MULS Conference to Consider Human Trafficking and Restorative Justice

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Human Rights, Immigration Law, International Law & Diplomacy, Labor & Employment Law, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Poverty & Law, PublicLeave a comment» on MULS Conference to Consider Human Trafficking and Restorative Justice

MartinaVImage_0On Thursday and Friday, Marquette Law School will host an important conference, “Restorative Justice and Human Trafficking — From Wisconsin to the World.”  As the title suggests, human trafficking — for sex or labor — is a both a global human rights problem and a significant issue locally.  Hundreds of cases have been reported in Wisconsin, mostly in the Milwaukee area.  The conference is designed to raise awareness about trafficking and to help concerned citizens get involved in efforts to address the problem.

The Conference kicks off at 4:30 on Thursday with a keynote address by Martina Vandenberg (pictured above), who leads the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center in Washington, D.C.  Vandenberg has worked on cases involving trafficking and other humans rights violations around the world.

On Friday, the Conference will continue with a full schedule of speakers and panels.  A panel of victim-survivors will share their experiences.  Local leaders and activists will discuss the impact of trafficking and current efforts to help victims.  Other speakers will cover the existing legal framework, potential legal reforms, and the international context of trafficking.

The Conference is sold out, but there will be a live feed that can be viewed by clicking on the “Watch Now” tabs in the pages linked to above.

Mercenary Justice?

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Poverty & Law, Public, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Mercenary Justice?

Earlier this week, the United States Department of Justice released a scathing report on police and court practices in Ferguson, Missouri. Figuring prominently in the DOJ’s criticisms, Ferguson criminal-justice officials were said to be overly concerned with extracting money from defendants. For instance, the DOJ charges:

Ferguson has allowed its focus on revenue generation to fundamentally compromise the role of Ferguson’s municipal court. The municipal court does not act as a neutral arbiter of the law or a check on unlawful police conduct. Instead, the court primarily uses its judicial authority as the means to compel the payment of fines and fees that advance the City’s financial interests. This has led to court practices that violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection requirements. The court’s practices also impose unnecessary harm, overwhelmingly on African-American individuals, and run counter to public safety. (3)

I don’t know how fair these particular criticisms are, but they echo numerous other criticisms made in recent years about the increasing tendency of the American criminal-justice system to rely financially on a burgeoning array of surcharges, fees, forfeitures, and the like.

Professors Wayne Logan and Ron Wright have a fine recent article on this subject, appropriately entitled “Mercenary Criminal Justice” (2014 Ill. L. Rev. 1175).   Continue reading “Mercenary Justice?”

Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Poverty & Law, Public1 Comment on Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City

My most recent posts in this series have compared violent crime data from different cities. However, focusing on a single crime-rate number from a city may mask wide neighborhood-to-neighborhood variations within the city.

Consider Milwaukee. A helpful on-line data tool permits interesting comparisons among the city’s seven police districts. The data reveal that rates of violent crime vary within the city by about as much as they do across cities. Here, for instance, are the homicides per 100,000 district residents since 2010:

district homicide

District 5, encompassing the north-central portion of the city, has easily had the highest homicide rate each year, while Districts 1 (downtown and northeast) and 6 (far south) have easily had the lowest. (District boundaries are described in more detail here.)

Robbery rates reflect a similar pattern:   Continue reading “Violence in the Heartland, Part VI: Cities Within the City”

Impact of Reductions in Poverty-Fighting Increasingly Affecting Policing, Flynn Says

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Milwaukee, Poverty & Law, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Impact of Reductions in Poverty-Fighting Increasingly Affecting Policing, Flynn Says

“Think big, folks,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn urged a full-house audience in the Appellate Courtroom of Eckstein Hall on Tuesday. And Flynn did that himself during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program, taking a broad view of the role of police in protecting and enhancing the quality of life of people and communities in the city.

Flynn’s perspective focused frequently on how police have become the ones dealing with a gamut of social problems, as well as criminal problems, as public investment in programs aimed at helping people, especially those in poverty, have declined across the United States.

