NTL member Michael Pasternak gets $15M verdict in civil rights case

Michael B. Pasternak, Attorney at Law, Beachwood Ohio

Michael B. Pasternak, Attorney at Law, Beachwood Ohio

National Trial Lawyers member Michael Pasternak says he has secured a $15 million verdict in a civil rights lawsuit over the arrests and wrongful conviction of three men referred to as the “East Cleveland Three.” 

In 1995, Clifton Hudson was shot and killed on Strathmore Ave. in East Cleveland, Ohio. All witnesses to the murder described a single shooter on foot. Three of those witnesses were teenagers who saw the murder from inside their vehicle; those three teenagers were 17-year-olds Eugene Johnson and Laurese Glover and 16-year-old Derrick Wheatt, collectively known as the East Cleveland Three. Another witness, 14-year-old Tamika Harris, told the police that she never saw the shooters’ face and could only identify the style of jacket that the shooter wore. Pasternak says East Cleveland detectives were able to shape her lack of knowledge into a positive identification, which ultimately resulted in Eugene, Derrick and Laurese being convicted of murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. Pasternak says “The egregious conduct of the officers coupled with the complete lack of evidence, motive or coherent theory was remarkable.”

A few years after the trial, the state’s only eyewitness, Tamika Harris, recanted and embarked, along with attorney Brett Murner, on a crusade to clear the East Cleveland Three.  Sadly, for the appellate courts, Tamika’s recantation was not enough. But in 2013, Brett Murner and the Ohio Innocence Project uncovered proof that East Cleveland police buried evidence that corroborated the innocence of the East Cleveland Three. Finally, in 2015, after years of struggle and 20 years of imprisonment, Brett and The Ohio Innocence Project were able to win the release and cause the criminal cases to be dismissed.

Pasternak says he, along with Brett, Liz Wang and Mark Loevy-Reyes had the honor of filing and prosecuting the civil case. The case was assigned to Federal District Judge James Gwin. The plaintiffs asserted claims against the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office (which were settled prior to trial for $4,500,000) and claims against the East Cleveland detectives for hiding exculpatory evidence and the unconstitutional manipulation of Tamika Harris.  The lawsuit survived summary judgment and a trip to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. On November 15, 2018, the jury returned a verdict for $15,000,000, finding that the detectives violated our clients’ Constitutional rights, causing them to be wrongfully convicted.

Cleveland.com and clevescene.com have more on the verdict.

Study shows cutting prison time by 1/5 doesn’t increase recidivism

A new study by Abt Associates shows that cutting average federal prison time by 19 percent can save vast sums of money with little effect on public safety. Shortening sentences by 7.5 months would enable a reduction of 33,203 prison beds without any significant increase in a return to federal prison by those released. If the Bureau of Prisons closed prisons instead of just shrinking the number of beds across the board, the report said, the Bureau could save money two ways. It could pare marginal costs such as food and considerable fixed costs such as administrative overhead and maintenance.

The report said the shift also could trim the substantial social costs of mass incarceration. Other studies have shown that long prison terms degrade a person’s skills. Loss of employment can result in a loss of healthcare, a loss of income for individuals and their families, and other losses of social support. In addition, the absence of a parent can produce developmental issues for children and promote the development of antisocial behavior.

Prison incarceration also raises issues of participation in a democratic society. Prisoners can’t vote or be counted in the U.S. Census at their home address, depriving their communities of political clout and appropriate funding levels for population-based programs. Thus the shorter prison terms can help the prisoner, family and broader community.

The new report marries two Abt capabilities: our technical econometric prowess and our unique experience processing and compiling vast amounts of federal prison data. We have been doing that over the last five years under a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the Federal Justice Statistics Program (FJSP). Abt processes, links and analyzes administrative records on every individual who comes in contact with the federal criminal justice system, from when the person is booked to post-conviction community supervision. The data in the study covered U.S. citizens who were serious offenders sentenced under federal sentencing guidelines from 1999 to 2014.

The authors–William Rhodes, Gerald G. Gaes, Ryan Kling and Christopher Cutler–note that economic and community benefits are not decisive enough for everyone to justify a policy change. Many believe that “people deserve punishment commensurate to the harm caused by their criminal conduct,” the report said. But it added, “One can reduce time served for everyone and still make punishment proportional to the seriousness of the crime.” Read the full article here: recidivism study.

This project was supported by Cooperative Agreement 2016-BJ-CX-K044, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” starts strong on Broadway after legal fight

To Kill a MockingbirdAfter lawsuits and counter-lawsuits, author Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird has started strongly on Broadway, opening to standing room only audiences, according to Forbes and Deadline.com You may recall Lee’s estate sued producer Scott Rudin over Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of the book, and Rudin countersued. Lee’s estate claimed that Sorkin’s version violated an agreement by changing the character Atticus Finch, making him an apologist for the racism he fights against. The two sides settled their lawsuits this summer, and Forbes reports the play is “off to a sterling start.” Read more about the play and the controversy surrounding it at Forbes.com and Deadline.com.

