none of the rejected claims has been followed by a lawsuit.
Being named in a petition does not mean a doctor committed malpractice — even if the claim is compensated. It only means that the case meets the narrow criteria of the no-fault program.
Bonded by Sorrow
If NICA families are members of an unenviable fraternity, families whose child died are its saddest chapter.
A total of 1,238 NICA claims have been made from the inception of the program through the beginning of April. NICA said at least 440 of those were accepted for coverage, which includes at least 143 from parents whose child had died by the time the claim was accepted.
Another 50 children whose claims were accepted for compensation died after they entered the program, NICA said in an email. Among those 50, the average life span after acceptance was 8.2 years. The oldest lived 29 more years. The youngest survived one day after the claim was accepted.
For some parents, NICA cannot provide what they want most: accountability.
There are practical considerations, said David Studdert, a Stanford University professor and expert in health law who co-authored a study of NICA in 2000.
Some of those families who were accepted into NICA likely would have gotten nothing had they been allowed to pursue a lawsuit.
But there is catharsis in discovering what went wrong, who is responsible — even in just being heard — said Kenneth Feinberg, a lawyer who has designed and administered compensation funds in the wake of some of America’s worst tragedies: the Virginia Tech massacre, the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the rampage at Pulse nightclub, Sept. 11.
The fund established after the Sept. 11 attacks was entirely voluntary, and 97% of eligible claimants opted to take the money, Feinberg said, forfeiting the right to sue. The program had an unusual feature: Claimants could appear before Feinberg or a staff member behind closed doors to express their grief; 1,500 did.
“All kinds of people came to vent, angry, not at the federal government. Angry at God,” Feinberg said.
Feinberg said many described the program as an exercise in justice, but he saw it differently. “I don’t think those words have much meaning when you’ve lost a loved one,” he said. “The best word I use is mercy.”
Reggie Never Cried
Jean Jacques’ father died in March 2015, on the same day the couple returned from their Caribbean honeymoon cruise, leaving them despondent and Jean Jacques as the lone male heir. They decided they wanted to become parents right away. They were hoping for a boy, someone to carry forward Jean Jacques’ father’s last name and legacy.
They found a house suitable for raising kids. Ruth Jacques’ family threw a baby shower. They painted the walls of Reggie’s nursery teal and gray, bought a brown crib and attached stickers of giraffes, lions and zebras to the walls.
On the morning of June 14, 2016, Ruth Jacques went to see her obstetrician for a regularly scheduled appointment. She said there was no indication that Reggie was ready for delivery. She drove to work at the social services agency where she was a neighborhood coordinator.
But the next morning, she woke up with a fever and tremors, so she went to Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. There, her water broke, and she went into labor. Lopez had not been her obstetrician previously but was there for childbirth.
To Ruth Jacques’ ears, Lopez was accusing her of failing to adequately push what she later learned was a 10-pound baby.
When Reggie finally was born, he was essentially lifeless. His first two Apgar scores — measures of his vitality, on a scale of one to 10 — were zero and zero. He required four doses of epinephrine to start his heart.
“Normal babies, when they are born, they cry, they open their eyes,” said Jean Jacques, an Orange County Schools paraprofessional and full-time student at the University of Central Florida. Reggie did not cry.
He was placed on a ventilator — which doctors would recommend unplugging six days later, Ruth Jacques said. Bereft of answers, Ruth and Jean Jacques asked for a meeting.
It took place a week after Reggie’s birth, in a conference room near the intensive care unit, with a U-shaped wooden table. Ruth Jacques’ father, sisters, aunt and the family’s pastor joined the couple. She recalls a hospital lawyer standing against a wall opposite her and Lopez sitting at the head of the table, his arms folded across his chest. He didn’t look at her, she said. The doctor barely spoke.
What happened? she asked. Why was her baby on a ventilator with little to no hope of survival?
“He looked at me in the eye, and he said: ‘You did not want to have a C-section,’” Ruth Jacques said.
“And I said to him: ‘So, are you implying that I killed my baby?’”
Ruth Jacques said the doctor unfolded his arms and wrapped one under his cheek. He didn’t answer.
When the meeting adjourned, Ruth said, she met separately with a Winnie Palmer neurologist. “I was informed that my child would ‘never walk, talk or ever be able to do anything for himself. He would live in a vegetative state.’ ”
At first, the couple resisted removing life support. “We were praying that God would help,” she said.
But the strain became unbearable, the couple said. They said one doctor told them: “If you really believe in God, why would you do that to your child?” The family relented.
“That was the hardest decision for us to make,” Jean Jacques said.
Ruth and Jean Jacques and extended family members gathered round the newborn as a musician played soft and somber notes on a guitar. Someone recorded Reggie’s heartbeat on a disc and handed it to his father. A doctor shut off the ventilator, then pulled the breathing tube from Reggie’s mouth and throat, the parents said.
Reggie gulped for air. His mother covered her ears to muffle the sound of his gasping. Jean Jacques paced the floor. The couple fixated on Reggie’s heart monitor and the clock just above it. It seemed like hours, they said. And then, unexpectedly, Reggie began to breathe on his own.
His Finest Outfit
Reggie lived another two months. He never left the hospital.
He wore his finest dress-up clothes only once — the day his parents buried him.
He was laid to rest inside an impossibly small white coffin, dressed in a short-sleeved, buttoned-down shirt and a tie that was too big for his slender body. The tie and shirt were both white, the color of purity.
