Counting hate crimes

hate crimesJust how many hate crimes are being committed in America? The FBI reports 7,175 hate crimes in 2017, a 17 percent increase according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC notes that the FBI’s total may be just a fraction of the actual number of hate crimes:

The fact is, the vast majority of hate crimes don’t get counted. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates there are about 250,000 each year. There are several reasons for the vast discrepancy. First, studies show that only about half of all hate crimes get reported to the police. Second, the FBI relies on some 18,000 local enforcement agencies to forward their data to the federal government. Since the system is voluntary, many don’t do it. And many that do provide the data simply don’t properly identify hate crimes in the first place. In addition, the definition of a hate crime varies from state to state.

Slate notes that despite the increase in the FBI’s hate crime count, the problem of undercounting them could have been solved years ago. Salon reports that the rising number of hate crimes points to a bigger problem: a slow motion civil war, fueled by the alt-right.

The new wave of criminal justice reform

defendant acquitted felony courtroom verdict

A bipartisan criminal justice reform bill backed by President Trump may yet have a difficult time being passed by Congress, according to CNBC. The bill could save the federal government millions of dollars by reducing thousands of prison sentences. The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, contributed to a column in USA Today backing criminal justice reform. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stands in the bill’s way. Time notes that the bill has strong conservative support, including the backing of billionaire Charles Koch. The New York Times editorial board has also expressed support.

Meanwhile, across the country, a new wave of district attorneys is bringing about criminal justice reform on the local level. The Washington Post profiles district attorneys like Mark Gonzalez of Corpus Christi, Texas, a self-styled “Mexican biker lawyer” who’s one of several progressive prosecutors pushing for reform. The Post also mentions Wesley Bell of Ferguson, Missouri, Larry Krasner of Philadelphia and Kim Foxx of Chicago as some of the district and state attorneys seeking to overhaul the criminal justice system.

Infographic: How attorneys work with expert witnesses

Attorneys are turning more often to expert witnesses to help bolster their cases, and the ways they’re being used are evolving, according to a survey by The Expert Institute. More than 1,000 attorneys were surveyed by the Institute to find out how they used experts in the courtroom, the qualities they sought in expert witnesses, and how they went about finding the right ones for their cases. Which experts are most in demand? According to the survey, medical experts are the most often hired. Read more about how experts are helping win cases at The Expert Institute.

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.