Over the last 25 years, Flynn said, “we have seen a consistent and unrelenting disinvestment in the social network, OK?” He gave mental health as an example: “Right now, the response of our society to issues of mental health is the criminal justice system. I’ve seen this for years and it’s becoming more so. . . . If you have a mental health problem, we can guarantee you a jail cell.” He said substance abuse problems are another example. “What is our social network dealing with substance abuse? Jail.”

Flynn, who is in his sixth year as Milwaukee’s police chief, said, “I’ve got 1,800 men and women out there who are being asked to deal with virtually every single social problem that presents as an inconvenience, discomfort or issue. . . . It is this one group that right now has the weight of every single social problem on it. And maybe we should start asking ourselves, do we need to double back and see what else we’re doing?” Continue reading “Impact of Reductions in Poverty-Fighting Increasingly Affecting Policing, Flynn Says”

“Affluenza:” A Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for the Wealthy?

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Poverty & Law, Public3 Comments on “Affluenza:” A Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for the Wealthy?

Recently, news programs and papers have been flooded with stories regarding the 16 year-old boy from Texas, whose drunk-driving incident this past summer left four people dead, and a handful of people injured. The most troubling aspect of these stories for most people is the fact that the boy had received a very lenient sentence, a mere ten years’ of probation and some therapy, instead of the jail time that the prosecution asked for. The boy had been drinking prior to the accident, and his blood alcohol level at the time of the crash was about three times over the legal limit, not to mention the fact that an underage minor should have no alcohol in his system. The defense claimed that the boy suffered from what has been termed “affluenza,” which is defined as a condition where children who are from a wealthy and affluent background may not understand that “bad behavior has consequences.” (according to the Los Angeles Times). By touting the need for rehabilitation over a prison sentence, the defense was able to get the boy ten years’ probation, instead of the sentence sought for him.

This story has conjured up a lot of anger across the nation, and has left many people in shock over the fact that this seems to be one more case where the wealthy seem to be able to find their way around the legal system and be treated much more leniently than people of less affluent backgrounds. Many people believe that the outcome may have been different if the boy had not been wealthy, and this has created an outrage over the sense of entitlement that the teen was believed to have gotten. “Affluenza” is not a recognized disorder, but it has received national attention through this story. However, this “condition” that the boy’s defense team believed the teen suffered from prompts us to ask other questions: Don’t some people who live in impoverished conditions also suffer from the inability to see the consequences of certain actions, which is the same argument that “affluenza” gives for wealthy people, just at the opposite end of the spectrum? Should “affluenza” be recognized as a “trump card” of sorts for the wealthy, when others could just as likely have a similar argument about knowing right from wrong? Continue reading ““Affluenza:” A Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card for the Wealthy?”

On Awareness for Environmental Poverty Lawyering

Posted on Categories Environmental Law, Poverty & Law, Public1 Comment on On Awareness for Environmental Poverty Lawyering

Earth month, April, provides an opportunity for everyone to reflect on how we treat our largest shared resource: the Earth itself. Use of this resource often brings to mind drilling in wildlife areas or deforestation in any number of places worldwide. However, I would like to draw attention to the environmental dangers we face in urban areas: dangerous environmental practices that tend not to come to light because they are overshadowed by major environmental disasters and because these dangers affect only those people least able to help themselves.

Many poverty-stricken communities are subject to environmental dangers with no ability to remedy them. The problems these communities face are seemingly unlimited, from the building of low-income housing developments on former toxic waste dumps, as in Love Canal, New York, to the systematic destruction of local parks and recreational areas in order to develop industry. The reasons impoverished communities often have no voice in these decisions are two-fold: (1) a lack of historical recognition of impoverished communities in the law, and (2) disorganization in the communities themselves.