The couple buried Reggie far from their home, at Greenwood Cemetery. They didn’t want Ruth Jacques visiting her son daily. She needed time to heal.
But a year after her son’s death, Ruth Jacques took a job as a grants coordinator with Orange County’s government downtown, which is near Greenwood, a historic cemetery. Her son’s graveyard is visible from her office. The boy who lived 96 days was laid to rest near Orlandoans whose full lives gave them prominence, including a U.S. senator and two mayors.
Jean and Ruth Jacques preserved Reggie’s short life in pictures: His arms and legs stretched out like a wooden puppet from the contractures — a shortening and hardening of muscles and tendons — that brain damage wrought. An oxygen tube extended from his nostrils. In one photo, he appears to be looking directly at the camera, though the doctors had said he was incapable of such purpose.
Ruth Jacques found direction in her son’s death, vowing not to let the same thing happen to other parents.
She took to her keyboard, writing to state lawmakers. And to the Florida Justice Association, a group of lawyers who represent litigants like her. Her email to the trial lawyers recounted Reggie’s birth and death in detail. It covered seven pages and said Reggie “will always be a memory of a scar that will never truly heal.” There was no response, she said.
She wants Lopez to remember, as well. And so, she said, every year on Reggie’s birthday — and on the anniversary of his death — she files a new complaint with the Department of Health. It’s a symbolic act, but she wants to remind the doctor that Reggie lived, and that he died.
“He is going on with his life, while we the families are stuck on yesterday.”
Jean and Ruth Jacques, now 35 and 32, live in a modest home in Orlando. They’re raising the little brother Reggie never got to know, 3-year-old Raphael. Another child, Reynaud, was born on Jan. 15. The money she received from NICA will never replace the loss, Ruth Jacques said.
“That’s blood money,” she said. “It’s not going to bring him back.”
Republish with permission under license from ProPublica.
Running on progressive platforms that include ending mass incarceration and addressing police misconduct, candidates defeated traditional “law-and-order” prosecutors across the country.
Elected prosecutors – often called state’s attorneys or district attorneys – represent the people of a particular county in their criminal cases. Their offices work with law enforcement to investigate and try cases, determine which crimes should be prioritized and decide how punitive to be.
After decades of incumbent prosecutors winning reelection based on their high conviction rates or the long sentences they achieved, advocates for criminal justice reform began making inroads into their territory a few years ago. They did so mainly by drawing attention to local races and funding progressive challengers.
She won, becoming the first Black woman to serve as state’s attorney in Chicago. It was also the first high-profile sign that this progressive prosecutorial approach was working.
Her victory was followed by the 2017 election of Larry Krasner as district attorney in Philadelphia. Krasner, a former civil rights attorney, had never prosecuted a case when he ran for office – a move that the city’s police union chief called “hilarious.”
But Krasner’s campaign platform – addressing mass incarceration and police misconduct – responded to a city saddled with the highest incarceration rate among large U.S. cities, nearly seven out of every 1,000 citizens. Krasner won with 75% of the vote.
In Detroit, Karen McDonald won her race for Oakland County prosecutor by promising “common-sense criminal justice reform that utilizes treatment courts and diversion programs, addresses racial disparity, and creates a fair system for all people.”
“I think people are starting to realize, ‘Why don’t I know who my DA is?‘” said Gordon McLaughlin, the new district attorney for Colorado’s Eighth Judicial District, who campaigned on alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. “It’s brought criminal justice into the main conversation.”
One prominent issue on voters’ minds is how prosecutors’ offices choose to handle police violence.
Gascón vowed to hold police accountable for officer-involved shootings. During the campaign, he pledged to reopen high-profile cases, including two where people were shot for not complying with an officer’s directions.
Mass incarceration and cash bail
Progressive prosecutors are likely to have the most impact by diverting people away from the criminal justice system in the first place.
Many have been motivated by what they see as “the criminalization of poverty” – a phenomenon in which the poor compile criminal records for minor offenses because they cannot afford bail or effective legal counsel.
Alonzo Payne, the new district attorney for San Luis Valley, Colorado, was outraged that poor people were forced to stay in jail because they couldn’t afford to post bond.
“I decided I wanted to bring some human compassion to the DA’s office,” he told the Denver Post.
Reforming the cash bail system and reducing mass incarceration is a goal shared by all of the newly elected prosecutors this election cycle, including Jose Garza, an immigrant rights attorney, in Austin, Texas.
It seems that progressive policies are here to stay in some of the nation’s largest cities, but reformers didn’t enjoy success everywhere.
Nonetheless, progressive prosecutors are increasingly winning races – and staying in power – by using the criminal justice system in more equitable ways.
Worrell, in Orlando, is a good example. She ran the Conviction Integrity Unit in the district attorney’s office, investigating innocence claims from convicted defendants.
Her reform message resonated a lot more with voters than the message of her opponent, Jose Torroella, who pledged to be “more old-fashioned” and more “strict.” Worrell won the race with nearly 66% of the votes.
“Criminal justice reform is not something people should be afraid of,” Worrell said. “It means we’re going to be smart on crime, rather than tough on crime.”
I can't think of a more fitting tribute on Dr. Martin Luther King Day than the example being demonstrated by Kimberly Gardner! Just like King, Gardner dares to dream big. Just like King, Gardner's statements are being distorted, her actions vilified and forces have mobilized to discredit her.
