San Francisco govt. ‘predatory,” says its treasurer

An inmate’s hands are seen folded together outside a cell at the jail at the Hall of Justice on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

An inmate’s hands are seen folded together outside a cell at the jail at the Hall of Justice on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle

Citing lessons learned from Ferguson, Mo., the treasurer of San Francisco is warning that the city may be practicing “predatory government,” a reference to “predatory lending” that targets lower income families. Jose Cisneros notes that a Justice Department investigation revealed “… a pattern of of ticketing people for minor offenses – like having a busted taillight or high grass in their yard. If people couldn’t pay the ticket, which averaged a few hundred dollars, then their fines grew.”
 
But the treasurer quickly shifted to his city, noting that the famously liberal city levies more fines per capita than most California counties, and assesses more fines per capita than Philly, Louisville, Ky. and Nashville – all cities of similar size. Cisneros is launching several efforts to confront the problem and one idea is for non-monetary alternatives to fines and even bail. He says two thirds of people in California jails have not been convicted of a crime but are there because they cannot afford bail.
 
The commentary, published in the Chronicle print edition and online, is one of the best-argued pieces in recent memory on the subject of the Ferguson issues, especially because it comes from an elected official who is, after all, the local government’s “debt collector.” It should be printed and tacked to every bulletin board of every City Hall in America. And faxing a copy over to Trump Tower couldn’t hurt.
 

SoCal Public Radio Report Outlines Immigration Court Issues

Ana Hernández (L )with her 15-year-old daughter Mariela Michell Beltrán-Hernandez outside the immigration court in Los Angeles. Dan Tuffs for KPCC.

Ana Hernández (L )with her 15-year-old daughter Mariela Michell Beltrán-Hernandez outside the immigration court in Los Angeles. Dan Tuffs for KPCC.

A new Southern California Public Radio report documents an “uptick” in those families seeking refuge in the United States from Central American nations, and the ongoing Immigration Courts crisis that goes along with it. The SCPR report begins with an example: “Michell Hernández’s case entered the immigration court in August as the system faced an unprecedented backlog, surpassing half a million ongoing cases nationwide. According to government data from Syracuse University’s TRAC, immigration courts fielded 516,031 cases, as of September 2016. Those numbers include both adult and juvenile cases.
 
One in five of those cases are in California – the biggest share of any state. And half of those, or nearly 50,000, are in Los Angeles.”
 
The report has other stats: “There are 250 judges in 58 courts across the nation, according to the Executive Office of Immigration Review, the agency that oversees the courts. Thirty judges currently serve in L.A. In response to the rising caseload, the agency has added more judges and staff, including swearing in an additional judge in Los Angeles this month. That followed three new judges  joining the L.A. courts in June. Still, judges typically handle dozens of cases a day.”
 
The uptick comes as the report backgrounds: “In 2015, the number of child migrants dropped across the Southwest border, but recent figures from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that those numbers have ticked back up. Through October 2016, for example, nearly 60,000 children have crossed the border alone in the past 12 months and over 77,000 families have been apprehended.”
 
Read the excellent reporting here:

Wondering About Election Laws? State Courts Site Has You Covered

Let’s just say, for some odd reason, you suddenly wanted to ponder state court election laws. Especially in certain politically indecisive states that might choose the leader of the free world. Well, the National Center for State Courts has you covered with a well-curated list of resources. The site notes that: “… after the close presidential election of 2000, many Americans have become increasingly aware of the courts’ role in the election process, whether it is due to disputes over civil rights, campaign finance laws and regulations, or ballot access issues. While the federal government plays a predominant role in the election process, this module is meant to provide information on the legal and governmental context of courts’ roles in elections.”
 
Some of the info is more general, and there’s lots to consider about politics, money and judicial trends. Other parts, if you scroll a bit, are more nuts-and-bolts.
 
Find the information here: Election Law Resource Guide

The Key To Immigration? Hiring An Attorney

Wilfredo Allen, center, consults with Marlene Hasner and Camila Correal in his Miami office. Photo Credit: 10/30/16 Miami Herald Report

Wilfredo Allen, center, consults with Marlene Hasner and Camila Correal in his Miami office. Photo Credit: 10/30/16 Miami Herald Report

A Miami Herald report is adding fuel to the argument that would-be immigrants with legal representation fare much better than those without. The newspaper focuses on an individual case that “… seems to prove the theory among immigration lawyers that foreign nationals represented by an attorney in immigration court proceedings have a better chance of winning their case than those left to their own devices. But the first formal study on legal representation of foreign nationals in immigration proceedings actually proves the validity of that theory.”
 
