“Equally Divided Court” (Sorta) Leaves Obama’s Deportation Executive Order In Limbo

Questions will persist on whether President Obama superceded his authority by creating by executive order the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) program designed to defer deportation for millions of immigrants.

Today, the Huffington Post reports the Supremes affirmed a lower court ruling that blocked the program stating simply, “The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided court.” While immigration advocates may lament the loss, the order itself rings hollow given the Administration’s renewed call last month to seek out and deport Border Kids escaping gang and drug cartel violence from Central America.

Irrespective of where one stands on the immigration reform debate, the fact is that the question of executive power was left unanswered because now even the judicial branch has been brought to a standstill.

Denver Case Foreshadows Immigration Showdowns

A new twist in civil immigration is emerging in Denver, as an immigrant is taking sanctuary in a church basement while protestors make his case an example of people trapped in the on-again, off-again immigration policy crated by President Obama’s executive actions and the resulting Republican opposition.
The Denver Post reports that Arturo Hernandez Garcia, who is in the United States without legal permission, has been living under sanctuary protection in the First Unitarian Society of Denver church. Jennifer Piper, who is with the Denver office of American Friends Service Committee, said he plans to remain in sanctuary until he can secure some relief. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, an immigration court refused to reopen Garcia’s case. His next steps are to apply for a legal stay to stop deportation and to apply for status under Obama’s orders.
About 40 of his supporters rallied outside the immigration court building in downtown Denver to protest the latest legal action in his case.On the same day, the House passed a Department of Homeland Security funding bill that contains amendments that would gut President Obama’s immigration reform measures. One amendment also would end the 3-year-old program that gives law-abiding immigrants brought to the country as children the right to work and to be free from the threat of deportation.
You can expect that immigrants, especially those with families including United States citizens, are going to repeat the Denver example. So stay tuned and check out the Post story here: Immigration vote sends chilling message to those facing deportation

Immigration Court Rationing Retains Attention

The “Border Kid” refugee/immigration crisis continues to gain attention, with media coverage moving away from the sheer numbers (nearly 400,000 cases pending, for example) into the human interest stories. A good case in point is a Daily Beast online report from the New York immigration court. New York City, like San Francisco, is providing some legal representation assistance for the kids, which assists an array of non-profit and religious groups offering some assistance. But the DB points out that New York is second only to Texas in how many cases it must accept in the new “rocket docket” policy for the children.
The DB also notes that “… the U.S. government is not legally required to provide a lawyer for people going through immigration proceedings—even for young kids. So New York-based advocacy groups like the Safe Passage Project, The Door, the Legal Aid Society, Catholic Charities and the American Immigration Lawyers Association have sprung into action, rallying volunteers, interpreters and pro bono attorneys in a joint effort to help guide the Border Kids through the complex and confusing world of immigration court.”
The volume is staggering, with lawyers being given weeks to prepare cases they feel should take months. Read the report from the courthouse here: The Border Kid Crisis Hits the Courts

Immigration Court Scrutiny Brings Cries For Chance

Those tens of thousands of border children seeking asylum in the United States have shed light on the nation’s immigration courts, and it’s hard to like what we’re seeing. Now, the leaders of the National Association of Immigration Judges are calling on Congress to crate what many of us though we had all along – an independent immigration court system. It turns out that the “court” is actually part of law enforcement, in effect a division of the Department of Justice.
That means, for example, that immigration judges cannot hold federal prosecutors from the Department of Homeland Security in contempt of court because judges are considered to be lawyers working for the Justice Department. Erin Kelly, of the Gannett Washington Bureau, writing in USA Today, has a great report that quotes Judge Dana Leigh Marks, a San Francisco-based immigration judge and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges: “We need an independent immigration court system which stands on its own. Enforcement should not be allowed to control courts.”

Rich Sue, Poor Don’t In Downsized Courts

Under the downsized and more expensive California court systems, officials are reporting that some types of cases like probate, mental health, dependency, personal injury, property damage, and wrongful death claims continue increasing. But public-access civil cases like small claims, where there’s no attorney involved, are decreasing.
In a solid story from The Reporter newspaper in Vacaville, a Sacramento-area community in Solano County, we learn that “… in a statement issued along with a summary of the report, Justice Douglas Miller, chair of the Judicial Council’s Executive and Planning Committee, called the trend in court filings worrisome [saying] “… it coincides with two other trends that have occurred as result of budget cuts to the judicial branch: the increase in court filing fees to offset General Fund budget cuts and closure of courthouses and/or the reduction of hours at our courthouses. It’s something that we in the judicial branch are very concerned about,” Miller said in a statement.
One concern is that, with diminished hours, increased costs and the challenge of traveling to farther-away court houses, that people who would have normally turned to courts would simply give up. The report can certainly be read to support that claim.