Most people can't imagine the sacrifice required to fight a powerful system. Systems are created to protect the self-interest, wealth and power of those who create them. As we predicted three years ago, the system is fighting against Ms. Gardner's reform efforts. System benefactors especially powerful ones will do whatever is required to protect themselves. This is true of virtually all systems, banking, education, political, labor and legal.
Fortunately, systems are not perfect, so there are ways to penetrate systems to create unintended consequences and use them to our advantage. From its inception, the United States was designed to exclude black people from benefiting, however, the Fourteenth Amendment was an unintended consequence.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner is the lastest impossible dreamer and she is using the Fourteenth Amendment in her fight against a corrupt system. She challenged a governor, a racist police department and the justice system and those with self-interest involving our continued oppression are fighting back. Ms. Garner earns more than $167,000 as circuit attorney and could have easily gone along with the status quo, however, she put not only her position and salary on the line to fight for us, but her life as well.
Below is an inspirational video that I'm dedicating to Kimberly Gardner: "The Impossible Dream" sung by Luther Vandross. Some dreams, while being highly desirable seem unattainable or impossible, but even seemingly impossible situations have been overcome by dedicated and determined people.
Kimberly Gardner, the first black St. Louis Circuit Attorney filed a civil rights lawsuit in St. Louis Federal Court, case number 4:20-cv00060, on Monday, January 13, 2020, alleging a racist conspiracy to prevent her from doing her job. Below is a video from CBS morning news the morning after the lawsuit was filed
On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, black female prosecutors from around the country came to St. Louis in a show of solidarity to support Ms. Gardner. It was a wonderous sight to behold these women standing in support of their fellow freedom fighters. Below is the video of that rally.
The Ethical Society of Police, who did not endorse Gardner when she ran for office, stated: "That lawsuit is legitimate because there is a climate in the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department… that is accepting of racism, discrimination, corruption. And some of those entities are within the St. Louis Police Officers Association."
King's dream has not been fully realized, but we are much closer to that dream than we were when he announced it to the world. Unfortunately, the dream has lost some ground in the Trump era, however, that does not mean the dream is unattainable. We must each do our part to make that dream a reality. Oppression is a form of injustice that occurs when one social group is subordinated while another is privileged. Oppression is maintained by a variety of different mechanisms, however, in the United States, the law has by far been the single most effective perpetrator of oppression. Laws allowing slavery, peonage, unequal education, substandard housing, mass incarceration, and a variety of other social injustices helped shaped current reality.
Unlike Kimberly Gardner, when you or I go against the system, we don't have others rallying behind us. Each of us individually must arm ourselves with as much knowledge as possible. Waiting on organizations or others to do for us what we can do for ourselves will most certainly delay the dream. As Ella Baker stated, "strong people don't need strong leaders". Obama's stepfather gave the following advice; “Better to be strong,' he [Lolo] said … 'if you can't be strong, be clever and make peace with someone who's strong. But always better to be strong yourself.”
When I first began representing myself in court with no formal legal training, my friends and family thought my quest was an impossible dream until I started winning! Over a period of several years, I made dozens of court appearances and I did not witness another self-represented person win. Most lost because they lacked the most basic understanding of the rules of court. The legal profession, which restricted the number of African Americans entering its ranks, creates barriers to finding and understanding legal information and resources.
Court.rchp.com reveals what the legal profession seeks to hide and provides free legal information and resources. We also reveal many of the lies of history that were taught to use in organized misinformation and miseducation campaign. Make yourself stronger by increasing your knowledge of the law. Once you've done so, the next time a landlord, business, or institution treats you unfairly you'll be better equipped to respond properly and fight back if necessary. Often, a simple letter quoting a federal or state statute and how it applies to the situation gets the desired result.
When your adversary believes you are uninformed they are more likely to continue abusing your rights. Once you put someone on notice that you understand the law and how to apply, they are less likely to mistreat you and risk a legal challenge.
A study of bail judges in the Miami and Philadelphia areas suggests that both black and white judges show bias against black defendants.
The study, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics, finds that black defendants are 2.4 percentage points more likely than white defendants to be detained while they await their court hearings. The average bail for black defendants is $7,281 higher than for white defendants.
It appears that bail judges rely on racial stereotypes to predict which defendants will commit another crime if released, the researchers explain. In reality, some white defendants are much more likely than black defendants to get arrested again after their release, the team’s analysis suggests.
“We find suggestive evidence that this racial bias is driven by bail judges relying on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of releasing black defendants,” write the authors of the paper, David Arnold and Will Dobbie of Princeton University and Crystal S. Yang of Harvard Law School.
Generally speaking, after an arrest, defendants who seem less risky are released on their own recognizance, meaning they are free to go after promising to appear in court for upcoming proceedings, or they are released if they meet certain conditions such as paying a bail amount or posting a bail bond to guarantee their presence in court. Some defendants are not released because they cannot meet bail.
For the study, researchers examined 162,836 court cases representing 93,914 defendants in Philadelphia County from 2010 to 2014 as well as 93,417 cases from 65,944 defendants in Miami-Dade County between 2006 and 2014.
The findings are consistent with another study published in 2018 that uses machine learning techniques to show that bail judges make mistakes in predicting what a defendant would do if released. That study indicates judges make significant prediction errors for defendants of all races.
