Are judicial elections a fraud on voters? (By Aram James)

imagesAs we head into the November 4th election, let’s take a look at the election process involving judicial candidates. Are we the public getting a fair shake from the candidates? Are we being as fully informed on the issues as the First Amendment allows? Or are the candidates for judicial office playing the public and the voters for fools?

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision, in Republican Party v. White, 536 U.S. 765, struck down Minnesota’s so-called announce clause, a portion of a judicial canon that prohibited candidates from announcing their views on the hot button and disputed legal, political and social issues of the day.

The rationale for the announce clause being that any candidate, who publicly expressed his or her views on controversial issues, would be precluded from hearing cases involving similar issues, once they took the bench, on the theory that having once expressed a view on a given issue, that might later come before the candidate on the court, would evidence a disqualifying bias. Continue reading

Artesia On Our Minds — An Immigration Attorney’s Diary of a Detention Camp

photo-60Immigration attorney Helen Lawrence, who has helped ACJP families beat deportation cases, recently went to the Artesia immigration detention facility in New Mexico that houses women and children to provide pro-bono legal services.  Read about her powerful reflections on her experiences.

This past week I went with a 10-attorney contingent from the Bay Area to provide pro-bono legal services for a week in an immigration detention center in Artesia, New Mexico that holds between 400-500 ​women and children who were detained in the border refugee crisis this summer. Our primary purpose was to represent women and children in bond and asylum cases in this remote facility. We are all still unpacking the experience.

Our arrival ​day felt full of prescient moments. During our 4am ride to the airport, when our Senegalese Uber driver learned where we were headed and what we were headed to do, he played Redemption Song for us, hopefully setting the tone for this trip.​ ​On the four and a half hour drive from Albuquerque to Artesia under the big New Mexican skies, we encountered rainstorms and tumbleweeds. Continue reading

“Participatory Defense” – Transforming the Courts Through Family and Community Organizing (By Raj Jayadev)

"Tony" erases his name at a Participatory Defense meeting ceremony -- where families who bring loves ones home from incarceration eras their names from the whiteboard.

“Tony” erases his name at a Participatory Defense meeting ceremony — where families who bring loves ones home from incarceration eras their names from the whiteboard.

Tony is 13 years old and just got out from 99 days in juvenile hall. He sat shyly at the edge of the table next to his mother, responding respectfully to the “congratulations” and “welcome homes” that were directed to him from strangers who knew him only through his mother’s stories and seeing his name on a whiteboard at the meeting they all attend every week. Tony is at what we’ve dubbed our ‘family justice hub’ meeting — weekly gathering of families whose loved ones are facing criminal charges. He is here to be a part of the one ceremony we have – when a family brings a loved one home by either beating the charges, receiving a reduced sentence, or a dismissal as a result of their intervention into the case — and they erase their name from the board. The room of roughly 20 people breaks into applause when Tony takes the eraser to his name, his mother thanking the community who walked with her and her son through the darkest 99 days of their lives. She is in tears. Tony was facing years of incarceration, but due to her advocacy and the public defender’s lawyering, her son will be able to have his 14th birthday at home.

If tradition holds, Tony’s mom will continue attending the meetings, and assist other families who find themselves in the position she once did. She will share with them what she learned here from others — how to partner with or push the public defender, how to dissect police reports and court transcripts, and how to build a sustained community presence in the courtroom to let judges and prosecutors know the person facing charges is not alone.

We call the approach “participatory defense” – a community organizing model for people facing charges, their families, and their communities to impact the outcome of cases and transform the landscape of power in the court system.

As incarceration rates balloon to astronomical levels – 1 out of 100 Americans are currently locked up — participatory defense may the most assessable way directly affected communities can challenge mass incarceration, and have the movement building dynamic of seeing timely and locally relevant results of their efforts. It is a penetration into the one domain that facilitates people going to prisons and jails, yet has been left largely unexplored by the ground up movement to end mass incarceration – the courts. Please believe there are Tony’s across the country waiting to come home, and communities that, if equipped, can do just that – bring him home. Continue reading