Saturday, May 27, 2006

This is big, Mac

The charitable spirit that underlies civic action like this should be recognized and applauded. This is really a big deal in my book, and McDonald's deserves a lot of credit for it.
OAK BROOK, Ill., May 26 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- McDonald's today announced it is the 2006 recipient of the Chicago Legal Clinic, Inc. Charles J. O'Laughlin Memorial Award. McDonald's was recognized with this award for providing professional legal services and advocacy to low income, elderly and disabled Cook County residents and public service organizations in the Chicago-land area in need of legal counsel or representation. The award was presented during the Clinic's 22nd Annual Awards dinner at the Hilton hotel in downtown Chicago earlier this month.
Nice going, McDonald's. I may even stop in and buy a burger for the first time in many years. Here's the rest of the story.

How many pro bono lawyers does it take to . . . .

How many pro bono lawyers will it take to deal with the situation described below? What will happen when these "undocumented immigrants" become felons? We all need to take a deep breath and try to visualize what is going to be happening very soon with respect to law enforcement, individual rights, and civil liberties. Are we really willing to pay the price for the supposed benefits?

NEW YORK – As the immigration reform debate heats up in Congress, rumors of immigration raids have spread widely in immigrant communities. Consequently, undocumented immigrants have tried to stay under the radar, many of them avoiding going out because they fear the raids. Immigration lawyers are advising immigrants to keep in mind that immigrants, documented or undocumented, have protected rights under the United States Constitution.

Chen Pei-Yi, a New York attorney who is running for District 2 judge, said that before any immigration reform bills can take effect, the Senate and the House of Representatives must first reconcile their votes.Chen said, however, that undocumented Chinese immigrants often don’t know their basic rights. When they are questioned by the police, their lack of knowledge often results in deportation. Undocumented immigrants should know that they have the right to remain silent as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution when questioned by the police.

In many states, people questioned by the police are required by law to give their true name, but only a judge can order a person to give more information. When questioned by the police, Chen advised, the less you say, the better. Chen also emphasized that any law enforcement must have a search warrant to search private property. The search warrant should show the reason for the search. If a police officer does not have a search warrant, people can refuse to be searched. However, police officers can search any person’s clothing to see if he is holding a weapon. In such a situation, Chen advises that people retain witnesses who can testify that the person was searched against his or her will.

Whether documented or undocumented, everyone has the right to see a lawyer, Chen said. The police must stop questioning if a person requests to see a lawyer. Chen advised people to carry the contact information for their lawyers.

If a police officer stops you, Chen said it is important to put both hands where the police officer can see them. If you feel ill or are injured while stopped by the police, you must request medical help and get contact information from witnesses at the scene. Chen said that many Chinese who don’t know English might be pressured into signing documents that they do not understand, thinking that if they signed, then they can go home. But signing these forms might have serious consequences. For example, you might inadvertently give up your right to see an immigration judge.

Chen emphasized the importance of seeing a lawyer to make sure that you understand the forms. Although undocumented immigrants do not have the right to a government-provided attorney, immigration officials have the legal obligation to provide a list of pro-bono lawyers who can help undocumented immigrants.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Gulfport lawyer honored for post-Katrina work

This is a real news story in my book. It is gratifying to see the Biloxi SunHerald reporting on it.
GULFPORT - A passion for promoting and providing pro bono legal services to the indigent and the "working poor" has earned Felicia Dunn Burkes the Magnolia Bar Association's highest honor. The state's first organization for black lawyers honored Burkes earlier this month with its award for outstanding community service. She also was honored for organizing a workshop on post-Katrina legal issues and a summit that, in part, assisted citizens wanting restoration of voting rights.
Nice going, Ms. Burkes. You have many admirers. In case you missed it, here's a link to a video that gives some idea of the environment in which Ms. Burkes has been working.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Lasting doubts

This is what it's like for those who do pro bono death penalty work.

