Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Month: October 2016

Simple Justice – Abolish Juvenile Fees

juvenile-defendants-jailedI am standing in the chambers of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.   There are many other advocates for justice who came to speak in favor of a moratorium on juvenile fees.   I remind the Supervisors first, that Black Women Vote and Black Votes Count.

I represent BWOPA, Black Women Organized for Political Action, Richmond-Contra Costa Chapter.  Why is that so important?  Because these types of fees have devastated Black and Brown families for decades and no one said anything.  And too often, when we have a conversation about institutional racism, there is no Black voice at the table.

What Are These Fees?

In California, juvenile administrative fees are imposed on families whenever a child comes into contact with a County’s juvenile justice system.  In Contra Costa County, the fees include cost of care when a child is placed in any detention facility and electronic monitoring fees when a child is released but still under probation supervision.  The law allows counties to charge parents for public defender services as well as the cost of drug and substance abuse testing.

The fees are first determined by the probation department.  The parent then receives a letter telling her that she owes money as a result of her child’s arrest and incarceration.  The probation officer is supposed to tell the parent that she has a right to a statement of the fees, and there is a time limit to contest the fees.  The officer is also supposed to tell her that she has a right to a hearing in the juvenile court, and warn her that if she fails to appear, the probation officer will recommend that the court order her to pay the entire amount.  (California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 903.45)

Creating Racially-Based Economic Disparity

The imposition of these fees on low-income families clearly undermines the family’s integrity.  It also reinforces the economic disparities so prevalent in our society.  If the parent does not pay the costs, eventually the debt goes into collections and may become a judgment against her.  In Contra Costa County, the probation department has records of almost $17 million of uncollected juvenile fees.  The uncollected fees  go back as far as 1990.  Probation admitted that its practices and policies for the collection of these fees (both the ones previously collected and the $17 million uncollected fees) might not exactly comply with State law.

In a recent bankruptcy case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote ‘burdening a minor’s mother with debts to be paid following his detention . . . hardly serves the future welfare of the child and hardly enhances the Probation Department’s attempt to transform him into a productive member of society.”  (In re Maria G. Rivera.)  In that case, the son was incarcerated for 593 days.  The family got hit with a bill of almost $20,000.00.  The mother paid ½ of it.  When she filed bankruptcy after several years, Orange County opposed her discharge in bankruptcy of the remainder of the fees.  The Ninth Circuit questioned the County’s actions, stating  “the County raises yet another obstacle to Rivera’s efforts to provide her son with the support about which the County claims to be so deeply concerned.”

“Not only does such a [juvenile fee] policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating “as a regressive tax,” but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.”  In re Maria G. Rivera, No. 14-60044 (9th Cir. 8/10/16).

“The New Jim Crow” in Contra Costa County

Researchers have documented that in Contra Costa County, a Black child is 8.4 times more likely than a white child to be arrested.  That same child is 10.7 times more likely than a white child to be referred to the juvenile court, 10 times more likely to be found delinquent, 15.7 times more likely to be detained before a hearing, and 23.3 times more likely to be incarcerated.  (CA Dept. of Justice, published online at www.data.burnsinstitute.org).

Pervasive racial disparity in the juvenile justice system creates massive racially-based economic disparity for families caught up in the system.  Black and brown families are devastated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system overall.  The realities of “the new jim crow” are particularly heart-breaking when it comes to our children.  Research concludes that legal indebtedness contributes to poverty “in three ways: by reducing family income; by limiting access to opportunities such as housing, credit, transportation, and employment; and by increasing the likelihood of ongoing criminal justice involvement.”  (Harris A., Evans H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing Blood from Stones: Legal Debt and Social Inequality in the Contemporary United States, American Journal of Sociology, 115, p. 1756.)

A Step Forward

On September 25, 2016, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors took an important  first step.  The Court adopted a full moratorium on juvenile fees.  The Board suspended the assessment and collection of all fees.  Contra Costa joined two other Bay Area counties that have taken similar action.  Alameda County repealed the policy.  Santa Clara County adopted a moratorium.  This is a victory for all children and families.  The policy hit Black, Brown and low-income families the hardest.

Advocates to Be Grateful For!

