Criminal Defense Clinic 10-Year Anniversary Celebration

On November 10 and 11, 2023, the Criminal Defense Clinic welcomed alumni, faculty, staff, organizational partners, family, and friends to celebrate, connect, and reflect on a decade of clinic accomplishments.

Attendees gathered on Friday, November 10, for a cocktail reception hosted by clinic alum Katherine Lin, ’14, and Ben Maurer. On Saturday, November 11, guests gathered at Stanford Law School for three panel discussions, addressing emerging topics such as impact litigation, movement lawyering, and sustainability/wellness for lawyers. That evening, CDC hosted a dinner celebration, with special remarks by Clinic Director, Professor Ron Tyler.

Thank you to our guests for celebrating with us.

Introduction and Panel 1: The Best (Criminal) Defense is a Good Offense: Collaborative Impact Litigation

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Okay. I think we are going to begin since I’ve turned on the mic and I’m looking at you and I’m looking at my notes. It must mean we’re beginning. I’m so glad to see you all. As you all know, I’m Professor Ron Tyler, the director of the Criminal Defense Clinic. And on behalf of the entire Criminal Defense Clinic team, I’m really delighted to welcome you to this celebration of ten years of the Criminal Defense Clinic.In a moment, I will invite Dean Robert Weisberg to give us some remarks. But, but first, first to this. This month, November, is National Native American Heritage Month which is a federally recognized period in which we honor native communities. We honor their cultures.We honor their traditions. While raising awareness about the unique historical and present day struggles of indigenous people in the United States.

There are approximately 7 million indigenous people living in the United States. And California has the second highest population of indigenous people. For thousands of years, indigenous people have lived in the region that we now call the San Francisco Bay Area. And in spite of, in spite of, genocidal oppression, By the Spanish, then the Mexicans, then the Americans. In spite of all of that, the Ohlone have persisted. Generation after generation, they are still here in the Bay Area. They speak to us. Shall we listen?

Good day. My name is Charlene Nijmay, and I’m the chairwoman for the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area. Here with me today, I have Vice Chair Monica Arleano, and former Councilwoman Gloria Arleano, and Muwekma youth Isabella Gomez, Georgiana Gomez, Lucas Arleano, and Gabriel Nijmay. Today, we will be reading our land acknowledgement on behalf of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe.

Thank you and welcome to our ancestral homeland.

[Subtitles translating Muwekma into English are in the pre-recorded video]

The subtitles, they’re sometimes hard to read, so I’m going to restate in English what we heard in Muwekma. Stanford University recognizes that it’s located on the ethno historic territory of the ancestral and traditional land of the intermarried Puichon Thámien Ohlone-speaking People and the historic, sovereign, previously federally recognized Verona Band of Alameda County, presently identified as the Muwekma Ohlone tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area. This land was and continues to be of great spiritual and historic importance to the Muwekma Ohlone tribe and other familial descendants of the Verona Band. We at Stanford recognize that every member of the greater Palo Alto community has and continues to benefit from the use and occupation of this land since this institution’s founding in 1891.

Consistent with our values of community inclusion and diversity, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and make known through various enterprises Stanford University’s relationship to Native Peoples. As members of the greater Palo Alto community, it is vitally important that we not only acknowledge and commemorate the history of the land on which we live, work, and learn, but also we recognize that the Muwekma Ohlone People are alive and flourishing as members of the Palo Alto and broader Bay Area community today. Aho!

Thank you all. Dean Weisberg, I will take my little placard off here. So this must be you, and I’m asked to remind you to hold the mic like so. You too, and this way, right? Hello everyone. I’m, I’m delighted to be here. I, I think I’m here because I was invited in my sort of ex officio role because I was asked to serve as interim dean.

It’s just as well that I got an official invitation because it would have saved a lot of embarrassment because I think I would have barged in anyway without an invitation because I of course teach criminal law and criminal procedure and although I’m not part of this great clinic, I’ve always thought of myself, and I think this is true of others of us who are on the criminal law side of the faculty, I’ve always thought of myself as sort of criminal defense clinic adjacent and I’ll say a word about one more word about that in a second, but I just want to make a kind of historical and institutional note.

Even before I do that, just a a note about construction. I’m sure a lot of you remember. Room 290. This is room 290. It just doesn’t look like it. It took about a year and a half. And if you remember, 290 is this rather dank, dysfunctional, oversized room where if we held a class in it, you know, and the students would, you know, do what students do, sit in various places, it would look like The right field bleachers in a baseball game when the home team is losing seven to nothing in the eighth inning.

Okay Anyway, a lot was invested in turning it into this beautiful modular room We can make it bigger smaller and we have all the great electronics. So that’s wonderful and another construction note if you go back to our wonderful, well, now about 10 year old clinic space across the way. It sits under our wonderful patio. And that will be a wonderful patio again pretty soon. But if you haven’t gone by lately and if you look at the patio, you will see something that looks like a cross between Roman ruins and a bad skateboard park. But that’s because it turned out that the beautiful foliage, which enhanced the patio came with this element, which I think is called water and plumbing wasn’t done very well, but it’s all going to be restored anyway.

So I just wanted to mention that the historical note is that I’ve been at Stanford Law School for zillions of years and way, way back, what was called the clinical program was really not much of a program. It was kind of a loosely linked and sometimes loosely supervised bunch of externship activities, some of them linked to, you know, situations within the law school and sort of all over the place and without a real clinical faculty.

Things got transformed, oh gosh, it must be about 16, 17 years ago when Larry Marshall was brought here. And then we developed the clinical program which we have now, which I think is a model for the entire country. And a key premise of it was that we weren’t going to simply announce, well, we’re going to have all the standard clinics, let’s find somebody to run them.

Rather, what had emerged was a whole concept, a revolutionary concept of clinical education as a form of pedagogy, a form of education, and we were looking for the best possible clinical professors, and we would build new clinics around those people. So, for example, the first of our clinical professors was our great colleague, Bill Koski, who teaches our education rights clinic, and that wouldn’t have been the most obvious clinic to start with, but we started with Bill because he was such a leader in, in the field of clinical teaching.

Now, I think it was pretty clear that before too long, we were going to have a criminal defense clinic. That just had to be true, but it’s not as if we just said, okay, let’s have a criminal defense clinic. Let’s find somebody to run it. Rather, by that point, we were committed to finding the best clinical educators.

People coming from practice who were already very thoughtful and knowledgeable and very creative about clinical education. So, we set out to find such people, and for for in terms of the criminal defense clinic, we were either incredibly brilliant and smart or incredibly lucky to find Ron Tyler.

And, you know, the rest is is history, and of course Ron has been equally brilliant and creative in finding such great partners as Suzanne, who I’m delighted to see here, and now Carly. And getting back to the, what I’ll call the criminal adjacency of those of us on the non clinical side of things I have benefited tremendously from there being a clinic in part because Ron and his colleagues are such criminal law experts that we talk to each other about issues all the time. And I’m not sure if they learn much from me, but I learn a lot from them about things that I can really incorporate into my teaching. And I also find it especially educational to talk to my students, students who have been in or are currently in my criminal law, criminal procedure classes, but who were in the clinics, who sometimes come to me for a little guidance on some obscure doctrinal issue, but frankly, once again, I learned more from them in that mode than than they learned from me.

So in any event, I think the clinical program on a whole has been a great success in terms of being integrated into a core part of Stanford Law School. And I think the criminal defense clinic is really a model within that model, really. Of great success in that regard. So 10 years, oh my gosh time flies when you’re having fun, but time also flies when you’re doing justice and that’s certainly what the clinic has done. So I congratulate everybody involved and I hope you enjoy this great day.




I’m trying to take this all in some of you, in fact, many of you were with us yesterday evening as well when we were at the home of clinic alum Katherine Lin and her husband Ben Maurer. They kindly opened their home for us for a cocktail event to start this all off. I’m so pleased that we have the opportunity to do this, that we have the opportunity to be together.

In attendance we have Criminal Defense Clinic teachers, staff, alums, current students, we have SLS students, allied with criminal defense. We have members of our collaborating offices from the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office, from the San Mateo Private Defender Program. We have the new Chief Assistant, John Ellworth. From the Federal Public Defender, we have the Chief of the Appellate Division, Carmen Smarandoiou. We have teachers and staff representing the 11 Mills Legal Clinics, some of the teachers and staff. And we have members of the broader SLS community.

So today, today we celebrate these 10 years of work dedicated to the twin goals of preparing law students to enter legal practice and of providing high quality indigent defense services to our marginalized neighbors.

In room 270, our socializing space, you are treated to images of our decade striving together with a backing soundtrack of that’s suggestions from you, our attendees. I had a delightful conversation with Gisele of programs about, well, you know, some of those we could have used the radio version. I said, no, no, no radio versions, . I want the uncensored stuff, goddammit. We’re public defenders, so that’s what you’ve got. So be beware, be ready, . So now I’m like going off script here, so, you know, I think about all the fights, when you look at those pictures, it makes me think about so many fights that we’ve fought. So many lives that we’ve touched. So many stories that we’ve told. During our 15 minute breaks between panels, really feel free to ask any CDC member about their experiences. The trials early on, the evidentiary hearings, quite common, the oral arguments, the stellar written motions, and more.

Today’s program will provide us with an opportunity to discuss some of the work of the clinic and of our collaborating partners, as well as to reflect on wellness. You probably received a program at registration but I will briefly review also for the benefit of the many alums who reached out and said, I wish I could be here, but I can’t.

Is  there some way that you’re going to have this recorded? Yes. Okay. We are. Yes, Dean Weisberg, as it turns out, all those things you said are recorded now for posterity. And also that’s a warning for all of you. If you’re giving comments, which I hope you will, just know that it’s all going to be recorded, not in 270, but yes, in here.

And yes, for the dinner event in 270. So With that, let me talk about our lineup for today again. It was in the material that you received, but for the benefit of those who are going to be watching this as a recording, our first panel will be the best criminal defense is a good offense. We’ll be talking about collaborative impact litigation in that panel.

We’ll then have a 15 minute break, followed by lunch in 270. Then, in the afternoon, we’ll have two panels. The first panel in the afternoon will be a movement lawyering panel where we’ll talk about the work centering impacted communities, which is, of course, what the criminal defense clinic has always done.

After a break, we’ll move to the third panel on resiliency in the work, getting real about burnout, sustainability, and wellness. And then after that third panel, it’s got to be five o’clock somewhere. At four o’clock, we’ll have cocktails followed by dinner. And we’ll have some some programming at dinner, by the way.

Some that was planned and some that’s just in time. So I’m looking forward to that. So with that, we’re going to set up for the first panel. So panelists, if you’ll come forward and then we’ll return with introductions.

All right. So for our first panel. Oh, sorry. Pardon me. Just, just a moment.

I forgot this part. A little embarrassing, sorry.

Oh yeah. How many layers do you have?

All right, there.

Yeah, bail is ransom, damn it. All right, so, the first panel I’m going to introduce our, our facilitator, and then she will take it from there. Our facilitator is the illustrious Suzanne Luban. Suzanne recently retired from ten years of co teaching this clinic. First as the CDC’s clinical supervising attorney and later as its associate director.

She began her 35 years of criminal defense as an assistant federal public defender in the Eastern District of California in Sacramento. Three years later, she took her entire FPD caseload and started her solo law practice, where she primarily focused on complex federal trial, appellate, and habeas work for indigent folks.

In 2013, she joined me on the CDC. She has taught and mentored many of you who are present today, or many who will be watching this recording. She’s impacted every part of the clinic. Her genuine affection, concern, and connection with our students endures. On a more difficult note, I will say that following the murder of George Floyd, she served as a legal analyst for several news outlets.

She also served as a faculty editor for Georgetown Law Journal’s annual review of criminal procedure and taught in Stanford’s trial ad program and in CLE training courses around the country. As Suzanne often says, her decade at the CDC was the most fulfilling work of her career. And with that I’m going to hopefully do a good job of changing the view here to a medium shot.

And Suzanne, you can remain over there because that’s where you’ll see the medium shot best, I think. Let’s see, yes, you should, I’ll take my things. You can do the intro. May you use If

Okay, so do I have to stay here? As everyone knows, I’m very obedient.

Alright, thank you. Those of you who came, those of you who came last night, and those of you who are not here, I’m very disappointed. But, send my love out to all of you guys who will be watching this. Alright, my first Panelist is Carlie Ware Horn. She is the lecturer and clinical supervising attorney for the Stanford Law School Criminal Defense Clinic.

Before joining, way before joining CDC, she worked in civil impact litigation bringing racial justice and criminal law reform cases as the Relman Civil Rights fellow at Relman and Colfax, and as an ACLU attorney. I think if I can keep my head right there, it’s best. Carlie then served 14 years as a deputy public defender in Santa Clara County and in addition to many trials and a lot of important work that she did there, she founded and supervised the pre trial, pre arraignment, excuse me, representation review team, PAR.

She volunteers. Currently, still, as a high school mock trial coach, plays recreational women’s soccer, and is a proud mom of an 11 year old, a 9 year old, and a 4 year old. Carlie graduated from Berkeley Law and clerked for the Honorable Claudia Wilkin at the Northern District of California Federal Court. For three years before joining CDC, Carlie collaborated with many CDC students and alums and with me and Ron to bring to advocate for pre trial release of public defender clients. Although I was not involved in Carlie’s selection process to succeed me here, it was clear to me that Carlie was the most talented and inspired person to step into my shoes. Thank you for being here, Carlie.

All right, Carson White is a senior staff attorney down at the end there at Civil Rights Corps, currently, where she raises systemic challenges to the criminalization of poverty. She is currently challenging wealth based pre trial detention in California and North Carolina.

Before joining Civil Rights Core, Carson worked with the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office in San Jose with Carlie, where she co founded and co operated its novel early representation unit. In that role, Carson represented scores of presumptively innocent community members who were caged pre  trial for no other reason than that they could not afford the scheduled bail.

And she raised successful challenges to the county’s pretrial detention schemes in California’s appellate courts. After law school, Carson was awarded a Stanford Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowship with the Habeas Corpus Resource Center in San Francisco, where she represented indigent, death sentenced Californians in their federal habeas proceedings.

Carson is a graduate of Stanford Law School and a valued alumna of the Criminal Defense Clinic. And Carson was among the first student advocates to argue for pre trial release under the then new Humphrey decision, working with Avi Singh, who you’ll hear from a little bit later and then later, of course, with Carlie. Carson lives in Texas with her partner Chris, their dog, and I think at least four chickens.

All right, Chessie Thatcher, our third panelist, is a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Northern California, where she focuses on First Amendment issues, government transparency, criminal justice reforms and voting rights litigation. Prior to joining the ACLU, Chessie worked as an attorney at Kecker, Van Nest, and Peters, a San Francisco based law firm with a national caseload that focuses on high stakes litigation and trials. A 2011 SLS graduate, Chessie won the Deborah L. Rohde Public Interest Award and was a Levin Center Public Interest Fellow. She then clerked, she was not in the Criminal Defense Clinic, strangely. Thank you for having me today. It’s okay. She then clerked for the Honorable Sidney R. Thomas at the Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit, and the Honorable Robert Patterson at the District Court in the Southern District of New York. Chessie lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Eli Miller, who graduated from SLS in 2011 also, two daughters, and their dog, Whiskey.

All right. We are calling this panel, as Ron said, The Best Criminal Defense is a Good Offense, Collaborative Impact Litigation. It’s about two related concepts, collaborating in criminal defense and impact litigation in criminal defense.

I’d like to ask each panelist to please talk about your work on an example of impact litigation. Just tell us the story of your work on one of your impact cases. Carlie, can you start? Yes, thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here today and to see everyone that’s here. Thank you for coming. And the story I want to tell is about a situation that I saw repeatedly when I was a public defender in Santa Clara County.

So to tell this story, I want you to imagine checking your mail. And we all know how exciting it is to go to the mailbox. Maybe you’ve got a postcard from someone that’s traveling. Maybe it’s just a bunch of bills. Maybe it’s a jury duty summons. But you go to your mailbox and you open an envelope that looks official and you open it and it says, Arrest Warrant. Okay, and it has your name, your date of birth, your height, your weight, your address printed on the top. And then there’s a dollar amount. It says $10, 000. And then on the back, there’s like these instructions, like, go to the police department with your ten thousand dollars that you obviously have lying around, right? And just give it to them, and they’ll hold it until your case is over. Or just go to jail, right? If you don’t have the ten thousand dollars, just go to jail. That’s what arrest warrants are.

And so, when I was a public defender in Santa Clara County, and focusing on early representation, I would get these phone calls from people with arrest warrants, and they knew they had an arrest warrant. They were trying to account for it, but they didn’t have money, right? They didn’t have the $10,000. And sometimes the arrest warrant could be for a non-violent offense, like they filed some kind of insurance claim that is being accused of being fraudulent or something like that. It’s not a danger to the community for any type of public safety reason and so these people would call me, and I heard myself on the phone telling them, I’m so sorry, like, if you don’t have $10, 000, I cannot do anything for you. There’s, like, there’s literally a line in the sand that the courts have drawn in Santa Clara County based on money. And I know, yes, I know, sir, that they didn’t even ask you if you have an ability to pay before a judge decided that $10,000 was the right amount for your case, but we can’t get you in front of a judge unless you go into the jail, get strip searched, housed, put on a bus, put in a cell, put on the little rubber flip flops and the black and white stripe outfit like you’re in the 1920s on the chain gang, and then come to court in that outfit, as an inmate, and then we can ask the judge to let you out again. That’s the process.

So I heard myself saying this to people and I was just like mortified that I was part of this system. And so I thankfully had enough time and training and knowledge to challenge it as a public defender. And so this is my story of, of basically a failed attempt at impact litigation.

So I filed something called a writ, a petition for writ of mandate. I didn’t really know how to do it, but I had done a couple before with more knowledgeable people like Avi Singh, who’s in the audience and we had collaborated on a few before, so I had like a template. Like I knew what it was supposed to look like, so I just kind of made mine look like that.

And I asked the judges in the trial level court that do the arraignments to open the court to people no matter how much money they had. Let me bring these clients in front of you, your honor, and you can decide in court whether they need to be jailed. Like, we don’t need to jail them first. Let’s treat them the same whether they have $10,000 or they don’t have $10,000.

That was the request. And I’m sorry to report to you. I lost miserably. I, when you file these petitions for this, it’s like a it’s kind of like, you know, when people go to the United States Supreme Court and they’re petitioning for certiorari, it’s like not mandatory that the court even hear it. You have to get them to want to intervene, and they did not want to intervene.

So I filed it in the in several different courts all the way up to the State of California Supreme Court, and basically I got what we call in the business a postcard denial. Back to the mail analogy. It’s like you get this, you’ve written this whole thing and all these stories of clients and all these constitutional claims and they give you this like, no thank you, not today.

And so basically I wasn’t able to change the policy, but I was really upset about it and I was really motivated. And along the way, because I talk so much, I’ve been talking to everyone I could think of about it and I caught the ear of the ACLU of Northern California. So after I lost I didn’t go away.

Is this the story of Carlie not giving up? Should we move on to Chessie? Okay, so Chessie, you’re obviously the best person to go next. I want to ask you to partly to address how the ACLU evaluates cases and causes to take on. Use this case as an example. And also mentioned CDC alum, Emi, and to just talk about how is it that such a, a local problem, really, I mean I don’t think this is being repeated in every county in California, and how the ACLU makes the decision to grant its, you know, auspices.

Well, she persisted Carlie did, and she reached out to Emi, who is a dear colleague, Emi Young and who also worked as a public defender after graduating from Stanford with my husband Eli. So, they’re Contra Costa public defenders, and Emi had just come to the ACLU and was really familiar with Contra Costa’s process.

That you had the protocol that Carlie was advocating for. Sorry, is this not recording? No, it just has to be right in front of you, I think. I just want to make sure it’s on. No one ever listens to me talk, so I’m not used to this. Definitely not my fault. Okay. So Emmie joined Emmie and Carlie spoke.

And Emmie was outraged that you would have to have this $10,000 or pay uniform bail schedule at the moment that you found out you had an unserved arrest warrant, or just pay and suffer, like, one to three days. We were finding, thanks to Avi and others, that people were spending three days in custody sometimes, and that’s enough time to have your car get towed, have caregivers that or not be given, because you might be a caregiver. It’s enough time to maybe not have your prescription medicines handy, and that was a real harm to people, individuals.

But the question is, how did that become an impact case in the sense of the ACLU taking it on? When we look at cases that come in the door there are, there are five teams. There’s the a criminal, there, justice team, there’s a democracy and civic engagement team that I’m a member of. There’s the technology and civil liberties group. And then there’s the racial and economic justice group and the gender and sexuality in the productive justice group. The matters come in the door via intakes, via partners, via just reading the newspaper and saying, like, that’s wrong. And then the groups sort of say, this issue falls into one of our buckets. And we analyze the issue in terms of what are the legal issues and who’s the community that is affected by this issue.

