Hero and Civil Rights Leader Jack Greenberg, Dies at 91

Jack Greenberg HeadshotJack Greenberg is one of the most famous personality in civil rights struggle. He led the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. for 23 years. According to his wife he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and being treated for it for many years. He joined the LDF in 1984 and since then he has been fighting for civil rights. He was a 24 years old Columbia Law school graduate at that time.  Sherrilyn Ifill is the current president of the LDF and she really admired the contribution of Greenberg in the domain of civil rights. She even said that he modified the face of modern civil rights law and powerfully enforce the concepts of justice and equal opportunities for everyone.

Greenberg was the only white legal counselor for LDF. From 1949 to 1961 Greenberg argued multiple cases on behalf of LDF. Greenberg was part of the team who fought Jim Crow. He was also a member of the team who fought Brown case in Supreme Court of US. He stayed 23 years there and fought multiple cases in Supreme Court. He also helped in filing multiple cases of employment discrimination.

Greenberg’s tenure ended at LDF on 1984. After that, he opted for a lectureship at Columbia University. From 1989 to 1993 Greenberg served as Dean of Columbia University. He was promoted to the post of Senior Director LDF and he stayed at that position until fall 2013. He also served as visiting faculty in many Universities like University of Tokyo (1993-1994), St Louis University Law School in 1994, Lewis and Clark Law School 1994 & 1996, Princeton University 1995, University of Munich 1998, Tokyo University 1996, the University of Nuremberg-Erlangen in 1999-2000, and at Hebrew University in 2005 Greenberg was born in 1924 in a Jewish family. He grew up in Brooklyn. During World War 2 he served in the navy for some time and after that, he did bachelors and masters in law from Columbia University.  He was given Presidential Citizen Medal by President Bill Clinton in 2001.

Greenberg was not just a lawyer he had several eclectic interests. He wrote different books on civil rights and law. Other than that he also wrote some books on cooking which includes Dean Cuisine with Harvard Law School Dean James Vorenberg. He was also an editor of Franz Kafka: The Office Writings. Greenberg also received multiple awards for his services in the field of civil rights. He got the Thurgood Marshall Award of American Bar Association for his work in the domain of law and civil rights. He worked really hard to make sure that equal opportunities are given to everyone and all people get their civil rights. He also received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Notre Dame University in 2005 and an honorary degree in 2004 from Howard University. Greenberg was selected as a fellow of American Academy of Arts and Science in 1998.

In honor of Greenberg, a memorial service will be held on December 5th in Paul’s Chapel.

Technology Making Law Accessible?

technology-785742_1920

 

As we have talked about before, the amount of civil law lawyers available to the public is dramatically less than what is needed in this country. Civil cases do not have a right to defense, even though a civil case can end with a person going to jail, losing custody of their children, losing health care coverage, or losing a home. Out of the five people who need a civil lawyer’s help, four of those people do not have access to it.

 

Landlords, creditors, and companies always have lawyers, tenants and debtors almost never do.

 

While most state bar associations support a civil right to counsel, and 18 different states are considering laws to guarantee a lawyer in certain civil situations, but we may have a long time to wait until that time. So what can be done in the meantime? Well, Matthew Stubenberg may have an answer that can help ease one of the burdens associated with lack of available civil law help.

 

While a student of law at University of Maryland in 2010 doing a clinic full of expungements -helping clients fill out and file petitions to erase qualifying parts of a criminal record. Even if there is no conviction, and even if there is, there are some lifelong ramifications to the effects of the records that can include homelessness from inability to get a job.

 

Maryland has a public database called Case Search that you can use to pull up relevant information to help you fill out the required parts of the forms, but the information transfer process can be long and tedious. “We spent all this time moving data from Case Search onto our forms,” Stubenberg said. “We spent maybe 30 seconds on the legal piece. Why could this not be easier? This was a problem that could be fixed by a computer.”

 

After law school he dusted off his coding skills and built a software that automatically transferred the tedious work into the new forms, helped determine if the case can, in fact, be expunged under the guidelines, and prints a completed form needing only a signature and filing with the court. Called MDExpungement, it puts one more thing that a civilian can do into their own hands. In October of 2015 there was a change in a Maryland law that made more cases applicable for the expunging process. Between October 2015 and March 2016, people filed almost eight thousand petitions in Baltimore City District Court, and more than two-thirds of those petitions came from MDExpungement.
While there are legal groups that are fighting to help bring civil law aid to those who cannot afford a lawyer in almost every state, the more that people can utilize technology to build systems that help, rather than disenfranchise, those who cannot afford legal counsel, the better off we all will be in the long run. We have made some strides in this area in regards to credit, taxes, and other financial applications. The next step is to make civil law easier to navigate on your own.

