Minority Issues

Righteous-IndignationThis week, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) announced that it accepted a hefty donation from Koch Industries.  According to NACDL, the grant will fund an initiative to better train indigent defenders and study best practices of current state level indigent defense delivery systems.  The organization points out that over 80 percent of criminal defendants must rely on indigent defense systems for representation, though the systems are “chronically underfunded and overburdened and, as result, in many instances are unable to effectively deliver adequate representation.”  NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer also said, “[W]e are honored that while Koch is providing this significant funding to support NACDL’s efforts, Koch is deferring to NACDL’s expertise in this arena for the grant’s effective deployment.”

Koch Industries is, of course, the Kansas-based, privately-held corporation of Charles and David Koch, often known to their many liberal critics as “the Koch Brothers.”  (Sort of like the Wachowski Brothers but with more money and without the transitioning.)  Critics such as Democratic Senate majority leader Harry Reid and increasingly agitated AlterNet writers decry the Kochs, who are reportedly each worth $36 billion, for their donations to the GOP and conservative causes.

So, should we be skeptical of the Kochs’ recent gift to help poor folks get adequate legal representation?  After all, how could a Google search for “Koch Brothers Evil” turn up so many seemingly pertinent results, if they were up to any good?  So, how can an organization like NACDL accept money from the ne’er-do-well billionaires who funneled money into such ultra-conservative, oligarchy-preserving causes as . . . the United Negro College Fund?

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Righteous-IndignationThe public learned this week that the Judicial Council of the D.C. Circuit dismissed a complaint of judicial misconduct against Judge Edith Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.   The order followed a year-long investigation by Special Counsel Jeffrey Bellin.  The roughly 70-page Report of the Special Committee appears nonpartisan, thorough, and fair.

The complaint stemmed from a lecture Judge Jones gave to the University of Pennsylvania Federalist Society chapter in February 2013.  Among the complainants’ claims was that, during her lecture, Judge Jones suggested she believed that members of certain races were predisposed to commit violent crimes.  With no recording of the event, witnesses disagreed about exactly what she said.  Was she talking about genetic determinism?  Or was she only referring to the objective fact that, for whatever reason, our nation’s prisoners are disproportionately black and Latino?  The subsequent independent investigation concluded that “whatever she said initially, it is clear that Judge Jones used the question-and-answer period to clarify that she did not adhere to such views,” rejecting the complaint’s version of her speech. The D.C. Circuit cleared her of all of the charges of misconduct, including this one.

When the complaint was first filed, I defended Judge Jones. Defending her was relatively easy….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “How Edith Jones Helped Prove Eric Holder Right: Lessons I Learned About Race After Defending A Judge Accused Of Racism”

Ricky Martin

Ed. note: Please welcome Susan Cartier Liebel of Solo Practice University, who will be writing for Above the Law about issues relevant to solo and small-firm practitioners.

I am a Gleek. I admit it. And never was I more Gleeky than the week Ricky Martin made his guest appearance on the show singing in Spanglish “I’m Sexy and I Know It” back in 2012.

But, that’s not really what this post is about. What it is about is what Ricky Martin’s character, the new Spanish teacher, said to his night students wanting to learn Spanish: “By 2030 more Americans will be speaking Spanish as their first language than English.”

I was a little surprised, too! That’s less than 18 years away from when the show aired in 2012. The stars then took turns singing songs in English and Spanish, the not-so-subtle message being we all need to hone our Spanish language skills….

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What the hell is going on here?

Canadians are generally a friendly lot. At least, when they aren’t building anti-gay law schools or talking about their Stanley Cup drought (21 years and counting). So it was more than a little bit startling to see the latest cover from Canadian Lawyer magazine going all Birth of a Nation on us.

The prominent legal publication featured a cover story about the lack of diversity on the Canadian bench. Unfortunately, the cover image they used did a much better job demonstrating why there might be race problems in Canada. Great White North indeed.

And bizarrely, the magazine hasn’t apologized for its cover despite the controversy it’s sparked….

(Please note the UPDATE added below.)

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This story starts as a sperm bank horror story. A lesbian couple wanted to have a baby, and decided artificial insemination was the way to go. They pored over donor profiles, discussed with family and friends, and finally picked one specimen of biological material that was right for their family.

