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Stanford Law School Graduates Submit Letter to Reconsider Recall Effort of Judge Persky

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reposted in its entirety from the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project Blog


The following letter was sent to Stanford University’s Professor Michelle Dauber — the law professor leading the recall campaign to remove Judge Aaron Persky. The letter was from 53 graduating Stanford Law students, representing nearly a third of the total class of 180 students.

Dear Professor Dauber,

We are members of the graduating Class of 2016, and we were inspired to write this letter because of your leadership in responding to the Brock Turner rape case. As we bid farewell to the Stanford community we’ve been privileged to be a part of over the last three years, we can’t help but take note of those events and the discussion surrounding it, and we feel compelled to apply what we’ve learned at SLS to weigh in on an aspect of that discourse we find troubling.

First, we are proud of your leading role in advocating for reform of how society responds to sexual violence. Rape and other forms of sexual assault are urgent problems that are too often neglected or obscured by euphemisms, silence, and shame. The best scholars use their expertise to shine light on pressing civic issues like these: they articulate their visions of a more just society, and they engage with policymakers and the public to spur and shape reform. We’ve been privileged to learn at a place where faculty like you take up that mantle.

We’d also like to emphasize our agreement with your goals. We, like you, believe that members of the Stanford community — indeed, of every community — should be doing all we can to confront the problem head on, by preventing sexual violence in the first place, ensuring that those who experience it receive support and healing, and insisting that those responsible face consequences that reflect the seriousness of their actions. We, like you, are disturbed by the six-month jail sentence that Turner received, which appears lenient when measured against the relevant sentencing guidelines, the much-longer sentences many thousands of Americans are serving for less-serious crimes, and the trauma that the target of his assault so bravely described at Turner’s sentencing hearing. And we, like you, are especially troubled by our suspicion that race and privilege explain those discrepancies. Accountability means little when we demand it only from the already-disenfranchised, and the transformative power of mercy is diminished when we reserve it only for the privileged.

At the same time, one aspect of your recent advocacy troubles us: the nascent campaign you have championed to recall Judge Aaron Persky, who sentenced Turner. We have deep reservations about the idea of a judge — any judge — being fired over sentencing decisions that the public perceives as too lenient.

As we’ve learned during our time at the law school, judicial independence is a cornerstone of due process and an essential prerequisite of a fair criminal justice system. Judges are entrusted with immense power over the life and liberty of criminal defendants from all walks of life, and they need latitude to exercise that power judiciously. After decades of mass incarceration driven by mandatory minimums and other punitive sentencing regimes, we believe that judicial leniency is already too scarce, even though we strongly disagree with how it was applied to Turner. And in a world where judges believe they are one unpopular sentencing decision away from an abrupt pink slip, it will only grow scarcer. A high-profile campaign to recall Judge Persky because he showed too much solicitude for a defendant convicted of odious crimes would evoke an ugly chapter of California’s history: when three justices of our state’s highest court were recalled from the bench because they voted to oppose the death penalty, in accordance with the dictates of justice and the constitution as they understood them. Though the values underlying that effort were different from the ones animating the current recall debate, the chilling effect on judicial independence would be the same.

To be clear, our hesitation about a recall campaign does not stem from a belief that Judge Persky’s decision to give Turner a below-guidelines sentence was correct or that his stated justifications for doing so were sound. Many of us, like you, believe that justice called for a stiffer sentence in his case. But we think humility requires us to recognize that we won’t always be able to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate exercises of judicial mercy. If you or we claim the power to make that decision, how can we credibly deny it to anyone else? If we demand that Judge Persky immediately hand over his gavel for acting on his empathy for this defendant, how we can we credibly assure any other judge that her hand need not waver when the human circumstances of a case seem to call for compassion?

This is not an abstract concern: many of us count our work with Stanford’s Three Strikes Project as one of the most powerful experiences we had at SLS. Through the project, we represented clients serving life sentences for non-violent felonies as they petitioned for early release under Propositions 36 and 47 — transformative ballot measures championed by your Stanford colleagues, which have begun to roll back the worst excesses of California’s punitive sentencing laws. In that role, we had to ask county judges like Aaron Persky to grant early release to men and women serving life in prison because the people of California once believed that our clients’ mistakes made them irredeemable. Even when an inmate has made great strides in prison, and even though statistics show that people resentenced under Propositions 36 and 47 pose little danger of recidivism, granting that second chance is a delicate decision that requires courage on the part of judges: they have to bear the risk, however remote, that the petitioner will abuse that mercy in ways that provoke public backlash against their decision.