“Equal Justice Under Law” not Really Equal

EqualJusticeUnderLaw

 

In the U.S. Constitution, the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law” is promise the the law will uphold justice equally for all in our courts. The National Center for Access to Justice created the Justice Index. From the website: “Justice depends on having a fair chance to be heard, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. At minimum, a person should be able to learn about her rights and then give effective voice to them in a neutral and nondiscriminatory, formal or informal, process that determines the facts, applies the rule of law, and enforces the result. That is Access to Justice”

But, according to the Justice Index’s numbers, we are failing our country in law and other legal areas. The way the numbers break down, there is less than one lawyer who can provide free legal aid in civil cases for every 10,000 Americans who need representation but live under the poverty line and cannot afford it.

“[These are] life and death kinds of matters, when you consider that people are being evicted from their homes, facing the loss of their homes in foreclosure or loss of their children in family court,” said David Udell, the director of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law which created the Justice Index.

You are probably aware, either from personal experience or television and movies, of the idea of having a court-appointed lawyer, or the right to counsel. However, most are not aware that this only applies to criminal cases, not civil ones. Civil law includes rent disputes, debt collections, domestic violence, child support, credit and employment issues, evictions, custody cases, and even civil rights cases. There are roughly the same amount of criminal and civil cases adjudicated every year in the United States, and while there are some organizations out there built to help provide aid, there is no burden on the legal system to bear the weight of these civil law needs.

But in addition to a dearth of lawyers, there is also a severe lack of education. The perceived high cost of filing fees prevent thousands of Americans from pursuing justice, but only 12 states have laws that require court employees to inform the public that they can waive those fees. The other states have no obligations. When you consider that almost every state (48 in total) have raised the fees of both criminal and civil courts in the last five years, this lack of available knowledge makes things more unsettling. And in some cases the lack of ability to pay court fees can keep a citizen seeking justice in an incarceration limbo.

This goes even further than lack of ability to pay. For those citizens for whom English is a second language, there are more obstacles than ever. There is no clear avenue for individuals to understand the civil law system. Almost half of all states have no interpreter requirements for staff. Many courts with no interpreter regulations make non-English speakers pay for the services of an interpreter. This is leaving people facing foreclosure or fighting domestic abuse completely without state resources of what their options might be, and the proper steps to take in pursuing a civil case.

The Justice Index breaks down into four categories: Attorney Access: Number of Attorneys for People in Poverty, Self-Representation Access: Support for People Without Lawyers, Language Access: Support for People With Limited English Proficiency,  Disability Access: Support for People With Disabilities. (an obscene 45 states do not provide court employees dedicated to helping those with mental disabilities.)

From the website Pacific Standard: “funding for the Legal Services Corporation, the federal agency that supports and monitors civil legal aid in the U.S., is meager. According to a 2013 report from the Center for Law and Social Policy, LSC funding “today purchases less than half of what it did in 1980, the time when LSC funding provided what was called ‘minimum access’ or an amount that could support two lawyers for each 10,000 poor people in a geographic area.” This is the result of both inflation and budget reductions that severely hindered the agency in 1982, 1992, and 2012. Between 2010 and 2012 alone, the LSC lost 10.3 percent of its legal aid staff. 

While state sources supposedly made up the difference, austerity measures born from the 2008 Great Recession — when coupled with an uptick in civil actions stemming from foreclosures, consumer credit disputes, layoff disputes, and other recession-related conflicts — have left courts without adequate funding. As a result, legal aid attorneys are drowning in cases.”

 

Civil Forfeiture Has Its Days Numbered

Civil forfeiture laws enable law enforcement agencies, like state and local police forces, to seize any property that is suspected of being involved with criminal or illegal activities. In order to do this, the authorities do not need to prove the owner of said property guilty of anything. In many cases, police has seized money from people for carrying what they considered “too much” of it, saying that it could be money from the sale of drugs. However, the owner of the money does not need to get arrested or charged with anything.

The burden in cases of civil forfeiture has always been on the property owner to prove that property’s “innocence” through the court system. However, before that even happens, authorities can then liquidate that property and, in many states, keep the profit and use it at their discretion. Many see civil judicial forfeiture as the single most important threat to property rights across the United States. But with attention recently focused on this issue, states like Montana and New Mexico have begun enacting laws to reform civil forfeiture laws.