If we find that an issue touches on an important civil right or civil liberty in our group, then we might decide to take action. The way in which you could take action is to co get a coalition together, sometimes we write advocacy letters, but sometimes and often we decide to file a lawsuit. But filing a lawsuit is a major investment of time and resources, and we want to make sure that we do that right. And so when Carlie came to us with this issue, we, it was very clear what the civil rights issues and implications were here. It was a form of wealth based equal protection that claim that should be fought over. And the problem was not easy to identify in terms of what are all the different causes of action that we might bring.

So we thought through the claims, we thought through the venue. We’re suing a court. Do we sue in the court where we’re suing all the judges? Talking about their improper system? Like what’s the evidence of what other courts are going to be doing throughout this state and how do we get that evidence before the courts. We think about these legal issues, who’s the right plaintiff? If this is happening, do you want to stand up as an individual and say, I have an unserved arrest warrant, is that going to bring too much attention to you?

So we think about the, like the nitty gritty legal pieces, but also about what’s the impact of this case. So the impact of the case does, what community does it serve? Will we make some good precedent? Would we make some bad precedent? And that goes into the third factor of what is the issue that you, what is the risk that you could make bad precedent, that you could lose, that you could really botch this up.

When Carly came to us, we did the analysis that we do. We said to ourselves, this is an important civil rights issue. The population of people that we want to serve is very vulnerable and righteous to take on this case. The resources, probably we can do this with the Stanford Law School Clinic’s help, the CDC students, right on, you guys have already been amazing!

And we just needed to find the plaintiff. We looked for a plaintiff in Silicon Valley Debug, and an individual, very brave individual named Nicholas stepped up and he had found out that he wanted he wanted to join a job training program. And in order to do the job training program, he had to have a background check run. He was not, I don’t think he was employed at the moment and he was in danger of losing his housing. The job training program would have been a lifeline to that. But, he had an arrest warrant and served outstanding. And so he came and he called probably you, he called Silicon Valley Debug, and he got, and called Avi.

Avi, you’ve been so helpful. This is really the talk about Avi. And we didn’t have great answers, but we wanted to help him. And so Nicholas was very brave, he put his story into the pleadings, he verified the petition. And so this is what happened. It was very dramatic because he went to go live with his family after he was eventually kicked out of his house. And his family turned him in to the authorities. And he was booked for about three days. Up to three days. It was a really disorienting, traumatic experience for him. And eventually he got his day in court. At arraignment he was released without any bail conditions, it was on his own recognizance.

So you get a sense for, like, the trauma that Nicholas went through. And so his story is featured in our petition. We are worried about bad precedent. But I don’t think that in this case is that problematic. Because what you would have is this, if we did lose, and we don’t think we will because of developments that are taking place as we speak.

And I’m proud to say that on Monday, the first day of, will be the first day of a new protocol. And the new protocol will be exactly what Carlie had advocated for all along, so she was right. Unfortunately when we called the clerk’s office last week, they did not know about the new protocol nor does the website reflect anything about the new protocol.

So well, the fight goes on. But anyway, that is like a schematic of how the ACLU looks at a case when it comes in the door. When we think about who’s this case for, what’s the impact? What are the risks and resources that we’d be facing if we commit to this case? And so far, so good. Especially when we wrote a demand letter prior to filing our lawsuit that said, Please change this one more time. Here’s your shot. And they, like, essentially said F U in, like, more than the postcard, but on paper. Yeah, it was a whole letter. Yeah, it was a letter. And now what happens is hopefully we’ll be able to get some attorney’s fees from that. So that’s the pain point of government when they don’t listen to us.

Thank you, Chessie. All right, Carson, keeping with the bail theme. Please talk about your work on Humphrey related bail matters and in particular, the impact case that’s currently pending before the California Supreme Court. Sure. Thank you. I’m so excited to get to talk about this in a room full of law nerds.

This is rare. It’s very exciting. So I am, yeah, Civil Rights Corps. I head up along with Catherine Hubbard, another CDC alum. Our California Writs Project. And that is basically that instead of filing sort of a systemic, big class action or civil lawsuits that like Chessie was describing, we talk to public defenders, work with public defenders, see what issues they’re seeing on the ground, what tools they wish they had in their toolbox, like what’s a case you wish you could cite but that doesn’t exist yet and then work with them to strategically file habeas petitions in individual cases where people are being detained pretrial, like under those conditions that they want to challenge. Which is, it’s, it’s a really exciting model for a lot of reasons. In part because it’s, it’s very fast, it’s very flexible. And it allows us to center the stories of directly impacted people in a way that can be really powerful in front of like individual judges who are getting all of a sudden in a couple weeks like 20 petitions all on the exact same issue.

And it was, that strategy was born out of a case called In re Humphrey. Which was done in partnership with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office. And I guess I should, this is the legal nerd part of the talk, I guess. But before Humphrey, the way that bail was set money bail, so the amount of money that you have to pay in order to be released from jail pre trial in California and still today, like most places across the country, is that there was something called a bail schedule, which is, it’s basically a menu. And on one side of the menu is all the different penal code sections, all the different things you can get arrested for, and on the other side of the menu is a dollar amount. And the court would say, okay, you’re charged with these three things, the dollar amount is X, Y, Z, back of the envelope math, adding them all together, you have to pay $100,000 to get out of jail, right?

And like, that was just it. That was the entire bail hearing. That was, you know, your most fundamental right to, to be free before conviction depended only on whether or not you had that amount of money. and we filed a series of cases raising like Cheessie mentioned, this equal protection due process hybrid challenge, saying that that was illegal. That if somebody was going to be kept in custody pre trial, it could only be because a court was making a decision that it was absolutely necessary for them to be kept in custody pre trial. That nothing else, short of their actually being in a cage, could prevent them from fleeing or from hurting somebody while they were out of custody.

And that, as part of that process, Before requiring money bail in any amount, a court had to inquire into somebody’s individual ability to pay to see if the money that they were thinking about setting was going to make them stay in a cage or not. Is everybody still with me? Okay, great. So that’s, that’s In re Humphrey.

We won that case, so that is now the rule in California. And afterward, we went around to public defender’s offices across the state saying how, how is this working for you? Like, what are you seeing now? What’s what’s keeping people in jail, like what should we tackle next? And the thing we heard over and over and over again was that people who were accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses were still being held in jail, and were still being held in jail on unaffordable money bail.

And the reason that that was, I mean there’s a myriad of reasons that that was happening, but one reason was that there was a, like a second claim in Humphrey about a provision of the California State Constitution. It’s called the Right to Bail Clause. And these provisions, these provisions actually exist in like most state constitutions across the state and they are just universally ignored.

But it, it says that if you are not charged with a capital crime or like a very serious violent offense, a sexual assault felony or a felony where you’ve threatened somebody else with violence and if there’s not like really good evidence that you’re guilty and there’s not really good evidence that you’re going to hurt somebody if you’re out of custody. That you have to be let go pre trial. You are not eligible for pre trial detention.

And the Attorney General and Humphrey sort of like seeing the writing on the wall, right, that courts forever had been ignoring this provision just by setting unaffordable money bail for anybody and not worrying about whether or not they’re going to get out of custody, was like, oh my gosh, wait a minute. If all of a sudden we’re acknowledging that that unaffordable money bail amount is keeping somebody in custody, And people are only allowed to be kept in custody in a handful of, you know, the most serious cases. Like, these people are not going to be in custody anymore. And that’s just like a massive tool gone, right? To coerce guilty pleas from people who are charged with these low level nonviolent offenses.

And so the Attorney General came up with this pretty disingenuous argument, which was that the, that provision of the California Constitution had been silently repealed by California voters who passed a provision that had not mentioned the right to bail, altering the right to bail or increasing the state’s authority to detain people pretrial at all. And the court in Humphrey said, you know what, like, we actually, like, are not gonna touch this right now. That feels very messy. That feels like not necessary in this case. We’re just gonna let it go. And courts across the state in the wake of Humphrey had, like, taken that and run with it. And said, you know, we don’t have to worry about it. We’re gonna keep detaining these people because we have increased authority to detain people in any case we want to, regardless of whether or not they’re dangerous.

And so we, we went back at it. We worked with public defender’s offices across the state, including Avi Singh at the Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office. and that resulted in a case called In re Kowalczyk being filed. And Mr. Kowalczyk was a, a 50 some odd years old unhoused disabled man who found several credit cards that people had lost in San Mateo gas stations, just like leaving them behind at the pump.

And after having them just in his possession for months, he walked into a Five Guys in San Mateo, ordered a cheeseburger, and started swiping credit cards to try and pay for it. Eventually, one of the credit cards worked, paid for his cheeseburger, and he immediately had a change of heart, threw the cards away, told the manager he had changed his mind, didn’t want the cheeseburger, and walked out without taking it.

The San Mateo District Attorney charged him with three felony counts of identity theft. One for each time he had swiped a credit card along with, you know, possession of someone else’s identifying information and a series of misdemeanors. Mr. Kowalczyk was arrested, brought into court. The judge doing the pre Humphrey thing set bail at 75,000. Humphrey came down in the interim. He brought a motion saying, Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t how this is supposed to work anymore. You need to let me go. And the judge said, Okay, I’m going to detain you without bail at all. That means there’s no amount of money you can pay, nothing you can do to get out of custody.

Mr. Kowalczyk ended up staying in custody for six months, before, during which time he lost out on housing opportunities that he was eligible for in the interim because he wasn’t able to make his meetings with the housing people. And was denied surgery to remove a, a, like, a long awaited surgery, like, for years that he had been on the wait list to have a cyst removed from his jawline that rendered him deaf in one ear. After six months in custody, the district attorney offered him a plea deal. He could plead to one of the tiny misdemeanors they had charged him with at the beginning and get out of custody that day which he did. And it was the statutory maximum amount of time he could have spent in jail for that misdemeanor.

Mr. Kowalczyk’s case is now in front of the California Supreme Court where we were counsel in the Court of Appeal and won on the Section 12 issue. But the Court of Appeal did something again, I think very disingenuous and said that although this constitutional provision does control when somebody can be detained pretrial in California, courts can just get around that if they intentionally set bail in an amount that they know somebody can’t afford.

So, if if the court in Mr. Kowalczyk’s case had just said, I’m actually going to leave it at 75, 000 bail, under the court of appeal opinion, that would be fine. So we’re now amicus, along with the ACLU NorCal in the California Supreme Court, and the briefing just wrapped up like this week, finally.

And it’s, it’s a really exciting time if we win, and I, I think we will win. It has the opportunity to be, I think, maybe the most liberatory decision in history. It’s, it’s hundreds of thousands of people a year who are now in jail in California on these low level nonviolent offenses who just wouldn’t be eligible to be in jail anymore. Yeah, thank you for listening.

Wow. So I’m just going to ask you, Carson, to just amplify one aspect of that. So these public defender organizations could have filed their own writs. You could have just sent a postcard saying to people, call through your cases and go ahead and file writs. But instead, Civil Rights Corps, just like the ACLU in, in Carlie’s case, took on and gave your power, I guess, to that lawsuit. So I wanted to just ask you, what does it look like and why is it so important for organizations like Civil Rights Core to partner with public defenders in impact litigation?

Yeah great question. So we partner with public defenders in all of our, in all of our bail work including like our more traditional sort of bread and butter like 1983 class action lawsuits and that’s, I mean there’s so many reasons for that, like one, public defenders are on the ground, they have an incredible amount of insight into what’s happening in courtrooms and what is going to be the most useful rule changes, right logistically it’s also pretty important, like public defenders have access to the directly impacted people, their clients who are going to be plaintiffs and, you know, who are going to be the subject of these habeas petitions. So, like, you, you need to be working hand in hand with them to be able to bring these cases.

But I, I think most importantly, like, the truth is that the, you know, the Humphrey violation I described where judges are just, like, looking at a menu of prices and jailing people based on that, like, you could throw a dart at a map anywhere in the country and hit a county where that’s happening.You can walk into any courtroom in the country right now, including places where it’s supposed to be illegal. And, like, that is how bail is being set. And we have learned to really only bring these cases in counties with robust and passionate defense bars because without them, these legal rulings are just words on a paper, right?

Like, you need to have people who are in the courtrooms every day making these arguments and forcing these rulings for them to mean anything at all. And for the same reason, we really try and prioritize bringing cases, places with robust court watch programs, right? So members of the community who are just showing up in court every day, telling stories about what’s happening there, watching the public defenders you know, in order to hold the public defenders accountable, right? If they’re not making those arguments, why not? If judges aren’t listening to them, who are they? Why not? So those are, I mean, just as important as, as any other, like, legal fact that’s gonna go into a, a good case.

Thank you, Carson. All right, Chessie, you’re next. So you mentioned that your plaintiff, his family turned him in and he spent time in jail and lost these opportunities. So in the criminal defense clinic, we always talk about client centered work in all the clinics. So is impact litigation client centered and how do you balance the client’s needs and wants with the greater purpose behind the impact litigation?

It’s a great question. And to answer that question, but also pick up on what Carson was saying I do think that public defenders are the substantive experts in terms of some criminal justice reforms. And the goals, the bigger goals for the impact are change in public discourse, what large numbers of people might be covered by a ruling, and what institutional reforms you can hope to achieve. So those are all really lofty, and then you have an individual who’s suffering because they, like Nicholas, didn’t have a lot of resources and got picked up for a non violent offense and weren’t really posing a risk to the community at all.

So, one of the first things that a person who takes on one of these bigger cases that’s about the civil rights component, when there’s a live criminal case going. You have to say like, am I going to put you in jeopardy? What’s the harm to you? What’s the harm reduction that I could offer you if we take this on? And then to be really honest, like, this isn’t, often times our cases look for injunctive relief, so they’re not looking for damages. But people love to think of like, Oh, we’re going to sue and I’m going to get money. And that’s not actually very easy to do. There are better places than the ACLU if you’re a client who needs to get some money than to come to us, don’t do it. Because we’re really looking at more of the bigger impact change and not damages. But that’s something we have to be very clear with our individual clients.

And then if you have multiple clients, and I’m sure you’ve all learned in ethics balancing their interests against each other, or is there going to be a time when one client wants to get off the case if there’s an exit ramp for that person but it doesn’t address the other persons needs and so we need to keep going in the case. And so, I think it’s very important in cases that are client centered.

Some of them aren’t. Some of them are just like big constitutional questions, and you have a taxpayer claim by an organization. And that is client centered to something, but not to the individual as much. The individual cases, it takes a lot of ground work up front to talk about what the case can and cannot do. And to think about, maybe this isn’t best for you. We would love to have you be a part of this case. But especially in immigration cases where there are so many injustices it’s a very risky proposition.

I want to just take a moment to ask for a time check.

Okay, so there’s one more question I definitely want to ask you, Carlie. You sued your very own judges before you left the Public Defender’s Office. So I’d like you to just talk briefly about what dangers do public defenders face in challenging court practices where they’re repeat players before those same decision makers?

Yeah. There’s so many ways for me to answer this question I think the most honest, real beginning of the answer is my dad’s a judge, so I grew up with a healthy sense of rebellion against people who think I need to follow, like, curfew and rules and, like, you know, it’s just like, why, excuse me? I just, that comes very naturally to me from my upbringing, so I don’t know if that’s just, like, unique to me I all, but, like in all seriousness, I really think that when many lawyers, no matter what their profession and many non lawyers you know, there, there are times in our decision about where to put our resources and our lives that we decide to stand up, you know, and sometimes we put ourselves in physical harm’s way or in, you know, political jeopardy or it’s uncomfortable. And that’s just the commitment we’ve made with, you know, how we’ve decided to live our lives.

So, to me, it wasn’t actually a very, very big risk to challenge, What I see as an unlawful practice, like the big risk is someone going to jail and losing their housing and their vehicle and their, you know, their children changing custody. It’s uncomfortable to, I mean, literally the last conversation I had with the judge who’s named as one of the defendants, I was like asking him for a letter of recommendation. I was like, you know, your honor, like it’s been, he knows my work. I’ve done trials in front of him. He knows me really well. And I just, you know, I, I asked him to be a reference for me and he said yes, and then the next time he hears from me It’s like being served with a complaint But he knows me so it’s like I imagine him getting it and like smiling, you know and being like, yeah, that’s right. She’s such a pain in the butt, you know what I mean?

And I’ll get rid of her cause she’ll get a different job. Right, yeah But I, I really take it seriously, you know, I’m reflecting a lot because my mom is here in the audience today. And I, you know, she’s actually an alum of Stanford Law School. My parents met at this law school and graduated in 1972. And I think about what it would have been like for them to attend this institution. You know, as a woman in the late 60s and as a Black man during that time, it’s not like there’s a lot of you in law school. And so, you know, that discomfort that they experience in, you know, putting themselves out there to get that education and to improve their lives you know, a rising tide lifts all boats.

So, as hard as it was for them to come here and get that education and be one of the only people in the room and be the voice, you know, that everyone’s looking to, like, it’s not, it’s easier for me to sue a judge now because I have that power and that comfort and challenging authority. And so I appreciate, you know, we stand on the shoulders of those who come before us.

And the last thing I’ll say is, one of the reasons I was comfortable to like put my name on something that’s challenging these people in authority is because I always treat them as human beings with respect, dignity, politeness. Like I will go to a judge and ask them for something that I know they’re going to say no to and sometimes I ask them because I know they’ll say no and I want them to have the chance to look me in the eye. I mean, I’ve had judges where I say. Judge it’s so nice to see you today. Just wanted to let you know, I filed a complaint against you for the way you treated me in court. I thought it was racist and sexist, and I wanted you to hear that from me because I take this community really seriously and I want us to improve. And so I, I, but I didn’t want you to hear it as a rumor. I wanted you to hear it from me. And I looked this gentleman in the eyes and said that to like an older, very well respected judge, because I, you know, I want our community to be better.

So it means a lot to me to be able to actually, I think it’s like an honor to sue the judges that you appear up in front of every day because how else are they going to get better? It’s like, why do you have a personal trainer? You know what I mean? They yell at you and you get better. It’s like, I’m the judge’s personal constitutional trainer.

All right, I want everyone to take that back with you to your practices and be a trainer for some judge. So I think it would be great to ask for questions. And I want to, so people have questions about what these amazing advocates have talked about. And, or if you yourself are doing impact litigation, and one person here in particular I know is actually doing that Michelle, but please raise your hand, stand up, and maybe, okay, we’re gonna, Daniela’s gonna bring you a microphone, and just give us a, a little thumbnail on what you’re doing, or what your question is.

Nick! Thank you!

Hey everyone, I’m Nick Eckenweiler, class of 2020. I did the clinic in the fall of 2018. And I remember Carlie and Carson from down in the office in San Jose. Currently I live in Oakland and I work for a very small impact litigation shop doing housing and land use litigation. Basically suing cities across California to make them build more multifamily and affordable housing.

Interestingly, the posture of these cases is petitions for a writ of mandate. Although these are not discretionary, these actually get heard, whether the judges want them to or not. and one of the cases we have right now is against Santa Clara County for a zoning decision they made in Professorville that we think they’re not allowed to make under state law, which is pretty exciting. Waiting for the Superior Court judge to actually write an opinion on that. And we’ve also got another very exciting case going on in a suburb of Los Angeles, La Cañada Flint Ridge, which because they haven’t updated their housing plan to accommodate housing for low income people because they have certain ideas around what kind of housing should be in their city and what kind of people should live there their zoning code was suspended and a project was submitted with an affordable housing component that we think they were obliged to approve that they have not approved and we are asking the court to mandate its approval consistent with a relatively untested provision in state law. So, that’s all very exciting.

Thank you. Anybody else? Other people? I know there’s going to be more people who have questions or comments to add. Can I call one person? Carly Bittman? Please do. Yes. So, I want to talk about Carly’s work and talk about public defenders again in the context of the best defenses is an  offense.

We had a case, the ACLU had a case that involves the right to travel, which is, I think, one of the most important constitutional rights that’s not explicitly in the Constitution. So Carly had gotten, with others, a a tip that the public defenders were seeing their clients who were repeatedly arrested in the Tenderloin for drug sales.

They were being sued by the San Francisco City Attorney. In a civil capacity, so that they would get lifetime, permanent, no exception, except for appearing in court, stay away orders, exclusion orders, keeping people from 50 square blocks in the middle of the city. And it was a, we can, I think if you are familiar with the Tenderloin, we can agree that it’s an area that has a lot of challenges, but keeping people forever away from the center of the city and then having them be represented by themselves. And most of, many of our clients, I think all of our clients were primarily Spanish speakers. So sophistication with dealing with the court and a defense, they had no idea what was going on. They weren’t even served in many of the cases.

