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Millions without a Voice — Amy Goodman on Felony Disenfranchisement

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Millions Without a Voice

By Amy Goodman

As I raced into our TV studio for our Super Tuesday morning-after show, I was excited. Across the country, initial reports indicated there was unprecedented voter participation, at least in the Democratic primaries, several times higher than in previous elections. For years I have covered countries like Haiti, where people risk death to vote, while the U.S. has one of the lowest participation rates in the industrialized world. Could it be this year would be different?

Then I bumped into a friend and asked if he had voted. “I can’t vote,” he said, “because I did time in prison.” I asked him if he would have voted. “Sure I would have. Because then I’m not just talking junk, I’m doing something about it.”

Felony disenfranchisement is the practice by state governments of barring people convicted of a felony from voting, even after they have served their time. In Virginia and Kentucky, people convicted of any felony can never vote again (this would include “Scooter” Libby, even though he never went to jail, unless he is pardoned). Eight other states have permanent felony disenfranchisement laws, with some conditions that allow people to rejoin the voter rolls: Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Disenfranchisement—people being denied their right to vote—takes many forms, and has a major impact on electoral politics. In Ohio in 2004, stories abounded of inoperative voting machines, too few ballots or too few voting machines. Then there was Florida in 2000. Many continue to believe that the election was thrown to George W. Bush by Ralph Nader, who got about 97,000 votes in Florida. Ten times that number of Floridians are prevented from voting at all. Why? Currently, more than 1.1 million Floridians have been convicted of a felony and thus aren’t allowed to vote. We can’t know for sure how they would have voted, but as scholar, lawyer and activist Angela Davis said recently in a speech honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Mobile, Ala., “If we had not had the felony disenfranchisement that we have, there would be no way that George Bush would be in the White House.”

Since felony disenfranchisement disproportionately affects African-American and Latino men in the U.S., and since these groups overwhelmingly vote Democratic, the laws bolster the position of the Republican Party. The statistics are shocking. Ryan King, policy analyst with The Sentencing Project in Washington, D.C., summarized the latest:

About 5.3 million U.S. citizens are ineligible to vote due to felony disenfranchisement; 2 million of them are African-American. Of these, 1.4 million are African-American men, which translates into an incredible 13 percent of that population, a rate seven times higher than in the overall population. Forty-eight states have some version of felony disenfranchisement on the books. All bar voting from prison, then go on to bar participation while on parole or probation. Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow prisoners to vote from behind the walls, as does Canada and a number of other countries.

The politicians and pundits are all abuzz with the massive turnouts in the primaries and caucuses. There are increasing percentages of women participating, and initial reports point to more young people. The youth vote is particularly important, as young people have less invested in the status quo and can look with fresh eyes at long-standing injustices that disenfranchise so many. In this context, one of The Sentencing Project’s predictions bears repeating here: “Given current rates of incarceration, 3 in 10 of the next generation of black men can expect to be disenfranchised at some point in their lifetime. In states that disenfranchise ex-offenders, as many as 40 percent of black men may permanently lose their right to vote.

The Sentencing Project’s King said: “We are constantly pushing for legislative change around the country. But public education is absolutely key. There are so many different laws that people simply don’t know when their right to vote has been restored. That includes the personnel who work in state governments giving out the wrong information.”

I called my friend to tell him he was misinformed. He hadn’t been on probation or parole for years. “You can vote,” I told him. “You just have to register.” I could hear him smile through the phone.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America.

© 2008 Amy Goodman

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20080206_felony_disenfranchisement/

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Written by Arroyoribera

February 21, 2008 at 9:33 pm

Zero Diversity in Spokane’s Major Law Firms

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The Washington State Bar Association publication Law and Politics (June/July 2003) ran an article entitled “Gaining and Retaining Diversity: How well do law firms keep their promise of a diverse environment?” by Paul Freeman.

The article and graphic were based on a survey of Washington State law firms conducted by the Washington State Latina/o Bar Association, the Loren Miller Bar Association, and the Asian Bar Association of Washington.

Several law firms did not respond, among them Spokane based firms Lukins & Annis, P.S. (35 attorneys); Witherspoon, Kelley, Davenport, and Toole, P.S (50 attorneys); and Paine, Hamblen, Coffin, Brooke & Miller, LLC (55 attorneys).

It is not difficult to see why these firms would not have responded to the survey.

