Accepting Applications for Summer Internship

People’s Law Office is accepting applications for our 2015 summer internship and educational program, which focuses on learning about civil rights litigation rooted in social justice and radical legal work.

The program is open to law students. To apply send resume, cover letter and writing sample to peopleslaw [at] aol.com.  Applications will be accepted until February 6, 2014.  A stipend is available.

Update on Rasmea Odeh Trial

UPDATE ON RASMEA ODEH TRIAL
Friday, November 7 (Day 4 of Trial)

The trial against Palestinian-American Rasmea Odeh began earlier this week in Detroit.  Rasmea is being represented by Michael Deutsch of People’s Law Office, with co-counsel Jim Fennerty, another Chicago-based civil rights attorney, along with William Goodman and Dennis Cunningham.

Rasmea is on trial in Federal Court for failing to disclose a prior conviction in her immigration application to the United States.  The prior conviction was from Israel and related to a 1969 bombing at a supermarket in Jerusalem.  She had been arrested, interrogated and tortured by the Israeli military.  As a result of the torture, she confessed to involvement with the bombing.

Prior to trial, the judge made rulings limiting the defense.  One of the most significant rulings was prevented Rasmea or her attorneys from raising the torture she suffered or the psychological impact it had on her, which could explain her answers on the immigration form.  This was despite the judge finding her torture claims “credible.”

Trial began on Tuesday and the first day was spent selecting a jury.  Opening statements took place on Wednesday.  Arguing for the government, Assistant US Attorney Mark Jebson argued simply that Rasmea should be convicted for immigration fraud for failing to disclose her 1970 conviction.

During his opening argument, Michael Deutsch detailed Rasmea’s life.  He described how she lost the family home to Israeli settlers at a young age and explained how she was arrested and interrogated for weeks by the Israeli military.  Due to the judge’s ruling, he was unable to go into detail about the torture she suffered.  Deutsch also told the jury about Rasmea’s life here in the United States and how much respect she has in the community.  Deutsch closed by asking the jurors to remain fair and use their sense of justice to find Rasmea Not Guilty.

The prosecution presented their case Wednesday afternoon, calling agents from Department of Homeland Security and US Citizenship and Immigration Service.  The government’s case continued into Thursday morning.

On Thursday, the defense began presenting their case, calling UIC professor Nadine Naber to describe Rasmea and her work with Muslim and Arab women immigrants in the Chicago area.  Following Naber’s testimony, Rasmea took the stand.  Rasmea’s testimony went into her life growing up in Palestine where the family was forced from their home in 1948.  The family was forced to live as refugees before moving to Ramallah, where they lived during the 1967 war and occupation of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.  Ramsea then described her arrest by the Israeli military, her time as a political prisoner in Israel and her release as part of a prisoner trade.

Rasmea then went on to testify about the immigration process of coming to the United States.  She explained her English was weak at the time and she had her brother assist in filling out the forms.  She also testified that when there were questions about whether she had been arrested, her understanding was that those questions referred to arrests in the United States.

Rasmea’s testimony will continue today and she will be cross-examined by the government.  It is expected that closing arguments will follow her testimony and that the jury will begin deliberating on Monday, November 10.

For more on the trial
Earlier post from our site: Rasmea Odeh Trial to Begin Tuesday
Will Rasmea Odeh Go to Prison Because of a Confession Obtained Through Torture? in The Nation
Report on Rasmea Trial Day 2 by US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN)
Report on Rasmea Trial Day 3 by USPCN
Rasmea Odeh takes the stand in her own defense in Electronic Intifada
Press Release on Tuesday, November 4 from National Lawyers Guild

$1 Million Jury Verdict

Aside

On June 11, 2015, attorneys from People’s Law Office obtained a $1 million verdict for our client William Avery. Mr. Avery was wrongfully convicted and spent six years in prison for a rape and murder and was exonerated by DNA evidence.

$40 Million Settlement in Wrongful Conviction Case

On Wednesday June 25, 2014, an historic $40 million settlement was reached between the Illinois State Police and the Dixmoor 5.  The settlement has been called the largest wrongful conviction settlement in state history and was announced less than a week after the news of a similar settlement for the Central Park 5 in New York City.

wrongfullyconvicted Dixmoor 5 with their civil rights attorneys (photo by Chicago Tribune)

The Dixmoor 5 were young African American men who were falsely convicted of raping and murdering their 14-year-old classmate in 1991. Despite a complete lack of any physical evidence connecting the young men to the rape and murder, police fabricated confessions by three young men who implicated themselves and two others. Even though the confessions did not match each other or the facts of the crime, all five were wrongfully convicted and sent to prison.