I paused on Wednesday, as I do every May 17, to remember a man who was executed for a murder I am certain he didn't commit. Timing is everything, of course, and former Gov. George Ryan's decision in 2003 to empty Illinois' Death Row came too late to save my client and friend, Girvies Davis, who was put to death on May 17, 1995. By the time I got involved in the case, 15 years after the trial and five months before the execution, nothing short of finding the real murderer would have saved Davis' life. Our criminal justice system admits mistakes only when it has to, and belated attempts to cast doubt on a verdict are usually swept aside, regardless of merit, unless the defendant can actually prove his innocence. Proving a defendant's innocence, though, is a tall task. Because there were no witnesses against Davis, there were no statements to recant; because there was no forensic evidence, there were no DNA tests to run.

The attorney client privilege permits defense lawyers to get very close to their clients and to hear things that no prosecutor will ever hear. Invariably, this leads to judgments and insights that have lasting effects on the pro bono capital defense lawyer. There is simply no way for anyone who has not done this type of work to understand the depth of Mr. Schwartz's feelings that lead him to remember his client on each May 17 for the past 11 years. There are many different equally valid perspectives from which to consider the appropriateness of having a death penalty. I applaud Mr. Schwartz for expressing his.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.

Henry VI, Part 2. It wasn't meant to be good when Dick the Butcher said it, and there's nothing good happening here either.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Syrian police arrested the country's leading rights lawyer and five other rights activists Wednesday, as a government newspaper rebuked those who had signed a petition calling for an improvement in Syrian-Lebanese relations. Anwar al-Bunni was dragged away in front of his home by security forces, his family said. His brother Akram al-Bunni said that the lawyer was heading out of his house late Wednesday to go to an English class when two men approached him and asked him to get into a car.
Let's keep an eye on this.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An act of Congress

This isn't exactly the kind of act of Congress that I was hoping for regarding the Darfur genocide, but it will do for today. If only the rest of our national legislature would get off their ****s.
Seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus were arrested at the Embassy of Sudan on Tuesday while protesting conditions in the nation's Darfur region. "We will not tolerate genocide," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., the caucus chairman. "We are saying to Sudan this has got to stop." The seven were taken away in Secret Service cars after blocking the entrance to an embassy. They were released a short time later after paying $50 fines.
Nice going, noble members of the Congressional Black Caucus! Update: Here is a link to a video of the demonstration and arrests (courtesy of I got very emotional watching it. These are daring steps taken by brave members of Congress. It sent shivers down my spine to see them arrested, cuffed, and manhandled into police vehicles. We need to do something.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Too much police power?

In my opinion, there is grave danger to our societal future posed by the prospect that new immigration legislation may soon make conduct felonious which had not previously been so. The risk, of course, is that large numbers of people residing in this country, regardless of citizenship status, will not alter their conduct to abide by the letter of the new law. This will make them felons. It is the duty of the executive branch of our federal government to detect, track down, arrest, prosecute, and jail felons. Law enforcement, as ideal as it may be in the abstract, is seldom perfect and often flawed in its execution by officers and agents who make mistakes and whose zeal can be nothing short of breathtaking in its invasiveness and righteousness. It is not unreasonable for law abiding citizens to be concerned that no office, business, house, or home will be immune from an aggressively hot pursuit of this new class of felons with or without search warrants. Modern surveillance technology can and should be applied to detect felonious conduct and to arrest all who engage in, aid, or abet it. Here, it will almost certainly be applied with a vengeance on a scale never before experienced in this country. Are we really ready for this? Think hard. How much police power is too much police power?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Greatest Generation

Now here's something that gets my attention.