Some other key findings of this study include:
Racial bias is higher among bail judges in Miami-Dade than in Philadelphia.
Racial bias is higher among inexperienced judges and part-time bail judges. Experienced judges are better at predicting defendant behavior. The scholars find that judges in Miami who are considered to be experienced have 9.5 years of experience working in the bail system, on average. Miami judges considered to be inexperienced have an average of 2.5 years of experience.
“If racially biased prediction errors among inexperienced judges are an important driver of black-white disparities in pretrial detention, providing judges with increased opportunities for training or on-the-job feedback could play an important role in decreasing racial disparities in the criminal justice system,” the researchers write. “Our findings also suggest that providing judges with data-based risk assessments may also help decrease unwarranted racial disparities.”
Systems, including the legal system, are created to protect the wealth, power, and self-interest of those who create them.
White slave owners created our legal and other systems still in use today. Eric Garner, Mike Brown and more were casualties of rigged systems.
Can you name a single system that does not fail black people in general? Education, banking, political, and just about every other system you can think of has extraordinary obstacles or traps targeted against us. We are de facto slaves because of our misguided trust in or lack of understanding about the systems that govern us.
Unless we are prepared to make monumental sacrifices nothing will change. Tomorrow we will learn about another unarmed black person killed by police, get upset and frustrated, possibly march or protest but nothing will change. We will also hear about another black person being gunned down not by the police but by another black person. The police chief and mayor will talk about plans to reduce crime, community leaders will offer prayers and vigils, "We must stop killed each other" signs may go up, but nothing will change because the systems that caused the problems in the first place will not change.
When we become successful, our success does not look like white success. For the most part, they own and we go to work for them. Two years ago, one in seven white families were millionaires and according to Credit Suisse, there are over 17 million millionaires in the U.S.
White people, for the most part, don't have entire systems designed to work against them, therefore as a group, they have better access to education, employment, housing, capital, and every other meaningful institution and system. Until we figure out a way to disrupt their systems the status quo will remain. What are you prepared to do? If the answer is nothing, nothing will change.
"Give me liberty or give me death"
Most Americans are familiar with the famous freedom quote articulated so eloquently by Patrick Henry, a man who owned 67 slaves at the time of his death. Many have never heard the full speech, a video reenactment is below.
As a slave owner, Patrick Henry knew he did not want to become a slave himself. He understood probably better than most that freedom isn't given, it must be taken.
Article by Caren Morrison, Associate Professor of Law, Georgia State University
The Justice Department won’t file federal charges against the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into the chokehold that led to his death. With the statute of limitations having run out, the case, legally, is closed.
The decision, announced almost exactly five years after Garner was pronounced dead following a confrontation with police officers in Staten Island on July 17, 2014, has sparked renewed objections from his relatives, activists and politicians.
Every officer involved has remained on the force, and no criminal charges have been filed. Daniel Pantaleo, the officer caught on video with his arm around Garner’s neck, was assigned to desk duty, but has stayed on the department’s payroll and even received an increase in his overtime pay.
According to criminal justice professor Philip Stinson, local prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute the officers they work with to investigate cases. Reporting by the Marshall Project suggests they may not want to anger the police unions they often count on for political support. And existing law gives the police the benefit of the doubt in most situations. Based on my research, it seems that this is just how the justice system works.
Obstacles to prosecution
The case’s basic details are not contested. Pantaleo, who is white, was among a group of officers who approached Eric Garner, who was black, during a routine arrest for selling untaxed, loose cigarettes.
The encounter, which a bystander shot using his phone and the city’s medical examiner ruled a homicide, soon turned contentious. It culminated with Pantaleo taking Garner down to the pavement with his arm wrapped around his neck. Pantaleo is seen shortly afterward on the video pressing down on Garner’s head as other officers crowded around him.
A few months after Garner’s death, the Staten Island district attorney announced that he had presented the case to the grand jury, but did not obtain an indictment.
But the fact is that it is extremely difficult to bring charges against on-duty cops for excessive force.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that in police use-of-force cases, allowance must be made “for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.”
Because of the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy, which prevents anyone from being charged twice for the same crime, people aren’t usually prosecuted more than once for a single incident. But because U.S. law considers the states and the federal government to be legally independent jurisdictions, the Justice Department can indict an officer who has previously been charged under state law, even if he was acquitted.
When excessive force prosecutions against police officers don’t result in a conviction at the state level, the local U.S. attorney’s office may indict the officers for violating a person’s civil rights. This happened most notably in 1991 in the case of Rodney King, the black motorist who was beaten by Los Angeles police officers, and recently after the South Carolina mistrial of police officer Michael Slager, for shooting Walter Scott, another unarmed black man, in the back.
But the type of proof needed to bring a federal civil rights case is much more demanding than for a state criminal case. While there are numerous state charges that might be brought against an officer who causes the death of a civilian, from murder to manslaughter to reckless endangerment to assault, there is only one route for a civil rights case.
In those cases, prosecutors must prove that officers used excessive force against a person, generally defined as force that was clearly unreasonable in the circumstances. In addition, they have to prove that the officer’s actions were “willful.”
And willfulness is “the highest standard of intent imposed by law,” as the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, Richard P. Donoghue, said in his public statement about Pantaleo. “An officer’s mistake, fear, misperception or even poor judgment does not constitute willful conduct under federal criminal civil rights law.”
