“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.”

 

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.

The Laws for Federal Minimum Wage in the United States

Abogado Aly Civil Law Minimum WageIn a recent article by United States Department of Labor, wage and hour division is discussed. In this article, many questions about minimum wage law are answered. A common question that many US citizens ask is, “how much is federal minimum wage?” The Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says that the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. This has been in effect since July 24, 2009. In many states, citizens are entitled to both the state and federal minimum wage laws- meaning the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage. That being said, there are also numerous exceptions apply under certain circumstances such as to workers with disabilities, full-time students, youth under the age of 20 and tipped employees.

Employees that fall under the “tipped employees” category often wonder how their minimum wage differs from other employees who are not tipped. An employer can not pay an employee less than $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equals at the least the federal minimum wage amount. On the other hand, if an employee’s tips combined with the direct wages received do not equal the federal minimum wage by the hour, then the employer has to make up the difference.

For people under the age of 20, there is also a different minimum wage for them. In the first consecutive 90 days working for the employer- the minimum wage is $4.25. After those 90 days are over, the employee is allowed to receive $7.25 per hours for minimum wage. In addition, there are also exceptions for full-time students. This applies to students who work in retail or service stores, agriculture, or college and universities. The employer that highers the full-time students can receive a certificate from the Department of Labor that allows the student to be paid not less than 85% of the minimum wage. In addition, the certificate also limits the number of hours the student works during the school year to no more than 8 hours a day and 20 hours a week. The certificate also requires the employee to follow all child labor laws and once the student graduates, they are allowed to receive $7.25 per hour.

To make sure everyone receives the correct amount of minimum wage they are allotted, the FLSA states that minimum wage applies to employees of enterprises that have an annual gross of at least $500,000. For additional information about minimum wage laws- people can visit the Wage-Hour website here.