We believe it would send a powerful message to these judges and others making similar decisions around the country if, while continuing to critique Judge Persky’s sentencing decisions and calling for a different approach in future cases, you abstained from your effort to recall him from the bench and instead focused on other avenues of response and reform. These might include educating future judges and jurors about the realities of sexual assault, or pressing for systemic changes in how these cases are handled. We simply ask that you withhold your support for a recall campaign that would set a dangerous precedent against the exercise of merciful discretion in our criminal justice system.



(This letter was also signed by 48 other members of the graduating class.)

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July 13 Digest

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Experts battle in State Bar data trial

Questions about anonymity for bar exam takers dominated testimony Tuesday as the first expert witness was called in a bench trial between the State Bar and a researcher. By Phil Johnson — Daily Journal (sub. req.)

Lawsuit revived that accused Ford of conspiring on vehicle prices

A state appeals court in San Francisco has revived a lawsuit on behalf of many thousands of Californians accusing Ford Motors’ Canadian subsidiary of conspiring with other automakers to halt exports of lower-priced new cars and trucks from Canada to the United States in the early 2000s. Evidence of a confidential May 2001 meeting in Canada among representatives of major auto dealers’ associations and manufacturers could allow a jury to conclude that they were plotting strategies to maintain higher U.S. prices and profits by preventing exports, the First District Court of Appeal said in a precedent-setting ruling last week. By Bob Egelko — San Francisco Chronicle


New 2-year law program will get grads to job market quicker, save them tuition costs, dean says

Albany Law School has announced a two-year JD program, which shaves a year’s worth of tuition off the price. The 24-month program is scheduled to start in January 2017, according to the school’s website. It includes two summer terms, and students need 87 credits to graduate. Annual tuition at the school is $44,546. By Stephanie Francis Ward— ABA Journal


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July 12 Digest

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Why lawmakers are trying to make ransomware a crime in California

State legislation to outlaw ransomware is drawing broad support from tech leaders and lawmakers, spurred by an uptick in that type of cybercrime and a series of recent attacks on hospitals in Southern California. The bill, authored by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), would update the state’s penal code, making it a felony to knowingly use ransomware, a type of malware or intrusive software that is injected into a computer or network and allows a hacker to hold data hostage until money is paid. By Jazmine Ulloa — Los Angeles Times

State Supreme Court tosses death sentence over judge’s error

The state Supreme Court upheld a Stockton man’s conviction for a 1999 murder and robbery Monday but overturned his death sentence because the trial judge removed a prospective juror who said she was morally opposed to the death penalty but believed she could set her views aside. Although all jurors in capital cases must be willing to vote for a death sentence, “a prospective juror’s conscientious objection to capital punishment is not by itself a sufficient basis for excluding that person from jury service,” Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar said in the 7-0 ruling. By Bob Egelko — San Francisco Chronicle

Venable back on hook for $11.25M Facebook con

A group of investors that claimed it was swindled out of more than $11.25 million worth of pre-initial public offering Facebook shares won its bid to revive securities fraud claims against Venable LLP, which represented the alleged con artist during negotiations. ESG Capital Partners LP adequately pled that former Venable partner David Meyer had the scienter — culpable intent — required under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said July 11. The plaintiff also adequately pleaded state law fraud claims, but its claim for breach of fiduciary duty wasn’t timely, the appeals court said. By Cameron Finch — Bloomberg BNA

Two bailiffs killed by inmate during attempted jail break, police say

Two bailiffs were killed and a deputy sheriff wounded in a shooting Monday afternoon at a courthouse in Berrien County, Mich., when an inmate being transferred from a cell grabbed a gun and opened fire as he tried to flee, authorities said. The gunman — identified by police as 45-year-old Larry Darnell Gordon from Coloma, Mich. — was shot and killed by other bailiffs, but only after he had shot four people, two of them fatally, Sheriff L. Paul Bailey said at a news conference. By Mark Guarino, Mark Berman and Elahe Izadi — Washington Post

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July 11 Digest

Posted By Administration, Monday, July 11, 2016

This new California law could dramatically change the demographics of its electorate

California recently passed the New Motor Voter Act, a law designed to register eligible residents to vote by default when they use the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), unless they decline. Other states have or are considering similar laws. By Eric McGhee and Mindy Romero — Washington Post