Still, I’m not sure the outcome would have been different with someone else in the White House.
In fact, disagreements on whether the case could be successfully prosecuted in federal court also snarled proceedings during the Obama administration. And there was only ever a narrow path to prosecution.
When Donoghue gave a detailed explanation for his decision, he took an unusual step. Most of the time, when officers don’t get charged, the reasons are shrouded in secrecy. Instead, Donoghue gave a painstaking explanation of the ambiguities in the video, the conflicting medical expert reports, and the reasons he believed the high standard of intent could not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
I once served in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which Donoghue now runs. I hate the fact that many people will never feel that justice was done in Eric Garner’s tragic and avoidable death.
Yet I’m not sure that I could have reached a different conclusion myself.
How Eric Garner's Death Changed New York And The NYPD
The sad reality is, that unless your oppression negatively impacts your oppressor, they have no incentive to change. Even New York Police Commissioner, James P. O'Neill, whose comments begin at 2:26 in the timeline, acknowledges how the protest over no indictments being issued in Eric Garner's death, culminated in the death of two police officers, which was the moment the police department realized they needed to make a change.
Republished with permission under license from The Conversation. The editorial note preceding the article and the video and comments at the end were not part of the original.
The federal class-action claims thousands of people in Missouri were jailed because they couldn’t pay off fines. Four years after the suit was filed, the plaintiffs are still waiting, and wondering if the deck is stacked against them.
By Topher Sanders
In January 2014, Tonya DeBerry was driving through an unincorporated area of St. Louis County, Missouri, when a police officer pulled her over for having expired license plates.
After discovering that DeBerry, 51, had several outstanding traffic tickets from three jurisdictions, the officer handcuffed her and took her to jail.
To be released, she was told, she would have to pay hundreds of dollars in fines she owed the county, according to her account in a federal lawsuit. But after her family came up with the money, DeBerry wasn’t released from custody. Instead, she was handed over to the municipalities of Ferguson and Jennings, and in each city, she was told she would be released only after she paid a portion of the fines she owed them, according to the lawsuit.
It was as if she were being held for “ransom,” her lawyer would later say.
The Supreme Court ruled almost 50 years ago that a person can’t be jailed for not being able to pay a fine. But like so many people in Missouri, DeBerry had ended up cycling through a succession of jails for that very reason, caught up in what critics have called modern-day “debtors prisons,” used by towns to keep fines flowing into municipal coffers.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” said her daughter, Allison Nelson, who has also spent time in jail for not being able to pay traffic fines.
If DeBerry and her family were exasperated by the heavy-handed collection efforts, they would learn how hard it would be to hold the authorities accountable, especially in Ferguson, even after the killing of Michael Brown later that year drew national attention to the city’s troubled criminal justice system.
The city slowly stopped jailing people for not being able to pay fines as the news media showed the victims were primarily black and the Justice Department made clear that what Ferguson had been doing was wrong. But four years after a federal class-action suit was filed against the city on behalf of thousands of people who claimed they were jailed for their inability to pay fines, the plaintiffs are still waiting for redress.
The city has sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, filing a succession of motions, arguing among other reasons that instead of suing the city, the plaintiffs should be suing the municipal division of the state court. All three of the motions have been denied by the judge, Audrey G. Fleissig, of the U.S. District Court in St. Louis, though one of the rulings was appealed and that took about a year to resolve.
One issue has proved to be particularly frustrating to the plaintiffs: whether the city of Ferguson is even insured for a class action.
In March 2016, the lawyer representing Ferguson sent an email to a representative of the city’s insurer, saying that the scope of the lawsuit had expanded, and that concern about the case “grew” after a similar suit was settled for what was believed to be a “substantial amount of money.”
The five-sentence email concluded with the lawyer, Peter Dunne, of the St. Louis firm Pitzer Snodgrass, saying that legal action may be necessary to resolve the question of whether the city was covered for a class action.
“We believe a DJ [declaratory judgment] suit to determine coverage may be necessary,” Dunne wrote.
Three months later, the insurance trust filed a declaratory judgment suit against Ferguson in St. Louis County Circuit Court, asking a judge to find that the city did not have insurance coverage for class actions.
Dunne’s role was not publicly known until September when St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger reported Ferguson’s allegation that Dunne had violated his duty to the city. The email documenting Dunne’s discussion of a lawsuit with the insurer was first obtained by ProPublica. Dunne, one of the firm’s principals, did not respond to requests for comment. The other principals did not respond to emails or to a call to the firm’s office.
Suggesting legal action involving his own client was a breach of legal ethics, some experts said, and the revelation has only deepened the sense among the plaintiffs and their supporters that the deck is stacked.
“No matter where the citizens of Ferguson go in the legal system, justice is really hard for them to obtain,” said Vincent Southerland, executive director of New York University School of Law’s Center on Race, Inequality and the Law. “It’s another example that we have a legal system that was not built to protect and vindicate the rights of the most vulnerable among us.”
The killing of Brown by a police officer in August 2014 and the unrest that followed thrust Ferguson into the middle of a growing national debate over race and law enforcement. But for black people in Ferguson and the surrounding North County region, racial discrimination had long defined their relationship with the local police and courts.
Even as the rest of the country moved on from Ferguson, the people seeking a judgment against the city found themselves mired in the machinations of an insular legal system and an overburdened insurance carrier.