But the sperm bank sent over the wrong specimen, and didn’t figure out the mistake until the woman, Jennifer Cramblett, was well into her pregnancy. Terrible, right? The sperm bank apologized and gave her a refund, which probably doesn’t even scratch their legal liability. But the woman carried the baby to term and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

Now, two years later, Cramblett wants to sue. The sperm donor mixup really should be enough to support her claims for wrongful birth and breach of warranty. But Cramblett has added a surprising twist to her protestations of harm. It turns out that the incorrect donor was black. Cramblett now claims emotional distress because her family and town are too racially intolerant for her to raise a mixed-race daughter in their midst…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “White Woman Learns What It’s Like To Be A Black Mother, Sues”

An LGBT group at a top law school is having a “neon party” this weekend. Posters promoting the event featured a scantily clad black woman with a pleasing backside. This poster has caused a kerfuffle… and I bet you can guess the law school.

Now, it doesn’t escape the notice of the black community when white gay men appropriate black female culture (or white women who have appropriated black culture) as “mascots.” But black people are pretty used to white people “stealing” their culture. White culture is like the Borg.

That said, there are real, honest-to-God racial issues in this country that need to be addressed. Gay men twerking is not one of them

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Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.

I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own first novel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.

Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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Kim Kardashian

* First things first, she’s the realest: In light of the ongoing situation in Ferguson, Missouri, of course Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged that we have a “real racial problem” in America. [National Law Journal]

* Cooley Law has experienced legal troubles over its job stats for the past few years, and a great deal of it has been handled by Miller Canfield. It raked in almost $1M from the school from 2011 to 2012. [Am Law Daily]

* Yesterday, a federal judge in Florida struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional. The latest opinion is one of nineteen in favor of marriage equality. The decision was stayed, but yay for Flori-duh! [CNN]

* Half of Concordia Law’s third-year class will not be returning to school this fall because they’d rather wait to receive word on whether the school will be accredited than waste more of their time there. [Boise State Public Radio]

* Thanks to JudgmentMarketplace.com, a dentist was finally able to collect on a a years-old default judgment against Kim Kardashian — but only because a lawyer bought it from him. [WSJ Law Blog]

In Ferguson, Missouri, outrage over the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown roils on.  Attorney General Eric Holder visited Ferguson yesterday, promising Brown’s family and the concerned public that a federal investigation would ensure justice.  If Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Brown, willfully deprived the young black man of his constitutional rights to be free from unlawful deadly force, Wilson could be convicted under federal civil rights law, in addition to any possible state charges.

Much of the outrage over Brown’s death is rooted in the belief that Wilson responded to Michael Brown as he did because of Brown’s race.  The case calls up a painful history of racist white men murdering black men under color of law.  I don’t dispute the existence of that history, and I humbly acknowledge that, as a white woman, I will never feel the same pain associated with that history that black men and women will.  Even so, I wonder about what in this particular case leads so many observers to conclude that racism obviously caused Wilson to shoot and kill Brown — not simply to conclude that Wilson was unjustified in his use of force for non-race-based reasons, or to be suspicious of the circumstances surrounding the use of force.

How could we distinguish a set of facts where a white police officer improperly kills a black teenager without racial bias from one where a white officer improperly kills a black teenager because of racial bias?  Do we have a picture of criminal violence by a white officer against a black teenager that is wrong, but not wrong for any reasons that involve race?

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I would like to throw a brick at a cop in Ferguson. Any cop. All the cops. As a black male, I would like to fight back, violently, against the forces that have hunted me all my life, and will hunt my son all his life.

I’m not going to, but that is because history is not on my side. I no longer give a damn about the moral virtues of non-violence, but recorded history tells us that an oppressed minority population cannot succeed through violence. I don’t have a magic staff that can bring locusts and selectively drain or flood rivers, and without such a weapon, being peaceful out there is the only effective and reasonable option. I have just enough education to understand that, and just enough restraint to practice it. I believe in non-violence because it’s the only thing that works.

Thomas Jefferson has a famous quote about slavery. He was talking about the Missouri Compromise, which allowed Missouri to enter the union as a slave state (a fact way more relevant to the current situation than Mike Brown’s alleged shoplifting). On the slavery question, Jefferson offered: “We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.” Everybody remembers that part, but here’s the next line: “Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other.” Jefferson is talking about justice for the slave, and self-preservation for America.

What America has done since 1820 is to gain self-preservation for itself without granting justice to those it oppressed. It’s been a neat trick. Go ahead, name any “justice” statistic: incarceration rates, conviction rates, homicides, homicides by cop, death penalty rates, drug prosecutions, forced plea bargains, diversity in the police force, diversity on the bench, name ANY JUSTICE STAT YOU CARE ABOUT. You have just named a statistic that illustrates how African-Americans are denied equal justice as compared to white Americans.

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