“By reviewing over 1.2 million deportation cases decided across the United States over a six-year period, this report provides an urgent portrait of the lack of counsel in immigration courts,” according to the study issued by the American Immigration Council. “In it, we reveal that 63 percent of all immigrants went to court without an attorney. Detained immigrants were even less likely to obtain counsel — 86 percent attended their court hearings without an attorney. For immigrants held in remote detention centers, access to counsel was even more severely impaired, only 10 percent of immigrants detained in small cities obtained counsel.”
 
You can read the Herald story here: 

Former NY Prosecutor Outlines ‘The Real Crisis’ For Immigration

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Quotas for depriving people of their liberty (KATE BRUMBACK/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Over the last five years, the budget for immigration courts grew by 74% — but the budget for immigration enforcement agencies grew by over 400%. The result is gridlock that makes those old criminal court dockets look like models of efficiency.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, writing in the New York Daily News, outlines just how bad the U.S. immigration court crisis has become, blaming political pressures and adding that “… the result is a backlog that staggers the imagination. Today, when immigrants ask when they need to return to court, many are told in 2023.”

 Morgenthau outlines the oft-cited, but still hard to believe, stats: “According to the most recent data from a think tank at Syracuse University, there are currently pending before our immigration courts over half a million removal cases. That averages about 2,000 cases per judge.”

The writer offers some solutions and begins with judges: “What is to be done? Regardless of how one feels about immigration reform generally, everyone can agree that we need to restore sanity to immigration court. First, immigration judges should be real judges. Right now, they are employees of the Justice Department, and not genuinely independent.”

He also makes a call for a sort of Civil Gideon, the idea that some civil cases (as opposed to criminal cases) should require representation (immigration cases are considered civil actions): “Congress must also ensure that immigrants get proper legal representation when their basic rights are at stake… a study published this month disclosed that in 70% of cases involving adults with children, there was no legal representation for the family.”

And, obviously, increase capacity. It’s a well-considered piece from somebody who knows of what they speak. Read it, and find the writer’s other missives on immigration and other issues, here:

 Robert Morgenthau: America’s real immigration crisis

On The ABA Not Standing Up To A ‘Libel Bully’

Donald J. Trump at a campaign rally in Naples, Fla., on Sunday. Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Donald J. Trump at a campaign rally in Naples, Fla., on Sunday. Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Welcome to the age of the “libel bully.” The American Bar Association used the phrase to describe Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a report on his litigation, but knew better than to publish that report. The New York Times writes that “… the [ABA] report concluded that Mr. Trump was a “libel bully” who had filed many meritless suits attacking his opponents and had never won in court. But the bar association refused to publish the report, citing “the risk of the A.B.A. being sued by Mr. Trump.

The story notes that “..  internal communications, the bar association’s leadership, including its general counsel’s office and public relations staff, did not appear to dispute the report’s conclusions.
But James Dimos, the association’s deputy executive director, objected to the term ‘libel bully’ and other sharp language in the report, saying in an Oct. 19 email that the changes were needed to address ‘the legitimately held views of A.B.A. staff who are charged with managing the reputational and financial risk to the association.'”

Another quote from A.B.A. staff push-back: “While we do not believe that such a lawsuit has merit, it is certainly reasonable to attempt to reduce such a likelihood by removing inflammatory language that is unnecessary to further the article’s thesis,” Mr. Dimos wrote. “Honestly, it is the same advice members of the forum would provide to their own clients.”

Catch up on your irony here:

WaPo Reporting On California Charter School Litigation, Issues

Valerie Strauss, Reporter

Valerie Strauss, Education Reporter

Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post is reporting on the California charter school legal issues, including why the Golden State has so much civil litigation. Strauss notes that “… California, called the charter Wild West, deserves special attention… the state has more charter schools and charter school students than any other state in the nation. One billionaire even came up with a secret plan to “charterize” half of the Los Angeles Unified School District…”
 
Among the problems she lists that “… a report released recently by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Public Advocates, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group, found that more than 20 percent of all California charter schools have enrollment policies that violate state and federal law.” She also backgrounds that “… in some places, charter schools open without mentioning their existence to the traditional school district in which they reside, prompting lawsuits by the districts.”
 