Ferguson, a city of about 21,000 people, was insured through a cooperative of 25 municipalities called the St. Louis Area Insurance Trust, commonly referred to as SLAIT.
Messenger said the rural courts ensnared whites, while in Ferguson and elsewhere in North County, it was blacks who were victimized. “But it’s the same concept,” he said. “It’s policing on the poor, it’s jurisdictions that don’t have a tax base anymore looking to the judicial system as a fundraising tool and judges allowing themselves to be tax collectors rather than purveyors of justice.”
The trust hired Dunne to provide Ferguson’s defense of the class-action lawsuit. But his firm, Pitzer Snodgrass, was also providing the trust with legal advice on insurance coverage issues, according to a court filing by Ferguson. That set up what Ferguson said in the filing was a conflict that the city had not been made aware of.
Even if city officials wanted to settle the case, the trust claims in court filings there isn’t coverage and it won’t pay out. The insurance trust’s lawsuit will determine whether there is coverage.
Michael Downey, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and an expert on legal ethics, said that unless Dunne had Ferguson’s permission, Dunne should not have talked to the insurer about the possibility of a lawsuit over coverage.
“A breach of the duty of confidentiality basically to encourage a party to take action against your client is a pretty serious violation of the rules,” Downey said.
Even if Dunne thought he was conveying something that the insurer already knew, the exchange was still concerning, Downey said.
The trust, through its lawyer, declined to comment.
Michael Frisch, Georgetown University Law Center’s ethics counsel, said that, were the bar to pursue an investigation, any punishment would not be severe. A reprimand — at most, he said.
“It’s the kind of a thing that would not draw that much of a response from the bar,” Frisch said. “Lawyers tend not to get suspended for things like this.”
New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, who specializes in legal ethics, said that regardless of any punishment, Dunn’s actions are significant.
“It’s a big deal, because clients are entitled to loyalty,” he said. “If you can’t be equally loyal to both clients, then you have a conflict and you have to withdraw entirely or from one or the other client.”
For lawyers hired by insurance companies to represent policyholders, the question of who is the client was for many years unsettled ethical terrain, experts say.
Lawyers can feel a sense of obligation to the insurance companies that hire them — and that can provide a steady stream of business — said William Barker, co-author of “Professional Responsibilities of Insurance Defense Counsel.”
Barker, a Chicago lawyer with the firm Dentons, said that until the 1970s, lawyers hired by insurance companies to represent a policyholder typically thought of the company as their chief client. But a series of court decisions since then established that the lawyer owes undivided loyalty to the policyholder, and that is why the lawyer’s actions in the Ferguson case appear to be troubling, Barker said. “That’s something that the defense lawyer ought not to be doing,” he said. “The lawyer who is handling the defense ought not to be involved, certainly in advising the insurance company on coverage issues.”
Michael-John Voss, a lawyer for the ArchCity Defenders, the civil rights group that brought the lawsuit against Ferguson, expects to case to drag into 2020.
“The relief and the remedy has been a long time coming, and there’s no clear end in sight,” he said. “And it reemphasized to me the way that these larger structures are put in place to avoid accountability and to perpetuate a system of social control.”
ProPublica asked the insurance trust if it had instructed Dunne to act as he did, but the trust’s lawyer said the organization would not answer any of ProPublica’s questions because of the ongoing lawsuits.
The insurance cooperative was created in the 1980s to help small St. Louis-area municipalities share the cost of liability insurance and health care. The arrangement worked for the occasional slip-and-fall claim and other routine municipal litigation. But it has not held up well in the face of payouts to cops injured on duty and for actions by the police and the courts.
Most notably, the trust paid $1.5 million to Brown’s family in 2017 to settle a wrongful death claim against Ferguson. But that was hardly the only big hit in recent years. In 2016, a jury awarded $3 million to the family of Jason Moore, an unarmed 31-year-old man, who died after a Ferguson police officer delivered several shots from a Taser.
A state audit released in February showed the organization’s fund balance dropped to $3.8 million in 2018 from $12.2 million in 2016. Like many insurers, the trust also has its own coverage, known as reinsurance, and it turned to those carriers to help with the Moore verdict. But the companies have told the trust that they won’t cover the judgment in the Moore case because the companies allege the trust improperly notified them of the claim. The trust is suing the companies.
Dunne and his firm are no longer working on the Ferguson case. The firm was disqualified by the judge after it hired a lawyer from the ArchCity Defenders who represented one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs in court.
De’carlon Seewood, who stepped down in March after three and a half years as Ferguson’s city manager, said resolving the lawsuit will help the community move beyond the abuses and the notoriety that came with them.
“It is important to kind of move forward and show that new face, that better face,” Seewood said this year, before he left Ferguson to become the city manager in Fairburn, Georgia, just outside Atlanta. Jeffrey Blume, Ferguson’s interim city manager, directed questions to the city’s attorney, who declined to answer.
Seewood said the city had hoped the insurance trust would take care of the settlement the way the insurer for the city of Jennings had. But Jennings was in a very different position. Its insurer was Travelers, the country’s sixth-largest property and casualty insurer. By contrast, the insurance trust is a small cooperative with dwindling funds.
“The insurance [trust] looked at the enormity of what’s being asked and they said that’s it’s outside their [coverage] of the city, and so the city finds itself fighting with its insurance company about [coverage],” Seewood said.
