John Oliver Somehow Makes ‘Civil Forfeiture’ Funny

There has long been a rule of inverse interest in the media, which holds that the more important an issue is, the more boring coverage becomes. Example: The United Nation’s committee work on feeding the world’s starving children is vital to humanity and not the stuff of spectator sport; a bunch of guys running around a field kicking a ball has no real impact and is obsessed over by billions.
But John Oliver, the comic host of Last Week Tonight on HBO, defies the rule with an informative and very funny report on the nation’s civil forfeiture practices. The laws vary among states, but basically allow authorities to seize property even if the owner is never charged with a crime – just like in immigration court, many rights associated with police action are not in play because these are civil actions.
A recent less-funny report in The New Yorker magazine noted that “… unlike criminal forfeiture, which requires that a person be convicted of an offense before his or her property is confiscated, civil forfeiture amounts to a lawsuit filed directly against a possession, regardless of its owner’s guilt or innocence. One result is the rise of improbable case names such as United States v. One Pearl Necklace and United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins.” Those were cited by Oliver in his report.
It would be much funnier if it did not illustrate just how messed up and abused our civil justice system can be. Take a look – and it’s worth watching the whole video. Click Here.

Jails Refusing ICE Requests On Immigration Holds

“Emboldened by recent court rulings, more and more counties and cities across the country are refusing to jail inmates extra days to give federal authorities time to deport them,” reports Governing Magazine in an important trend story from the civil immigration wars, adding that “… in most jails until recently, inmates booked on criminal charges and suspected of being in the country illegally were often held for an additional 48 hours at the behest of federal immigration officials.”
Governing explains that “.. these ‘holds’ created a pipeline for the deportation of thousands of people from the United States in the last decade. Now, that enforcement tool is crumbling. Although some localities started limiting the number of immigration holds a few years ago, the trend of completely ignoring the requests gathered steam this spring after a series of federal court rulings determined that the immigration holds are not mandatory and that local agencies should not be compelled to follow them.”
In California, for example, a new state law this year orders that Golden State law enforcement can only honor immigration holds if the inmate has been charged with a “serious” crime. And Governing reports that “… most law enforcement agencies in the state — including the Los Angeles Police Department — adopted policies ignoring the immigration holds altogether after the federal rulings came down.” And Colorado this year became the first state to pass a law compelling local agencies to ignore immigration-detain requests.
In all, Governing says more than 225 local law enforcement agencies nationwide have adopted policies to completely ignore requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials for the 48-hour holds.
Read the story, and the immigration enforcement response, here: More and More Localities Rejecting Federal Deportation Requests

In S.F., Court Clerks Ready To Strike

The court clerk strike talk in San Francisco Superior Court is getting serious. The Courthouse News Service reports that a poll “… showed that two-thirds of the 251 members of local court chapter of Service Employees International Local 1021 are ready to walk out if their demand for a pay raise goes unanswered. Out of the 186 clerk who filled out strike ballots, 169 voted to authorize a strike.
The clerks and court management are apparently deadlocked over wages. As background, the CN notes that “…. in July 2011, faced with statewide court budget cuts of $350 million, then-Presiding Judge Katherine Feinstein announced that 200 court workers at San Francisco Superior Court would lose their jobs in a belt-tightening that would also result in closed courtrooms, reduced public access and trial delays. In the end, San Francisco closed 11 courtrooms, laid off 67 employees, mainly court reporters. The court also imposed work furloughs and shortened its operating hours.”
The San Francisco Superior Court’s head clerk, Michael Yuen, says that any strike would be considered illegal because of no-strike wording in the latest labor contract. Read more here: Courthouse News Service

Lawyers Stepping Up to Volunteer Time For Border Kids: “They Have a Right to Due Process”

It turns out that American’s lawyers are stepping up for those Border Kids who are not guaranteed representation at immigration court. The Wall Street Journal reports that across the country hundreds of lawyers who are experts in other fields are taking crash courses in immigration and representing the children, who are mostly unaccompanied minors from Central America.
The WSJ reports that “… since late July, when a wave of Central American minors surged at the border, lawyers who regularly bill hundreds of dollars an hour have been packing training sessions to learn immigration law and take on the children’s cases. Legal-aid organizations call it an unprecedented response by this group of attorneys… the effort leaves the firms open to criticism from conservative activists who say the minors should be returned to their home countries. But the attorneys say the children, who aren’t entitled to a public defender, have a right to due process.”
The story quotes Simona Agnolucci, a San Francisco lawyer specializing in complex litigation who is representing tech giant Google Inc. in several cases, who also volunteers at an immigration court each Thursday. She screens immigrants without legal representation to assess whether they have a viable asylum claim for a pro bono attorney to take. “I am fortunate to have clients in favor of this work,” said the Keker & Van Nest lawyer. Google said it had nothing to add to her comments.
The story also notes that more than half the children with lawyers stay in the U.S. and nine of ten without a lawyer are deported. Read the report and details about federal and state moves here: New Mission for Lawyers: Free Aid to Young Immigrants

Feds Find $9 Million For Border Kids Lawyers

Following the leadership of immigration-friendly cities like New York and San Francisco, and on the heels of California stepping up with $3 million in legal aid for unaccompanied minors, the federal government announced that it will spend $9 million for “border kid” representation starting immediately.
The Wall Street Journal and others are reporting that the Department of Health and Human Services will provide the money to two refugee organizations that help the unaccompanied children from Central America. They are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Advocates for increased representation for the border kids argue that most of those with legal aid get to remain in the country while most of those facing Justice Department courts on their own are deported.