And Carly stepped in and did the most amazing job and argued in front of the California Court of Appeal. And secured a right to have these individuals move freely and get this matter, which really was a political fight about the city attorney and the current district attorney in San Francisco who gets to, like, I mean, it was, felt like a pissing match between grown up men.

Can we ask Carly to comment on that? Well, okay. Good.

And say who, where you work. Hi everyone, my name is Carly Bittman. Car, Carly Bittman. I graduated Stanford Law School in 2015. CDC alum from 2014 is when I did, or 2015. I forget when, which year it was. 2015, thank you. Vina and I were partners in the clinic. And I currently work at a firm called Swanson and McNamara, which is a trial boutique in San Francisco that does, primarily federal criminal defense, but we do a little bit of everything, and the only thing I’ll, I’ll add is it was a great experience to work so closely with the ACLU.

Chessie put that all in terms of what I did, but it was what we did. And I was really grateful to, to work with Chessie, who’s an incredible lawyer. And we worked really closely with the San Francisco Public Defender’s office there too, and learned a lot from them and what they were seeing because these were public defender clients who were now being sued civilly.

And part of the reason why our firm was asked to, to help is that we do both criminal and civil work. And so we thought we’d be a good fit in defending these civil cases, even though it was really all about alleged drug sales. And, and we were successful at the end of the day after getting a good we won in the trial court, went up to the Court of Appeal, Chessie and I split the argument and got a good ruling there.

And then the cases got dismissed by the City Attorney’s Office at the end of the day. So it was a success and it, again, great experience, and I’m,. So glad I met you, Chessie. Mutual. We’ll have our little love fest moment in front of you all.

Thank you, Carly. Others? Katherine. Your own, if there are questions, or your own impact work?

Hi, I’m Katherine. I am an alum from 2014, and I was in the first clinic with Ron and Suzanne, which is great. So my question comes from my experience practicing law. So, after I graduated, I, I did some impact litigation at the ACLU of Northern California. And then after that, I did direct services work as an eviction defense lawyer.

And so, this is kind of implied in a lot of what y’all have been talking about, but I felt as a student at Stanford that there was a sense of, here are the students who are going to do direct services, and here are the students who are going to do impacts lit. And you’re kind of siloed off like that.

But when I went off and practiced. I found that as, at the ACLU, I was a better attorney having worked with Ron and done direct services. And then as an eviction defense attorney, I was certainly better having done years at the ACLU of impacts litigation. And so, I have two questions. The first being, What do you think Stanford can do better about having more of an encouraging environment to tell students that they can do both and that actually serves you both?

My second question is, I think choosing one or the other is oftentimes a question of temperament, of your personality, what suits you more and what will make you happier and more fulfilled as a lawyer. But I also think at institutions like Stanford, there’s sometimes explicit pressure to do impact litigation.

There’s this idea that it’s better, it’s more prestigious, it’s why you went to Stanford. And I think that’s such a shame for students because my work, at least doing direct services, I think made me such a better attorney and, and so too at the ACLU. And so my second question is, what do you think Stanford can do to change that sort of implied pressure of going one place or the other?

Just because personally, I found that it made me a better attorney to have done both.

So thank you for those questions, Katherine. I kind of want to shoot this over to Carson because I, as anyone who was my student has heard me say, direct services is impact work, and since you’ve done both, can you address that? And you came from Stanford.

Yeah, oh gosh, this is such a good question. I have so many thoughts. I’m trying to think about what I can say on a recorded line. Hi! I guess just to, to answer Suzanne’s question first, like, I, I really don’t think, I, there’s, the two are so intertwined and like something that, you know, working with Carlie that we saw every day is like, we were doing direct services and we were doing hyper localized but like it, everything we were doing was impact work, right, just showing up in court every day making these arguments for the first time and I should say, like, that is also true of the pre trial justice program that the criminal defense clinic and Avi, when he was, head of research at Santa Clara, pioneered where students came and represented people in their arraignments, you know, so, but just making these, these arguments over and over in front of the judges who were the decision makers every day changed the way that they approached these decisions, and like I’ll never, I, you know, we’ve like, I don’t want to say I’ve had like so many legal victories, because that’s not true, but, but like one of the, the proudest moments, I, do you remember it?

Carly the day Judge Hawk came into a bail hearing and he had a a notepad and he sat down and It was like the entire feeling in the room shifted It’s like something is new here and he was like, I don’t want to hear from either of you He was like, I have some questions and he was like, are you saying that money bail is necessary, like, to the district attorney, and the district attorney was like, what are you, he was like, are you saying that the person needs to be detained, and if so, why? And it was like, oh my god, he read the case. Like, I was like, go with him. Where it became, it was like, we had been making these, and something had sunk in.

And, yeah, so I guess it’s just, let’s just say, you know, direct services work is impacts litigation work. You showing up and being in that position every day in front of the same decision makers has the opportunity to change how a practice happens, and maybe it’s. Maybe it’s just in that one courthouse, right, but like, that’s thousands of people whose lives are being touched by your work and the changes that you’re making.

I totally agree with your read on this, Katherine, like, that was completely my experience coming through Stanford. There’s, the reality is that there’s this idea that impact litigation is more prestigious, and frankly, there was this narrative at the time that I, I hope has maybe changed, but that if you were going to go into trial criminal work, you needed to go be an AUSA.

That that was the fanciest job you could have, that that is, you know, that’s like the most good you could do because you have the most power in the system because you can decide who’s charged with a crime and who’s not, And that was really messed up. It was very messed up. And there just weren’t a lot of resources for people who wanted to be public defenders.

Going and being a, just a county level public defender, not even in the federal system, was, it was basically unheard of. And it was like. Relying on Ron and Suzanne, frankly, to be the institutional knowledge about how to do that. And so I think, yeah, I think investment in relationships with, with county level public defender’s offices at an institutional level is invaluable.

I think more information for students about what the process is for how to do that yeah, would, would be massive. And, and changing this idea that the power.

I’ll just say it. Changing this idea that our, our goal as lawyers is to gain as much power as we can in this, this really broken system as opposed to relating as closely as we can with the people who are impacted by it and working to build their power in whatever way we can, which is a, it’s a total narrative shift for how institutions like Stanford work.

Yeah, alright. And, and you are all, at least the people who were our students, are the choir for that, right? Nida, did you have a question?

I was just gonna add to that the narrative shift that goes into that is also state versus federal. And federal work is great, but it’s like 1 percent of criminal cases. And meanwhile, we’re in a law school in, you know, one of the states with the largest prison populations in the United States. So. That was another one that took me a few years, like, just because the federal system is prestigious doesn’t mean it’s where you can even make the largest impact.

And I was just going to make a point as well. A couple years ago, I worked with John Butler, another CDC alum. I was at a law firm in Big Law, and I was bored, and I wanted to leave. And I reached out to him, and I was like, is there anything that I can help with? And I ended up helping on an safe injection site impact litigation case in Philly. And so that’s just another for the younger alums who maybe are at law firms now. Often law firms do have pretty good, like, pro bono programs. So reach out to other people from CDC and just be like, Is there anything I can help with? I will write an amicus brief. I will do whatever. And, and it’s a cool play, way to get involved in some of these issues.

Can I just add to the answer to Katherine’s question as well? I, I’ve, I, it took me, I feel like a long learning curve to differentiate between being elite and being elitist, and I feel like you can be an elite anything, impact litigation, direct services, but it’s seen the elitist frame views only certain things as like the, you know, boutique, primary, fancy, golden ticket things and so I feel like my life actually improved so much when I realized I could be the best public defender imaginable and just operate on that channel in the best way I could and not try to like, win the contest of, like, getting to, you know, become the, like, civil division of the chief justice of the whatever leader of the world. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, that’s cool. I’m just going to go help people that are in jail. And to, like, do that so excellently. It was just much more satisfying.

Yeah, my husband Eli had this same kind of struggle. He graduated from here with this IP interest, intellectual property interest, as well as wanting to do criminal defense work. And he had a job offer at Munger Tolls, which is a wonderful law firm in the city. And he had a job offer at the Contra Costa Public Defender’s office. And his heart wanted to go to COCO.

But he felt this, like, pressure. And eventually, he didn’t go to Munger. But he had the offer open, and every New Year’s, I remember him, like, sitting there thinking, like, What am I going to say? My dad was a district attorney and he, my, my family kept saying, do you think one day you’ll be promoted if you become a public defender to a district attorney? And it’s like a fundamentally different understanding of the law.

And but Eli’s so happy. I mean, being a public defender is hard. It’s legit work and it would be way more interesting to do it as a state person than a federal person because the sentencing guidelines in federal court are so. It’s hard and messed up that no one goes to trial and it’s really a grim situation.

We used to say we felt like a potted plant in some of the mandatory minimum cases if the client wanted to file a bail motion, they were going to file the prior. Yeah. Anyway Ron, are we, do we have time for Vina or?


No, just on the, on the point around federal, since I was a federal defender, you were a federal defender, there are federal defenders in the audience. Fortunately, federal defenders do go to trial and in fact, right now, we’re in the middle of a period where there are a ton of trials in this district. In fact, I was sharing this huge victory that I’m not gonna talk about but that happened in the Northern District like a three week trial, I think, was it, Carmen?

Amazing results. So, in, and the Federal sentencing guidelines are no longer mandatory. And so that also, part of the battle is helping judges understand just how much discretion they have. But it really is, it’s a new morning in America in the federal system. Okay. That’s it.

Hi everybody. So, I’m not a Stanford alumna. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to even offer my thoughts. But along the themes that we have discussed, I think that I re, what really resonated to me, with me was Suzanne’s observation about direct representation, direct services being in impact litigation And as an appellate attorney, appellate work is an excellent example of that principle.

I mean, all of us here have enough experience and understanding of how our system of court to review work. And once you take a case on appeal, if that case involves a legal issue, that legal issue once decided is going to have to be binding authority in your jurisdiction. So direct representation leads to decisions that have impact, broad impact in the federal system.

That means impacting all nine or 10 states that comprise the Ninth Circuit. So, it is actually the biggest circuit in the country. It is a huge, huge impact and a recent example of that kind of work is is about the kind of level, the level of suspicion that police must have about somebody’s parolee status before conducting a parole search.

You think of that as a state issue, a California state issue, but our clients, federal defendants, frequently get charged pursuant to these parole searches. My office, unfortunately, has been at the losing end of that issue, partly because a California Court of Appeal had already decided that issue in a negative way.

But we are taking, or we’re hoping to take that case on a before the en banc court. And to that end, the ACLU actually filed an amicus brief in support of our petition. And so did the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the NACDL. So that’s another example of the kind of impact litigation that derives directly from direct presentation, and I will say also this as public defenders, we don’t have the luxury of choosing our clients. We also have the luxury of not worrying about the next person because our ethical duties compel us to only consider the, the interests, of this particular client at this particular moment. So that might have occasionally unanticipated consequences, but from a professional perspective, it does liberate us to do always the right thing for this particular client. Thank you.

Thank you. So, Ron, do we have time for Vina? Okay. Thank you.

Now I feel I have to answer or ask the best question ever because there’s been so much anticipation. But first, introduce yourself and say where you work. Okay, my name is Vina Seelam. I am currently an Assistant Attorney General in the Northern Mariana Islands in the civil side of things. But previously I was a public defender for three and a half years in Alameda County and then three years in the Northern Mariana Islands.

My question is I think it’s geared towards Carlie mostly. As a younger public defender. I often felt like I noticed all of the issues, all of the bad things that were going on that I wish someone would come in and do a writ about or do some what we consider to be impact litigation more so. But I didn’t feel like I had the capacity to do anything about it.

I didn’t also feel like it was my role as the lower level misdemeanor attorney to challenge judges in that way. And I’m not so I think my question is at that level when you’re noticing all of these things, One: How do you pick what issue you’re gonna go for, Two: What do you do? I mean Do you go to a supervisor in your office and tell them and hope that they do something about it because as that younger attorney and then it, I imagine that you’ve been filing writs throughout your career, but how long did it really take you to get to that point in your career where you could pick this one issue and just tackle it with some authority?

That’s such a good question. I, this is probably the fifth effort that I did.And I am just, I don’t know how to scale this or like apply it broadly, but I just write the brief first and then I show it to a supervisor and say, I’d like to file this. Okay, you know, and I feel like if the claim is developed, if I put the work in and it’s like about, it’s ready to be stamped and filed, it’s a very different decision for someone in power to make to block me from just like shining a light on it than if I’m like, let’s workshop this idea and like, you know.

So there was a whole period of time where I was a misdemeanor lead. So I was like, had the job of You know, just like, supporting younger attorneys. I was in misdemeanor court, but I got really upset about the way that bench warrants were being issued without, I didn’t feel like the people who were getting the, bench warrant is like when you miss court and the judge will just be like, you missed court today, so $5,000 warrant. And they were, I felt that the judges were doing that when, like, I had a case where I was like, Your Honor, I just talked to my client on the phone. He’s not going to be here today. He’s still working on getting his driver’s license back because he owes, like, thousands of dollars in fees. Can I come back? Oh, bench warrant. I, I need him to be here. And so I decided to challenge that with a writ just the practice of issuing bench warrants without notice.

And what I did is, I was in the same boat. I was like in the misdemeanor team, we had so many cases, I was in court all the time. And so I just asked my family like, Is it okay if on, I think it was either Tuesdays or Thursdays, I don’t remember. There was just like one day where I just like did a double. Like I was just like on Tuesdays, I’m gonna work and be in court, and then I’m gonna like go to dinner with some colleagues, and then I’m gonna come back and work like another day. You know, and I’ll put in like another six to eight hours working on these writs, and it was, I did that, and I lost, and it was really demoralizing, and it didn’t work.

I mean, there were some, you know, whenever you make these efforts, there are impacts that sometimes you don’t, it’s not like you win the case and change all the policies, but like, You know, you, when you write a writ, you serve the judge. The judge is like the opposing party, and so I personally serve the judge.

I would go to the judge and be like, I wrote this, and I’d like you to know about it here. You know, and they’re just like, what is this? So now the judge knows that I’m watching. You know, or you call Silicon Valley Debug, like community organizers. Or you call the newspaper, you know, and you just say, hey, I’m litigating this. Please watch. Please come and like, you know, and then maybe you don’t win but the judge is like more polite to people or says, I, I’m, I could issue a warrant now but instead I’m gonna give you a stern warning and you’re just like, okay, I just won. You know what I mean? Like, I just won because I didn’t ask for permission from somebody in power who doesn’t benefit from, you know what I mean, making other people in power uncomfortable.

And I invested, I mean, but it’s a sacrifice. I had to miss dinner with my family and like putting the kids to bed and like on Tuesdays I didn’t see them. You know what I mean? But, I got to go to dinner with my colleagues, and like, I bonded with those misdemeanor lawyers because they’re doing a double anyway. Like, they, I would go home and they would come back and get ready for tomorrow. So it also gave me some credibility as a, you know, like a, like, leader in the office that I built trust with some of the people that are working so hard because we can’t keep doing this work without each other. You know? So part of that extra impact work is just like, showing up together.

Can I jump in? Yes. So, real quickly, I, so I had this experience recently, too, like, I, I had, when I came to the Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office, I had been out of law school less than a year and I was there on a fellowship, and so my job was just to, like, do bail hearings. Like, that was it. Like, I showed up my first day, and they gave me a list of 200 people in the office who needed a bail motion, and they were like, good luck. And so I had that moment, like, once a week, where I came in, the most crazy thing just happened, and everybody that I talked to was like, yeah, And I, That’s the, that’s what happens. And I … Meaning you lost . . . Yeah, meaning I lost in a banana’s way. You know, in particular, like the, the judge saying, well, I’m required to presume that this person is guilty at their bail hearing.

And I was just like, well, that can’t be the law. Like, there’s all sorts of reasons that can’t be the law. And everybody I talked to was like, yeah, that’s the law. That’s always what they’ve said for all of the decades. And what was so cool about that is that I then did the thing where I went to my supervisor And I was like, this is so crazy. And the supervisor was like, yeah, go, go give him hell. Like, go, because my supervisors were Avi and Carlie.

And you know, I think, like, looking, I don’t want to, like, be ageist, but I’m like looking around and I’m like, there’s a lot of us who, like, are now in these positions where we’re not first year misdemeanor attorneys anymore. And recognizing you know, something that, like, Carlie told me often is that, you know, to be really confident in those, um, gut feelings, because there’s a, a perspective that somebody new to the system has where they haven’t been colored by seeing this thing happen over and over again and being normalized. And I was so lucky to be working with people who really valued that. And I guess I, I just want everybody in the room to, you know, myself included, I’m a, what, a fifth, a sixth year attorney. You’re old now. I’m old. I’m an, I’m an adult person. Yeah, to, to value that freshness because it’s, it’s, it’s really powerful.

I think the way that a person, a mentor said, insecurity is actually like your best friend. Like, if you feel like you’re not getting it right or it doesn’t make sense Do something with that feeling. It’s tiring, though, to your point. I mean, Carlie talked about how she had to miss dinner time and bedtime, and query whether that’s like the worst fate in the world, if you have a four year old.

Yeah, it’s like, I have to work late tonight, and tomorrow. But seriously, it does take a toll. So, hopefully you also reach out to, you said the newspaper, court watchers, ACLU, Civil Rights Corps. Like, we want to have your backs, too.

All right, so I think that we’re probably going to wrap it up and just I want to say give him hell.

Okay, thank you again. First of all to Suzanne Luban, Associate Director Emerita of the Clinic, to to, to Carlie Ware horn, our clinical supervising attorney and lecturer in law. To Chessie Thatcher, senior staff attorney in the Democracy and Civic Engagement Program at the ACLU of Northern California also SLS alum.

And to Carson White, SLS 18 criminal defense clinic alum, senior staff attorney at Civil Rights Core. And to all of you, I’ve really enjoyed our opportunity to have this conversation together. So thank you panelists.

Panel 2: Movement Lawyering: Centering Impacted Communities

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Okay, I think we are going to go ahead and get started with our afternoon panel. The afternoon panel is on movement lawyering, centering impacted communities. Movement lawyering, movement lawyering. Oh, alright, hold on.The t-shirt says revolutionary. What does it say down here? Empowering the masses. Yeah, empowering the masses. So that’s movement lawyering. That’s what we’re going to be doing. That’s what the panel is going to be talking about. Thank you, Avi. alright, so now I can introduce the panel and so, here, here is our panel for empowering empowering the masses for movement lawyering they will have their own, Avi will be their facilitator as well as a panel member.

Avi Singh, you heard a little bit about Avi during our morning panel he has been a Deputy Public Defender with the Office of the Public Defender in Santa Clara County. since 2009. He’s a graduate of UC Davis and Harvard Law School. He currently supervises the Public Defenders Research Unit. He also teaches advanced trial techniques at Santa Clara University School of Law, and he’s worked collaboratively collaboratively with community organizations in his courtroom advocacy.

He’s also worked collaborative, collab, why did you put that in your bio? He has also worked collaboratively with the criminal defense clinic, uh, the Avi Singh. Our next panelist, Ashanti Mitchell, Ashanti is a deputy state public defender in the capacity building unit of the Indigent Defense Improvement Division.

This is a actually new Ashanti may talk more about this new position and this important new area of state funding. Ashanti is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and of Georgetown’s Law Center, the Georgetown University Law Center. Prior to joining IDID, he was an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office in Santa Clara County for over a decade.

As a trial attorney, Ashanti has litigated both juvenile and adult cases. He also helped to successfully launch the first community outreach attorney position at the Public Defender’s Office. And in that role, he embedded himself in homeless encampments and he helped to establish a network. of community based organizations that address the needs of unhoused persons and reduce their involvement in the criminal legal system.

He also worked with students, teachers, and school administrators to prevent suspensions, expulsions, and juvenile court involvement, working to disrupt that school to prison pipeline. Mr. Mitchell has also taught at Santa Clara University Law School as a lecturer in trial techniques. And in his free time, whatever that means, he enjoys riding his motorcycle and listening to live music.

Ashanti Mitchell. And our third panelist, Karina Alvarez. Karina is the Racial Justice Attorney for the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office. A relatively new and exciting position, I will add. I’m really pleased and she has worked together with the Criminal Defense Clinic and with our Racial Justice Pilot Project in that capacity as well.

Karina litigated one of the first RJA motions in the county of Santa Clara in 2021. Currently she handles RJA data collection, data analysis, and case preparation. Maybe she’ll have the chance to talk with you about that data analysis and collection which is so key to RJA work. She’s been a public defender for over seven years and her past assignments include misdemeanors, felonies, and conservatorships.