Case over bar records heads to trial

A long-running lawsuit against the State Bar seeking demographic and other information about prospective lawyers heads to trial this week. The suit — initially brought in 2008 by UCLA School of Law Professor Richard Sander, former bar board member Joe Hicks and the First Amendment Coalition — will receive a bench trial before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Mary E. Wiss. By Lyle Moran — Daily Journal

Federal judge slams fired Newport Beach cop's lawsuit as junk

A federal judge is on the verge of dismissing a fired Newport Beach cop's wrongful termination lawsuit, calling the complaint "largely incoherent" and "often nonsensical." Inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, U.S. District Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford determined that Eric Peterson's 14-claim civil complaint involving two former Orange County police chiefs, city officials as well as police management has not stated a valid legal case of his victimization. By Scott Moxley — OC Weekly


U.S. Supreme Court may be at turning point, UCI law school dean tells Newport audience

More than 100 Newport Beach residents and dignitaries rose early Thursday to hear from UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky about how the U.S. Supreme Court may be headed to a new era following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. "Everything changed in the Supreme Court on Saturday, Feb. 13, when Justice Scalia died," Chemerinsky said at the Wake Up Newport event presented by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. By Alex Chan — Los Angeles Times

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no fan of Donald Trump, critiques latest term

Unless they have a book to sell, Supreme Court justices rarely give interviews. Even then, they diligently avoid political topics. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg takes a different approach. These days, she is making no secret of what she thinks of a certain presidential candidate. By Adam Liptak — The New York Times

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July 5 Digest

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, July 5, 2016

PG&E records show pipeline that blew up had 33 previous leaks

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. records in 2009 listed 33 past leaks with unknown causes on the same aging gas pipeline that exploded in San Bruno in 2010, a PG&E engineer told a federal court jury Friday. Called as a prosecution witness in PG&E’s trial on charges of criminal violations of pipeline-safety laws, David Aguiar testified that his job was to examine pipelines for external evidence of corrosion — a method that could not have detected internal welding defects that caused many leaks. — San Francisco Chronicle

After Supreme Court ruling, what's next for unanthorized immigrants seeking work?

Many unauthorized immigrants had pinned their hopes on getting work permits through President Obama’s immigration plan, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently placed the plan on hold, raising questions of what might be next for those looking to work in California legally. California is among the most liberal of the states in granting benefits to those living in the U.S. without legal status. — 89.3 KPCC

Lake County man awarded $936,880 for wrongful conviction

A Lake County man who spent 20 years behind bars for a crime of which he since has been exonerated will receive a state compensation check of $936,880 for wrongful conviction. The California legislature this week approved the payment for Luther Jones, 72, and it was signed by the governor Friday, according to the office of Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg. — The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

FBI recommends no prosecution in Hillary Clinton email case

The FBI is recommending that no charges be brought against Hillary Clinton in connection with her email use while secretary of State, FBI Director James Comey said Tuesday. “No reasonable prosecutor” would bring such a case, Comey said. But although the FBI is not recommending charges, the FBI director did strongly criticize Clinton’s handling of classified information in her email, calling it “extremely careless.” — Los Angeles Times

See also: NBC News, The New York Times


Court: KKK can continue quest to ‘adopt’ a Georgia highway

Georgia’s highest court has ruled that the Ku Klux Klan’s lawsuit over its bid to ‘adopt’ a highway can continue. In a unanimous decision announced Tuesday, the Supreme Court of Georgia dismissed the state’s appeal of a lower court ruling. — The Associated Press

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June 30 Digest

Posted By Administration, Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson launches program to prosecute liars

Lake County District Attorney Don Anderson says he’s fed up with liars who fib under oath. In a novel offensive against what many say is a rampant problem in the court system, he’s assigned an attorney in his office to investigate and prosecute alleged incidents of perjury. By Glenda Anderson — The Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Obama administration has forgiven $171 million owed by former Corinthian students

The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to forgive $171 million of debt owed by former students of the bankrupt for-profit school Corinthian Colleges Inc., most of them in California. The government said Wednesday that it has granted relief to 11,173 students who attended one of the defunct Santa Ana company’s colleges, which included Heald, Everest and WyoTech. By Melody Petersen — Los Angeles Times

Proposal would require city attorney be lawyer

The qualifications to become San Diego’s city attorney would be bolstered under a proposed November ballot measure that would update the city charter. The changes would require the city attorney, which is an elected position in San Diego, to be a member of the California State Bar in good standing and have a minimum 10 years of experience practicing law in the state. By David Garrick — San Diego Union-Tribune