People’s Law Office represent Jonathan Barr, along with the noted civil rights firm of Neufeld, Scheck, and Brustin from New York.  A civil rights lawsuit alleging wrongful conviction was filed on Jonathan’s behalf in 2012.

Jonathan, who was 14 years old at the time of the crime, was convicted in 1997 and given an 85 year sentence.  Jonathan never gave up protesting his innocence and was eventually able to establish that DNA evidence recovered from the victim showed that the sex assault and murder had been committed by a known sex offender, Willie Randoph. Jonathan was imprisoned until 2011 when he was released based on the DNA findings, after spending 18 years in prison.  In 2012 he was awarded a Certificate of Innocence.

While this settlement vindicates Jonathan and the other four men and compensates them for the injustice they suffered, this can never give them back the years they spent behind bars for a crime they did not commit.  Civil rights cases like these are part of the struggle to hold police and prosecutors accountable for the systemic injustices inherent in the criminal legal system.

News Coverage of the Settlement:
$40 Million Wrongful Conviction Settlement Chicago Tribune
$40 Million Settlement Between Dixmoor 5 and Illinois State Police Chicago Sun-Times
Dixmoor 5 Win $40 Million WGN-TV
Dixmoor 5 Men Will Receive Settlement from ISP  WLS

For more information on the case:
Read the Complaint in the civil rights lawsuit
People’s Law Office post when lawsuit was filedPeople’s Law Office commentary on the 60 Minutes piece covering Dixmoor 5 and other false confession cases in Cook County

To learn more about our work on this issue, visit the Wrongful Convictions page and the Victories page to see past successful settlements and jury verdicts we’ve obtained for our falsely convicted clients.

Convictions Tossed for Two Clients of People’s Law Office

Lewis Gardener and Paul Phillips were wrongfully convicted of acting as lookouts for a 1992 murder and spent nearly 15 years in prison.  In January of this year, lawyers from People’s Law Office filed a petition seeking to overturn their convictions.  Yesterday, June 24, 2014, the State’s Attorney agreed and asked the judge to vacate the convictions.

Gardner and Phillips at People's Law Office (photo by Chicago Tribune)Phillips and Gardener were 15 and 17 at the time of the crime and were coerced into giving false confessions.  In total, police obtained false confessions from seven people in the case, establishing the false police theory that three participated in the shooting and four others (including Phillips and Gardener) acted as lookouts.

One of these co-defendants, Daniel Taylor, was convicted and ultimately exonerated, after it was exposed that police and prosecutors withheld crucial evidence.  One of those pieces of evidence was that Taylor was in police lockup at the time of the murder.

The next step for Phillips and Gardener is to obtain Certificates of Innocence so they can receive compensation for the years they spent in prison for a crime they did not commit.

For more coverage of this recent development, read the Chicago Tribune story by Steve Mills: Judge Tosses Convictions of 2 Who Spent 15 Years in Prison

This case is part of our ongoing commitment to helping fight wrongful convictions and cases of false imprisonment.  The injustices of the criminal legal system in this country run deep and wide and these examples of wrongful conviction expose the problems in the system.  For more information on our work on the issue, visit the Wrongful Convictions page on this site.

If you or a loved one were wrongfully convicted and you are interested in filing a civil rights lawsuit, contact our lawyers at (773)235-0070.

Oral Argument Set for Occupy Chicago Appeal

Today, we received word that the oral argument has been set for the Occupy Chicago Appeal.  The oral argument will be May 13, 2014 at 10:30 a.m. in the Appellate Courtroom, First District of Illinois, at 160 N. LaSalle, Chicago, IL.  The argument will be open to the public, although people need to show a state-issued ID in order to enter the building.

The case, City of Chicago v. Alexander, Tieg, etc. 1-12-2858 is in appellate court after a judge in the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled in favor of Occupy Chicago.  The case dates back to October of 2011, when approximately 300 activists associated with Occupy Chicago were arrested on two consecutive Saturdays for violating a City Municipal Ordinance mandating a curfew in all City parks.

Attorneys from People’s Law Office (PLO), along with other attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) represented those arrested.  Nearly 100 of the arrestees opted to challenge their arrests and the PLO and NLG attorneys drafted and filed a Motion to Dismiss the charges based on the First Amendment.  We argued that the Municipal Ordinance violated the Free Speech of those arrested.  We were ultimately successful and a judge found that the ordinance was unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the activists who were defendants.

For more about the case, read these two articles on this site:
Free Speech and the Criminalization of Occupy
Occupy Chicago Appeal will Review City Ordinance’s Limits on Free Speech

In addition, below are briefs from both the City of Chicago and the NLG attorneys representing Occupy Chicago defendants.