She’s on the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Committee, and she enjoys mentoring new attorneys. And with that, I turn it over to the panel. Thank you all for being here. Thank you. Although I did not say, I asked Karina to write this down, and then I just didn’t even say it. The other two panelists had indicated their education.

Karina was a graduate of UC Santa Barbara for her undergraduate degree and Golden Gate Law School for her JD. Thank you again, Karina.

Well thanks so much. Ron for having us and for everybody attending we’re going to start by just talking a little bit about who we are outside of our bios in connection with movement lawyering kind of the ways in which we might have had some limited contact with it to start then we’re going to talk through Some definitions we can distribute these afterward and have kind of reactions to those definitions and the ideas that follow those definitions and connected to what’s possible in our, our practices.

So, Karina, why don’t we just get started with maybe some What brings you, or what you think of when you come to a movement lawyer panel to start?

Yeah, so a little bit about me that I didn’t mention in my bio that I think is connected to movement lawyering. So, when I first graduated college, I didn’t go to law school right away.

I was really interested in human rights. And I worked with a human rights group in Argentina called Madres de Mayo. It’s, it was to help mothers and people that had political prisoners and loved ones that disappeared. So, I saw firsthand what it was like to be a part of a movement, but I also saw a lot of frustrations with the inability to really effectuate change.

So, there was a lot of social services. But there wasn’t a lot of change effectuated. And I think that coupled with some work I did with Amnesty International, specifically attorneys there, made me realize that the marriage of a movement with lawyering could be really powerful. And even though at the time I didn’t know that was called movement lawyering, I now do.

So in my racial justice work I work with the Racial Justice Act, which is codified in Penal Code 745, and it really is the marriage of a movement with the law. So The movement being racial justice for all the elimination of bias, the eradication of implicit bias and explicit bias in the legal system for the first time we have a legal avenue to explore relief for clients. So that’s how I consider myself working in movement lawyering currently.

So my name is Ashanti Mitchell. I Think when I, when I thought about the idea of movement lawyering it was a, I think a beautiful framework for the work that we do as defenders. I think just by virtue of representing clients and being on this mission to end mass incarceration, we are naturally and automatically embedded in that social movement.

So it’s kind of just what’s part of parcel of what we do. I think we, we all do it in different ways. I think one of the, one of the things that stood out to me in my work at Santa Clara County as Professor Tyler mentioned, was being involved in the community outreach program. I can’t take credit for the idea, it was not, you know, it wasn’t something that I came up with but it was something that I helped to launch and build and develop.

And it was the idea that there is a gap between the courtroom and the work that we do on behalf of our clients, in front of judges, and the community members, and people in the community. So the idea was to figure out a way to connect and to bridge that gap and to do work outside of the courtroom, which involved going outside, going into homeless shelters, going into homeless encampments, going into schools, working with youth, and really being creative and allowing the community to kind of lead those efforts, and so when I do think about movement lawyering, I don’t think I thought about it at the time that I was doing that work and launching that program. I think I framed it as you know, educating and helping folks. But I think when I look back on it and I think about how, you know, I approached the work going forward, it really is about empowering the community and kind of transferring some of that power back to the community outside of the courtrooms so that they have the knowledge and the education to also advocate for their self, for themselves with, with their attorneys.

I’ll just I’ll start with we’ll talk about a few other things, but my connection started in relationship to an idea called participatory defense, which is communities engaging in this criminal court process. And taking the power and kind of models of community organizing and then connecting them to what’s happening in immigration courts, but for me what’s happening in criminal courts.

And my first interaction with it was as a misdemeanor attorney I was representing somebody charged with a crime, and they had an immigration process going on where they were tied with a community organization called Silicon Valley Debug. And so I was having a meeting with the attorneys, And then community members were at the meeting and it seemed kind of concerning to me as a misdemeanor attorney, you know, like, attorney client privilege, it’s a breach, these people are going to be called as witnesses to testify, I’m going to surrender my bar card before I’ve even, you know, tried a couple cases or whatever, and and so we had that call and then I was, you know, flash forward, I’m doing jury selection, And there’s a big crowd of people and they’re all leaving and this guy comes up to me and I think he’s a juror and I’m like, I can’t talk to you, sir.

And he’s like, I’m Raj with Debug, you know, and and they, they showed up, they were being there for our client. But at the same time, right, there was, you know, concern or hostility on my part. You know, I’m in the middle of the trial, like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. You know, are you really fighting for him or whatever? That’s not what he said, but that was how I was interpreting it through these defensiveness of like, I’m in control of the case, right? Which I don’t, I don’t hold that view now.

So flash forward I had a, I was representing a person who was shot by the police and then charged with assaulting the police. And it was a very high it was just, just tough. It was just a really, tough litigation. It was terrible what happened to him. It was terrible. It was incarceration. It was terrible how, like, everything was being filtered through, like, his dangerousness and how he was wrong and how, you know, all the bad stuff.

And he was totally isolated. And and I had known Raj, and we had built a really strong relationship. And with, with his colleagues, too. I would go to meetings and stuff like that. And and I talked to him about how I, I needed you know, I just needed his help, and their group’s help, just about the isolation component, and that somebody should show up for Henry, the person I was representing. And they’re his family. You know, his mom would come to court, and she’d just be devastated. She was carrying, you know, she was riding the bus. You know, from San Jose to Martinez, right, to take care of stuff. She was handling grandchildren. She was handling everything. And then she had to carry this weight.

And so I just wanted some help for her, right? The family members of the people that I represent. I wanted something for them. And they were already doing it, right? There were these people already doing it. And not only did they take her in and put his name up on a whiteboard and talk through what was going on in the case.

But they showed up, like, every time. And, like, the feeling that I have is that, like, injustices, like, really fester and thrive and are built up in, like, isolation, empty courtrooms. And they kind of took that and ran with it. So they started a campaign about almost a hashtag, because he could have been a hashtag, but for his survival, right?

And you look at the bullet trajectories, and they were all around his body, you know. And, And I just saw the power that, that organizing model had. And it made me think just much more about how that limited approach of that essential approach of client centeredness, right? That’s essential. But client centeredness to the exclusion of community engagement and empowerment doesn’t have to be the case.

If it’s at odds, then sure, it has to be the case. But most of the time, it’s not. So that informs what I do with my practice and I think everyone should seek it out where it makes sense for their clients. Okay.

So we’re gonna move to actually defining movement lawyering and I have we’re gonna have a couple definitions and I’m gonna ask this group to respond to those and if you have any responses, remember what we’re talking about and then we’ll talk about it.

So, I went, I, you know, doing research for this, I came across this Ella Baker quote, right, and Ella Baker Center does amazing work all over the place, especially in California on reform, on advocacy.

And so here’s the quote from Ella Baker, in order for us as poor and oppressed people to become part of a society that is meaningful, the system under which we now exist has to be radically changed. This means that we’re going to have to learn to think in radical terms. I use the term radical in its original meaning, getting down to an understanding, getting down to and understanding the root causes. It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you can change the system.

So like public defenders, we work in a system that does not meet our clients needs. At all. It doesn’t solve any root cause problems. It’s like, I mean, it’s criminogenic, right? It causes more harm than it solves it. It does all sorts of bad stuff and thinking about kind of the shape of it and how it operates and starting to do something different and kind of imagine a different world and, and bring that into, bring that into being.

So Karina and Ashanti, do you have any reactions to that? Part of the, you know, that, that language and connection with your movement lawyering practice.

Yeah, that quote really resonates. I think that as public defenders, specifically at our office, Santa Clara Public Defender, we really try to follow a holistic defense model. So that means that rather than looking at my client as a docket number, or even his name with the associated charge. I’m looking at him as a whole. So, who is he in the community? What is his family like? Does he have a job? What is that job? Are there immigration consequences? Where does he come from? What does that say about his current situation? Is he a refugee?

So, I think that has to really shape and not only shape but really lead our, next steps as attorneys. And I think part of movement lawyering, for me, what really resonates is letting the voices of the oppressed lead our work. So, rather than coming into a case and looking at it from a purely legal standpoint, of, okay, this is what he’s charged with, these are the defenses that could be, I see my role as twofold, I see my role as an advocate for him and as his attorney and I’m going to take the steps that are best for him and everything that I mentioned before. So every aspect of his life. And I’m going to talk to him about that and he’s going to tell me what he, what his needs are.

But the other part of this is that I, I really see our role as educators. So when I have, even during arraignment court, for example, when I have like 10 minutes or 6 minutes to talk to somebody. I see my role as an educator, so whereas I’m only going to look at his charge in some cases, I would rather look at his charge, see what defenses, inform him of his legal rights, but also inform him of his legal rights as it pertains to the big picture. So do you have immigration concerns? These are the immigration relief avenues that are available to you. Let me make a call to your immigration attorney, things like that. Even so much as living conditions. I, I want him or her or them to have the opportunity to speak to an attorney, not just about their case, but holistically.

So I, that quote really resonates again because I think being radical and getting again to that root definition of the word is to, try our very best to let these communities lead us into a way that we can best help them while recognizing that as attorneys, we have also operated in a system that has oppressed many. So, recognizing that our roles as attorneys historically has been complicit in that oppression and really deviating from that.

Yeah, I think I would, I would piggyback off of what Karina was saying. I think that that piece of it really resonates with me also in terms of thinking radically and thinking about ways to change the systems. We know that as defenders, we come into a system that has historically been oppressive. I remember there was one distinct time walking back from court and a random person stopped me and was like, Hey, are you an attorney? How do you feel? Do you feel like it’s, it’s beaten you down from when you were in law school? Or do you feel like you, you’ve been able to change the system?

And it made me reflect on the the cover letter or personal statement I wrote for law school. And the final line was like, I want to change the world. That was, that’s why I wanted to go to law school. But you come into an organization or you come into a courtroom and there’s a status quo. And there’s ways that things are done. Before RJA and it’s really cool to be on this panel because I do feel like these are folks that are kind of pushing the envelope in terms of changing systems.

But I remember as a young attorney, it was difficult to bring up race in the courtroom and not everyone did it, even though it should have been done. It was difficult for me to do. And I remember there were attorneys who did it anyways, even though it kind of looks like dropping a bomb in the courtroom. And so to me, that’s, that’s thinking radically. That’s looking at a system that is unfair. Racist and oppressive and saying, I’m going to name that and call it out for what it is.

Like Avi was saying, I remember being a young misdemeanor attorney and hearing about Debug and that they were involved in a case and I was like, uh oh. Like, gotta be careful with this one. Like, you know, and, and like Avi said, feeling protective, defensive, guarded over my case, over my client, over the way I’m doing it, feeling criticized. But like Avi is saying, like, it takes attorneys to be, to think differently about that. Because if no one does it, then the ball never moves forward.

So, when I think about these definitions, like I said, it’s a, it’s a beautiful way to frame things because it makes me feel, in a sense, kind of like, oh, okay, this is, this is why I went to law school, this is why I became a defender. But I also, I also hear it as a call to action to always be mindful and remember to not necessarily accept the status quo.

Just because things are being done a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the right thing. It’s the right way that things should be done. So when I think about that definition, that’s what stands out to me is thinking radically and changing systems, not accepting systems the way they are. And there are many systems and many institutions within the criminal legal system that may need to be changed.

Yeah, I think with what Ashanti was just talking about, if a client’s family member, if a client had a child right in court in like the recent old days they would be put in jail. The client would be put in jail because the judges would say, bring a kid, go to jail because the judges didn’t want to feel the cognitive dissonance of the consequences of their actions separating a family, right, against they didn’t want to feel that. So in order to not feel that, you just put people into custody and say, you brought a kid, go to jail. And they would, you know, this is like a saying and that’s, you know, recent, that’s not like long ago, right? That’s like 2012.

So, we’re in a much different place right now in terms of talking about race. If you talk about race, as Ashanti said, it’s like dropping a bomb or throwing a grenade or whatever. That’s right. The sentences would go up if you call out racism. And then there’s organizing in the street.

There’s organizing among communities and schools, at the legislature. There’s a Racial Justice Act. Now we’re required, called to explain, understand, figure out, and advocate about implicit express, right, racism in our system. So, like, there’s these places of great strength that come from thinking not just about the client file, right, and how you’re going to do the cross examination, or what you’re going to say at the close.

Okay one, so continuing our definitional, our task of defining movement lawyering, there’s a Professor Lopez’s article, Rebellious Lawyering. And he contrasts, this is I don’t have the site, but it’s a lot of, it’s a book. So he contrasts kind of non movement lawyering. We’re gonna talk about what non movement lawyering is, and then maybe that helps us figure out what movement lawyering would be.

And I’m gonna ask again for kind of reflection. So, okay, so here’s non movement lawyering. They formally represent others. They litigate more than they do anything else, or maybe they transact more than anything else. Community education is kind of not critical work. Organizing is about maybe doing some mobilization work, like but maybe not. They’re the, lawyers are the preeminent problem solvers. We can successfully fight subordination if  professionals, specifically lawyers, are the leaders. That sometimes involve the people who are subject to that subordinating stuff. And lawyers is that’s an honorable calling. They’re political heroes. They largely work alone through their statements and their litigation to solve all the problems in society.

Okay. So this, in contrast to that rebellious lawyering which might be connected to movement lawyering is lawyering against subordination by working for and with communities. So we have to collaborate with other professionals and lay people rather than ignoring the help that they can provide.

And we have to educate those, including the legal profession. So that’s like the rebellious lawyering model.

And then an article that we looked at before this talk was in the Clinical Law Review by Betty Hung. And it says, lawyering that supports and advances social movements, defined as the building and exercise of collective power led by the most directly impacted to achieve systemic, institutional, and cultural change.

So, uh, what reactions do you have to that when you read that article before today?

Yeah, I can go first. So, yeah, I think in, in thinking about the, the article by Betty Hung and then also the kind of the, the thoughts of Professor Gerald Lopez, I felt like my career as a public defender, I had this, like, really wonderful opportunity to do this community work.

So, like, for three years, my full time job was in the community and was not necessarily litigating cases, was taking the lead from, from the youth at schools or from folks in homeless encampments or folks experiencing different things and we identified those as vulnerable populations.

Obviously the school to prison pipeline and we focused on schools that were in geographic locations where there was significantly higher juvenile citations. And then obviously the, the unhoused population it’s, if someone’s formerly incarcerated, they’re ten times more likely to be, to experience homelessness.

There’s the, the rates of disproportionality with respect to race and being homeless kind of mirror race and the criminal legal system. So there’s, there are a lot of reasons to focus on those populations. But it was just really awesome work and it was awesome to be in the community without feeling like a lawyer, but not necessarily feeling like a lawyer being able to use you know, the law degree and my, my knowledge to transfer knowledge to the community.

We did know your rights trainings. We, I, I worked with youth as mentors, as a mentor. I supported youth through expulsion hearings and restraining order hearings and with unhoused folks it was like clearing warrants, but also know your rights stuff. So it, it, it really just, there was a broad span and it, it felt like it was directly responsive to what the community need was, um, and I think that was a real critical component to it.

So, I feel like. It’s cool to hear about rebellious lawyering and have it labeled that and I feel like our office at the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office was really kind of at the kind of cutting edge of that and also I thank the County for, for recognizing that and funding that position.

So I think that’s really cool, but I also think that’s that’s, that’s, you know, often what folks were doing even before that position existed. There were folks going out into the schools to work with kids and teach kids about their rights. We identified that as being important. There were folks that were going to resource fairs for folks who were unhoused from the office.

And so I think there is a balance as, as Avi was saying, when you have clients and you have a caseload, obviously you don’t have as much time to, to go do those things. And you’re balancing client centered advocacy and things like the duty of loyalty and zealous advocacy and vigorous representation.

So I do think that it’s it’s nuanced. But it definitely feels like things that we, that we kind of do naturally. And I feel like I had the, the, the benefit and the blessing to be able to do it full time for a little while.

Yeah. So when I read the article, I really thought of a story and the story really, I think, embodies the intersection of movement lawyering with rebellious lawyering.

And the story is this. When I was in 2021, I was a misdemeanor lead. And that means that I was the more seasoned attorney in a on a team of misdemeanor lawyers. So they were new lawyers that had either just passed the bar or recently passed the bar. And they were new attorneys, new misdemeanor attorneys.

So, I was tasked with helping them and we did everything from arraignments to pretrial conferences to helping them prep their trials. So, during the arraignment calendars, we started noticing something, and that was a new charge that kept coming up, and that charge was sideshows. The Santa Clara County, I think it might have been SJPD specifically, but someone in agency was in receipt of a grant to specifically address sideshows.

And this was a very robust enforcement to the point where from one day to the next we saw not only these charges pop up, which hadn’t before, or at least not very often at all, but the calendar was half full of these charges. The other thing that we noticed is that 98 percent of these individuals charged with sideshows were people of color.

And when I say sideshows, I want to be specific. It was participating, but also observing. And the way that these cases read were I stopped a car, all four people were in the area, and I’m arresting everybody for participation in a sideshow. Never mind the fact that there was a huge traffic blockade, and people were sitting in traffic for hours, on their way to wherever their destination was.

So, over the course of weeks, I heard countless stories of I was on my way to dinner with my boyfriend. I was going to see my grandmother. I didn’t know what was going on. I wanted to see what it was. It was a novelty. I was being nosy. So I got close to the action. I saw smoke. I wanted to see. And I also got some people saying yeah, I knew it was a sideshow and I was interested. And they pose no harm.

So, what everybody had in common, except for maybe one or two percent of these individuals, was that they felt that they were targeted and dismissed by the police. They were targeted, meaning they happened to be there, the police came up, barely spoke to them, arrested them almost immediately just for being in the area, and two, dismissed in that they tried to offer an explanation and that space was not held for them in any sort of way.

So what happened is I, I went to the city attorney and I explained, you know, what’s going on. This is absurd. And he’s operating under orders. So it was a bit of a push and pull over the course of a few days or weeks. And the offers went from community service plus a conviction to less community service.

to very minimal community service, to okay, just take the conviction. But, I started realizing that some people did not want to take anything because they couldn’t. They had a job, they couldn’t afford to do 20 hours of community service. They were trying to maybe go to school, but mostly I saw people that had jobs and were like, I can’t devote 20 hours of community service, just because I was in the backseat of a car.

But what I started realizing is some people did want to just take it and be on their way. So at one point, we, my team and I, decided, you know what, we’re going to set all these for trial. And, in order to do that, we needed a united front. So, I remember a very hectic morning, the, like, 98 percent of the calendar was this charge.

I took everybody into a little room, or a hallway, really, and I explained, I explained, this is what I’m seeing, look around you, I see people of color. And this is what’s happening to your peers, to, to each other. You can take the offer, that is your legal right, but you can also say no and set it for trial, and there is power in numbers.

So empowering this community, even though some of them, maybe were not people of color, maybe could do the 20 hour, 20 or 25 hours of community service. But when we all looked at each other and they looked at each other, it was really wonderful because they said, yeah, okay, and we were all on the same page. And we all set it for trial. I set every single case for trial. And they stopped. The charges stopped.

So, I see that as an intersection of both movement and rebellious lawyering because it is a non conventional way to lawyer, right? I made sure that all ethical rules were followed in terms of attorney client privilege and consent.

But it is still a rebellious form of lawyering in many ways. But the two ways I’ll highlight are the city attorney was not pleased. The city attorney was not pleased because he realized what I saw, and he knew that it was not conventional, but not illegal. And the judge was very displeased. The judge saw it as gamesmanship. She called it that on the record. And it was indeed not gamesmanship, right? It’s just rebellious lawyering.

So, I think of that example, I thought of that example when I read the article because sometimes these things come up, and it came up recently with an RJA case. Where the, the judge offered my client a basically diversion plus some other terms including community service, but diversion, and I needed to communicate to him the importance of sticking through the case because the case is currently pending writ review.

He could have just said, you know what, I’m going to take my diversion, this is going to disappear off my record, I’m going to be on my way, but a conversation with him which involved educating him on the Penal Code 148, resisting, delaying, or obstructing, and the historical use of that Penal Code against people of color as pretext in order to justify excessive force, in order to, in order to justify stops without reasonable suspicion. And after we had that conversation, he was on board. So he rejected something that could have made his life a lot easier in order to help his larger community.

Thank you. Yeah, I think that’s from the morning, you know, the discussion of impact lawyering versus direct services and how they collapse that together with, like, looking at it through some community lawyering or movement lawyering lens of somebody acting in solidarity to not take a dismissal so that he can litigate how a charge has been kind of racially applied in Santa Clara County is is something that’s worth being open to that we don’t get if it’s just, I have a client in a case file, I don’t talk to anybody else about anything other than my client in my case file, and I maximize the good, the good things I can get in the criminal system as it exists.

