LA COUNTY DA JACKIE LACEY TO LAUNCH UNIT TO HUNT FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS
Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is establishing a conviction integrity unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.
The team will consist of three prosecutors, a senior investigator, and a paralegal. DA Lacey has asked the Board of Supervisors for around $1 million in funding.
The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the new unit. Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he expects that a new conviction review unit would particularly help people of color, who he said are wrongfully convicted at disproportionately high rates.
“It sends the message to law enforcement officers that trumped-up charges will not work,” he said. “It’s another dimension of checks and balances in the criminal justice system, which I think is sorely needed.”
The units have already had an effect in other places in California.
On Wednesday, at the request of the Ventura County district attorney’s office, a judge dismissed a murder case against Michael Ray Hanline, who was convicted in 1980. The office said it made the request after an investigation by its conviction integrity unit, along with the California Innocence Project, which turned up new evidence casting doubt on Hanline’s guilt.
Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, said that setting up a unit won’t necessarily translate into meaningful change or exonerations.
“There are lots of people who can say, ‘Oh gee, I have a conviction integrity unit,’ because that’s now the necessary fashion accessory,” he said.
To be successful, Scheck said, Los Angeles County should search for someone with “a different way of looking at the cases” —- like a former defense attorney — to lead the unit. The other key, he said, is fostering robust relationships between prosecutors and defense lawyers in which neither side expects to be “sandbagged.”
“It’s no longer an adversarial relationship,” he said. “It’s a joint search for the truth.”
FORMER HEAD OF LA JUVIE COURT, JUDGE MICHAEL NASH, OUT OF RETIREMENT AND INTO DELINQUENCY COURT
Judge Michael Nash retired in January after serving for nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court. Fortunately, he did not remain retired for long. Judge Nash is back, and working as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.
Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and the Department of Children and Family Services, here.)
Holden Slattery interviews Nash for the Chronicle of Social Change.
Nash discusses the differences (and commonalities) between delinquency and dependency courts, and the kids he strives to protect. Here’s a clip:
He had shown interest in taking a lead as the county’s Director of Child Protection, a new office created after recommendations by a blue ribbon commission established to overhaul L.A.’s child protection system. But when the Board of Supervisors dithered on hiring him, he recalibrated his sights.
For a couple of months, he enjoyed relaxing at home with his puppy, doing projects, and watching TV shows that had never fit his schedule in years past.
But Nash wanted more than a cozy seat on the couch. He applied for California’s Assigned Judges Program, which assigns retired judges to benches where they are needed. Nash was appointed to the Juvenile Court in Compton. He now sits in Judge Donna Groman’s courtroom on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while Groman does administrative work.
As presiding judge, Nash was responsible for all of the delinquency courts and dependency courts in Los Angeles County—more than 40 courtrooms in total. In delinquency courts such as Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court, a judge determines whether children have broken laws and takes corrective action. In dependency courts, a judge decides whether children have been victims of maltreatment. Before being elected as presiding judge, Nash worked in a dependency court. This is his first time working on the delinquency side of the county’s vast judicial system for minors.
“This is a new experience for me, and it’s great,” Nash says in Groman’s office during a break. “This court is really a hybrid between two systems.”
“On the front end of this process, it’s like a criminal court because kids are charged with crimes and you have to deal with that. But once you get to resolve that issue, it’s the same thing we do on the dependency side. We have to work with these kids and their families to ensure that they’re in stable settings and getting the services they need to become productive members of the community.”
LA TRADE TECH PROGRAM COMBATS SOUTH LA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE, HELPS THOSE IN NEED LAND JOBS
Los Angeles Trade Tech’s nonprofit WorkSource Center, which opened in November, makes finding work an attainable goal for low-income men and women in the eastern part of South LA, where the unemployment rate is more than twice as high as the state average. The center serves as a hub, providing everything from employment training and job fairs, to work clothes and tools, and connecting participants to housing assistance and other indispensable services.
The program runs on a $1.1 million grant from the City of Los Angeles.
KPCC’s Brian Watt has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:
Job seekers take online classes, and complete resumes and job applications at the center’s computer terminals. Private meeting rooms are available for job interviews. The center will host a job fair on May 7.
Carlon Manuel, who works at the WorkSource center, said many of the people who come for help are homeless and hungry.
“We can help them find housing, food banks, rental assistance,” Manuel said, standing in a large closet full of donated suits, ties, dress shoes and business-casual sweaters. “We can give you everything but underwear and a T-shirt and socks. The underwear, T-shirts and socks you work on your own.”
Manuel’s colleague, John Wilson, added: “We’ve put gas in someone’s car so they could get to an interview.”
On a recent Thursday, Manuel, Wilson and other staffers at the center helped a group of men sign up for a construction apprenticeship program. Some were military veterans. Others were what Manuel called “veterans of the streets,” who were referred to the center by representatives at Homeboy Industries, a local nonprofit that helps current and former gang members.
Applications and training are the first steps for job seekers. As they near the end of that process, and are at the cusp of getting hired, other needs can get in the way. Construction work might require tools and boots that the employer doesn’t pay for. The same goes for culinary knives for line cooks in restaurants. If the aspiring worker doesn’t have the cash to cover those items, the center tries to find a way.
CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS WEEK: POLICE WIDOW AND ADVOCATE CALLS FOR EQUAL ACCESS TO VICTIM SERVICES
In the summer of 2005, Dionne Wilson’s police officer husband, Dan, was talking with three drunken young men outside of an apartment building when one of them pulled out a gun and shot him.
In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Dionne Wilson explains how her husband’s murder led her to become a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. Wilson says that while she received excellent support as a victim of crime, her experience did not fall within the norm. Not all crime survivors are treated the same by the criminal justice system, and many do not have easy access to support and resources. Wilson helped secure funds for one-stop-shop trauma recovery centers in California to combat these problems. Currently, there are just three centers in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. Wilson says more are needed, and lauds the allocation of anticipated Prop 47 funds for future trauma recovery centers.
Here’s a clip:
Responding to a minor disturbance outside an apartment complex, Dan spoke with some young, very intoxicated men. One man, who had been in jail for drugs and feared a return trip, drew his gun and shot Dan. The man was caught, convicted and received the death penalty. But the healing I expected did not come. I was angry, depressed and broken.
As a police widow, I had all the support you could want: Friends brought me food, Dan’s colleagues helped me navigate the justice system and everyone always saw me as a victim. Without this support, I would not have made it.
However, the entire experience led me to view the system itself as broken…
This endless cycle of incarceration is largely driven by mental health and drug addiction issues that continue to be punished instead of healed. This is exactly what happened with the man who shot my husband.
The current approach is not working; it’s expensive and not making us safer. This realization led me to work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a statewide network whose members were in Sacramento on Monday and Tuesday to call for new priorities that better aid survivors.
For example, the support I received after Dan’s death is the exception, not the rule. After meeting with survivors, I realize that the justice system does not respond to victims equally. Equally troubling is that a vast majority of crime survivors don’t know about, or have access to, services for victims.