In addressing the first point it is important to note that many of the environmental and community dangers across the country arising from commercial and industrial development are legal.   Continue reading “On Awareness for Environmental Poverty Lawyering”

“Illegal” Orphanages – Legality and Legitimacy in Chinese Culture

Posted on Categories Human Rights, International Law & Diplomacy, Poverty & Law, PublicLeave a comment» on “Illegal” Orphanages – Legality and Legitimacy in Chinese Culture

In January of this year, the Huffington Post reported on a fire that killed six children and one young adult “at an illegally run orphanage in central China”:

“The deaths Friday in Henan province’s Lankao county have spotlighted China’s lack of government-run child services. They are often left to private citizens with few resources and no legal authority. The Lankao government earlier acknowledged that it had turned a blind eye to the illegal orphanage, which cared for abandoned children and young adults. … The deputy county governor said earlier that some departments had failed in supervision and should shoulder responsibility.” Continue reading ““Illegal” Orphanages – Legality and Legitimacy in Chinese Culture”

Who Will Lead the Fight for Access to Justice?

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Practice, Poverty & Law, Pro Bono, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Who Will Lead the Fight for Access to Justice?

Jess Dickinson was on a roll, his Southern delivery infused with force and emotion. The Constitution is meaningless unless it is effective, said the presiding justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. It is time, he said with rising voice, for judges to “stand up” and help insure that poor people have equal access to the courts.

The audience noted its approval with a standing ovation, but that result was never in doubt. After all, the occasion was the Annual Meeting of State Access to Justice Chairs last Saturday in Jacksonville, a gathering of 168 lawyers, judges and state supreme court justices from over 40 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, all of whom have signed on to the cause of equal access. There was an understandable enthusiasm for the justice’s remarks.

And the audience included the Honorable Shirley Abrahamson, Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, making a rare but significant appearance at the meeting; significant because in Wisconsin, access to justice has not enjoyed the out-front leadership of the highest court as it has in many other states, including Justice Dickinson’s Mississippi.

The Wisconsin court, principally the Chief Justice, has been active in the cause of self-representation, striving to make the courts more user friendly to those who cannot afford a lawyer. The Court also approved changes to the rules of professional responsibility that paved the way for the expansion of brief advice clinics, and adopted a State Bar petition to create an Access to Justice Commission. The Chief Justice has led the way in promoting the study of limited representation, considered an essential step in addressing the problem of access to the courts.

Most significantly, the court approved the $50 annual assessment that goes to the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation’s Public Interest Legal Services Fund, providing much needed funds as IOLTA income fell. (One of the more bizarre events I’ve ever witnessed is the State Bar Board of Governors actually debating a proposal to sue the Court because of the assessment.)

But it would be a stretch to say that our Court has been out in front, leading the way on access to justice issues in Wisconsin. Continue reading “Who Will Lead the Fight for Access to Justice?”

The Pro Bono Oath

Posted on Categories Legal Practice, Marquette Law School, Poverty & Law, Pro Bono, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System3 Comments on The Pro Bono Oath

When the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined in February to grant the Civil Gideon petition and its proposed requirement that legal counsel be appointed for impoverished civil litigants, it instead noted a familiar fallback solution: pro bono initiatives. When Congress decided in 2011 to drastically cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which funds legal services providers such as Legal Action of Wisconsin, the message was similar: lawyers should do more pro bono.

When it comes to the issue of poor people and their legal problems, passing the buck to lawyers in private practice is par for the course. Those who have the greatest ability to affect the problem and acknowledge it as a societal issue always give it back to the lawyers.

So much for venting.

The fact is, more lawyers should do pro bono, and not because those with the money and power shift the attention to the profession. Lawyers should be involved in pro bono because we took an oath that said we would; because we are ethically obliged “to provide legal services to those unable to pay;” because with very few exceptions, no one else can represent the unrepresented poor; because the problem is overwhelming; because it is the right thing to do. Continue reading “The Pro Bono Oath”

Funding Civil Legal Aid

Posted on Categories Legal Practice, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Poverty & Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System5 Comments on Funding Civil Legal Aid

Alberta Darling had a lot on her plate in the late winter of 2011. As co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee in the Wisconsin Legislature, the 66-year-old senator from River Hills, described on her website as having “a passion for protecting, educating, and improving the lives of children,” was one of the chief stewards of Governor Scott Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, the legislation that would spark one of the fiercest protests in the history of Wisconsin, and in fact, force Senator Darling to face a recall election.