Documents from Occupy Chicago Appeal

City of Chicago’s Appeal Brief – May 8, 2013

Occupy Chicago Response Brief – September 30, 2013

City of Chicago’s Reply Brief - December 12, 2013

 

Documents from Trial Level Court

Decision Ruling in Favor of Occupy Chicago - September 27, 2012

Occupy Chicago Reply to City – February 10, 2012

Original Occupy Chicago Motion to Dismiss - November 4, 2011

Wrongful Conviction Suit Filed for Kristine Bunch

Kristine Bunch, falsely convicted files civil rights lawsuit in Indiana

People’s Law Office has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Kristine Bunch, who was falsely convicted in 1996 of the arson murder of her three-year-old son.  Kristine was the victim of junk arson “science” in which fire investigators made unsubstantiated and unscientific claims that fires were arson, when in fact they were entirely accidental.  In Kristine’s case, when the investigators found evidence that the fire was not intentionally set, they deliberately suppressed those findings and rewrote their report to hide the exculpatory information.

Kristine’s case was tragic from the outset.  A young single mother, she lived in a mobile home in southern Indiana with her beloved three-year-old Anthony.  Early in the morning of June 30, 1995, fire roared through her home.  Although she tried to rescue Anthony, who was sleeping in a separate room, the fierce flames drove her back and she was unable to reach him.  Devastated, she tried to assist investigators to determine what had caused the fire, but, in the words of the lawsuit, these investigators “wrongfully lept to the conclusion that she had intentionally set the fire and then proceeded to fabricate evidence that supported, and hide evidence that undermined, that incorrect conclusion.  Years later it was revealed that the evidence which caused Plaintiff’s conviction was fabricated and unreliable and that these Defendants had deliberately suppressed evidence which showed that the fire was not arson, but was in fact accidental.”

Although there was no motive for Kristy to kill her son- she was a devoted mother who loved to care for and play with Anthony- that did not stop investigators.  After leaping to their deeply flawed conclusion, the investigators destroyed the likely cause of the fire- faulty wiring which had previously caused multiple electrical problems in the home.  The Indiana investigators identified what they claimed were “pour patterns,” where fire accelerants had supposedly been poured, and sent this evidence to federal investigators, telling them to find the chemical residue of such accelerants.  When the federal agency found that there were no traces of accelerants in the areas where there were allegedly “pour patterns,” the state and federal authorities changed the report to falsely claim that there were such traces.  Additionally, the investigators also falsely claim that there were such traces.  Additionally, the investigators also falsified the report by failing to reveal that all the chemical residues that were found in the home were consistent with kerosne, which was caused by the use of a kerosene heater in the home for several years.

As a result of the suppression of the exculpatory portions of the report, Kristy was convicted and sentenced to 60 years in prison.  After several years of incarceration her case was investigated by the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern University School of Law.  During this investigation, the Clinic discovered the suppressed reports of the investigators, and was also able to establish that any conclusions that the fire was intentionally set were based on junk science, where arson investigators repeated opinions as to the origins of fires that had no basis in science.  In 2012, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Kristy’s conviction, finding that the State had violated her constitutional rights in suppressing the exculpatory reports and that if this evidence had been disclosed back in 1996 she would not have been convicted.

Kristine suffered mightily as the result of the wrongful prosecution and false conviction.  She was forced to give up custody of her new baby, born after the fire, and lived for 17 years in prison, knowing that she was innocent but, realistically might never be able to overturn the conviction and gain her release.  While this lawsuit can never regain the lost years of Kristy’s life, we intend to obtain compensation for those lost years and obtain redress against investigators who must be held accountable for their unsubstantiated opinions and their suppression of evidence.

Read the complaint in her civil rights lawsuit.

For news coverage of Kristine’s case:
Woman Gets New Trial in 1996 Murder, Arson Case  Indy Channel March 21, 2012
Woman Accused of Setting Fire That Killed Son to Get New Trial Indy Channel August 8, 2012
State Drops Charges in 1995 Fire That Resulted in Death of Son Indy Channel December 18, 2012

Read more about our work on this issue on the Wrongful Convictions page.

Settlement in Death of Hassiba Belbachir

PRESS RELEASE
for immediate release
April 4, 2014

JUSTICE FOR HASSIBA BELBACHIR AFTER 9 YEARS OF LITIGATION

On April 3, 2014, People’s Law Office attorneys obtained a seven-figure settlement for the family of Hassiba Belbachir, a vibrant 27 year old Algerian Muslim woman who died on March 17, 2005, abandoned and alone on the cold floor of a cell in immigration detention at McHenry County Jail.