As of July 1st, both Montana and New Mexico will see two major reforms go into force. In Montana, the government and its enforcement agencies are various levels, are now required to first obtain a criminal conviction before they can seize and liquidate a person’s property. This also goes as far as turning the burden of proof unto the state and not the person who had their property seized because it was used by someone else to commit a crime. Prior to this, if your neighbor was suspected of using your car to commit a crime, the state had the power to seize it and sell it without accusing you, the owner, of participating in the criminal act. Profit from the sale could then be pocketed by the agency involved.

New Mexico, on the other hand, went a lot further than Montana in its blow to civil forfeiture as we know it – it abolished it. Law enforcement agencies can only seize property after a criminal conviction has been obtained and instead of pocketing the profit, the money will be deposited into a general fund.

The Institute for Justice, which has been leading the fight for reform of civil forfeiture laws, hopes that these landmark reforms in Montana and New Mexico will continue to pave the way for more reforms across the country and, ultimately, at the federal level. Civil forfeiture creates a financial incentive for law enforcement agencies to continue to seize property. In many cases, money seized by local authorities have been used to pay for entertainment and other nonessential things. Many supporters of civil forfeiture law reform believe that the money could also be put to better use, such as going toward education funds across the states. The following Institute for Justice video provides an excellent overview of what civil forfeiture is and why reform is needed:

Obama Administration: Big Change to Immigrant Detention Policy

The Obama Administration has announced that it will commence taking action on a new policy to address the crisis found within several immigrant detention centers across the United States. The new policy will allow for immigrant mothers and children held at these federal detention centers to be released on bond, after which they must appear in court to hear out their requests for asylum within the U.S.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Jeh Johnson, stated that the conclusion had been reached and that the Administration believes that substantial changes need to be made for the sake of families with children. Criticism over living conditions at these detention centers had been mounting for some time. Sec. Johnson also stated that continued detention for families after they have established eligibility for asylum, or any other relief under U.S. laws, would be inefficient and not the best way to make use of these resources.

Critics of this change in policy are citing the potential for increased security risks or flight risks, but the Department of Homeland Security has dealt with such criticism by pointing to the bond amounts and how they are set to discourage any such actions. DHS will attempt to ensure that they can interview families that are eligible to be released as soon as they can, so that they do not have to spend any more time in these facilities. The detention program is criticised for its subpar living conditions, especially for families with children, causing many families to suffer from depression and trauma following months of uncertainty. There have also been accusations of abuses occurring in many of the centers.

This new policy will make it easier for families currently detained or fearing detention to find a faster path toward asylum or avoid detainment altogether. There are tens of thousands of women and children held in centers across the country.

Texas Companies Under Heat for Violations Against Americans with Disabilities Act

Abogado Aly Americans With Disabilities ActA new online article done by the “Austin Business Journal” discusses recent action taken by Texas civil right groups. The civil rights groups are suing cab companies for violations regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act. The two civil rights groups in question are ADAPT and Texas Civil Rights Project. They have filed over 30 lawsuits across Texas against Uber, Lyft, and Yellow Cab stating that these companies do not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ADAPT is a grassroots organization fighting for equal rights for people with disabilities. The Texas Civil Rights Project is a non-profit organization focusing on educating people and aiding litigation for economic, social, and racial injustices. ADAPT and Yellow Cab have been battling in litigation for years regarding the companies disability practices. Uber and Lyft are new to the industry; however, they have been completely absent in their efforts to make their service accessible for people with disabilities.

These startups are content with catering to a more young mobile group rather than complying the Americans with Disabilities Act because it makes their business move faster. Lyft, for example, does not have cars that are wheelchair accessible, in Austin, yet. Yellow Cab has been known to leave people with disabilities waiting for hours.
Both Yellow Cab and Lyft have released statements saying that their companies are committed to servicing the entire community with emphasis on people with disabilities.

Other businesses in Texas have been sued as well. Some of these businesses include residential lofts and condominiums, the Austin Club, La Michoacana Meat Market, and a Pizza Hut. Nightclub roof decks that are only accessible by stairs are a violation of the disabilities act and are also being sued. Medical facilities that do not provide deaf patients with an interpreter are also subject to litigation.

These are basic civil laws that many businesses seem to be ignoring. These civil rights groups have to take the law into their own hand and make a stand against businesses not complying with this basic civil law.