Illinois Student Bar calling on Professor to resign amid pervasive sexual harassment

Image result for university of illinois college of lawPer Julie Wurth of the News Gazette, the Illinois student bar association is calling upon the University to force sanctioned professor Jay Kesan to resign over multiple issues of sexual harassment following an investigation into his conduct in 2017. From Wurth; “The investigation was launched in 2015 following complaints filed by two former UI law professors, who are now teaching elsewhere, and a former law student now working in Chicago. The three women accused Kesan of talking with them during professional interactions about his sex life and views on adultery, inquiring about their sex lives, making veiled references to masturbation, inviting them to stay at his apartment in Chicago, rubbing one student’s thigh during a meeting in his office and failing to respect their personal space, according to the report.” 38 anonymous witnesses in interviews also suggested that Kasan’s behavior was ongoing and made for an uncomfortable work environment. Certain students even felt forced to drop out of his class altogether because of Kasan’s actions. The investigation pretty much corroborated all of this, but instead of firing the tenured professor, he has only had to undergo sexual harassment training and a few minor penalties to his salary. According to the investigation, Kasan’s actions were not pervasive enough to warrant firing, and thus the illinois student bar has responded with outrage. There’s going to be a townhall next week where administrators and law school dean Vikram Amar will face questions over their handling of the investigation and the subsequent penalties-or lack thereof- handed out. The student bar concluded that if Kasan’s actions aren’t considered too pervasive according to institution policy, than policy needs to be changed. Kasan for his part, had the usual oh I didn’t mean it did that way but i’m sorry it got interpreted like that response.  “In a statement this week, Kesan apologized for his conduct and said it was “never my intent to offend anyone.” He said he’s been careful to make sure that his words and deeds don’t cause offense moving forward. The report said Kesan “denied engaging any colleague or student in a sexual manner,” and said other friendly gestures such as hugs, reassuring pats or invitations to male and female colleagues to use his Chicago apartment may have been misinterpreted. He also said he may stand too close to people because of his hearing loss.” As mentioned before, Kasan is a tenured professor of over 20 years and continues to teach elective classes. The school i’m sure will respond that it followed the investigations recommendations on how to handle this issue but like the student bar questioned, are the schools policies even an appropriate measuring stick for this kind of misconduct? This isn’t just a one off complaint, these are allegations that an actual investigation confirmed to be viable and yet Kasan has received a slap on the wrist. Sure there are further penalties if Kasan violates any part of his punishment, but is that really incentive enough to prevent further behavior like this from other people in power? Shouldn’t the school set an example and say that there is a zero tolerance policy for this kind of behavior, especially from those in power positions? The kinds of things Kasan did he may think are harmless, but in reality he leveraged his position of power against these women and that is harmful. He made his work environment an unsafe one, and once someone does that, shouldn’t that be the last straw? There were 38 other witnesses who testified to the fact Kasan has exhibited this sort of behavior for years. The school didn’t punish him then when he was making his work environment unsafe, so why should the students believe that the school will ever punish him now? Because they made him undergo sexual harassment training? The punishment is toothless and the student bar has every right to be angry. What does pervasive enough even mean? If an investigation can conclude that Kasan “violated the spirit of UI policies prohibiting sexual harassment and sexual misconduct and violated the more general University’s Code of Conduct” without being pervasive enough than what is pervasive enough?

The Burden of Proof

burden-1296754_960_720The Burden of Proof has held a prominent place in the zeitgeist over the past couple of weeks.  With Senators and pundits arguing over what burden of proof Justice Kavanaugh should be afforded, to the case of People v. Jason Van Dyke playing out live on the internet for the world to see, discussion over the burden of proof has been front and center.  Without commenting on the substance of Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation, and without commenting on the outcome of the Van Dyke trial, we here at LauraLaw thought that these past few weeks created a great opportunity to talk about the burden of proof – what is it?  How does it work?  When does it apply?

The Burden of Proof Generally

Every legal case has a burden of proof.  The burden of proof determines which party is responsible for providing the evidence to prove their case.  Almost every case applies the burden of proof to the “moving party” – or, the party that brings the case to court.  In civil cases, the moving party is the Plaintiff, and in criminal cases, the moving party is the Government.  At certain stages of the case, before trial, the “moving party” can be the defendant, and at that stage, the defendant will bear the burden of proof.  For example, if a criminal defendant files a Motion to Suppress evidence, he has the burden to prove that the officer did not act within the boundaries of the Constitution.  At trial, however, the “moving party” is the Plaintiff (civil) or the Government (criminal).