A social worker at the jail who saw Hassiba on March 14, three days before she died, noted that she was suicidal; had a “major depressive disorder;” sobbed throughout the interview; was very depressed; experienced feelings of agitation, anger, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and helplessness; and believed she was dying, telling the social worker, “death is dripping slowly, drop by drop . . . I’d rather die than live like this.” The social worker deliberately ignored Hassiba’s desperate pleas for help, had no further contact with her, and didn’t bother to tell corrections officers that Hassiba was suicidal. On March 17, Hassiba wrapped her socks around her neck and took her own life.

In ruling that the social worker must stand trial for violating Hassiba’s civil rights, the U.S. Court of Appeals stated:

She was not a criminal and was no danger to any person in the jail, whether staff member, detainee, or visitor. She was an obvious suicide risk who should have been hospitalized or at least placed on suicide watch, during which a guard would have glanced into her cell every 10 minutes. [...]

The defendants could have placed Belbachir in a mental hospital or at least on suicide watch. These were simple and obvious precautions against a risk of suicide. A severely depressed person who has hallucinations, acute anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and who cries continually, talks incessantly of death, and is diagnosed as suicidal, is in obvious danger, and if the danger (known to a defendant) can be averted at slight cost, the failure to try to avert it is willful.

Belbachir v. County of McHenry, 726 F.3d 975 (7th Cir. 2013). [Audio of the June 6, 2013 oral argument is available at: http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/sound/2013/sp.13-1002.13-1002_06_06_2013.mp3.]

Hassiba is survived by her six older siblings, who describe her as having a personality full of joy, that she was like a candle who could light up an entire room. Her brother Mohammed, a veterinarian in France, compared the effect of her death on the family with the destruction of the earth from a meteorite.

It is important to place Ms. Belbachir’s tragic and untimely death in the context of the expansion of immigration detention which routinely violates the human and civil rights of detainees, while it is seen as a profitable business by jail administrators. Her death in 2005 took place on the eve of the opening of a large unit to house ICE detainees in McHenry County, funded with more than $6 million in federal tax dollars. By 2009, by the sheriff’s own admission, renting jail cells to ICE netted the county some $55 million.

Between 2003 and 2013, at least 141 ICE detainees died in custody. While it is impossible to determine the number who took their own lives — Hassiba’s death is listed as an asphyxia — she is clearly one of at least 17 similar deaths in that ten year period.

Attorney Janine Hoft said, “This substantial settlement honors the memory of Hassiba Belbachir and reinforces the necessity to treat all persons in custody with dignity, respect and adequate care. Detainees caught up in our confusing, arbitrary and broken immigration system deserve humane treatment. No one else should die of desperation in our prisons, jails or immigration detention centers.”

 

Rachid Belbachir, her cousin, active in Chicago’s Muslim community, who administers her estate, said, “as a member of the family and Chicago’s Muslim community, I am satisfied that justice for Hassiba is at long last achieved. We hope and pray that the social worker, those who employed her, and those who work at the jail have learned a lesson such that no other immigration detainee will ever have to suffer from having his or her serious needs ignored, and such that no other family will ever have to suffer the loss of a loved one in immigration custody.”

Contacts:
Janine Hoft or Jan Susler 773 235 0070
janinehoft[at]aol.com
jsusler[at]gmail.com

Legal Victory for Incarcerated Burge Torture Survivors

A Giant Step Towards Justice for the Burge Torture Survivors Who Continue to Languish Behind Bars

In an historic decision on Wednesday, March 12, 2014, Cook County Circuit Court Chief of the Criminal Division Judge Paul P. Biebel, Jr. ruled that all of the Burge torture survivors who remain incarcerated are entitled to pro bono representation in post-conviction proceedings, allowing them the opportunity to challenge the validity of their convictions. Judge Biebel also appointed Loyola Law School Dean David Yellen as a special master to work with attorneys from the People’s Law Office (PLO) and the MacArthur Justice Center (MJC) to identify all Burge torture survivors who remain incarcerated, and inform them of the availability of attorneys to represent them for free in post-conviction proceedings. This ruling affirms that the torture survivors have the right to a full and fair opportunity to present allegations that they were tortured, and effective legal representation in challenging their convictions on this basis.

It is a giant step forward on the path to justice for the Burge torture survivors who are still behind bars, as many of them do not have lawyers to represent them and have been denied a full and fair opportunity have their day in court to present evidence of the torture they endured.