Podcast: How to convince clients you’re worth the cost

How do you convince a potential client that you’re worth every penny they spend hiring you for legal services? In this edition of the Asked and Answered podcast from the Legal Talk Network, attorney Janice Brown tells the ABA Journal‘s Stephanie Francis Ward that if a client can’t or won’t pay your fees, you shouldn’t offer a discount. Brown says there are ways to convince a client of your true value, and she has tips on how convey that in this podcast.

Does Tesla’s med clinic ignore injured workers?

An on-site medical clinic at Tesla’s assembly plant in California serves about 10,000 employees, but some former clinic employees tell Reveal that the facility doesn’t properly help seriously hurt employees, often sending them back to work through their pain. Workers injured on the line must first ask for permission to call 911. Other times, Tesla clinic doctors have ordered workers to take a Lyft to the emergency room rather than calling an ambulance. The goal, according to a former clinic employee, was to keep serious employee injuries off the legally-required injury logs, so as not to alert the government or the public. Read more about Tesla’s tactics at Reveal. 

Trump administration scrutinizing asbestos trust funds

legal news foc consumersThe Trump administration is stepping up its scrutiny of asbestos trust funds, out of concern that they’re being depleted by fraudulent claims, according to the Associated Press. The investigation has sought trust documents as part of a civil investigation, opposed the creation of one trust on the grounds that it didn’t have sufficient safeguards, and fought the appointment of one lawyer because it claimed the lawyer had too many conflicts to represent asbestos victims. Critics say the asbestos trust fund system is prone to fraud and manipulation by well-connected lawyers, despite the fact that it has distributed billions of dollars to victims of asbestos exposure. Plaintiff lawyers and advocates for asbestos victims say there’s not much proof of widespread fraud, even though business groups have long complained about the trust fund process.

Law to protect crime victims used to shield police

courtroom witnessYou may have heard of Marsy’s Law, which was designed to protect the identities of crime victims. But in South Dakota, a highway patrol officer is using the law to keep his name from being released after shooting a suspect, according to ReasonThe law, first enacted in California, is supposed to prevent the release of public records that could be used to “locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family.” Marsy’s Law has since spread to Illinois, Ohio, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. However, the American Civil Liberties Union has been critical of the law because of how it can be used. Read more about the controversy surrounding Marsy’s Law at Reason. 

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Alabama’s failed war on marijuana

As the War on Drugs wages on despite evidence that it has had almost zero effect, the Southern Poverty Law Center has examined the effects the war has had on one state: Alabama. The report from the SPLC and the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice is said to be the first of its kind to examine the fiscal, public safety and human toll of Alabama’s own War on Marijuana. According to the study:

  • The overwhelming majority of people arrested for marijuana offenses from 2012 to 2016 – 89 percent – were arrested for possession. In 2016, 92 percent of all people arrested for marijuana offenses were arrested for possession.
  • Alabama spent an estimated $22 million enforcing the prohibition against marijuana possession in 2016 – enough to fund 191 additional preschool classrooms, 571 more K-12 teachers or 628 more Alabama Department of Corrections officers.
  • Black people were approximately four times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession (both misdemeanors and felonies) in 2016 – and five times as likely to be arrested for felony possession. These racial disparities exist despite robust evidence that white and black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate.
  • In at least seven law enforcement jurisdictions, black people were 10 or more times as likely as white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
  • In 2016, police made more arrests for marijuana possession (2,351) than for robbery, for which they made 1,314 arrests – despite the fact that there were 4,557 reported robberies that year.
  • The enforcement of marijuana possession laws creates a crippling backlog at the state agency tasked with analyzing forensic evidence in all criminal cases, including violent crimes. As of March 31, 2018, the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences had about 10,000 pending marijuana cases, creating a nine-month waiting period for analyses of drug samples. At the same time, the department had a backlog of 1,121 biology/DNA cases, including about 550 “crimes against persons” cases such as homicide, sexual assault and robbery.

The full report is available here.

NTL Past President Mike Papantonio featured in new documentary

teflon frying panThe Devil We Know, an award-winning documentary featuring National Trial Lawyers Past President Mike Papantonio, is now available to rent or purchase.

When a handful of West Virginia residents discover DuPont has been pumping its poisonous Teflon chemical into the air and public water supply of more than 70,000 people, they file one of the largest class action lawsuits in the history of environmental law.

As the citizens of Parkersburg rise up against the forces that polluted their town, the story builds out to dozens of other American cities. In fact, as many as 110 million Americans may be drinking water tainted with PFAS chemicals. Exposure to this class of chemicals has even become a global phenomenon, spreading to places like Italy, the Netherlands, and China.

Parkersburg is ground zero for this story, but this clearly is not about one place or one chemical: because of the power of the chemical lobby, PFOA is one of more than 80,000+ untested chemicals that have been approved for use, their dangers unknown.

The Devil We Know is the story of how one synthetic chemical, used to make Teflon products, contaminated a West Virginia community. But new research hints at a much broader problem: nearly all Americans are affected by exposure to non-stick chemicals in food, drinking water, and consumer products. With very little oversight on the chemical industry in this country, we invite you to learn more about the problem and how you can protect yourself and your family.