Yeah, I, I had one just reaction on this like, traditional lawyering versus movement lawyering, which is, thought I would share, which is so in connection with the work of participatory defense, I got to sit in on a, a training. It was like a remote training with another public defender’s office that was, they, they had a bail fund created. So bail fund was based in the community. They were, it was a community bail fund. They were figuring out ways to post low dollar bails for people and get them out, but additionally empower those people through community meetings, through organizing.

So you would like to go to meetings with other community members and then you can go to court and be able to handle your case. And I thought I was just going to this training to talk about how cool participatory defense was and and it was a, it was like the rubber meeting the road in terms of like old, like a different model. The thing that I just talked about, the non rebellious model and a different way. And what I’m describing is the attorneys, right, being very like, What’s the term? Basically, no one should be allowed to talk to my client about anything, including their case. They shouldn’t, my client shouldn’t be told by a community member, are you getting, ask the question, is this a good deal for you? Because that belongs, right, to the attorney client relationship. So whether this is a good deal or not, that’s for me to say with my client, nobody’s to ask questions about it.

And the, the tension over like giving up. a little bit of control, which, by the way, is fictional. Like that. That’s not correct. We don’t. People can ask our clients. Family members can ask if it’s a good deal. Like, that’s not a violation of anything. But it was it was kind of a step of how do I prevent this from happening? Right? Community members coming to watch court, right? Community members coming to watch me do arraignments and see me maybe not do a great job at 4:30. You know, I don’t know. So anyway, it was just Illuminating the, the, the things that happen to you if you’re an attorney doing really hard work, being very conscientious, being mission driven, but having people question you.

And I think it’s worth it, but you have to get through those, those folks I think had to get through those mental barriers. I don’t think they did but.

Okay, so now in this article we’ve been talking about, the Betty Hung article she describes three essential threads that come from that definition of movement lawyering, which is about the building and exercise of collective power led by the most directly impacted to achieve systemic institutional cultural change.

So I’m going to say them and then we’ll react to each one. So the first one is to be grounded in a place of humility that recognizes lawyers as but one of multiple strategies necessary to advance a social movement. So humility, Two, to act from a place of love that affirms the intersectional humanity of the whole person and entire communities in order to build movements together.

So love, humility, love, and then two, three is to practice courage and be willing to relinquish our privileges in order to act and stand up for justice. So in thinking through this talk did you all have any reactions to any of those? I think as lawyers, it is imperative we stay humble in that, in recognizing that our role is very limited. And I think for me, that really resonates with experts. So I, in my opinion, a good criminal defense attorney uses experts very liberally. So whether that means you want to educate the jury and or the judge on your client’s background, maybe you get an expert on that or linguistics whatever it may be.

So that has always, I think, been the case. I think I have always really looked up to attorneys in our office that use experts often and, and that, that that use is plentiful. I’ve always done that. But with racial justice specifically, it’s crucial to use experts. Because we really need to educate the bench on what racism is, what it looks like. And some of you have heard me talk about this ad nauseum, but the legislative intent of the RJA, the reason why it’s so, so game, a game changer is because it no longer is going to only address the obvious and overt forms of racism. So we’re not looking for epithets anymore. The legislature recognized that bias. Explicit, implicit, looks like racial coded language, racial coded conduct.

So for all of that, I think we need experts and in my work as the RJA attorney, I work with linguists, I work with sociologists psychologists. I think that the more we go interdisciplinary with this, the better. So I’m humble enough to know that I am not the resource, the be it, end all on bias. Right? So, especially with certain cultures, I mean, I may recognize some bias in the Latinx culture that my Asian colleague may recognize in their community, and that has actually happened. So with a Vietnamese client. So, I’m humble enough to know, and I must remain humble enough to know, that I don’t know everything about bias, and I have to look for experts in our community, both in the academic sense, but also local experts, right?

What is it like out there in San Jose to be a young black man or a young Latino man? I need to know from the people that are experiencing it, not from the point of view of an attorney.

And then for, do you want me to just go through the other ones? Sure. For love I, I really think of the humanity in every single client that we serve. I really think that, well, I think there are different schools of thought on boundaries and how much we should open up ourselves to thinking about our clients and things like that, but I always think of what if this was one of my family members, what kind of legal representation would I want them to have and leading with that, I think I lead with love.

And then lastly, courage. Courage is, is one of the most important parts, I think, of all of the types of lawyering we’re talking about. Because you are standing up with someone during the worst time of their life, and you are standing up with them in front of a system, a judge, a district attorney, that just foundationally disagrees. Historically has participated in the oppression of your client and it takes courage to talk about race in the courtroom. Ashanti mentioned that it has always been really taboo or stigmatized to talk about race. And I, I’ve experienced that. And even now as the racial justice attorney, when I talk about race, it’s still very uncomfortable and people still go into this very defensive mode of I’m not racist.

And it’s like, Yeah, relax. It’s all about implicit bias, no intentionality required. But people don’t think that, right? People immediately want to prove themselves. And that’s really a disservice to themselves and to the community because we all hold biases. So having courage to talk about these issues, having courage to go above and beyond explaining to your, your judge or the prosecutor that you are working with. Going above and beyond of just merely explaining why a different offer should be given, but really explaining your client’s story and humanizing them. And taking that space, taking that time to tell their story, because their story does not get told.

That’s, that’s awesome. And I’m, I’m still like tripping about the the sideshow story. That’s pretty cool. But I, I was thinking about, I was listening to Karina go through and I was also thinking about experts in a way. Just, I think, you know, I can speak for myself. I went to law school. I feel like I know some I’ve been an attorney. I feel like I know some, um, but really like when, what I learned is when I walk into that first interview with my client, my client is the expert at that particular time.

And so I think just like Karina was saying in all these other areas. Definitely humbling oneself and knowing that, hey, it’s time to kind of ask for some, some guidance from someone else who has a little bit more information in this field. But I think from, you know, ground zero, just recognizing that maybe we’re not as self important as our ego is telling us that we are and that our, our client is the expert in the room.

And I was, someone really important to me was also a public defender was telling me a story about when she qualified her client as an expert on the stand. It was the issue was whether or not the client’s car could do a burnout. And so she was courageous enough in that moment to take this risk to see if I can qualify my, my client as an expert in whether his car could do a burnout. He’s, he knows his car better than anyone else. And so I think humbling yourself in that way and and really recognizing that your client going into the, the case, going into, the situation in your client interviews and listening first as opposed to talking to someone.

And there’s a lot of, I think, rhetoric that can come sometimes creep into the work in terms of whether we know better than our clients about certain decisions and things like that. So I think when I think about that, that first the first piece of humility, I just think about being really careful and recognizing where you’re at and being mindful to, to listen first and, and treat your client and person you’re serving as the expert.

With respect to the intersectionality, I think I, I kind of go back to kind of the, what Avi was saying about participatory defense, but also just like family and because when I read that, I thought about the intersectionality between the individual and the community. And just traditionally when I, when I think I started my career, I saw family involvement as being more onerous to the, to the work. Because I have this to do, I have this to do, and now the mom’s calling me. She wants to know what’s happening with the case. And it’s horrible to say it out loud. But I think as time has gone on, I’ve realized how important it is to have family involvement. for your clients.

Oftentimes, clients don’t have any family to support them so when you do have family involvement or community involvement, and the more you can call upon them because they may be experts too in your client. They may be able to help you develop trusting relationships with your client. And they may help you to understand a little bit more about how you can successfully impact the case.I think it’s critical to, to honor that intersectionality between the individual and the community that they come from.

And then the final thing, courage yeah, I think, I think the job is hard. I think doing the job is courageous. Just by signing up to do the job, it’s, it’s a, it’s a mark of, of courage. But I think there are always opportunities to be more courageous, and there are always opportunities to Betty Hung talks about relinquishing privilege and that’s kind of what it feels like, like, it’s a privilege to, to go to law school, to have a law degree, to to be in that position. And so what does it mean to speak out when something’s wrong or, you know, to do like what Karina did where she, she was like, Hey, let’s get everybody together and like, I don’t care who gets pissed off. This is the right thing because this is wrong. And so I think just keeping that in mind, the job in and of itself requires a lot of courage. But I think every day that you do the job, there’s an opportunity to be courageous and to keep in mind the privileges that you have and why you make decisions you make.

And make sure that you’re putting your client in whatever that movement is first. So, those are my thoughts.

The only thing I’ll say is that these are good things, right? It’s good to be grounded in a place of humility, generally speaking. It’s good to have, kind of, concern and even, like, you know, love for intersectional humanity. And it’s also good to practice courage in the courage part, for me. It’s not the lawyering right, it might feel like it’s doing those things that feel uncomfortable but that are actually just like make life so much easier. So like, telling the truth, keeping it real, just saying whatever you think, like that’s the world we’re in, dude.

So I just feel like a lot better when I’m doing advocacy for like on a pretrial release, right just like telling, like this person shouldn’t be in jail, there’s all these options. Think about what’s going to be happening to them. Like, that’s just something that we wouldn’t say before, but, so is it courageous to just say what’s, what’s real? Is it courageous to say a police officer did something that was like overtly or just implicitly biased and have them be mad about it? I don’t know. But I think we should do it more.

And I, I love what you said about the clients as the experts. That’s absolutely true in every, every dimension of the practice. For criminal defense.

So. It’s time. Okay. So let’s have questions, uh, comments, reactions, uh, the one subject that we haven’t talked about, that if you have questions about, I’d love to talk about, are the connections and disconnections or the, the mismatches between movement lawyering and public defense models.

So if anyone has any reactions to that, I would love to hear what comes to mind.

Thank you, Daniela. Hi, I’m Juliet Brodie. I run our community law clinic here at the law school. And I’m not a public defender. I’m an eviction defense lawyer. But I talk to my students all the time. And Ron and I talk all the time about the analogies between the systems that we work in. Public defenders are sort of our closest cousins in terms of, but it does go, Avi, to this question about the tensions between individual defense work, whether it’s eviction or misdemeanors, and a movement, right? Because in both of the systems that we’re in, We are representing individuals who are on the wrong side of the V. I’m really sorry I couldn’t be here for this morning’s affirmative litigation panel because maybe some of these themes you talked about.

But, you know, we are like, the landlords are plucking my clients one at a time and the government is plucking your clients one at a time and by definition putting our clients on defense in an individual matter and how to turn that into movement. I mean, that’s why this story about taking everybody on the calendar into the hallway and saying, like, let’s all commit for trial. We talk about that all the time. Like. Why are we taking these shitty, shitty deals every day and not just, let’s confirm everything for trial and see what happens when we try and break the system, right?

But I think, I would just love to hear any thoughts about those sort of system design problems when we are representing individuals in systems that are characterized by economic and racial historical exploitation and, you know, if we could all get in that hallway with the sideshows, that would be amazing.

Well just one. I’ll maybe get us started because I think about this stuff like, okay, confidentiality, individual decision making. You know, the, the dynamics of the system that are set up to, to punish people for doing this stuff. So, coercive plea bargaining you know sentencing, a trial tax, right? How do you reconcile a trial tax with telling people they should go, you know, collectively to trial, or you should, you know, say no to this, or and I think that it’s about, like, for me, it’s about following all those things, absolutely. Right? But also talking to the client about options that are not let’s just keep this to ourselves and thinking through.

So for the participatory defense part of it, it started for me of connecting family members. So it was actually really nice connection because instead of telling the family members everything that’s happening for the case, I had people who are organizing families of system affected people to participate meaningfully in their cases.

But then it, it grows in some way. So I think, like, client consent, informed consent, discussing what’s ahead, how do we tell your story, largely, it makes a lot of sense in a, in a bail context, where we’re bringing lots of people together to show that the community is here in a criminal case. And then being kind of truth, truth telling about what those negative system effects are, kind of naming them so you can minimize their likelihood, like saying in court, like, this person, you know, this case is a misdemeanor, it should be treated as a misdemeanor, but it’s treated as a you know, ten year prison case, right?

And it should be treated as a misdemeanor and that shouldn’t change because community members are here in support of the people and then empowering them to do what, whatever they’re going to do, right? And not being the director of, you know, you go here, you go there, they’re going to do what they’re going to do anyway, by the way, like, if they’re engaged, they’re going to do that anyway, so that’s just on the participatory part.

That’s not on the kind of organized part. I have some quick thoughts. What was your name again? Sorry. Juliet. So, I think there’s a lot to be said. Avi, and he said it to me, like, in the hallways and on the walks to court, like, injustice happens often in empty courtrooms. But as a, as a community outreach attorney, I, I went in to observe eviction court. And one of the pushes we were trying to make was to establish right to counsel for eviction defense in Santa Clara County. but what I observed was, was troubling to me. Because folks were largely represented. I think it’s some crazy number, like 90, 90 something percent of folks, at least in Santa Clara County, were unrepresented, but the landlords had attorneys. And they were doing trials, like, with rules of evidence. And so it was just incredibly lopsided. And I wanted to, like, jump up and, like, you know object. But I think, I, I didn’t, I didn’t know until I sat in the courtroom and saw that.

So I think one way, I think just thinking out loud is that maybe it’s not something the attorney needs to do necessarily, but having other people come to observe and see what’s happening it might make folks feel some sense of accountability in the courtroom that are making those decisions. And that may be, you know, the start to whatever the wave is of that social movement to make it build. So that, that’s one thought I had is that was a moving experience for me to go and to, to realize, well, this has just been happening and I just, I had no idea that things went down this way. So I think the fact of, of bringing folks in to see how bad it can be, I think it’s, it’s, can be really really important.

Yeah, the one thing I will add is that I think an important practice is to keep informed. So keep making sure that you are understanding the trends and patterns. As PDs, we can be very siloed if we choose to be. So for example, an attorney at our office can choose to just put their heads down and go through trial after trial. And we have meetings, but they’re not exactly mandatory. And if you have trial, that’s going to supersede any meetings. And the reason I bring that up is because at these meetings, I, I sometimes attend as an RJA attorney, and you hear about trends, and you hear about patterns. You hear, hey, this specific prosecutor is giving this offer for this charge. Or, hey, this specific prosecutor has been agreeing to home detention. And then another attorney will hear, Oh, well, your facts are similar to mine. That’s not my experience.

So, I think there’s power in communication. And I think it’s very important that as attorneys, we understand what cases are going for. Because that’s going to be powerful in terms of leveraging these offers and attorneys against each other, prosecutors.

And I’ll, I’ll share a tidbit more about my sideshow story. In the middle of that very chaotic morning, a private attorney came in, running with his briefcase. And he called a case, he had the one private attorney case on the calendar for a sideshow, and he was elated to take the offer. Because he had no idea, he didn’t look at his case in the context of the big picture that I had, right? He didn’t have access. to the calendar overall. He didn’t have, he wasn’t privy to the conversations that had happened the days prior or even that very morning. So, when he was so joyful in accepting this offer, I took him to the side and said, hey, no, no, no, no, no. Like, this is not a good offer because you don’t know what a good offer is unless it’s contextualized, right?

So I think as attorneys irrespective of what kind of practice you do, you are in, it is imperative that we stay  in communication. I love LISTSERVs. I’m on like four different LISTSERVs. And I love attorneys speaking with each other. I think it’s very powerful for attorneys that serve the public interest and communities that are oppressed to constantly be in communication with what DAs and what agencies are offering so that we can use that information to further defend our clients.

Hi, thank you for your talk. It was very helpful. My name is Claire and I’m a public defender in Seattle and one thing that I think would be really great to bring, not to bring there, but to do more of there is participatory defense and I’ve seen for years that we try but don’t quite have the expertise that I think you guys do in Santa Clara and having seen Avi do it back when I was in law school. We actually had an attorney from my office who brought SV Debug to Seattle as an expert and it was really, really helpful. And so then we tried to do it again recently and our office was like, there has to be someone in Washington that can do this, right? Like, we don’t want to pay the expert fees to bring these people in from California.

And while we have great community partners, there isn’t quite that role. And I’m curious, like, if you have advice for very practical steps that we can take in the absence of those specific supports to still bring some of the participatory defense.

So just one thing that comes to mind is Debug’s work setting up participatory defense hubs all over the country. And so there might be a hub in Washington state that might not be in Seattle. And that might be a place to look for people who have already done some like infrastructure building. The thing that’s it’s like a two way street, too, because when they’re setting up these hubs in order to bring community power into criminal prosecutions, criminal defense cases, they’re also talking about, you know what a public defender is, right?

As opposed to, you know, which which really helps our practice, right? If we’re not met we already start with a major trust deficit that’s like understandable and warranted and, and should be present but it can be, it can really help people understand what our role is and how we’re there to help and what limitations exist, right, when you have basically not know your rights but kind of understand when you have a, a community organization that’s assisting, supporting but then also telling you this is, you know, maybe why the attorney is limited on what they can say about, you know, the, whatever, the legal strategy. So I would look for those hubs. I would talk to DeBug about those hubs.

And then I would look for the, the organizations that are already doing the work. Like in, in Santa Clara County, we have Standing Up for Racial Justice, which has been doing work against you know, kind of further new jails and new facilities. We’ve had organizations that have been doing work against police in schools. And that has to be the case in Seattle. It must be the case in every one of these cities. People who are showing up. And talk to those people. Go to their meetings. Just introduce yourself to them and then they’ll have somebody affected by a case and they’ll show up and, and things will go from there. Do you all have anything on that?

I would just add that I can get you a name after but I recently met a public defender and a wonderful man who founded a non profit, you might know it I can’t remember the name, but he served, I want to say, 32 years in prison and while he was in prison he was studying up on racial injustices and became really passionate about becoming an expert and also becoming an expert in data.

So the reason why I met with them was because they built an incredible data tool. I don’t know if you already use it, but it’s phenomenal. So it would really be helpful if you are gonna do RJA cases in the future or whatnot. But he is really passionate about this subject and he’s in Seattle, so he’s really passionate about using people that have been system impacted to serve as experts. So, maybe you can get in contact with that.

The only thing I would just add quickly is, um, maybe this isn’t, this isn’t helpful, maybe it is, but to think outside the box in terms of, like, you know, who is, who is your client’s community, this particular client, like what church do they go to you know What school did he go to? Did he have a favorite teacher? And maybe those kind of points of contact can, well not, obviously they’re not going to be Debug, but you know, they may be able to build something in each individual case specific to that client. I think the beauty of Debug is that they kind of take on a lot of that, that load, which is hard to do as a defender. But there may be other ways to tap into similar support networks that can advocate on behalf of your client, specific to your client’s circumstances. And maybe once you do that, you, you can develop kind of a network of, of those organizations or, you know, those communities.

Hi there. My name is Stasia. I’m a current 2L here at Stanford and I’m coming, first of all, I just want to thank all of you for being here. This has been a very energizing day, and I’m super excited from the perspective of an aspiring public defender who, I’m from a pretty rural area in a state where their political circumstances are very different, and so I’m wondering what advice you have to sort of, like, bring these movement lawyering lessons back to other communities, because it seems like there’s a lot of cool institutions that y’all have been tapped into, and I’m just wondering, like, what institutional supports you all have found the most helpful, and, like, when you’re going, envisioning, like, going to a community that’s kind of, like, starting from scratch in this sort of movement, if you have any lessons from your work seeing these movements develop in this area that you think would be helpful.

Do you have something from your work, your current work of because you, so we’re in Santa Clara, but you’re connected to so many other offices in different environments that might have different approaches or different resource circumstances. Does anything come to mind in that question?

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, it’s challenging. That’s, I’d start with that. You know, the State of California is you know, the, the responsibility of providing indigent defense services is delegated to the counties and each county does it differently. Each county has a different population size, different politics and so some counties have full public defender systems, some have contract systems, um, and the, the, the way the defense services is delivered can, can vary pretty greatly.

So, I think it’s, I think it’s hard. I think I don’t know. My, my answer would be that, yeah, it does kind of depend on the institution and the structure that’s in place, but really, like, a lot of folks that I’ve talked to, it, it just, the right people can make a difference, you know, so I think you, you, I think you’re doing the right thing. You’re, you’re learning and then you take it back and you you go back and you, get a group of folks who were charged with sideshows and you like rally them together and you do these things and then you, I think you tell other people about those things too and make sure like Karina was saying, I’m kind of embarrassed. I didn’t know we worked in the same office. I didn’t know that she did that. Like, that’s that’s that’s pretty huge.

But I think to make sure that those things are shared amongst the people that you work with. I think all of these things that we talked about in terms of being humble recognizing the intersectionality of individuals and communities and being courageous, which it sounds like that’s what you’re doing, by already committing to taking this back to these to wherever you’re going to work.

So I think it just start, I think it starts with the heart that you bring to the work. And then just keep going with that, but yeah, I, I do recognize that it’s easier to do certain work in certain areas because of the infrastructure, the politics and the support than it is to do it in other areas. And I think to not recognize that would be, would be untruthful, but I think you do what you can.