The decision was in response to a class action petition filed by the PLO and MJC in October 2012, on behalf of Johnnie Plummer, Vincent Wade and all other Burge torture survivors who continue to languish behind bars. The petition argued that comprehensive relief, including new evidentiary hearings, must be afforded to incarcerated individuals who claim they were tortured or abused under Burge’s command at Area 2 and 3 Police Headquarters. Such comprehensive relief has been provided in other cities and counties throughout the country where systemic police misconduct and corruption has raised questions about scores of criminal convictions, including in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tulia, Texas, West Virginia and the Ramparts scandal in Los Angeles.

There is no credible dispute that Burge and the detectives under his command routinely and systematically engaged in acts of torture. Yet many of the survivors of such torture remain behind bars and have been routinely denied the opportunity to present newly discovered evidence of systemic torture by Burge and his men. At the time of their original trials, these torture survivors challenged their coerced confessions, but they did not have access to the wealth of evidence that has since been uncovered documenting Burge’s reign of torture and abuse.

In his ruling, Judge Biebel noted that Burge’s conduct “has caused irreparable harm to many persons,” and that “it is of the highest importance that these remaining possible Burge-related cases be given resolution.” He further noted that Special Prosecutors appointed in 2002 concluded there was a pattern of misconduct that occurred with Burge and his associates. Thus, the alleged Burge victims who remain behind bars are both entitled to be identified and to be appointed representation because they have never had an opportunity to present claims that their confessions were coerced “with the benefit of substantial evidence now available to implicate Burge and those who worked under him.” When announcing his ruling from the bench, in front of a courtroom filled with attorneys, activists, and family members of the torture survivors, Judge Biebel also noted this was an “important endeavor” that was essential to bring to “a close an unfortunate chapter.”

Thus, all the individuals who can show:

1) His or her conviction was based in part upon a confession;

2) That the confession was the end result of an interrogation in which Burge or officers under his chain of command or direct supervision participated;

3) That her or she made an allegation of coercion in the context of his or her original proceedings, either at a motion to suppress or in some other clear and definitive way, that his or her confession was the product of physical abuse or torture, and those objections were overruled;

4) He or she remains incarcerated today; and

5) He or she has never had that the opportunity to present his or her claim of coerced confession with the benefit of the substantial evidence now available to implicate Burge and those who worked under him;

are entitled appointment of pro bono lawyers to represent them in post-conviction petitions.

Although he declined to certify a class of individuals entitled to relief or to automatically grant class members an evidentiary hearing, Judge Biebel assured a legal avenue for incarcerated torture survivors to challenge the coerced confessions that led to their convictions.

You can read Chief Judge Paul Biebel’s decision here.

If someone you know may be incarcerated who meets this category of criteria listed above, please send your information to the People’s Law Office or the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center.

For nearly 30 years, People’s Law Office has fought for justice for the survivors of Chicago police torture in appeals, post-conviction proceedings, civil rights lawsuits and in working with community members to fight for justice outside of the courts. Currently, we are working with the Chicago Torture Justice Memorial Project in advocating for reparations for the survivors of Chicago police torture. Please sign the petition supporting the Reparations Ordinance.

 

Illinois Court Rules Police Misconduct Complaints are Public

On March 10, 2014, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled in Jaime Kalven v. City of Chicago, 2014 IL App (1st) 121846 that police misconduct complaints and their investigations are public information and can no longer be kept secret by the Chicago Police Department.

In November 2009, the plaintiff, Jamie Kalven, an award winning journalist, made Freedom of Information Act requests to the Chicago Police Department, seeking two types of documents: (1) lists of Chicago police officers who accumulated the most police misconduct complaints in the entire City, commonly referred to as “repeater lists”; and (2) Complaint Register files, commonly referred to as “CRs,” related to the City’s completed factual investigations into allegations of official police misconduct against five officers charged with a pattern of abuse. After the City denied the requests, Mr. Kalven filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

The central issue in the case was whether records relating to police misconduct are public information under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The Appellate Court’s rejection of the City’s arguments that the requested documents are exempt from disclosure under certain provisions of FOIA, is a watershed moment in the ongoing fight for police accountability and governmental transparency in Illinois.

Mr. Kalven is represented by a team of civil rights lawyers, including Ben Elson and Flint Taylor from People’s Law Office.  As part of our continued commitment to fighting against police brutality and misconduct, we recognize the importance of the public’s access to information regarding police abuse.

Illinois Appeals Court Ruling
Kalven v. City of Chicago, 2014 IL App (1st) 121846

Media coverage of the ruling

Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Tribune
CBS Chicago
Think Progress

For more information on our work fighting for police accountability, visit this page: Police Brutality

If you are the victim of police misconduct or brutality and would like to know more about the type of cases we handle, view our Areas of Practice or contact us at (773)235-0070