But if threats of protests and recalls and the prospect of voter dissatisfaction would not cause her to veer off course, it was not surprising that the promise and presence of $2.6 million in civil legal aid — money designated to help poor people with legal problems — was no deterrent. That the funding did not come from tax revenue but instead from a court surcharge was meaningless. That Wisconsin had been the second last state in the country to fund civil legal aid was irrelevant. The money disappeared.

Well not quite disappeared. In a twist that still rankles those who worked so hard to get that money into the budget, Senator Darling’s committee did not cut the funding from the budget, it gave the money to district attorneys. Continue reading “Funding Civil Legal Aid”

Equal Justice and the Poor

Posted on Categories Legal Practice, Poverty & Law, Pro Bono, Public1 Comment on Equal Justice and the Poor

Many years ago, I attended my first meeting as a newly-elected representative on our church’s parish council. I was enthused, energized. Then an older man, a veteran of the council, pulled me aside before the meeting started and gave me a warning. “Now you’re going to have your eyes opened, ” he said. “It’s a lot easier when you don’t know about all of the issues.” And, of course, he was right.

I had the same experience some time later when I became involved in the most pressing problem facing our legal system: the inability of poor people to afford legal representation for the important life-changing issues they face. I had been involved in pro bono from the day I was graduated from Marquette, handling divorces, landlord-tenant issues, even a capital punishment case in Texas. I enjoyed the rewarding nature of the work and appreciated the hands-on experience. The clients I represented seemed to appreciate having a lawyer.

But while I was helping individuals now and then, and feeling comfortable that I was doing some good, I was blissfully ignorant of the big picture issues and challenges that had the system in a chokehold — the lack of funding for legal service providers, the reluctance of lawyers to become involved in pro bono, the resistance of some to changes in the delivery of legal services to poor people, the lack of leadership from those in the best position to lead. My eyes were anything but open. Continue reading “Equal Justice and the Poor”

NAACP Leader: Photo ID Lawsuit Carries on 140 Years of Voting Rights Struggles

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Marquette Law School, Milwaukee, Poverty & Law, Public, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on NAACP Leader: Photo ID Lawsuit Carries on 140 Years of Voting Rights Struggles

With its challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law, the NAACP is carrying on a struggle for voting rights that dates back to the post-Civil War era, James Hall, president of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, told the Law School’s Mike Gousha and an audience of more than 100 during an “On the Issues” session last week.

Hall, president of the organization since January 2011, emphasized the importance of voting and the long history in America of disenfranchising minorities and low income people by use of rules about voting. “There is so much repeating history,” he said.

The NAACP suit against the law, passed by the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 and requiring people to present an acceptable form of photo identification at the polls, led to a Dane County judge putting a halt to enforcement of the law through a temporary injunction a week ago. More legal action in that suit and other challenges to the law is expected in advance of the statewide election on April 3.

Hall, a practicing lawyer whose NAACP position is unpaid, said there were fewer than 20 prosecutions for voter fraud in Wisconsin in recent years. “Why, all of a sudden, this move to require a photo ID?” Hall said. “Certain types of people don’t have that.” Many of them are African American, he said. “In fact, it is a disenfranchisement law.”

The law was supported generally by Republicans and opposed by Democrats. Supporters said it was a sensible way to reduce chances of voter fraud, while opponents said its practical effect would be to put up barriers to voting for many low income people who don’t have drivers licenses.

Hall told Gousha that the civil rights organization, founded in 1909, remains very relevant. “across the country and particularly here in Milwaukee.” He said the city has some of the largest disparities in the country between African Americans and whites when it comes to income, employment, incarceration, and educational achievement.

Milwaukee and its leaders have not responded with the intensity that is needed to deal with the problems facing many black people in Milwaukee, Hall said. He said, “No, there is not the sense of urgency we would like.” He said the NAACP wants to work together with people from throughout the Milwaukee area in solving problems. “It is in our enlightened self-interest to address these disparities,” he said.

The Eckstein Hall session may be viewed by clicking here.