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June 29 Digest

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Manson murderer's 'disturbingly distorted' views should prevent her release from prison, D.A. says

The Los Angeles County district attorney has asked Gov. Jerry Brown to deny parole for former Manson “family” member Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted along with other members of the cult in the 1969 killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. In a letter dated Friday, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey told the governor that she “strongly” opposed releasing Van Houten, calling her unsuitable for parole and a threat to public safety. By Matt Hamilton — Los Angeles Times

California may take closer look at treatment courts for veterans

Of California’s 58 counties, 25 operate courts for veterans, including six in the Bay Area. They allow vets with substance abuse issues or mental health problems to be placed in treatment rather than prison or jail. By Katie Orr — KQED

California ditches bid to copyright state records

A contentious proposal giving California complete copyright authorization over public records has been dismantled by lawmakers following prudent opposition from a coalition of free-speech and open-government advocates. Assembly Bill 2880 initially sought to give records created at taxpayer expense, including legislative reports, maps and recorded hearings, federal copyright and trademark protections and allow state and county governments to control and even prohibit their use. By Nick Cahill — Courthouse News Service

How the two justices from California are moving the Supreme Court to the left

The Supreme Court ended its term this week with two liberal victories – on abortion and affirmative action – that reflect in part a deepening center-left alliance between Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer. Breyer is the most moderate of the court’s four Democratic appointees, and Kennedy is easily the most moderate of the four Republican appointees. By David G. Savage — Los Angeles Times

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June 28 Digest

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Airbnb sues San Francisco over a law it had helped pass

Airbnb executives have often said that officials in San Francisco, the company’s hometown, understood how to work with innovative technology companies. Two years ago, the city and the start-up drafted a law that allowed Airbnb to operate widely there, despite blowback from advocates for affordable housing. By Katie Benner — The New York Times

See also: Los Angeles Times  


Supreme Court won't reopen union-fees case

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a request by public school teachers in California asking the justices to rehear a major challenge to fees that unions collect from non-members on which the court split 4-4 in March. The non-union teachers, represented by the Washington-based Center for Individual Rights conservative group, launched a long-shot effort to get the court to reconsider its decision. — Reuters

See also: The Associated Press  


Laguna Beach cafe owners file countersuit against Muslim women who alleged discrimination

The owners of a Laguna Beach cafe have filed a countersuit against a group of women who allege they were targeted for being “visibly Muslim” and discriminated against because they were ordered to leave. In the cross-complaint, filed last week in Orange County Superior Court, an attorney for the owners of the Urth Caffe accused the plaintiffs of trespassing. By Anh Do — Los Angeles Times

Bar panel upholds disbarment for alleged misappropriation

A state bar appellate panel has upheld the disbarment of a Peninsula attorney accused of bilking an elderly client out of $3.5 million. A bar court trial judge in 2013 found that Wade Robertson of Stanford misled William Cartinhour Jr., promising the then-77-year-old Maryland resident in 2004 lucrative returns if he invested $2 million in a class action. By Cheryl Miller — The Recorder

See also: Daily Journal (sub. req.)


SLO County’s Veterans Treatment Court changes lives, offers a second chance

When Kessler Smith returned home after more than five years fighting for his country in Iraq and Afghanistan, he couldn’t land a job — even as a door employee at a local Wal-Mart. He felt alienated, undervalued. By Matt Fountain — New Times San Luis Obispo

Supreme Court ruling imperils abortion laws in many states

By striking down tough abortion restrictions in Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court has emboldened abortion-rights activists nationwide and imperiled a range of anti-abortion laws in numerous states. Many anti-abortion leaders were openly disappointed, bracing for the demise of restrictions that they had worked vigorously to enact over the past few years. By David Crary — The Associated Press

Supreme Court upholds wide reach of U.S. gun ban for domestic violence

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the broad reach of a federal law that bars people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning guns. The justices rejected arguments that the law covers only intentional or knowing acts of abuse and not those committed recklessly — where a person is aware of the risk that an act will cause injury, but not certain it will. — The Associated Press