A look 5 years later at the websites for these large Spokane-based law firms shows that they have no attorneys of non-European ethnicity whatsoever. (On the WKDT and PHCBM websites you will have to click on the names of the individual attorneys.)

And this despite the presence of a well-known Jesuit law school — Gonzaga — in Spokane.

This non-diverse reality is reflected throughout the Spokane professional, political, educational, and arts communities. While more than one in ten residents of Spokane is of a diverse ethnic background, that reality is not seen in the offices of government, medicine, law, business, education, social work, religion, or virtually anything else in this community.

The consequences in the application of justice are seen in on the streets and in the court room as recently seen in a well-publicized Spokane court case revealing blatantly racist statements by Spokane jurors regarding an attorney of Asian heritage.

The consequences in the emergency room and in doctors’ offices are experienced on a daily basis by patients who do not receive language appropriate services required under the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and other provisions of law. In Spokane these failures to comply with the law happen on a daily and flagrant basis. As a result, adverse outcomes and deaths have occurred), conditions have been misdiagnosed, and much humiliation and abuse has been suffered (as in the death of 9-year-old Rocio Rodriguez, for example.)

The consequences in the class room are that non-English speaking students do not receive notice of extracurricular and enrichment activities and access to musical instruments in their parents’ languages and thus talented and worthy children are excluded from participation. Beyond that, the larger community and society is denied the fruits of their talents and abilities.

Given that most, if not all, of these matters of access, equity, and justice must be adjudicated in the final instance through the legal system, the lack of diversity in the Spokane legal profession, from law school, to law practice, to public service law agencies, to court room has long-lasting repercussions on the lives of people in Spokane and raises fundamental questions of access to justice which should be matters of major concern for everyone involved in civil rights in Spokane and the betterment of our minority communities.

The time for change in Spokane is long since past. Why has change not come?

Could the answer be “entrenched racism”?

*******************************

Spokane County Bar Association diversity page

Written by Arroyoribera

February 10, 2008 at 11:21 am

Racial Slurs Result in Spokane Re-trial

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“…people are never forthright with their prejudices … rarely, if ever, will people disclose that”. — Spokane County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Austin

Jurors’ name-calling prompts new trial

By Karen Dorn Steele

The Spokesman-Review

A Spokane County Superior Court judge has ordered a new trial in a medical malpractice case where a Spokane attorney of Japanese descent was repeatedly referred to as “Mr. Kamikaze” and other racially charged names during jury deliberations.

Judge Robert D. Austin said he was surprised when he received attorney Mark D. Kamitomo’s motion for a new trial in mid-December, based in part on the racial comments.

“We’d hoped we’d moved beyond this, and we apparently have not.

It’s upsetting,” a visibly emotional Austin said during a court hearing Friday. Austin said he could not be confident the jury verdict that went against Kamitomo’s client and cleared a local doctor of negligence was not a result of juror misconduct.

“We have uncontested affidavits that these remarks were made. It’s an expression of prejudice to Mr. Kamitomo’s ethnicity,” Austin said.

The trial verdict was read on Dec. 7 – the 66th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

According to Jack Marchant and Mark Costigan, two jurors who approached Kamitomo after the verdict, five other jurors – three women and two men – mocked Kamitomo during their closed-door proceedings. They called him names including “Mr. Kamikaze,” “Mr. Miyashi” and “Mr. Miyagi,” a character in the movie “The Karate Kid.”

One juror also said that because the verdict was going to be read on Pearl Harbor day, the remarks made about Kamitomo were “almost appropriate,” according to Costigan’s affidavit.

In a second affidavit filed Jan. 14, Marchant, a Washington State University professor in Spokane, says affidavits weren’t obtained from two jurors, Patricia Menke and Zorana Beerbohm, who used Asian nicknames to refer to Kamitomo.

“To the best of my recollection, these two individuals and Brenda Canfield, who has admitted to referring to Mr. Kamitomo in her Affidavit as ‘Mr. Miyashi,’ were the three female jurors,” Marchant said in his affidavit. Juror Steven Walther referred to Kamitomo as “Mr. Havacoma,” showing a “lack of objectivity,” Marchant said.

Dr. Nathan P. Stime was the Spokane doctor cleared of malpractice charges by the jury’s “no negligence” finding. His attorney, Brian Rekofke, obtained affidavits from seven jurors as part of his motion opposing a new trial.

Those jurors didn’t deny the names were used, but they said they were used not as racial insults but because they had trouble pronouncing the names of both Rekofke and Kamitomo.