I would also. start with a grassroots approach. So at its most simplistic form, I think you start with court watch. I think that it would be really impactful to explain or remind people that per the Constitution, anyone can watch a hearing or a trial. And I think transparency is often the road to accountability. So I would, I mean, I don’t know how small of a town we’re talking, but I would honestly just try to get the word out that we’re starting a court watch program. And I would try to get as many citizens as possible to just watch. And what I think is really powerful about a court watch program, especially if you start out in baby steps, is iou don’t even really have to have an ideology, right? It doesn’t have to be dogmatic in its inception. It can just be, let’s just watch court. And they will see for themselves the injustices and the disparities. And then all of a sudden it’s, okay, well collectively how can we help this? And then you have a movement.

I have a question. My name’s Carlie. I work here. It seems implied that we’re excluding judges from the concept of the movement. And I’m wondering whether you agree with that statement. Are we excluding the possibility of taking over the judicial appointments process, the judicial elections process? Like should we be thinking broader? To take action based in communities to make sure the bench looks like this panel and thinks like this panel. So will you please all be judges? And if not, why not? Thank you.

Okay. I think we’re going to, I’m going to close the panel with that. I am usually a stickler on time, but this is such a great panel and you know, there will always be a little more time for this for us this afternoon.

So I really want to thank the panel again, just as a reminder. For those of you who may not know these panelists Avi Singh, Supervising Deputy Public Defender for the Research Unit at Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office, Ashanti Mitchell, who is a Staff Attorney for Capacity Building in the Office of the State Public Defender, and Karina Alvarez, who’s a Deputy Public Defender of the Racial, and the Racial Justice Act Attorney at the Santa Clara County Public Defender’s Office.

Thank you all so much.

Panel 3: Resiliency in the Work: Getting Real About Burnout, Sustainability, and Wellness

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All right. All right. We’re going to start again this time. You know, you haven’t didn’t have to wait for the big reveal. Here it is. This is our third panel. This is my wellness. My resiliency. Look, okay, this is my island. Look, man. Come on. This is a panel about resiliency in the work getting real about burnout about sustainability and  wellness.I’ll facilitate this panel and I’m going to now introduce our panelists and I’ll be more respectful in doing that. First of all, to my left, Dr. Liz Chaney. Dr. Chaney is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is the embedded counselor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business where she specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression, trauma, and identity based concerns.

Her work is grounded in social justice, liberation. and compassion. Dr. Chaney’s inspiration to be a psychologist stems from her ancestors, specifically her grandmothers, who helped her to feel seen and heard through some of the most challenging times in her life. In her work, she aims to create a safe and supportive space where students can share their story and feel empowered to achieve their wellness goals.

Prior to working at the GSB, Dr. Chaney was an embedded counselor right here at the law school. She worked exclusively with law students for nearly two years, and that’s how we met, actually. She also runs a small private practice and has experience working in community mental health and a mental health startup.

Additionally, she’s passionate about improving access to culturally responsive psychological care for diverse communities. Thank you for being here, Dr. Chaney.

Next to Dr. Chaney is Clare Riva. Clare is a CDC alum. She graduated from SLS in 2018. She clerked in the District of Maryland and did non profit civil rights appellate work before moving to Seattle to be a public defender where she’s been for the last three years.

And our third panelist, Vina Seelam. Vina graduated from SLS in 2016. She, too, is a criminal defense clinic alum. And she also participated in the Three Strikes Project and the street law pro bono here at Stanford. She interned at the Legal Aid Society criminal defense division in New York City at Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery.

And she also worked at the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office as an intern. After graduating, Vina worked first as a post bar legal assistant at the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, and then as an attorney there for three years. She then moved across the Pacific, and she may have earned the longest distance traveled. I’m not sure, it’s either her or Abigail. She, because she actually is coming to us from the Northern Mariana Islands. She moved across the Pacific to join the Public Defender’s Office in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands where she worked for three years before she decided to try her hand at civil litigation at the Office of the Attorney General there this past year.

Vina is already eager to return to the practice of public defense work. So these are our panelists for this panel on resiliency and the work. Getting real about burnout, secondary trauma, and wellness. And so let’s start with an agreement on terms, if we could, panelists. When I refer to burnout, I’m using Dr. Christina Maslach’s classic definition. A prolonged response to chronic, emotional, and interpersonal stressors. A response that’s characterized by emotional exhaustion. depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment. That’s what I mean when I say burnout. When I refer to secondary trauma, I’m describing the damage that’s caused by a lawyer’s exposure to a client’s primary trauma.

Exposure to client, exposure to client after client in trauma translates into more and more secondary trauma for a lawyer. A mountain of unaddressed secondary trauma can lead to burnout. So, so my first question for you, Claire, and you, Veena, is if you reflect on your years in practice. When you think about burnout and secondary trauma, how have those issues emerged for you?

And, and, I guess specifically, have you had experiences that, that revoked that revoked? Have you had experiences that evoked those kinds of responses? Have you noticed how those types of experience might have played out for others that you’ve met in your practice? Sure. Is this, is this working?

I think so. Are you, is it, did you click the on? It’s on. Alright. It’s on. Yes? Okay. Yeah, I mean, so I, after three years at the Alameda County Public Defender’s Office, mostly based in Oakland I fled to an island across the Pacific, so I think I was experiencing what I would describe as burnout, and I think there were a lot of factors that contributed to that, but what, a few that stick out for me is, one is that of course there’s a sheer volume of cases that you’re dealing with and you kind of start to lose the personal connection to your clients, which there is a lot of emphasis on in clinic and we were blessed with the opportunity, at least in my clinic year we had three clients for the whole quarter, right?

Whereas in, when you go into misdemeanor practice in a county in the Bay Area, we’re still lucky here compared to a lot of other places in the country, but we’re, you know, it’s not unusual to be doing a calendar assignment even where you’re dealing with 50 people in a day, or 10 new intake cases of people who are in jail and arrested, you know, that morning.

And so I think it’s hard when you’re dealing with just that number of people who are all trying to share their experiences with you. It’s natural for that depersonalization to occur, and you lose a bit of the connection and what motivates you to do the work. I think another thing for me was it it started to feel like it was really hard to feel like there was a positive outcome a lot of times.

Maybe you would have a win. You would get a case or even several cases dismissed or you would even win a trial. But then the next, the very next thing you have to do is address this other mountain of cases that probably weren’t going to lead to wins. And then oftentimes how you define a win, right, would be if an offer on a case was originally one year for the client to spend in jail and you managed to get it down, even let’s say significantly, you get it down to ten days, sure, that’s, that’s theoretically a win, but it still involves a lot of trauma for the client and having the experience that they’ve already had to go through, and even ten days in jail is a significant amount of time.

So, I think it, it just starts to, at a certain point, feel like, There’s not a lot of positive outcome depending on how you define it. Which I think, I’m really happy that the earlier sessions were more on the movement lawyering and impact litigation because I, I think that’s one of the keys to maybe balancing out or rethinking, redefining what sort of outcome you should be looking for or you should be expecting as a public defender.

Thank you. Claire? Yeah, I think that’s all right. I think the unfortunate reality is that if you’re going to be a public defender, you are going to deal with burnout and secondary trauma. And one thing that I think we in this room are all really well equipped with is coming from clinic or knowing Professor Tyler and for me, it was Professor Luban, but also Carlie, who is wonderful.

Is understanding from the beginning that building in your own kind of wellness practices and sustainability from the beginning makes such a big difference to your sustainability in the long term, I think, and I felt very lucky in knowing that from the beginning because you know, I actually, I started experiencing burnout probably after like my first two years when I was doing misdemeanor practice and just had a huge volume, and then I moved into a slightly lower volume, but still too high volume felony practice, and I could tell that I, that I was burnt out.

And recovery is, is like a long process, right? It can be, it’s really kind of day by day, goes in waves, and it can take many months, I think, when you’re still doing the job. So learning the signs and how to how you personally are going to be able to mitigate their effects on your work I think is important.

I know that for you know for me unfortunately, I think when I find myself not wanting to do the hard things is when you know that it’s affecting your clients, right, you know so much of our job is making your clients feel seen and heard and trying to explain their experiences to other people in the system is so often, at the end of the day, what our role is, no matter what the context is, and you know, I, I remember once figuring this out, I did like this really big meeting with this very young client who was charged with, he was, um, he was charged, he was in kind of a difficult situation, factually, because he was charged with what we call an on view no contact order violation, which is when the police saw somebody too close to somebody that they’re not supposed to be in contact with.

And so it can be very easy for the state to prove even if the person, the other person doesn’t want to participate because they like hand these contact orders out like candy to anyone, even when the protected party doesn’t want them. And it can be a very difficult legal situation for people because it increases their exposure very quickly.

And there’s this young man and I remember he came in and it’s funny because it was probably like the least lawyerly client meeting I had ever had at that point, but we just talked for like hours about his life growing up and his challenges and these things that I hadn’t known earlier in my representation of him and you know, I was like, this is just so unfair for this person and you really feel that and like so much of our job is really empathizing that.

So I wrote this big thing for the prosecutor being like, basically being like, and it felt weird at the time because you don’t like to acknowledge that they have a strong case of being like, even though this happened here, all these reasons why it’s not fair for this person to be in this in this situation and that prosecutor ended up sending me an email a few days later being like the protected party doesn’t want to participate so we’re going to dismiss this case. And that was so great because you know that they didn’t need that person to participate. He was understanding why it was inappropriate to move forward with that case. And that felt like such a big win and such a such a valuable reflection, I thought, on really kind of empathizing and putting yourself in your client’s shoes and like being there with them.

That kind of practice also can cause a lot of secondary trauma, build up and burnout. And, you know, I recently was in a similar situation with a client who was similarly, you know, in a difficult legal position, and I found myself really not wanting to do that exercise, you know, or not necessarily not wanting to do it. I wanted to do it with him, but every day that it came down is like today, the day that I’m going to go have this really hard conversation. And for like a month, the answer was no, right? And eventually we did it and I did the exact same thing. And then the prosecutor got back to us and didn’t agree with our position. And this person, you know, is, is, is still in a very difficult situation and You know, that’s kind of like the opposite side of the spectrum.

And so I think that, you know, seeing when, like, learning to recognize, oh, I’m avoiding doing this thing, that’s going to be hard and risky is a sign of burnout. And, you know, trusting yourself to take steps to recover and to set your own boundaries.

I don’t want to just like talk ad nauseum, but you did have a couple other questions. Which, how you see sometimes these things manifesting, if I can. So, I think that one of the ways that I think can lead to burnout, that is one of the biggest pitfalls that I see some of my colleagues making, and I try to avoid myself, is when people don’t trust their clients in their own decision making.

Because there’s already so much stress in the job, and some people will think, you know, our job at the end of the day is to as best as we can, do what our clients want. And there are people who will really second guess what their clients are doing. And will be like, I don’t think you should be making X decision.

And I think that is an example of people taking on stress that at the end of the day, not only is it not your job, but I mean, in my opinion, it’s not good to be trying to convince your client to be doing something they don’t want to do. You know, you give them your opinion and your advice and you let them make the decision.

And so I think that really learning and really understanding that your job is trusting your client to know their own life better than you do, right, is a really important way to mitigate the kinds of additional stresses that could lead you into that situation. I also think that, you know, over personalizing or, Or, you know, not trusting yourself as an attorney way easier said than done.

But, you know, we had that panel earlier and Karina was talking about when she took everybody into the hallway and talk to them about their outcomes to stand in front of, you know, a whole room full of clients, much less one person and be like, it is a little risky, but if you want to go to trial, I think you have a good case for X, Y, and Z reasons that takes a lot of confidence.

And I think that if you are not, you know, confident that you can do, that you can be a good, as good of a lawyer as you can be in a resource constrained system, right? Then, you’re also going to be constantly thinking, maybe something doesn’t go your way, and you’re like, oh, it’s my fault. And at the end of the day, the system is set up so that we don’t win.

We’re not supposed to be able to do everything that we want to do. And, thinking that that’s your personal failing, rather than a system failing, I think can also lead to a lot of burnout.

You touched on an answer, and I’m going to loop in Dr. Chaney soon, but you touched on an answer to the question of how you have seen other folks, how you’ve seen these issues rise in other folks practices, and I wanted to invite Veena. I don’t know if you had any reflection in that regard.

Yeah, as Clare was talking, I was thinking about, I think, another, like, how do you know that somebody is experiencing burnout? I think when you start to hear people, and yourself thinking in a way that feels like there’s no correlation between what you do and how much work you put into a case and any, any different result coming from it.

So you kind of stop seeing yourself, stop viewing yourself as an efficient person or somebody who’s really contributing anything and I think that’s it’s both a symptom and a sign right? It’s when you have enough experiences where you kind of see the randomness of justice being meted out right and it’s just like which judge did this case happen to be assigned to which prosecutor was sitting in the courtroom that day that ends up being so much more influential in a lot of ways on the outcome for the client than anything that you actually do and I think when you when you see that over and over you start to just question Does anything that I do matter? And that makes it, I think it’s easy to fall into a trap of trying less than you and then kind of doing the minimum because you feel like even if you work as hard as you possibly can, you stay late, you don’t sleep, you, you meet the client for hours and hours and really get to know them and then the same bad outcome can happen.

It, it kind of disincentivizes you from keeping trying. So I would say I, I see that I’ve seen that happening with other people certainly where you start off really gung ho thinking that there’s some kind of positive correlation between how much work you do and the outcome for the client, and then you pretty quickly realize that it’s, it’s all over the place. That relationship is not a straight line, so if you stop believing in your ability to change things, and then you stop trying, and I think that’s how a lot of people miss opportunities to do the impact lawyering within the public defender context. I think a lot of people probably feel what’s the point of even trying a writ because it’s not gonna, it’s not gonna make a difference.

When you start to feel like that, to me that’s a sign of burnout.

So in clinic and our self care sessions we focused on success stories, so I’m really interested in the ways in which the two of you, and this will be also a, shortly, a pathway for Dr. Chaney, the ways in which the two of you have been able to utilize practices that have made a difference for you in maintaining a sense of wellness and, and developing resiliency skills. What are some of those practices? Maybe, Veena, you can start out this time.

Sure. Well, for me, I’ve I kind of went back to just what, what makes me feel happy generally outside of work and trying to maximize those things. So being outside, sunlight exercise, connection with other people that aren’t you know, not, not necessarily my colleagues.

I think that the connection with colleagues is also important and being able to debrief and discuss what’s going on is hugely important. And therapeutic, but also having some people outside of your life who have no idea what, what you do at work and what issues you’re facing, I think, is also helpful.

But it’s, it’s easier said than done, right? I think it’s really hard, especially when you’re starting out and you might feel like you have a lot to prove. You don’t want to be the person that’s leaving at five o’clock because you have to go on a run, right? It makes it seem like maybe you’re not as committed as other people but I think, you know, to have the courage to do that, to really know yourself and how you’re feeling and how you’re going to be a better advocate for your clients in the end.

And if it means, you know, you have to take an hour long lunch break to go for a long walk or go to the gym or whatever it is, I think it’s really important to listen to that and act on that.

Thank you. Clare? Yeah, I think that’s so important to have other things in your life and then feel comfortable setting boundaries.

I mean, you could work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and still have more that you would want to be able to do for your clients. So at a certain point, you do have to, you know, you will have to set boundaries and leave the work at a time when there is more to do. Because there’s always going to be more to do. And then having something that can refresh you in that time. I mean, one thing that I personally do and try and convince my colleagues to do a lot is, to your point, if you have downtime at work, like maybe there’s an afternoon where you, where you don’t have anything urgent for the next hour and it’s sunny in December in Seattle, I will go for a run and get outside and get some sun.

And, you know, because I know that there will be other times where I won’t be able to do that, where I will work late. You know, I, I, I try to forgive myself. There’s some time during the work day where I can do something for myself and feel like I need to to just do that because I know that there’s other times where you won’t have, you know, you’re always going to make up for it.

It’s kind of an interesting setup because being a public defender, we talked about this a little bit, you’re more in control of your own work schedule to some extent. I mean, obviously the courts are, are very much a part of that, but if you don’t have court, you’re doing your own caseload management, making sure that you’re on top of what you need to be on top of.

So, I think that people tend to sometimes feel like they need to be, you know, at their desk, eight to five or six every day so people can see that they’re there, but really the nature of the work is so much more all over the place than that, that I think that we also need to apply that sometimes to to your, to fulfilling your own needs, even if it’s during, even if it’s not like 3 p.m. on a Wednesday.

So, Dr. Chaney, we’ve sat here and listened to Clare and Vina talk about their experiences their struggles, the experiences and struggles of their colleagues, and we’ve also heard There are solutions. I’m curious if you had, let’s say you’re embedded at the business school, if you’d been embedded in one of their offices and they’d come to you describing these things.

I’m just curious about how you might have responded. And I’m also curious what your thoughts are on the on the techniques that they have used.

Absolutely. Can you hear me okay? So, first and foremost, I really want to validate and normalize the experiences that you all are having and just this isn’t me counseling you, but just me thinking about being a mental health practitioner and all the parallels between our work and being in a caregiving profession and you know, how challenging it is to have a job where you’re sitting with other people’s pain and what you do with that and how you work through that.

But I think a couple questions that I would ask you all is, you know, what training or experience do you have in knowing how to support yourself emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually? And how connected are you to your internal experience? And then for follow up, I think, you know, what are you doing at the end of the day slash end of the week to help release some of what you’ve seen and to really think about, you know, to maintain your humanity after all the things that you’re seeing.

And I think so often for people, the answer to both is no. Like, no, I’m not doing anything. No practices. And also, I don’t have any training or experience on connecting with my internal experience, and that’s actually okay, because you know, you can always start now. But I would really suggest that, and a question that I often ask my clients is, What is your relationship to your emotions and I give the analogy often of a beach and the idea of are you getting pummeled by the waves?

Like are you a person who’s being flooded by your emotions? Are you off on the sand to where you can’t even see the water? But ideally you want to be a person who’s actually surfing the waves and in control of your own emotions and really aware of what’s happening and so often clients tell me they’re way off on the sand or they, they know what their emotions are, but they don’t really get connected to them.

So that’s one thing I would start with. And then another thing I think to keep in mind is kind of the context of why you’re doing this work. I think often with helping professions that people can be drawn to the work because of experiences they’ve had in their own lives. And not to pathologize anyone’s reasons for getting into the work, but sometimes our clients’ experiences, they can resonate with us and noticing when we’re getting a litte over-identified and realizing that like oh I need to maintain realistic boundaries and realistic expectation of myself you know.

But just a few things that I’ve seen that really work for myself, that work for my clients, and work for my community, are one, having a sense of love, support, and community in your life. People who you really feel like care about you, and that you care about and being able to People that you can talk to at any time of the day and who are really going to be there for you.

And then I think also rest and fun, which it sounds like that’s so simple, but truly resting, I think back on myself. Last Friday, I had to check in with myself. I realized that I was exhausted, and I noticed that my curiosity had gone out the window, which I think is one of the first things that happens to me when I feel burnt out, and I started thinking, Oh I can’t wait to get this over with, which, really, that’s not like me. I’m a really curious person and really passionate about my work, but I realized that wasn’t about my client. That was about me, you know, and so. Checking in with yourself around that.

And then I think also having a routine of self care, and I preach this to my clients a lot, but a lot of people try to spot care, I think self care, where they just try and like, meditate when they’re panicking or something. And it’s like, no, you have to have a routine, and you have to know what works for you. And I think like, for me, you know, if I don’t go on a long walk, like, I get a little cranky sometimes, you know, like, I just, knowing the things that, this is what works for me, and this is what I do consistently.

And then I think a couple of other things is if you think about, like, in concentric circles, I realize this is a really long answer, but I have a lot that I want to say. I’m really passionate about it.

It’s not too long at all.

I think about, like, there’s your typical burnout in circle one, and then the second circle is secondary trauma, which of course you’re going to have with the things that you’re seeing if you’re an empathetic person. But then the third circle, I think, is what I’m actually being triggered by in the room with my clients. And being able to check in with yourself and know your internal experience and know, like, okay, like, this is actually about something else, and that happens to me in my work. And I make a note of like, oh, this is work for my therapist, like, perfect. And so I think with secondary trauma, it’s so important that we address that, you know, with a therapist.

Thank you. That’s, that is all wonderful and thought provoking. And leads to my next question. So, as you all know, one of the wellness practices that I promote is mindfulness meditation. And Dr. Chaney, you certainly have experience in this area. You just actually made mention to meditation, but I also know that when you were here at the law school, you co led a meditation series with Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbeck.

I think it was called Meditation for Liberation, which is great. So I want to ask you, why is a mindfulness meditation practice useful to enhance wellness?