This victory is a direct result of advocacy by the Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition, the University of California Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic and the Reentry Solutions Group.  Our community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude for the advocacy of everyone who participated in this effort, including Supervisor John Gioia.

San Leandro Talk Voter Guide

sltalkEvery election, Margarita Lacabe, my friend and colleague on the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee (acdems.org) publishes a Voter Guide.  Her goal is to identify the most progressive candidates running for office in Alameda County.  Marga does a fabulous job researching credentials, evaluating questionnaires and answers on important issues, and interviewing the candidates whenever possible.  This election, Marga has produced two extensive Voter Guides. One Voter Guide talks about the candidates throughout the Bay (not just San Leandro).  The other Voter Guide looks at our many state propositions. This week, I am honored to feature Marga as my first guest blogger. Check out Marga’s Voter Guide with her views and news on  candidates in Alameda County in the November 2016 Election.

Highlights from the Progressive Voter Guide

Marga’s thoughtful Voter Guide includes dozens of candidates from Berkeley to Pleasanton.  In the hotly contested District 7 Bart Board race, she plainly states “Don’t vote for incumbent Zakhari Mallett.” Marga concludes (rightfully so) that she would “probably vote for [Lateefah] Simon as she’s the most viable candidate against Mallett.”  Marga’s dead on right about this race. Lateefah is a dynamic and effective community advocate, MacArthur Genius Award recipient, Bart “speedracer” and an inspiring leader in our community.  I have supported Lateefah since she became the first non-lawyer to serve as Executive Director of the San Francisco Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

In the Castro Valley Sanitary District Board, Marga recommends John Maher. She describes John as a super progressive retired union worker who serves with us on the ACDCC.  She points out that while John may not have the expertise of the incumbent board members, “there is something to be said about having good, decent human beings in positions of power.”  Something to be said indeed.

Local School Board Races

In the Hayward School Board race, Marga correctly points out that the “Hayward School Board is a big mess.”  There is a slate with candidates Daniel Goldstein, Robert Carlson and Todd E. Davis.  Of the three, Todd Davis is the only one to get Marga’s approval.  Todd is the son of longtime Hayward community activists, Freddie and Al Davis, and has worked tirelessly with young people in Hayward and beyond. I know that Todd is thoughtful, diligent and patient.

Full Disclosure:  Todd Davis worked on my successful campaign for a seat on the ACDCC.

In the Oakland School Board race, Marga supports Mike Hutchinson and Chris Jackson.  Marga describes Mike as “an extremely knowledgeable and committed education activist who has become a rally force behind the anti-charter school forces in Oakland.  He knows the school district better than Board members, has gone to every single School Board meeting and has fought to keep public schools open.  Mike is also a strong progressive, who understands how a society can be broken by providing substandard education to the disadvantaged.”  It sounds like we should elect Mike Hutchinson.

Full Disclosure:  I served for several years with Mike’s brother, Daniel Hutchinson, on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

Marga strongly endorses Chris Jackson. She labels him “a young African-American version of Bernie Sanders.”  Marga spent hours talking to him and concluded that Chris Jackson is “a man with a clear vision and political astuteness who can really make a difference.”

Hotly Contested City Council Races

Everywhere you look, there are “hotly contested” City Council races.  Marga covers them all.  In Oakland, Marga says “if you heed just one of my recommendations . . . this year, vote for [Noni] Sessions.  Marga describes Noni Sessions as “a strong progressive, who registered as a Democrat to vote for Bernie Sanders,” and “will be a true champion for social justice and human rights in the Council . . .”  According to Marga, Noni grew up in West Oakland and was recruited by other neighborhood activists to run because they felt that the incumbent Lynette Gibson McElhaney was not responsive to their needs.

Finally, in San Leandro, Marga highlights newcomer Bryan Azevedo.  “He’s a sheet metal worker, from a humble background, who understands first hand the importance of having a livable wage and affordable housing.  Bryan is extremely green, both new to the practice and concept of politics, but he’s a good guy at heart and he seems willing to learn and listen.”  Bryan sounds like a good guy to have on the San Leandro City Council.

Check out all of Marga’s recommendations and musings at San Leandro Talk.  Check out her reviews of the State propositions as well.  Please be sure to send Marga a “thank you” for all of her hard work!