It is perhaps ironic that Rufus Johnson was forbidden from swimming in the city pool where he grew up in Pennsylvania, since it was that denial that set him on a path of historical significance.A decorated War World II veteran, an accomplished lawyer and black-belt Karate expert, Johnson, who is black, is now retired and living in the Hill Country. Despite the effects of age on the body after nearly a century, Johnson doesn’t wear reading glasses; has a broad, toothy smile and hearty laugh; and gives a firm hand shake to anyone he meets. He also carries assorted pocket knives wherever he goes. “I’ve enjoyed all of my life,” Johnson said. This month, he celebrated his 95th birthday with a party at the Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park in Fredericksburg.********************************

After the military, Johnson set up practice in California, where he pushed for a public defender position and helped establish the practice of lawyers performing pro bono work. “I settled in San Bernardino, because at that time there was only one black lawyer and there was at least 30,000 Negroes, but it turned out all of my clients were white,” Johnson said.When asked why his clients were white, Johnson didn’t hesitate. “They wanted to win a case,” he said. Not all of his clients were white. In 1964, Johnson went before the California Supreme Court representing Navajos who were arrested two years earlier during a religious ceremony involving peyote, a hallucinogenic cactus. Johnson won the case, which still stands today.

The rest of the marvelous story of Rufus Johnson is here. Happy birthday indeed, Mr. Johnson. You have many admirers.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Darfur: Lost in translation

This can't be good:

Darfur Refugees Kill Translator in Sudan By BISHR EL-TOUNI , 05.08.2006, 02:13 PM

Residents of a Darfur refugee camp hacked an African Union translator to death Monday shortly after the U.N. humanitarian chief rushed out of the same camp when demonstrators attacked another translator who was part of his entourage, U.N. spokesmen said. Both attacks were in Kalma camp near the city of Nyala in south Darfur, visited by Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in New York said he was told there were two attacks. The first attack was against a non-governmental organization staffer, which prompted the departure of Egeland and his staff, Dujarric said. The second occurred after Egeland left, when the African Union compound in the camp was destroyed by its residents, he added. "It is our understanding that an African Union translator was hacked to death," Dujarric said. Earlier, U.N. spokeswoman Dawn Blalock said Egeland and his entourage had rushed out of the camp when demonstrators demanding the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers attacked a translator. They accused the translator of supporting the feared Janjaweed, the pro-government militia blamed for widespread atrocities in Darfur, she said.

The rest of the story is here. The misery being inflicted upon the poor and displaced in the Darfur region of the Sudan is just horrific. Only desperation of the worst sort could lead to events like this. Again I ask, what will the rest of us do about this? Have Afghanistan and Iraq permanently removed the possibility of U.S. or U.N. intervention as peacekeepers to stave off humanitarian disaster and even genocide? Can't someone see their way around this corner? Where are the real leaders in this world?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Hurling pro bono publico

The Florida Justice Institute and the Florida Bar Foundation have teamed up to help indigent defendants and new lawyers to find each other with some interesting side effects.

During her opening trial statement, Sherylle Gordon was so nervous that she felt nauseous. The 36-year-old Miami law firm associate was arguing a civil rights case in April 2005 before U.S. District Judge William Dimitrouleas and a 12-person jury. She says she kept thinking about how her client, convicted felon Henry LaFavors, was counting on her to prove his claim that Broward Sheriff's Office deputies allowed a police dog to attack and injure him during his arrest on outstanding felony warrants even though he had already been subdued.

It was new territory for Gordon, a commercial litigator at Clarke Silverglate Campbell Williams & Montgomery. She had no civil rights law experience and no experience as lead attorney in a jury trial. "You go in and you think, 'I'm going to hurl,' " Gordon recalled with a laugh. "But every day it got better." Gordon got that trial experience through the Volunteer Lawyers' Program, which is sponsored by the nonprofit Florida Justice Institute and partly funded by The Florida Bar Foundation. The program provides private legal representation to hundreds of indigent Floridians each year in civil and criminal cases. Since 1978, the Florida Justice Institute has brought class action lawsuits in areas such as housing discrimination and prisoner civil rights.

The entire article is here. Any program that has Ben Reid of Carlton Fields in it is going to be good. He is one heckuva trial lawyer.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mississippi: The Invisible Coast

If you think the Katrina devastation story is ancient history, take a look at this video.