According to a memo written by the trust’s claims administrator, the plaintiffs originally asked for $27.5 million but during mediation in April 2016 reduced the demand to $9.5 million. That amount is what the plaintiffs believe, based on the policies, is the total coverage limit of Ferguson’s insurance.
Alexandra Lahav, a professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law and an expert in civil litigation, said a case like this typically would be resolved in about two years and said the insurance dispute was slowing the process.
“This really shouldn’t be a very complicated class action,” Lahav said.
Lisa Soronen, executive director for the State and Local Legal Center, a Washington organization that supports states and local governments in legal disputes that rise to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the dispute between the trust and Ferguson didn’t leave the city with many sound options other than fighting the case mightily.
“As a practical matter, Ferguson’s a really small city that has no money,” she said. “If there’s no insurance coverage and there’s a huge judgment, I don’t know how it would pay.”
John Rappaport, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School who has studied the impact insurance can have on police practices and policies, said insurance trusts have a reputation for being less likely than commercial insurers to settle cases involving police officers.
“The risk pools or the trusts, they see themselves as extensions of the cities themselves,” he said. “Their reluctance to settle litigation against the police would seem [to be] a kind of loyalty to their members — their cities.”
Rappaport said commercial insurers often see the issues as purely a matter of dollars and cents.
“Whereas if the city either is in a risk pool or the city represents itself, they see it as more of like a moral issue, like we have to stand up for our officers,” he said.
Even after the Ferguson suit is resolved, litigation in Missouri over “debtors prison” practices won’t be. ArchCity Defenders has lawsuits pending in six other cities, with more in the pipeline stretching beyond North County.
DeBerry, the Ferguson woman who was a named plaintiff in the Ferguson class action, was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against neighboring Jennings, which settled for $4.8 million less than a year and a half after the suit was filed.
But the suit in Ferguson has dragged on longer than DeBerry could wait.
She died in April 2018.
“And now she will never even get a piece of this justice because she’s no longer here,” said Nelson, her daughter. “That’s sad, that’s really sad. It’s actually pathetic because it should have never come to that. It hurts.”
Republished with permission under license from ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday vacated an appeals court ruling that supported a lengthy licensing process for hair-braiders in Missouri and ordered a judge in St. Louis to dismiss the case. The Supreme Court voided the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion that upheld the previous cosmetology license requirements, because a new law, which is discussed in the background section, had already addressed it.
The Supreme Court didn't write a separate opinion, it simply reversed the 8th Circuit opinion. Therefore, the question of whether Missouri and other states within the 8th Circuit can require a cosmetology licensing for African hair braiders remains unanswered. However, the lawsuit which called the law into question in the first place is most likely the only reason the law was changed.
This case demonstrates why it is so important to understand and be able to use the law for your benefit. As we have said before, just because a law exists, doesn't mean it legitimate. You have a right and an obligation to question unfair and questionable laws!
Cases such as this is one of the reason Court.rchp.com exist; so people, especially those who have traditionally been oppressed can be empowered. Discover the hidden secrets of our legal and justice system with the information contained within Court.rchp.com.
African hair braiders sue over Missouri law
Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers are professional African-style hair braiders in Missouri, but are not licensed as cosmetologists or barbers. The Missouri Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners required hair braiders to be licensed as cosmetologists or barbers even though African-style hair braiding is not included in the cosmetology or barbering school curriculum, and the licensing tests barely test on subjects related to the practice.
In order to obtain a Missouri cosmetology license, one must pass a background check, undergo substantial training, and pass an exam. Before sitting for the exam, an individual must have: (1) graduated from a licensed cosmetology school with at least 1,500 hours of training; or (2) completed an apprenticeship of at least 3,000 hours; or (3) completed similar training in another state. Alternatively, obtaining a barbering license requires at least 1,000 hours of training at a licensed barber school or completion of an apprenticeship of at least 2,000 hours. Completing the necessary requirements for a license would have forced Ms. Niang and Ms. Stigers to incur significant costs for irrelevant training.
Four years ago, Ms. Niang and Ms. Stigers filed the federal lawsuit; they sued to vindicate their constitutional right to earn a living free of unreasonable government interference, and after losing in lower courts asked the Supreme Court to take their case. The original lawsuit, filed in 2014, complained that African-style hair-braiders were required to obtain a cosmetology license, which can cost thousands of dollars but doesn’t include any hair-braiding training.
When the lower courts considered the braiders’ challenge, they essentially ignored the evidence provided by the braiders that showed the licensing requirements were overly burdensome and did not sufficiently relate to the government’s asserted interests in public health and safety. In so doing, the lower courts applied a version of the rational basis test that is no more than a rubber-stamp of approval of government regulation. But that is not the proper application of the rational basis test.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Tameka Stigers, of Locs of Glory in St. Louis, and Ndioba “Joba” Niang, who runs Joba Hair Braiding in Florissant. Both have performed the hourslong braiding process for years without licenses and say they fear prosecution.
Joba Hair Braiding owner Ndioba Niang, a native of Senegal who later lived in France, said she completed 1,000 of the required 3,000 hours of cosmetology training at a cost of thousands of dollars before dropping out.
The Institute for Justice, which has filed suits across the country against regulation of various occupations, said the appeals court decision in the Missouri case was in conflict with other federal courts and the Supreme Court. Both the group and the Missouri attorney general asked the court to dismiss the case because of the change in the law, they said.