Your Blessing Is On the Way

Your Blessing Is On the Way

I run up the stairs in my office to the lobby.  Robin Morgan sits there waiting.  I am so excited.  Today is closing argument in Morgan v. Amtrak and I love closing argument.  I know how long Robin has been supporting her husband, Abner Morgan.  I tell her to “hold on, your blessing is on the way!”  Little did I know that “her blessing” would not come for another seven (7) years.

Morgan v. Amtrak – the Racial Harassment Case

Robin’s husband Abner was an electrician for Amtrak in the Oakland Yard.  He worked there for five (5) years.  Abner walked off the job when the foreman told him to “get your black ass in here.”  That “direct order” from a racist foreman was the last straw for Abner.  For years he and his co-workers had complained about racism in the Yard.  Their complaints had even triggered Senator Barbara Boxer to request an investigation by Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).  The OIG investigation confirmed that Amtrak subjected Black men working on the Yard to harsher discipline, more dangerous job assignments and abusive treatment.

Amtrak fired Abner in 1995.  At the trial in 1998, one of the white foreman came forward and testified that one Amtrak supervisor regularly performed something he called “the shufflebutt ni–er dance.”  The foreman testified that the white supervisor did his dance in the office at night for the other supervisors’ entertainment.

pyramid-of-prejudiceWe presented evidence of the most despicable racism in any workplace.  The jury found that Amtrak’s management was “grossly unprofessional” and engaged in “questionable ethical conduct.”  The jury also found that the response from Amtrak’s EEO Office was “woefully remiss.”  But, the jury still ruled in favor of Amtrak.

 

Our Trip to the Supreme Court

Fast forward to 2000.  I’m standing in my guest bedroom crying.  We had won the appeal in the Ninth Circuit.  Amtrak had filed a petition for hearing in the United States Supreme Court.  We opposed it.  After months, the Court granted the petition and accepted the case.  I was so upset.  We had waited so long and won the case on appeal.  Robin and Abner had three children: two teenagers and a mentally disabled adult son.  Abner’s firing meant they had to survive mainly on Robin’s income for years.  They had suffered great hardships.  My firm had been tested by the years of unpaid legal services as well.

I called my mentor Howard Moore, Jr., the famous civil rights lawyer who raised me from a pup  lawyer.  The conversation with Howard was very short.  I told him through my tears that the United States Supreme Court had granted the petition for hearing.  Howard said “that’s great kid.  Congratulations! This will be great for your career.” And hung up.

I had no idea what Howard knew.  I would be one of the few Black women in history to argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.  We spent six (6) months preparing for the oral argument.  Bill McNeill and the Employment Law Center offered their assistance as soon as it became public that it was my case.  My team included Bill and his lawyers Jory Steele and Willie and Shelley Gregory.  Of course, Howard agreed to serve as my co-counsel on appeal and sponsored my request to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court bar.

The Fight for the Case

It was not long before lawyers around the country contacted me.  Some offered help with the briefing and strategy on how to win the case.  Others simply wanted to take the case.  There was intense pressure on me to let an “experienced” Supreme Court lawyer handle the case.  I quickly learned that “Supreme Court lawyer” was an exclusive all white male club.  So, I called Howard again.  This time, the conversation was equally short but not so happy.  Howard was angry.  When I told him that people wanted to take my case and argue it for me, he said “If a woman with a degree from Yale and two degrees from UC Berkeley can not argue her own case in the Supreme Court, she should give all of her degrees back.”  And he hung up on me again.

morgan-v-amtrak-1And so that was decided.  Abner Morgan, to his credit, co-signed Howard’s statement by saying that I was his lawyer and he was not going to let anyone else argue his case.  I got it.  So I gathered my wits, my spirit, took charge of the situation and got us all to Washington, D.C.

morgan-04

I argued the case in January 2002.  We “claimed the victory” in my office in Oakland and again in the hallowed halls of the United States Supreme Court.  The Court ruled in our favor in June 2002.  We WON!

The Final Outcome

Winning in the Supreme Court meant that we got to try the case again.  It took another two years to get through the appellate process and back to the trial court.  In May 2004, we tried the case a second time.  pam-with-abner-morganThis time, the jury got it right and awarded Abner $500,000.

After nine (9) years of litigation, Amtrak finally settled the case later that year.