Read the third of her ongoing series here: Valerie Strauss

NYT Outlines Obama’s Immigration ‘Shift’

Central American immigrants who had been released from United States Border Patrol detention waited at the Greyhound bus station in McAllen, Tex., in July 2014. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

Central American immigrants who had been released from United States Border Patrol detention waited at the Greyhound bus station in McAllen, Tex., in July 2014. Credit John Moore/Getty Images

The New York Times is among those reporting that the Obama administration is “delaying deportation proceedings” for recent immigrants in cities across the United States, allowing more than 50,000 of those who fled Central American communities since 2014 to remain in the country – legally – for years. It’s not a true policy shift, but instead a cost-saving measure, experts say. They also say mostly families are the ones staying.
 
The NYT reported that: “The shift, described in interviews with immigration lawyers, federal officials, and current and former judges, has been occurring without public attention for months. It amounts to an unannounced departure from the administration’s widely publicized pronouncements that cases tied to the so-called surge of 2014 would be rushed through the immigration courts in an effort to deter more Central Americans from entering the United States illegally.”
 
The report also notes that “.. the delays are being made as a cost-saving measure, federal officials said, because of a lapse in enforcement that allowed immigrants who were supposed to be enrolled in an electronic monitoring program to go free. Some of those affected had failed to report to government offices to be fitted with GPS ankle bracelets, according to a February memo from the chief immigration judge, Print Maggard, in Arlington, Va. Now that the government will not have to pay the daily fee of $4 to $8 a person to monitor such bracelets, the immigrants’ cases have been pushed back for years, some until 2023, judges and federal officials said. The cases of those who met their reporting obligations are still being expedited, with some cases moving faster than lawyers and judges had expected.”
 

‘Civil Gideon’ Finding Support From NYC Council

Councilman Mark Levine at a rally at New York City Hall on Monday in support of a bill that would provide legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Councilman Mark Levine at a rally at New York City Hall on Monday in support of a bill that would provide legal help to low-income tenants facing eviction. Credit Dave Sanders for The New York Times

The New York Times continues to cover the Big Apple’s efforts to provide some level of ‘civil Gideon’ to residents facing housing evictions. The term refers to providing civil representation in some cases, usually immigration and family law issues but also evictions, in the same way public defenders represent criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney.
 
The NYT reports that “… despite $62 million set aside this fiscal year by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, to bolster legal help, more than 70 percent of low-income tenants in New York City still go without lawyers in Housing Court, according to a report published in June by the newly created Office of Civil Justice, part of the city’s Human Resources Administration.
The story backgrounds that “… with landlords almost always represented by lawyers, tenants are overmatched from the start, tenant advocates and city officials say. Across the city last year, there were nearly 22,000 evictions, with the greatest number in the Bronx.”
 
And, reporting on a meeting in late September, the NYT says that “… the City Council held a hearing on a bill that would make New York City the first jurisdiction in the country to guarantee lawyers for any low-income residents facing eviction. Under the measure, tenants who make below 200 percent of the federal poverty line would qualify. (For a single person, the cutoff would be $23,540; for a family of four, it would be $48,500.) The bill, which has already garnered the support of an overwhelming majority of council members, is part of a broader effort gaining momentum across the country to create a right to counsel for people in high-stake legal cases like evictions and foreclosures.”
 
You can read the entire NYT piece here: For Tenants Facing Eviction, New York May Guarantee a Lawyer

The state of Virginia’s DMV is the latest agency under fire for tying drivers’ licenses to paying court costs and fines. The Washington Post reports that “… after a class-action lawsuit claimed Virginia suspends the driver’s licenses of those too poor to pay fines and court costs in an ‘unconstitutional scheme,’ the state replied Monday, saying the suit raised no legitimate complaint.”

Also from the WaPo: “Though Plaintiffs’ case could appear sympathetic from a policy perspective, it fails when viewed from a legal one,” said the state’s memorandum in support of a motion to dismiss.

The class action, filed in July in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, documents that more than 940,000 people in Virginia currently have their licenses suspended for nonpayment. Such suspensions have become a civil rights issue across the country because they are seen to criminalize civil courts action.

Read the WaPo piece here: ‘DMV is not responsible’: Va. denies claim it unfairly suspends driver’s licenses