That’s implausible, Austin said, noting that no juror affidavits reported any “bastardization” of Rekofke’s “Middle European” name.

“Frankly, I can’t conceive of people seriously undertaking their responsibility and using those kinds of nicknames when it’s one-sided,” Austin said.

Rekofke asked Austin to bring the jurors into court and question them about their comments.

“The jurors are very upset they are being called a racist jury. They’d like to be heard,” Rekofke said.

Austin rejected that request. “What if they say, ‘I’m not a racist’? What does that do for me?” Austin asked.

He noted that in the history of discrimination cases in the United States, “people are never forthright with their prejudices … rarely, if ever, will people disclose that.”

When the new trial of Darlene and Bill Turner v. Stime is scheduled, Austin said, he’ll need to determine a way to directly address the issue of Kamitomo’s ethnicity during voir dire, the process of selecting a jury.

“At a new trial, we’re going to have a difficult time talking to jurors about Mr. Kamitomo’s ethnicity. But it will be discussed,” he said.

After the hearing, Kamitomo said he was happy with Austin’s ruling. “The judge paid attention and did the right thing,” he said.

Kamitomo grew up in southern Alberta and graduated from Gonzaga Law School in 1989. He also practices in Honolulu.

His father, Doug Kamitomo, was 8 when his family was seized in Vancouver, B.C., and relocated to a Canadian internment camp after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Written by Arroyoribera

February 9, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Courts, History, Racism

Spokane attorney seeks new trial over alleged juror racism

Seattle P-I January 15, 2008

Spokane attorney seeks new trial over alleged juror racism

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SPOKANE, Wash. — Attorney Mark D. Kamitomo is asking for a new trial in a medical malpractice case after learning that some jurors allegedly mocked his Japanese heritage during closed-door deliberations.

The Spokane County jury ruled against Kamitomo’s client, clearing a doctor accused of negligence in a cancer diagnosis.

But juror Jack Marchant sought out Kamitomo after the trial and told him five jurors – three women and two men – had disparaged Kamitomo in jury proceedings, calling him “Mr. Kamikaze,” “Mr. Miyashi” and “Mr. Miyagi,” a character in the movie “The Karate Kid.”

“I was surprised,” Kamitomo said. “My first inclination was to ask, ‘Is this just harmless?’ But as (Marchant) told his story, that wasn’t how it came across.”

A second juror, Mark Costigan, also contended there was racial bias in the jury deliberations. Costigan has provided an affidavit on what he observed in the jury room.

Kamitomo, whose father was sent to an internment camp at Lemon Creek, British Columbia, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, is asking Superior Court Judge Robert D. Austin for a new trial based on the comments.

“Plaintiffs are entitled to a new trial because the evidence did not support the verdict and, further, the verdict was not decided by an unbiased and unprejudiced jury,” his motion said.

Austin will hear the motion on Jan. 25.

Brian T. Rekofke, an attorney for Dr. Nathan P. Stime, the Spokane physician who is the defendant in the medical malpractice case, is opposing Kamitomo’s motion for a new trial for plaintiffs Darlene and Bill Turner.

“The verdict was 10-2,” Rekofke said Monday. “The affidavits filed were by the two dissenting jurors. Mark is a hell of a good lawyer, but I’m disappointed that he’s playing the race card here.”

Rekofke has obtained affidavits from seven other jurors that contradict the claims of racial bias.

“My vote finding that Dr. Stime was not negligent was based on the evidence and not in any manner, shape or form affected by the race or ethnicity of any of the parties or their attorneys,” said juror Melody Weaver, a nurse.

Similar affidavits were signed by jurors Jack Lisenbee, Deborah Hagarty, Steven Walther, Brenda Canfield, Jon Smitham and David Smith.

Canfield said she referred to Kamitomo as “Mr. Miyashi” as a “memory device” to recall what he’d said in court. Smith acknowledged calling Kamitomo “Mr. Kamikaze” but denied any racial bias.

Kamitomo, 51, grew up in southern Alberta and graduated from Gonzaga Law School in 1989.

“I’ve never experienced this here or elsewhere. I’m not someone who cries race when I lose,” Kamitomo said. “In a million years, I never thought a jury would have subtle biases towards me and would take that out on my client.”

Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesmanreview.com

Written by Arroyoribera

January 25, 2008 at 5:17 am

Posted in Courts