Robin’s blessing finally arrived.  What I can say to anyone reading this who has ever been tested, from a woman of faith who has been blessed and highly favored over and over and who believes in the power of prayer, “hold on. Your blessing is on the way.

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

I’m sitting in a small crowded courtroom in the Hayward Hall of Justice.  Lots of reporters and cameras on tripods, court personnel and a few civilians.  I’m thinking about my next blog, “the Politics of Trust.”  Then, a funny thing happened on the way to justice.

An elderly Caucasian man stands on the side of the courtroom looking over the scene.  Most don’t notice him – I realize that he is the judge waiting to take the bench.  Soon he does.  The Judge very quickly goes through the steps of arraignment for former Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Perez.

perez-court-v2Ricardo Perez is charged with felony oral copulation with my client, Jasmine.  It is apparently well known that he was “one of her regulars.”  Since she was still a minor, he was actively engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of a child (CSEC).  He reportedly worked as a Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy for several years.

Who Is the Judge?

Judge Joseph J. Carson was first appointed as a judge by Governor Ronald Reagan in June 1972.  In  April 1984  Governor George Deukmejian elevated him to serve as a Superior Court judge.  Judge Carson was a Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County between 1966 and 1972 before he became a judge.

The district attorney asks Judge Carson to set Perez’ bail at $60,000.  After reading Perez’s probable cause statement, Carson smiles and says, “Fish Ranch Road?  I haven’t been there since high school.”  Carson then let Perez remain out of custody on his own recognizance.

Judge Carson’s decision to let defendant Perez out on his own recognizance (OR) is in stark contrast to the $300,000 bail Jasmine was held on in Florida a month ago.  Judge Carson’s OR  decision was obviously based on his own world view about CSEC and perhaps, his own fond memories of hanging out on Fish Ranch Road.  When he made the comment, he seemed to snicker at the thought of whatever happened to him the last time he was on Fish Ranch Road.

What A Difference Race Makes

Judge Carson’s decision to OR defendant Perez on a felony charge is very different from bail decisions issued for most Black and Brown defendants in our criminal justice system in Alameda County.  The experience of racism is still channeled through the bail system in America. Study after study has documented the disparity by race in bail decisions across the country. 

In her 2013 analysis of bail practices, Washington College of Law Professor Cynthia E. Jones describes how judges “exercise virtually unbridled discretion in making bail determinations, which are too frequently corrupted by the random amount of money bond imposed, the defendant’s lack of financial resources, the implicit bias of the bail official, and the race of the defendant.  These factors combine to create an extreme dysfunction in the bail determination process” resulting in severe over-crowding of jails and racial disparities in bail outcomes between African-Americans and whites.  (Jones, C. E. (2013). “Give Us Free”: Addressing Racial Disparities in Bail Determinations.” New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, 16(4), 919–62.)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 2008 and 2011, Alameda County was one of the largest jail jurisdictions in the United States, (in the top 15) with an average daily population of more than 4000 inmates.  Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of our average daily jail population that was un-sentenced but remained detained was consistently much higher than the state average.  Typical reasons for staying in jail before sentencing are the inability to post bail, public safety or flight risk, or slow criminal justice processing.  The population of detainees “presumed innocent until proven guilty” is overwhelmingly Black and Brown.

The Racial Divide in Alameda County

Justice in Alameda County has historically been racially imbalanced.   In 2002, the rate of felony arrests in California for African Americans was 4.4 times higher than for whites.  Our rate of incarceration in Alameda County was 7.5 times higher; the rate of incarceration for second strikes was 10 times higher.   African Americans were incarcerated at a rate almost 13 times higher than whites under the three-strikes program.

In 2004, in Alameda County, African-Americans were only 14.61% of the population; we were 52.85 of all felony arrests.  In contrast, 41% of the population was White and only represented 22% of all felony arrests.

In 2008, 55.0% of the inmates in Santa Rita Jail were African American, while only 18.1% were White.  At that time, 12.2% of adult residents in the County were African American and 40.5% were White.

There is clearly a legacy of racial injustice in Alameda County.  Yet, we can count the number of police officers criminally charged for criminal misconduct in Alameda County on one hand.  When an officer who clearly abused his position and power and exploited a young girl is actually charged, no bail is his reward.  Judge Carson’s decision adds “insult to injury.”

How do you feel about that?  Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

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