Access to Justice

  • December 16, 2013

    by Samantha Batel

    At the beginning of the recent fall semester, Professor Russell Christopher asked the students in his Criminal Procedure class at the University of Tulsa College of Law to raise their hand if they had heard of Gideon.  Out of the 40 second and third year students present, only two hands went up.

    Clarence Earl Gideon, the man to which Professor Christopher was referring, was the Plaintiff in the 1963 landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright, which held that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of counsel applies to the states.

    This year, Gideon celebrates its 50th anniversary. Law schools across the country have commemorated the case for both legal instruction and historical edification. This milestone, however, has also been met with a critical eye. Indeed, the real topic of study is not what Gideon was meant to accomplish, but whether it has succeeded.

    In her new book, “Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice,” author Karen Houppert describes a crisis in our nation’s courts. Discussing her work with the ACS Student Chapter at Harvard Law School, Ms. Houppert explained that the war on drugs, mandatory minimum sentencing, tough-on-crime policies and pre-trial incarceration have overtaxed our public defense system. She described one defendant in Spokane, Washington who was acquitted of vehicular manslaughter in 2004 only after the public defender was able to obtain a delay in the trail so that he could fully investigate the case, something that would have been impossible without the delay due to the defender’s caseload. That same year, a twelve-year-old boy pled guilty to a class B felony having never had an independent interview with his public defender, who was handling 440 other cases.

  • December 13, 2013

    by Caroline Fredrickson, ACS President

    Robert F. Kennedy’s tragic presidential run – he was assassinated June 5, 1968 – was also extraordinary in that a major political figure was trying to focus the nation’s attention on the most vulnerable among us, those living in dire poverty. One of his top aides, Peter Edelman was instrumental in RFK’s efforts to arouse the national conscience about poverty. Edelman is now a Georgetown law school professor and a nationally recognized figure, devoted to improving our society by helping the large numbers of Americans who have for far too long been overlooked.

    And, until recently, Peter was also ACS’s Board Chair. His term ended this month, but he remains on the Board. His leadership and guidance as Board Chair were deeply appreciated and we will look forward to his continued partnership with ACS for years to come.

    Peter’s illustrious career has included not only his work for RFK, but also as Issues Director for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s presidential campaign and service in the U.S. Department of Justice as Special Assistant to Attorney General John Douglas.

    But Peter above all, has devoted great amounts of energy and time to fighting poverty. If you’ve not done so, you should read Edelman’s 2012 book, So Rich, So Poor for a compelling, albeit disheartening, examination of why ending poverty in this nation has been a constant uphill battle. Bill Moyers called the book a must-read “for anyone who wants to understand why, in one of the richest nations in the world, millions of people, even those with jobs, are teetering just a medical bill or missed paycheck from disaster.”

    We’re grateful Peter has given some of his remarkable energies and talent to support and advance the work of ACS.

  • December 13, 2013

    by Caroline Fredrickson, ACS President

    Since its founding in 2001, ACS has enjoyed the great fortune of a consistently strong Board of Directors, with some of the nation’s leading academics, practitioners and activists serving. At our recently scheduled Board meeting we said goodbye to a few long-serving members and selected a new Board chair, David M. Brodsky.  

    David’s legal career is a highly distinguished one. He was formerly a partner of the global law firm Latham & Watkins LLP. Some of his duties included advising foreign and domestic companies with respect to investigations of suspected criminal conduct, complex securities litigation, including class actions and other regulatory investigations and enforcement actions.   

    He is now the sole principal of a mediation and arbitration firm in New York City. Before launching Brodsky ADR LLC to help effectively solve complex disputes, David spent decades building a nationally recognized reputation as one of this nation’s greatest trial lawyers.

    There’s more to the story. David has served as a federal prosecutor, a general counsel to an investment bank and on numerous pro bono boards. His energy and dedication to the legal profession and to making justice accessible is extraordinary. Indeed his very rich, varied legal career has won him honors from numerous national legal publications, being consistently named among the top 100 “Super Lawyers” in New York and listed in the 2012 Best Lawyers in America survey.

    David, in an eloquent ACSblog post, paid tribute to some of ACS’s long-serving Board members whose terms recently ended. But ACS members, supporters and friends should get to know David. He’s an inspiring figure and a tireless advocate of ACS’s work. We’re grateful he’s taken a leadership role on the Board.  

    [image via Brodsky ADR LLC]

  • November 25, 2013
     
    Every year, a few blockbuster Supreme Court oral arguments and decisions dominate the news. In 2013, voting rights, LGBT equality, and affirmative action in education took center stage. Many Americans, whether lawyers or not, understood that these decisions could affect their own lives.
     
    Almost under the radar, however, the Court has been chipping away at the very process that enables the American people to seek redress in court when they’ve been injured. In particular, the Court’s decisions enforcing arbitration clauses and class action waivers have closed the courthouse door to litigants harmed by corporate wrongdoing. Most recently, in American Express Corp v. Italian Colors last Term, the Court ruled that class action waivers are enforceable even when they render it functionally impossible for plaintiffs to vindicate their rights under federal law.
     
    Rich Freer, the Robert Howell Professor of Law at Emory Law School, explains the impact of these cases.
     

  • November 19, 2013
    Guest Post
    by Jo-Ann Wallace, President and CEO, National Legal Aid and Defender Association
     
    Fifty years ago, a unanimous Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright that “in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” This holding was described in the opinion to be “an obvious truth,” a recognition that Gideon’s clear and powerful proclamation – protecting the fundamental human right to liberty – is one that resonates with us all.
     
    But the mandate was not self-executing, and far too little planning or coordination was undertaken to translate the legal pronouncement into consistent practice. The fundamental constitutional right of the Sixth Amendment was left to fall victim to the inertia of the “machinery of criminal justice” – a counterweight poignantly exposed in Gideon -- and the political realities of each state and county. The failure to act on a federal level has reversed the tides of history to the very problem Gideon attempted to correct. That is: local political entities cannot be solely relied upon to ensure the constitutional right to counsel is properly structured and funded. As a result, the Attorney General declared on the anniversary of the Gideon decision: “It’s time to reclaim Gideon’s petition – and resolve to confront the obstacles facing indigent defense providers.”
     
    The criminal justice system is an eco-system in which the component parts are inextricably intertwined. If police officers arrest more individuals, prosecutors have more cases to process and public defense organizations have more people for whom to provide legal representation. However, while other system actors have mechanisms to prioritize cases or to exercise discretion over which cases to pursue, the Constitution affords public defenders no such “release valve” for controlling workload. This reality exacerbates funding inequities that exist at the state and local levels.