Yeah, I remember that series very fondly, and I remember you coming in. It was wonderful and teaching a class, but I came into meditation because it was my second year in grad school, and it was my first time doing full time clinical work, and I was doing community mental health work, and I was starting to have all kinds of physical symptoms, and I  went and talked to my primary care doctor and she said, I think you’re stressed. And she said that, you know, we have a mindfulness based stress reduction course here at Kaiser. Would you like to sign up? And that class actually changed my life. Like it helped me to develop a practice and I practice consistently daily for like the next few years.

And I think the three biggest things are, one, it helps to regulate your nervous system. It helps you to get out of fight or flight and reduce the production of cortisol and increase the happy neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

But then also I think it helps you to enhance your self awareness and it helps you to actually slow down and sit with yourself. I think so many of us don’t take the time to actually slow down and notice what we’re doing and notice our emotions.

And then I think also it helps you to reduce self judgment. You know, I think that as humans we can never be fully judgment free, but I think even getting into the practice of reducing that judgment towards ourself and towards our clients makes us better humans and also better in our work.

And just one more thing about meditation my favorite thing about it is that once you learn it, you don’t need anything outside of yourself to practice and it’s accessible to anyone.

So Clare and Vina, is, is that a practice that you pursue at all? I guess this time we’ll start with you, Claire.

I do dabble. I learned it, here at Stanford, and I remember both in clinic and there was also a seminar that you can take here or that you could when I was here. And I just remember it was hard for me to the practice of letting your thoughts go. But I find myself actually doing it more trying to harness that kind of a practice more and more now, because so much of the way I think that the stresses of the job can affect you, uh, and the volume of the work can affect you, is to have these kind of running thoughts that you can’t let go of. So even if you’re not at work, you’re thinking about work, you’re thinking about your clients, you’re preparing some closing argument in your head, or you’re, all of a sudden you’re like, oh, I could try and get this piece of evidence or that piece of evidence.

And stopping those things is at least, you know, you have to, to fall asleep or to be present with your family or things like that. So I, I’m trying actually to do it more now because I think that’s the practice of being able to let your thoughts kind of pass by you. Nonjudgmentally is one of, ’cause you’re gonna have ’em, right? Probably. Mm-Hmm, especially in any line of work, but often in this one too.

For me, I think I’ve found, I think I find mindfulness time in other activities a lot of times. So I have not been able to master the art of, you know, sitting and just coming into a mindful state, but you know, rowing on, on the ocean is, which is something that I can do where I currently live is for me, puts me into a state that I think is, is one that separates me from, you know, whatever happened previously and just kind of to regenerate during that time. So, I think for me, it’s been more about physical practices and also, again, being out in nature, like, even just soaking in the sun. So, sometimes I’ll just leave my office and go stand outside which sounds very simple, but I, I do think that it has some benefit, both just separating yourself mentally from the space that you were in I, you know, in our work, we’re not forced to be in certain spaces in the way that our clients are.

But a lot of the time we are in very ugly spaces, right? Ugly for a lot of reasons. And I think that can have, that can take a toll on you when you’re just, you’re in these in jails and courts that are not necessarily, you know, beautiful, well lit happy places. And so for me. Making sure that I am in spaces that feel very different from that and that I can kind of reset in is, is important and I think leads to some mindfulness activities. I have, I’m probably guilty of the sort of spot checking too, so I’ve used the, the breathing techniques that we practiced in clinics. I do use that when on occasion if I can’t escape for longer, right? And I’m sitting in my office or in court. I’ve done that in, like, courthouse bathrooms more times than I can count. So that was a very useful thing to learn, definitely.

So what, what Vina is, I can’t resist, but what Vina is referring to, I believe, is square breathing, which is a wonderful practice of some people call it block breathing or four by four breathing, where you breathe in for four, then you hold for four. You breathe out for four, and then you hold for four. You do like three or four cycles of that, and it’s remarkable how just that practice can help you become centered and ready for that next thing that you’re about to do, uh, that was maybe triggering you.

I also was responding as you were talking, Vina, to what you said about being in ugly spaces, and something that others have said that really resonates with me is that, you know, I think about how many years I’ve spent in confinement. In jails and in prisons, just because of the time spent visiting people who actually didn’t have the privilege of leaving. But how, even for me, the impact that that has had on me, you know and the ways in which we are treated often by, by the jailers who see us in the same way as our clients. It’s a privilege to be seen, frankly, the same way as my client. But it’s also it has impact.

And then the last thing that you said that definitely resonated for me is the simple act of getting up and going outside. This is a, it’s a wonderful reminder and I have to keep reminding myself of that. It’s like, stop what you’re doing, Ron. Get up. and walk outside. It’s right there. So, thank you for that.

My next question for all of you, you know, the subtitle of this panel Getting Real About Burnout, Secondary Trauma, and Wellness, that could be interpreted as inviting a reappraisal, really, of the accepted perceptions of these items and of their remedies.

In my own writings on self care, I’ve drawn analogies to these stresses as similar to those that are endured by emergency room doctors. Well, in a recent New York Times article, health workers expressed some irritation at this persistent focus on strategies for their individual wellbeing. They said they don’t want to hear any more presentations about personal resiliency, and instead They want more resources to do their work. How about that?

So in that same vein, really there are commentators who assert that a focus on individual wellness in the world of indigent defense misses the bigger target. They say that the real problem is a criminal legal system with chronically under resourced offices of attorneys fighting in vain against a mass incarceration regime.

They would say that without systemic changes that dramatically reduce the number of people charged and boost defense resources, that public defender wellness programs are like field hospitals that are patching up foot soldiers before sending them back into battle to face certain injury. That’s what they would say, whoever they might be.

How does that critique land on each of you? I guess I’ll start with the practitioners, but I’m also curious how it lands on you, Dr. Chaney. I think it’s, I mean, it’s true, I think and it’s, it’s kind of, it actually reminds me of the way that we sometimes compare public defense to impact litigation, right?

You can need both. You can need both the systemic change, but you also need to do your own harm reduction for yourself or you won’t last, if that makes sense. And I do think there needs to be the attention on the systemic change, but that doesn’t. mean that you’re also not going to be hurting in the meantime.

I remember, I don’t know if this is, this might be a bad story to share. Early on in my practice in my office, it was during COVID and people were largely remote except unless you had to be in court or in jail. And there was this, and everybody was so stressed. I mean, as we all were at the time and always, and they had this office wide meeting with some specialist in self care and stress and secondary trauma.

And I remember. Ala my personal philosophy of taking time for yourself when you can. I like had the audio on in the background and was like taking a bubble bath while this like, cause it was like this virtual thing. I remember hearing all these people from my office talking about how stressed they were and how it was affecting their home lives negatively and all these negative effects.

And this woman is being like, Oh, try this. Oh, try this. Oh, try this. And then at the end she goes. Well, you know, it’s also true that you might just need to quit if it’s so bad, and it sounds like your line of work is really hard, and I was like, that is not that helpful. I mean, maybe it is if you’re looking to quit, but I think that I do think that you need both.

And I think that one thing for those current students who are in the audience, if I may, one thing that can help. With that balance is you personally are probably not going to be changing the resourcing and structure of the entire system that you’re operating in, which is why I think it can be important if, if it’s, if this kind of longevity of work is important to you to think critically about the office that you join.

I remember when I was deciding where to be a public defender, I was thinking about going to Seattle, which is a relatively well resourced office where people stay for a long time. And I was kind of like. Oh, is there, is it like bad, am I not as tough or not as, you know, not as much of a foot soldier for the cause if I’m not going to like New Orleans or Philadelphia or some place where it’s notoriously really, really under resourced and you’re really overworked as a public defender, but I think at the end of the day, that’s why the average tenure of a public defender attorney is two years in this country, because most places will burn you out, and I think if you want to do it in the long term, you also need to try and find a place where there will be more kind of supports for you.

So I know in my office, one thing that we have, somebody brought up earlier at lunch, is in Seattle, we’re unionized, which is very helpful for this type of thing because it means that there are people, there is a, an organization that’s job, you can outsource it, right? Like, you don’t have to be pestering your bosses all the time to change the structure because there’s an actual organization that’s advocating for you know, morepublic defense attorneys, higher pay, more social workers for your office, things like that. And I know that that’s a movement that’s happening in many public defender’s offices across the country. And there are other things as well that might be true. And I just, I would encourage everybody to view, to think about that.

And I don’t think that it’s a bad thing to go to a well resourced office because you can do the work for longer. Perhaps if you want to.

Vina, is it a bad thing to go to a well resourced office? I’ve had experiences with, but I think I, on both ends of the spectrum and I think no, I mean, no. If you have to evaluate what your circumstances are and what resources you have and what your intentions are, If what you want is a crazy trial lawyering experience for a couple of years, and then you want to move on to something else. Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing to go to the most under resourced office and know that you’re probably going to experience burnout. But that’s fine. You got that experience out of it, and now you can go somewhere else.

I mean, it also depends on, like, the salaries offered at different public defender’s offices are vastly different. And so if you, are you in a situation where you have the resources to be able to live comfortably in some of these places where the salary is, is paltry or, and how is that going to interact with your own personal self care practices? I mean, I, I think what Clare said about being selective about what office you go to is really key in this question of where and when and how do we focus on self care?

I think a lot of it comes in that initial step.

And then when you’re choosing the office, I think a big consideration, at least for me, would be, do you feel like they’re making efforts towards the systemic change? Because that, definitely the system is messed up. And whatever little things that we can do as public defenders, It’s not going to change everything, but I think what’s huge is if you feel like the organization that you’re a part of is actually trying to change it, and that there are things you can do within that organization that will make you feel like there’s there’s movement on that front.

So again, I thought the two panels earlier were really inspiring in that regard, and to try to look for organizations that have supervisors or people who are doing things like that, that you can access on a daily or weekly basis or whenever you need to. I think that would go such a long way in a way it’s self care, but it’s not necessarily the mindfulness or the exercise individual focus. It’s how are you going to feel being a part of this organization so that you can potentially avoid that burnout symptom of, you know, nothing that I do matters. So finding people and an organization that makes you feel like what you do does matter, I think is a big part of how to address both, hopefully.

Thank you. So, Dr. Chaney, your insights on this critique about systemic approaches to the issues that public defenders encounter as opposed to a focus on self care. Yeah, from what I understand, there are so many challenges within the system and, you know, a friend who was a former public defender was actually visiting me this week and told me that a study just came out, I think from the ABA, that said in order for public defenders to be adequately supported and to have manageable caseloads, they would need to hire three times as many public defenders, which is jarring and astounding.

So, yes, there are definitely a lot of systemic issues from what I understand. And also, I don’t think that negates individual wellness. I think it’s both. I think as you said, Clare, and you know, systems are made of individuals, and I think that the better that you take care of yourself, the more prepared you’re going to be to actually fight within a system and do good and to understand yourself, you know, as best as you can in, in order to really support yourself so that you can do the work.

And then this also might be a hot take, but you know, I think that law schools could help prepare students to maintain their emotional health as lawyers. Like if there were workshops on that, or a class maybe on how do I do this type of emotionally challenging work and sustain myself so that you can last in the work.

Because if the average amount of time that someone stays a public defender is two years, I think that signals that there is a huge problem.

Well, that, that last one is a great plug for anybody who’s wondering, hmm, which clinic should I take? So the next question is a generational question and I’ll, I’ll, this, this is for Clare and Veena, you know, I entered the practice decades ago and the nature of public defense work has evolved substantially over these decades.

I’m wondering as relative newcomers but who encounter people like me, um, how you would describe the differences between the PD world of senior managers from back in the day versus what you’re actually encountering as, I think, Clare, you described as being a foot soldier in the office. How do you think those differences impact the self care challenges for younger lawyers as opposed to what perspectives their managers might have.

So, one thing that I think is significant, both for the workloads and how it affects us emotionally, is that digital evidence is much, is a much bigger part of cases now than it perhaps once was. So, for instance, in Seattle, As a great, it’s a good thing that they have it in my opinion, but there’s a law that all Seattle police officers have to wear a body cam, which means that when you get a new case, you get like 20 hours, not always 20, but sometimes more, sometimes less, of video that you have to watch as part of your job. And you have, you know, like eight hours of your, if you broke down your caseload to spend on that entire case, you can’t even watch the body cam.

But also things are captured there that are, you know, normally you might maybe you just used to hear about and now you see it and you know, I know for me personally actually one of the things that I find affects me the most emotionally of all the kinds of digital evidence that we have is actually watching some of the casual ways that members of our community, our clients and also just random people who are walking by in the streets are treated with disrespect often when they’re having encounters with police and the kind of, not even the kind of core of whatever the video is watching, but just kind of the casual happenstances The fact that it’s so common and so casual I find very, you know, can be sometimes difficult adds up more than you think.

But also, you know, I know that we just had a case in my office, it wasn’t mine, but it was a friend of mine’s, where we were representing somebody who was on trial for murder and the killing  was on video with sound because the person had security cameras in their house.

And so, you know, my colleagues have to watch it themselves. They then have to prepare their clients to see it. They have to figure out how to grapple with that with a jury, how to meet all of these different people where they’re going to be out emotional while also tending to their own, you know, experience with that.

And I think that’s challenging. I don’t really know what the answer is. But those types of things come up now, I think, probably maybe more than they once than they once did. And I just think that that adds a whole dimension that we’re still as a system figuring out how to grapple with.

Yeah, I definitely agree with what Clare said. There’s kind of there’s a lot more in our universe, I think. Now that we’re expected to work with and know even at pretty early stages of a criminal case than I think people who started 30 years ago necessarily had. What I often hear from, you know, the more senior attorneys who have been around for a while, they’ll say, you know, we used to just get a police report when we walked into court and then we’d put on the prelim or just like do the trial the next day and it was kind of like this Wild West, like anything goes. I’m, I can get my client off on. Just how great of a lawyer I am, because I’m such a great lawyer.

And I think now with, there’s so much more focus on the holistic aspect and client centered. Like, so even the time that it, that I think it takes to build even any level of trust with a client before doing something in court with them. I don’t think that those are considerations that I feel like some of the senior attorneys really take into account or they view that as not a necessary part of the work. So I think with just a the different approach that I’m seeing in our generation and, you know, how, how we learn to do things in clinic really differs in a lot of ways from how I feel like someone who’s been at it for 30 years really talks about it.

The other with technology, I’d say the other piece is we are really connected with our clients and with the work a lot more than probably was possible 20, 30 years ago, where even if you try to go on vacation, you feel sort of indebted to to your clients in this way that you’re, it’s really hard not to check your email and check your voicemail and see if somebody is like is having a cry for help and you’re the only person that they’ve decided to contact. That’s happened to me before where I’m like in some other state at a wedding and a client has my cell phone number and calls in a mental health crisis and it’s like you want to be there for that. I, I gave them my number for that reason because I knew it was possible that that could happen. But, I don’t think that would have happened 20 or 30 years ago because we didn’t all have cell phones that, and our clients could use that to contact us, right?

And then I think the last thought that I had about the generational differences, in my, the offices, both offices that I’ve worked in, the senior leadership, especially when I started, was pretty much all white and mostly male. And so I’d say that that’s another difference that I feel like generationally there’s not much as far as supervision and mentorship. I don’t feel like I received much acknowledgement of how my experience might be different as a person of color, as a woman of color and that I hope is being acknowledged more. I do think that there are steps being taken to put other people of color into leadership positions. And hopefully that that will make it more tenable for younger attorneys to feel like they have people to speak with, you know, particular issues that come up for them.

May I add? I think that’s so true. And there is like the whole the connectivity and the digital evidence. It’s like this whole new level of emotional caretaking of your clients. Many of whom also, you know, maybe you’re having to sit with them while they’re walking you through audio or video of, like, them being, you know, attacked or assaulted or something, and having to sit with them through that, even if you have a different legal issue that you need to talk with them about.

I think, you know, at least in my experience and I don’t think this is, I think that this burden of the additional kind of emotional caretaking, to Veena’s point, probably tends to manifest a little bit more for female public defenders, because I think many clients just in terms of the implicit expectations that we build into our society about, like, who is going to listen and care for you emotionally, I think maybe that weight tends to fall a little more heavily and I don’t know what the answer is, but that is something that I notice with the especially the older generation of male attorneys in our office. They don’t, sometimes they like don’t understand, don’t seem to understand that, it doesn’t seem, I don’t feel like I could just go into the jail and talk to one of my clients about our trial strategy and then just leave and that like, that’s that, you know, and that’s and and yeah, hopefully those things are changing, but I do think that it means it’s even more important if you’re thinking of going into public defense. To do the kind of upfront thinking about your own boundaries, and kind of how you might address those situations, or I mean, I don’t know how you address that situation when you get that call at the wedding, but, you know, to, because they, they probably might come up.

So Dr. Chaney, I’m wondering whether listening to these responses, both of these advocates, whether that triggers any insights on, on your part.

Yeah, it just has me thinking about all the things in our jobs that aren’t listed on the job description, but are implicitly there. And just being an empathetic human. Like, of course, if someone reaches out to you in a mental health crisis, you want to be able to support them. You know, I don’t know that I have the answers, and I’ll be honest, I have checked my email during a vacation when I wasn’t supposed to, but I do know that boundaries, and I think asking for help, and maybe this is more of a question to the audience, of like, as you know, as a lawyer, do you feel like, like, is it okay to ask for help, like, in that situation? Because it sounds like there needs to be more resources. And if you say, like, hey, my client called me at a wedding, and it seemed like there was no one else for them to talk to, and you bring that up to your supervisor, number one, could, do you feel like you could ask that? And two, would there be support? Or are we saying that, like, there aren’t enough resources? Because I feel like, you know, you shouldn’t be in the position to where, you know, you would need to answer, and I, and I get that’s the reality.

The response would just be you shouldn’t give your cell phone number to a client if you don’t want them calling you, right? I don’t think there’s any, unless you have contacts outside of the organization that you could refer them to I never felt like there was anything within the organization that could support those additional needs of the client. And so it’s, it’s really, I think, Some people find it easier to set those boundaries very clearly, and It’s hard.

Others view it as like a part of your job to have your client to build trust with your client and build a relationship that will ultimately lead to a better outcome, in my opinion, but it becomes really tricky to, to navigate how much of yourself you can give, right?

I think maybe it’s checking in with myself of do I have capacity right now to answer this phone call and if the answer is no, I think being self-compassionate and saying like that is okay. I can’t help everyone and do every single thing, you know? Easier said than done.

Well that’s a good segway to opening up this conversation to all of you. Perhaps there’s something that a panelist said that resonated with you or led to an insight or a question. So we’re going to open it up now.

Dr. Chaney asked specifically, for example, whether or not anyone in the audience had any ideas or insights around this this dilemma that Vina describes of making yourself available and then because you made yourself available. Now you’ve got . Now you’ve got a problem because you have to make a decision. Somebody just reached out to you and has said a key moment in your life, but it’s different from when you would expect it, it to be. You don’t have to answer that, but you can ask whatever you’d like and now is a good time.

And I want to again, thank Daniela Guillen, who is a member of the Criminal Defense Clinic team and has been kindly serving on microphone duty as well.

Thank you, Daniela.

So any, any questions or insights are welcome.

Thanks. So I did Go ahead and say who you are by the way. Oh I’m Nick Eckenweiler, class of 2020. I did eviction defense for a year and a half after law school. And one of the sources of emotional difficulty that I did not feel prepared for was clients who because of the difficult situation attacked me in certain ways, not, not to say that like this was a major feature of my work or that it affected me particularly badly. I think some of my colleagues who were not white men or who presented as queer had it much worse with, with some of their clients.

And this was particularly difficult, I think, for, for reasons that everybody can understand. We go into the work to represent the clients who are at the mercy of this, of a lot of structural injustices, and we’re there to try to represent them, to get them some measure of justice, to shield them to the extent that we can, to tell their stories, and to have them to have to deal with their anger, their frustration expressed in ways that, um, you know, attack our emotional integrity is something that’s very difficult.

I was wondering if either of you could speak to that, how, how you’ve managed it yeah.

Thank you. It’s a great question. Any, any answers? Anyone who’d like to respond?

Yeah, I mean, I, thank you for bringing that up. I do think that it’s a. It’s a big part of the job, and it doesn’t really get discussed, and you might not really experience it in clinic or in your internships, you might be a little bit shielded from that, but you’re going to be in a situation where your clients are rightfully really upset about how they’ve been treated, and you’re the first person, or the only person who will listen to them about it. They, you know, might also have a perception of you being a part of the system that is oppressing them. And you are, you know, so even recognizing that, that doesn’t make it easier to deal with somebody cussing you out or yelling at you or belittling you, uh, or equating you with, you know, basically being a DA or whatever. There are lots of ways that clients who have been traumatized themselves can repeat those, those words and those behaviors onto you, and I don’t think that that is adequately discussed in either office that I’ve worked in, but I will say that the one way that I found to deal with it is just to kind of like swap stories and share, share those things with other people, and then you kind of, well, this is just part of the job. You almost start to joke about it, which is not maybe the most healthy response but at least you realize that it’s, it’s really not about you, right? This is a kind of a universal experience that everybody is having and if you are feeling and maybe Dr. Chaney would have more useful language or tips for this, but if, if you’re feeling triggered by this to, you know, step away from it and remind yourself that it’s really not about you and can you re-center yourself and still be able to provide the service that you have signed up to provide for this person, regardless of whether they are showing appreciation or not.