In May, the Missouri legislature passed a law easing requirements on hair-braiding that made the four-year lawsuit moot. Braiders are now exempted from the cosmetology license and a new specialty braiding license only requires that braiders pay a fee of $20, watch a four- to six-hour instructional video and submit to board inspections. Attendance at a licensed cosmetology school in Missouri can cost more than $16,000.
Fourteenth Amendment Jurisprudence
The Fourteenth Amendment states that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Passed during Reconstruction, these provisions held the promise that freedman would finally be granted the same rights and protections as their white brethren. Yet less than five years after this amendment was enacted, the Supreme Court eviscerated the Privileges or Immunities Clause in what became known as the Slaughter-House Cases (1873).
There the Court held that the clause—which was supposed to protect substantive rights against state infringement—only guaranteed a limited set of federal rights, such as the right to access seaports, to use navigable waters, and to demand protection on the high seas (not exactly the key motivations for the Civil War). The ruling not only delayed the protection of African Americans’ civil rights, it left the Court’s Fourteenth Amendment jurisprudence hopelessly confused and contradictory.
Slaughter-House eventually led to the development of modern “substantive” due process doctrine as a makeshift bandage over the hole in the Fourteenth Amendment left by the unprotected privileges and immunities. While allowing the Court to protect some rights, the “incorporation” of certain rights through the Due Process Clause relegated other, often “economic” rights to second-class status. Instead of judges’ taking a hard look at the actual reasons a law was passed and asking whether the government has overstepped its constitutional bounds, infringements of the right to earn a living or the freedom of contract barely receive a passing glance. They are upheld unless nobody—not even the judge hearing the case!—could possibly imagine a legitimate rationale for the law. Suffice it to say, hardly any laws are struck down under this so-called rational-basis test.
What It Has to Do with Hair-Braiding
Enter Ndioba Niang and Tameka Stigers, both of whom are traditional African-style hair braiders attempting to support themselves by offering their services to willing customers. The Missouri Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners, however, demands that they first pay thousands of dollars to receive completely irrelevant training that has virtually nothing to do with hair-braiding. Applying the usual government-can-do-whatever-it-wants-regarding-economic-regulations level of judicial scrutiny, both the federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the licensing scheme.
You Shouldn’t Need a License to Braid Hair
This approach is wrong: ethically, historically, and legally. There is a long and well-documented history recognizing the right to earn an honest living as being at the center of the Anglo-American legal tradition and indispensable to the maintenance of a free and open society. Industry insiders often lobby for licensing laws and regulations—and then populate the boards or agencies tasked with enforcing the new rules as a means of limiting their competition. By contrast, those harmed are often politically powerless groups with limited means to fight back. But as long as the government says the magic words of “safety,” “health,” or “consumer protection” in asserting its restrictions, courts are content to turn a blind eye.
Because the right to earn a living is one of the basic rights that our Constitution was formed to protect, Cato has filed an amicus brief supporting the hair-braiders’ petition to the Supreme Court. We ask that the Court take Niang v. Tomblinson and establish that courts must meaningfully examine government incursions against this essential liberty, regardless where in the Fourteenth Amendment it finds the relevant right.
The background section was reprinted with permission under license from Cato at Liberty, with additional edits from other sources.
A Texas jury found a white former police officer who shot and killed Jordan Edwards, an unarmed black teenager last year guilty of murder.
Roy Oliver fired three rifle rounds into a car full of teenagers, which included Edward's sixteen year old brother who was driving and another brother, as they were leaving a party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs in April 2017. Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards, who was unarmed and sitting in the passenger seat, was struck and killed. Edwards was a first-year student at Mesquite High School where he played football.
Edwards' brother was held in police custody overnight for the purpose of questioning him as a witness. Police originally claimed there was alcohol present, during the trial, the jury learned there was no alcohol present at the party, despite what police had initially said.
"It's been a hard year … I'm just really happy," Edwards's father, Odell, told reporters at the court after the verdict on Tuesday.
At the time of the shooting, Oliver claimed the vehicle was trying to run over his partner, but several witness accounts and body-cam footage showed the car was moving away from the officer. A vigil was held at Edwards's school on the evening of May 1, 2017.A lawyer for Edwards' family demanded the arrest of Oliver.
Oliver was placed on administrative leave following the shooting and fired from the Balch Springs police force on May 2, 2017 after police admitted the video of the shooting contradicted Oliver's initial statement.
Police originally stated there was an "unknown altercation with a vehicle backing down the street towards the officers in an aggressive manner". After reviewing body cam footage, Police Chief Jonathan Haber later admitted that the vehicle was not moving toward the officers, but rather away from them.
Local reporters, who were present in the courtroom on Tuesday as the verdict was read, reported that there were hugs, claps and cheers from the family of Edwards.
Oliver faces between five and 99 years in prison for the murder. His sentencing hearing began immediately after the trial. The former police officer was acquitted of manslaughter and aggravated assault.
Daryl Washington, Edwards's lawyer, said the verdict is not just about justice for the young teenager's family but for the families of all unarmed black people killed by police.
"This case is not just about Jordan," Washington told reporters, adding that "it's about Tamir Rice, it's about Walter Scott, it's about Alton Sterling, it's about every unarmed African American who has been killed and who has not got justice".
The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings the previous year.
Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.
According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.
These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights movement aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.