See also: The Washington Post

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June 27 Digest

Posted By Administration, Monday, June 27, 2016
Updated: Monday, June 27, 2016

Increasing penalties for sexual assault not that easy

Before Judge Aaron Persky gave Brock Turner the lenient sentence heard around the world, few knew that California’s penal code deemed the sexual assault of an unconscious person less severe than an attack on a conscious person — or that the state defined rape in very narrow terms. Outrage over Turner’s six-month jail sentence for three felony counts of sexual assault quickly inspired legislation to toughen penalties and broaden California’s definition of rape — proposals that take aim at a problem all too common on college campuses. By Katy Murphy and Jessica Calefati — San Jose Mercury News

'We’re not the same as in 1945': Activist tells the story of how her parents fought school segregation in California

Seven decades ago, Sylvia Mendez’s parents went to court to fight for her right to attend a predominantly white school in her Orange County neighborhood. On a recent evening, she sat in a place of honor on the stage of a Boyle Heights school that bears their name. By Daniela Gerson — Los Angeles Times

Interpreter video pilot program approved by Judicial Council

The Judicial Council unanimously approved Friday a pilot program to gauge whether state courts can implement live video of interpreters to assist court visitors. Video remote interpretation (VRI) is one of the more high-profile proposals within a comprehensive Language Access Plan that aims to expand translation services to limited English speakers throughout the entire state court system. By Kevin Lee — Daily Journal (sub. req.)

Supreme Court overturns Texas abortion restrictions

The Supreme Court, in a victory for abortion-rights advocates, has limited the power of Texas and other states to restrict or effectively shut down clinics that offer the procedure. The justices, by a 5-3 vote, said Monday that Texas lawmakers went too far by imposing unnecessary regulations that had forced most of the state’s abortion clinics to go out of business. By David G. Savage — Los Angeles Times

See also: The New York Times, McClatchy

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SCCBA Barristers Honor Mariel Block, 2016 Barrister of the Year

Posted By Paula Collis, Thursday, June 23, 2016



The Barristers' Committee of the Santa Clara County Bar Association was thrilled yesterday to present Mariel Block  with the 2016 Barrister of the Year Award. Ms. Block's award was presented by the Hon. Carol Overton who spoke of the the contributions Mariel has made to the local legal community. Among the criteria to be selected for Barrister of the Year, the awardee, "must have demonstrated professional skill and judgement significantly beyond that expected for a lawyer with his or his experience level." 


Ms. Block graduated from UC Berkeley magna cum laude in 2008 and from University of Michigan Law School in December 2011. She was admitted to the California Bar in June 2012. Throughout her education and career, Ms. Block has shown a strong commitment to public interest law. She has clerked at the ACLU in Atlanta, Georgia, the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, Illinois and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, New York and New Orleans, Louisiana. From March 2013 to August 2014, she worked as a staff attorney defending low income clients in unlawful detainer proceedings in Sacramento County. In September 2014, Ms. Block was hired as the Law Foundation’s Pro Bono Housing Program Staff Attorney and has been serving in that role since that time.


Ms. Block is an extremely knowledgeable, tenacious, resourceful, creative and zealous advocate. During the last year and a half, she has devoted tremendous energy and talent to making the Law Foundation’s Pro Bono Housing Program what it is today. Every Friday, she coordinates the Law Foundation’s eviction clinic, providing support to our 68 volunteer lawyers serving low income tenants in Santa Clara County. She also provides support to pro bono attorneys who take on unlawful detainer cases for ongoing representation and handles her very own case load. The growth of the Program under her lead has been remarkable – in 2014, the clinic provided representation to 295 tenants, 7 of whom received full scope representation. In 2015, the Program provided representation to 373 clients, 60 of whom received ongoing representation throughout the eviction process. Beyond the numbers, Ms. Block’s fierce advocacy and guidance has resulted in some truly amazing outcomes on behalf of low income tenants in our county.


Ms. Block plays a critical part in pro bono work in our county, though she has a supporting role. Since starting as the Law Foundation’s Pro Bono Housing Program Staff Attorney, she has trained and provided technical assistance to over 200 volunteers at our weekly housing clinic and provided support to 45 private attorneys who represented low income tenants in UD proceedings on a pro bono basis.


Ms. Block has been active in the Santa Clara County Legal Services Community. She regularly participates with the local Housing Task Force, which meets regularly to discuss and address issues facing low income tenants in our community. As one of the few tenant attorneys in our county, she has also been active in providing comments to the Language Access Plan Implementation Task Force at the State level.





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Mariel BlockBarrister of the Year 2016
Richard KondaProfessional Lawyer of the Year 2015

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