L.A. Presiding Judge: Expectations Not Met

There is more news from Presiding Judge David Wesley over the new state budget. The Metropolitan News-Enterprise is reporting on an email Judge Wesley sent to judicial officers saying that “… we are very disappointed in the level of support provided to the trial courts” and “… we had developed reasonable expectations, based upon our interactions with legislators, that we would find ourselves with additional resources with which to begin rebuilding our Court. Those expectations were not met.”
According to the MetNews, Judge Wesley explained that of the $223 million appropriated to the judicial branch, $40 million is for courthouse construction, $7 million for the appellate courts, $15 million for collaborative courts, $43 million for already-incurred expenses for employee benefit cost increases, and $30 million will go toward backfilling an expected revenue shortfall statewide.
“Only $86 million is scheduled for trial court operations—and even that amount will be reduced because the funding amounts for benefit cost increases and for revenue shortfalls are likely to be insufficient, with the gap made up out of funding for operation,” the judge explained.

Court Interpreters Are Another Budget Issue

Who gets court-funded interpreters and how many are available are among issues being raised by a series of “working group” meetings focused on the pending state budget court-funding debate. While many judges say they may have enough to deal with Spanish-speaking cases, they note that more than 200 languages are spoken in California, according to a report by public radio station KPCC.
Another issue is which kinds of cases even get court-funded interpreters, notes the station, noting that “… while counties provide them for criminal cases, they generally don’t for things like child custody hearings and divorce proceedings. “We provide an interpreter for someone who ran a red light, but not someone who’s losing their children,” said one source.
The working group has already met in San Francisco. Next month, they’ll hold their final hearing in Sacramento before submitting the first draft of a language access improvement plan in June, reports Rina Palta, the station’s crime and safety reporter. Read and listen to the report here.

Follow the reporter on Twitter: @KPCCRina911 


N.C. Essay Notes CA Juvenile Justice

A Charlotte, NC, newspaper essay is citing a pair of California cases – one famous and historical, the other less famous and current – as examples why and how young African-American men have “skeptical” feelings about the justice system. Corey Arvin, writing in the Black Voice News and carried by The Charlotte Post, asserts that “today’s young African-Americans are not more skeptical of their value” in the justice system, they are just the latest to be aware of that disparity.
Arvin cites recent high-profile national cases like Trayvon Martin and the Michael Dunn “loud music” case, quoting University of California Professor Brenda Stevenson saying “… these aren’t just the opening of new wounds, it’s a combination of fresh and old wounds for African Americans.”
Stevenson is the author of a book about the killing of Latasha Harlins, a; 1991 case from South Los Angeles. She says such cases just continue the generational culture, noting that the Harlins case is among those recalled during events like the Martin trial.
In a state where the judicial system is choosing to close important community courthouses including facilities vital to juvenile justice, the essay should make your weekend reading list. Click here to read the essay. 

Juvenile Advocates Highlight Flaws In System



The advocacy website Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has posted a significant report detailing problems with how Los Angeles County provides legal representation for juveniles who cannot afford their own lawyer. 
The report notes that “… the problem is particularly serious in Los Angeles County, one of the world’s largest juvenile justice systems, where a controversial low-bid, flat fee compensation system for attorneys representing certain indigent youth raises systemic due process concerns. Under that system, contract attorneys — such as the one who represented Antonio, are paid an astonishingly low fee of $300 to $350 per case, regardless of whether the case involves shoplifting or murder. This is in a city where private lawyers are costly. Criminal defense attorney fees in Los Angeles can easily exceed $500 an hour.”
One suggestion is that the juvenile system work more like the adult system in Los Angeles where defendants are represented by attorneys from an alternate public defender’s office or by private attorneys paid an hourly rate based on the complexity of the case and seriousness of the offense – not the flat fee.
You can see the report here.

Civil Rights Becoming Key Budget Argument

Stepping up her intensity from previous references, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is pushing civil rights as a key argument for court funding increases, echoing comments from labor activists and others – and she’s including civil courts access along with the more high-profile (and obvious) criminal court problems.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye (Photo: California Courts)

The chief justice, in an address to state lawmakers, even put the number of California residents “deprived” of access to justice at 2 million and said the state was on the verge of what she called  civil rights crisis. Another talking point quote: “It’s tragic that 50 years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, California faces a different type of civil rights crisis. It is not about the law. It is about access to it.”

The chief justice’s comments are getting broad play around the state, and even the Los Angeles Times, which has not exactly been a leader in the court crisis coverage, took note. You can see the Times story here