Just a random side note, there’s a huge difference in this between, like, working in Oakland or Alameda County and working in the Northern Mariana Islands, which was really refreshing. I completely understand why systemically I think the clients that I had in Alameda County have so many more reasons to be upset and to be suspicious of public defenders or anybody in the, the kind of criminal legal system. In the Northern Mariana Islands, the sort of racial dynamics and the dynamics with the police are really, really different and generally quite friendly. And so, there was a lot more just, thank you for helping me, I’m so happy that you’re here to help me, like a lot more deferential and respectful, which was, I, I will say it made the job a lot easier to do but. That doesn’t mean that that can be transferred, you know, over to most contexts in the, in the mainland United States.

Yeah, that’s, that’s such an under talked about part of the job. I think though, like Vina was saying, it’s really not about you. And the interesting thing, at least in my experience, is I think most of the people that are angry with you actually also know that it’s not about you. And I’ve actually had several encounters with clients who they are like yelling at me, and they will say something to the effect of, I’m so angry, and I know that this isn’t your fault, but I’m just so mad, and like, you’re here, and you’re the person from the system that’s standing in front of me. Like, people, I’ve, could, I couldn’t even count how many people have said that to me.

And, I think that, because of that, like we were talking, you know, meeting people with compassion. It’s hard, but what most people just want the system just like flattens people. It doesn’t allow them to be seen or heard. I mean, the court system. I remember something Professor Tyler said when we were in clinic that I still think about all the time, which is if you were like an alien and you were dropped into the United States court system, who would you think the hearing was about based on what happens in court? Because you would never think it would be about our clients, the way that everybody’s processing and, you know, nobody’s allowed to talk.

And I think, you know, that’s why so, so much of what we can offer people in a system that’s viewed against them is our compassion and listening to them and trying to understand where they come from. And so I think in those situations, at least when I’ve been in them, sometimes. This doesn’t, like, always work, but most of the time, I think if you don’t get escalated in response, and you’re like, I’m here for you, and I hear what you’re saying, and I want to help you, and I want to hear what happened to you, and usually people will, like, it gets out of their system, and then you can have a substantive conversation, and in many ways, I actually think those can be some of, like, the better, more trusting relationships, because, you know, also, because somebody can see that you are going to stay there.

And I also think to that, and you know, that kind of trust building can take a little more work at the beginning, and often those kinds of, in my experience, interactions happen at the beginning of a, of a client relationship, but to the extent that sometimes things come up later, it can take a little more work at the beginning to invest in that kind of trust building, but I think it pays off dividends in like many different ways if you do.

So you know, I have a colleague who I learned from to do this, which is to go into the jails and visit every client that you have that’s in custody every week, which maybe may not sound like that much to you guys. But you know, I know in our office of standards that you have to visit people at least once a month, and often you’ll have these longer cases where there are updates that come that frequently.But to just go in and be like, Hey, what’s up? We don’t have any updates. I wanted to check in, and it can take more time to do that each week. But it matters so much when you’re in a position where somebody is hitting a roadblock and they’re getting upset or you know, you’re giving them bad news or or you’re like in trial and you can’t go that week you know, they trust that you would if you could and I think that trying to you know, remember that it’s not about you and still be there actually really really helps.

Thank you. Dr. Chaney?

Yeah, as it’s been said, I would say not personalizing, and like it’s been said, knowing that it’s not about you, and often, and I think this could be applied to more than just a client that’s upset, but with people that can be challenging, you know, of looking at what is the subtext of their behavior, and often it’s that they’re really hurting, and so I think with people being able to validate them and say, hey, I hear you, I hear that you’re upset, I hear that you’re angry, I hear that you’re hurting. Tell me more. Like I feel like that’s something we don’t say enough to people like I actually I want to hear your story. I care about you. I I would be upset too, and I think for you just cognitively thinking about what are the sets of circumstances that this person has lived through in order to be reacting like this because it’s probably been a lot. And then I think also on your on everyone’s and you know seeking support whether that’s through friends and being able to laugh about it or not laugh at them But you know at the situation or through speaking to your manager, or talking to a therapist, you know, or journaling, whatever it is, but making sure that you also have support.

Thank you. Other questions?

Hi there, I’m Cooper D’Agostino. I’m from the same clinic year as Nick. I was curious about some of the strategies that are employed to distinguish between stressors that are brought on by one’s own activities, one’s own experiences one’s own errors in the process of learning how to address different types of cases versus stressors that come from lack of resourcing or externally.

And how, what are the strategies that you use to distinguish between, all right, this is something I need to learn and grow and keep a growth mindset versus this is a factor that’s outside of my control. Like, are those sort of cognitive strategies? Are there different meditation strategies used for that?

And resources in the workplace and among peer groups that are useful for that.

Thank you for that question. I think we’ll ask Dr. Chaney to respond. Wait, can you say the question one more time? Sorry. Or the essence of the question.

What are sort of the preferred strategies and resources for, um, addressing internally focused stress that comes from our own the work we individually do. And that’s like, this is your brief. This is your oral argument versus a stressor that comes externally. You don’t have time to do X, Y, Z or this new development occurred and there’s no way you could have controlled for it.

Okay, so the things we can’t control versus the things that we can’t control, that is a tough one.

I’m still figuring it out. But I think one thing with the things that we can’t control is learning to forgive ourselves and knowing that we’re not going to be perfect and letting go of perfectionism. There is no way that we can do every single thing for ourselves and for everybody. And I think it’s letting it go and knowing like, okay, like. I’m still good, like I, I’m still doing my job and I’m doing the best that I can and sometimes I tell my clients, you know, if you have 30 percent to give and you give 30%, you’re actually giving 100 percent and that is okay at times. And then in terms of, I think the other question was the things we can control and the things that we can influence, doing our best, you know, like that’s, that’s all that we can do.

CDC 10-Year Celebration Dinner Speaker - Professor Ron Tyler

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Good evening, everyone. evening. We are now going to ask Abigail Thompson and David Levine to talk about a debt that must be settled.This room doesn’t have separate mics, but apparently it picks it all up. I think I’m also loud enough that I think you are too. We’ve never talked as loudly as that. So, I will start essentially by introducing Abigail and together with Abigail Cooper. Because Cooper D’Agostino will be singing for us tonight.

Part of this is that Cooper, well, there are two main reasons for this. One is that Cooper D’Agostino is an amazing, wonderfully talented singer, who anyone is lucky to hear sing. We were, we were blessed last night and I am glad that he will similarly be. But the other is that I will, They let Abigail introduce Cooper because they were the just funniest, best criminal defense clinic partner that you can imagine.

I credit them with bringing all of the clinics together and starting us talking in that big room in the clinic room because after I think about a week of listening to Cooper and Abigail arguing back and forth and back and forth rather loudly. Very quietly. Sure. Very quietly. Eventually someone from another clinic just felt the need to speak up and say, I think the answer is this, I think I’ve learned this, and this is the right answer.

And then we all just started talking with each other. It was my answer. It still continues even years and years after clinic. But I, I just feel very blessed to both Cooper and Abigail, who have become some of my best friends. And then our entire group Nick, who is here. Ashley, and Maddie, and Liz, and Alex, who are not here with us, but just, we went through thick and thin with it together, and was just a very special group.

And also, the reason, the other reasons for the debt is that, because we had such a great bond, when Cooper put his talents up for auction at the SPILF auction, Abigail and I knew that we needed to bid for it. And we did. And we won Cooper singing for us at a special event. Then COVID happened. There weren’t quite as many special events as we would have expected or thought would have happened.

Also that. And then, luckily enough, we all were able to come back together years and years later with Cooper able to sing for us at a special event. So I will turn it over to Abigail to say what Cooper’s credentials are for why this is such a special experience. Okay, so Cooper sent this to me. I’ll try to get everything right.

But Cooper has performed with numerous classical choirs throughout college and high school, including the National Music Educators Association All Eastern Conference Concert Choir as a tenor. He’s a tenor. He sang with the tenor section as the leader of the Yale Glee Club and feature, a featured cast member in three productions of the Opera Theater of Yale College.

He was a member of the Stanford Chamber Chorale, as well as the Law School Musical, all three years running, I think. Right? Yeah. And then he is still active in New York, where he practices. He’s a member of the Master Voices 2022 choir, and I assume still today, right? Not active this year, but likely.

Okay, he left then. But before, last year he performed Carmen. At Lincoln Center. So, you’re getting a nice Lincoln Center performance. Here, for free, courtesy of David and I. You’re welcome. So, for this, we’d love to bring up and introduce Cooper D’Agostino. A

brief introduction to the song. First of all, Please do enjoy your food throughout this. This is, this is dinner theater. This song in particular is not it’s not a profound work. It’s more silly and fun, kind of in the spirit of Law School Musical, from which I met some other members of CDC past and and future.

And also one of the real joys of the Stanford experience and being an attorney is you, you can still have an opportunity to perform and to tell stories outside of yourself from a different place while in different while in these legal spaces. While at Stanford Law School, I was with the Chamber Chorale they have a concert tonight coincidentally enough at 8 p.m. at the Memorial Church for people who are interested in that. And Law School Musical is that kind of opportunity, and that I’ve still been able to perform in choirs while in legal practice is, is a joy. It allows you to express a part of yourself you can’t, uh, necessarily put into a brief. The song tonight is from the musical Don Pasquale oh, opera Don Pasquale, though all operas are musicals.

Don’t, there’s no class distinction between American musical theater and operas. They’re essentially the same thing, but the same role. This number is very silly. It is, it is a sales pitch, in a sense. A crotchety old man of of stubborn opinions and intolerant opinions is about to be clowned upon over the course of an entire opera.

And it all begins, uh, with this sales pitch of a woman who doesn’t exist, who may yet change who he is a beautiful angel all developed in the mind of a doctor who knows that his patient It could learn a lesson or two, not from medicine, but from the heart.

It’s okay. Also, apologies. Normally I do this with an accompanist and I have slight control over certain timings. So, I may be off by a slight millisecond here or two, but I will I will adjust as needed to catch up with a, er. You’re gonna do great! That’s mine? That’s mine. Bravo. Opera singing.

[singing] Lilo, fresca si come un giglio, Tresa presso un mattino. Occhio che palla e ride, Suo ardo di porti inquile. Occhio che palla e ride, Suo ardo di porti inquile. Ch’io mal che vinceva, no, Sorriso incantator, Sorriso incantator.

Alba, innocente, ingenua, che sempre del spagnola potesti amparreggiabile bontà, bella ora, ai misericchia tua, Gentil, dolce, amorosa. Oh, il c’è la fata nacere, farveato un conto.

Beato in cor. Il c’è la fatta nascere, e fa beato in cor, e fa beato in cor. Il c’è la fatta nascere, e fa beato in cor. [end of song]

This is, this is the time in our. Our day together, our two days together, where when I first envisioned this, it was like, well this is kind of like state of the CDC or something, you know but that just seems way too formal and stuffy or something, so I’m throwing that away, but it is, it is definitely a time for both for those who are present as well as those who will be watching this later because it’s recorded, to have the opportunity to just reflect on, on where we are, where we’ve been.

And so I, I think the place that I definitely need to start is by doing what I did for those of you who were here who were with us last night, which is thanking our donors. I want to first, thank Katherine Lin and her husband, Ben Maurer. Katherine is here today. Thank you so much for opening your home to us last night, or last afternoon, which became night. Ben was like, OK, it’s time to leave, everybody. It’s like, you’re not going to shut the place down. So, it was wonderful to have that time in your beautiful home. Thank you so much for opening your home to the CDC.

Also, thank you to the anonymous donors. It reminds me of, like, way back in the day, Saturday Night Live, the Anonymous comic or something, you know? The unknown comic. So we have the unknown donor who actually is responsible for everything that you’re eating and drinking and all the costs involved are due to our anonymous donor. I mean, I know who it is, but I’m not telling you. I know how to keep a secret. So I’m saying thank you very much for that.

Also, thank you to the person who is focused on me right now, Christine Baker, our photographer. Many of you know that she also has been retained by the law school, by the clinics on picture day. She is our photographer. And so we knew that there would be no one better to chronicle these events than Christine Baker. And so I want to thank you.

Also, thank you to SLS programs for all of the support Giselle is with us here right now. Thank you.

It’s been a process, it’s been months in the planning, it may not feel like it, actually the best events never feel like they’ve been so carefully planned, believe you me, it’s been very carefully planned. Also. Later, when they’re watching this, the members of SLSAV, hopefully will see this and see that we’re thanking them as well for all of their support, which has really been incredible.

I also want to thank all of the staff, the catering staff right now, who I see in the back. so much. And I want to take a moment, oh, Daniela, do you have what we need? I want to take a moment to recognize the members of the Criminal Defense Clinic past and present who are here today. And so that includes somebody who’s not here, actually, I just said who are here today.

Galia Amram was with us last night. She couldn’t be present today. Galia was the first clinical supervising attorney for the Criminal Defense Clinic. She arrived in November of 2012 to help with the planning for the very first quarter which was then the winter quarter of 2013. She was with us 2013 and 2014.

I want to thank Suzanne Luban, our second Clinical Supervising Attorney, and the and the Associate Director, Emerita. And Carlie Ware Horne, our current Clinical Supervising Attorney. If they would both come up now, this would be a good opportunity. so much. You can have that one. You’re very welcome.

You have a new child. Okay, we’ll be over there. You have a new child. so much. Wow, Ron. So, Suzanne, we had a wonderful, wonderful retirement event for you in March, but I don’t know of anyone who was present today other than the two of us, and Daniela was present for that event. Daniela wasn’t present. Yeah.

Daniela wasn’t present yet either. So, I want to take this opportunity with this audience and those who will watch later, to offer, again, my deep appreciation. for 10 incredible years of collaboration. Thank you for your partnership. Thank you for your crazy hard work, for your creativity, and for your deep care for our clients and our students.

Thank you so much. Not yet, not yet. Okay, fine. Carlie, Carlie, we are so lucky that we have you now in the clinic. You know, for those who are just meeting you now, actually I’m glad that they saw you on your panel this morning. Because now they know, they know, that you live and you work fearlessly, and passionately, and according to values that are central to the work we do.

Word. Currently. Word. Word. So I’m hoping for many years of work together. So thank you both. And I want you both to have an opportunity to share some words with our assembled audience. Suzanne? I just want to say I’m so glad you guys came and the people who were here last night and the combination of all of you. I just had, like a peak experience and it was so meaningful to me.

And so being able to, and the people who were, who I had to talk to, like David, who was on the stage, but I know what you’re doing, and the people who are on the stage today I just feel so proud of you and so profoundly grateful to all of you and to Ron for the experience that I have had in the ten years, who knew, right? Of my last ten years of my career. Which is what it’s all about. Super amazing.

A dream come true. Like, this is my workplace. I get to be here and learn from all of you and to help kind of cultivate the next generation of advocates here. It’s just amazing and Ron is such an intentional and inspiring mentor. It’s just an honor. It seems kind of unfair that I actually get compensated by money to work at this job because I get compensated in so many other ways already.

So I mean, I’ll take the money. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of being part of this amazing community. It’s like, it’s just incredible.

So I, and I love the family, I love the family, you know, there are a number of people who say, well, I can come, but can I bring my family, like, I hope so, I sure hope so. So this whole event, of course, has, has put me in a very reflective mood. I’ve been a public defender for 33 years, 33 years. First in federal courts, and now in the state and federal courts.

Fighting for true justice, standing with people who are ostracized, being ostracized myself. And now over a decade, sharing this journey with students and colleagues at SLS. It’s rewarding, but it’s also often hard. Tara Brock, who was the founder of the Insight Meditation Center of Washington. talks about finding true refuge in troubled times.

For public defenders really every day is a troubled time. Um, Tara Brock talks about true refuge meaning refuge in truth, refuge in community, and refuge in awareness. She talks about it as, as, as refuge in terms that are Buddhist terms, refuge in the Buddha, refuge in dharma, and, and refuge in awareness, but she invites us and encourages us to use the terms that work for us.

When I think about refuge in truth, I think about how mindfulness meditation brings us to the present moment. That’s refuge in truth. When I think about refuge in community, we talked about it here in so many conversations today about community. About recognizing a refuge in those with shared values and compassion for each other.

And when I think about refuge in awareness, I think about a recognition of who we truly are in that still, quiet space at the center of everything.

For me, there’s a place in nature, often, that fosters my ability to find true refuge. And if the slides cooperate, I will come to that.

This is, this is Point Arena in Mendocino County. Absolutely beautiful, beautiful place on the planet. Places that I have returned to. Year after year, for the entire time that I told you that I’ve been a public defender. And it truly has been a place, and continues to be a place, that awakens within me the ability to find true refuge in truth, in love, and in awareness.

You know, looking at the photos of the teams and the clients that We saw on these screens earlier and listening to the music of protest and redemption and celebration. These things allow us to focus on what matters. I’ve often said the time in clinic offers us an opportunity to spend our life energy on something that truly matters.

Standing up for those who are oppressed. Giving a voice to those on the margins.

For every photo that you saw, there are so many stories of the ways in which lives have been changed. Lives of our clients, lives of our students, lives of those of us on the CDC team.

You know, just a few miles up from that video that I took with the crashing waves and the sense of the struggle of the back and forth. Just a few miles up is this striking photo of a cove at Russian Gulch. And it’s striking to me because it’s, it’s so peaceful, it’s the same coast. It’s the same coast, it’s just a few miles further, but it’s protected from the tides.

It’s a place of refuge, a place for reflection. I’m reminded that even in times of great struggle and tumult, we can find refuge. I also like the photo because it, it also shows a flourishing ecosystem. My analogy here is I think of all of the students who passed through the Criminal Defense Clinic All of you who are now out flourishing and making a difference in the world.

And I see some of the trees here clinging tenaciously to the cliffside and I think of the resiliency skills that clinic stands for and that are displayed by all of you in so many ways. When I think of perseverance, I think of growth, I’m excited about the current and future directions of the Criminal Defense Clinic.

Exposing the daily unconstitutional acts of police through Fourth Amendment suppression cases, freeing clients from completely unnecessary supervision through federal early termination cases, collaborating with legal nonprofits in impact litigation, joining in movement lawyering, and redoubling our commitment to nurturing resiliency in the work.

I encourage you, those of you who are present here in the audience, those of you who watch later, I encourage you to reflect on the lessons you’ve learned and that you continue to learn through a life of service that’s grounded in these core values, centering impacted communities. Having the courage to get into good trouble. Like the late John Lewis, civil rights icon, would say. And nurturing compassion. Compassion for yourself. And compassion for others. Thank you all so much for being here.

CDC Celebrates Alum and Author Katherine Lin

Katherine Lin

Katherine Lin
Katherine Lin is an attorney and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area and a graduate of Northwestern University and Stanford Law School. You Can’t Stay Here Forever is her debut novel.

You Can’t Stay Here Forever book cover

Named a must-read book of summer by: Good Morning America, People, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Desperate to obliterate her past, a young widow flees San Francisco for the French Riviera in this compelling debut, a tale of loss, rebirth, modern friendship, and romance that blends Sally Rooney’s wryness and psychological insight with Emma Straub’s gorgeous scene-setting and rich relationships.

Just days after her young, handsome husband dies in a car accident, Ellie Huang discovers that he had a mistress—one of her own colleagues at a prestigious San Francisco law firm. Acting on impulse—or is it grief? rage? Probably all three—Ellie cashes in Ian’s life insurance policy for an extended stay at the luxurious Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes, France. Accompanying her is her free-spirited best friend, Mable Chou. Ellie hopes that the five-star resort on the French Riviera, with its stunning clientele and floral-scented cocktails, will be a heady escape from the real world. And at first it is. She and Mable meet an intriguing couple, Fauna and Robbie, and as their poolside chats roll into wine-soaked dinners, the four become increasingly intimate.

But the sunlit getaway soon turns into a reckoning for Ellie, as long-simmering tensions and uncomfortable truths swirl to the surface.

Taking the reader from San Francisco to the gilded luxury of the south of France, You Can’t Stay Here Forever is a sharply funny and exciting debut that explores the slippery nature of marriage, the push and pull between friends, and the interplay of race and privilege, seen through the eyes of a young Asian American woman.