Evidentiary Standards applied to the Burden of Proof

While the moving party is the party that bears the burden of proof, the nature of the proceedings determines which evidentiary standard is applied to the burden of proof.  The “evidentiary standard” is the degree of certainty that is required for the moving party to carry their burden of proof.  In other words, the evidentiary standard dictates how certain the deciding body (judge, jury, etc.) must be that the moving party proved the elements of their claim.

In criminal cases, the government has the highest burden of proof in any case – Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.  The standard of Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt is so axiomatic in criminal cases that it is codified in the Illinois Criminal Code under 720 ILCS 5/3-1, is explicitly named by the Illinois Supreme Court (see People v. Weinstein, 35 Ill. 2d 467 (1966)), and explicitly held by the Supreme Court of the United States in In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970).  While the court will not define “Reasonable Doubt” for a jury, the concept is stated to mean “such doubt as would give rise to a grave uncertainty, raised in your mind by reasons of the unsatisfactory character of the evidence or lack thereof . . . .  What is required is not an absolute or mathematical certainty, but a moral certainty.”  Victor v. Nebraska, 511 U.S. 1 (1994).  A criminal defendant is presumed to be innocent until the Government proves each and every element of their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and only upon meeting that burden of proof can someone be considered guilty of a crime in the court of law.  Such a high burden of proof exists in criminal cases because such cases infringe upon a person’s rights to liberty and those liberty rights are sacred.

In civil cases, the moving party generally bears the lowest burden of proof – Proof by a Preponderance of the Evidence.  Proof by a Preponderance of the Evidence has been defined as “more likely than not.”  In other words, if a plaintiff sues a defendant for damages arising out of a car accident, it is up to the plaintiff to provide enough evidence to make the jury think it is more likely that the defendant caused the injuries than not.  The lower burden applies in civil cases (and elsewhere) because civil cases generally do not jeopardize a person’s constitutionally guaranteed rights.  While a person’s life is at stake in a criminal case, it is usually money that is at stake in a civil case.

Some civil cases carry a burden of proof that lies somewhere between Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and Proof by a Preponderance of the Evidence – Proof by Clear and Convincing Evidence.  Proof by Clear and Convincing Evidence requires not only proof that the fact is “more likely than not,” but proof that the fact is “substantially more likely than not.”  Such a standard is not as stringent as proof beyond a reasonable doubt but rises above the preponderance of the evidence burden.

Burden of Proof Outside the Court of Law

In proceedings outside the court of law, the burden of proof is not controlled by the criminal or civil case law discussed above.  Instead, the burden of proof is set by the body that is requesting proof.  For example, if you are applying for a job, it is incumbent upon your employer to weigh any bad facts about you against any good facts about you and give each category however much weight he or she wants.  Such facts need not be proved beyond a reasonable doubt as a matter of law.  Likewise, the “court of public opinion” tends to hold people to a much lower burden of proof than the courts do – often requiring nothing more than their opinion to evaluate claims against another person.

Burden of Proof in Our Practice

Whatever the venue or whatever the circumstances, we always believe it is best practice to know our audience.  Part of knowing our audience is knowing our burden of proof if any.  After determining that burden of proof, we can effectively create a strategy of presenting evidence to meet that burden of proof.  Whether we’re representing a criminal defendant in court, where the prosecutor is required to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, or a professional in an administrative procedure, we value preparation so we know the hurdles we must clear before we move forward.

If you should find yourself facing a burden of proof – in criminal court or an administrative hearing – do not hesitate to contact us here at LauraLaw, and we will be happy to represent you in your journey toward meeting that burden.

Is the new Opioid/Medical Marijuana law going to cause headaches for people who need pain killers?


Last week governor Rauner passed a measure that allowed patients with prescriptions to Opioids to be able to substitute Medical marijuana for them instead. The bill was approved by the state legislature a few months earlier and had bipartisan support.  I hailed the new law as a a step in the right direction for progressive health laws, albeit an incredibly small one. I had in mind that it was a refreshing expansion of the Illinois medical marijuana program which has been one of the most conservatively and ineptly run in the country. I also believed that it was giving people something they wanted, as the majority of Cook County is in favor of legalization and the expansion of the medical marijuana program. Finally, I thought that even though studies were inconclusive about medical marijuanas utility for people addicted to painkillers and that it could not be the major factor in recovery, it could still be a small one and provide people struggling with more access to it and therefore more options. There are a number of issues however with those assumptions that in further thinking about, I thought would be worth a follow up. My biggest concern is more a question that i’m still not sure of the answer to. For people with this Opioid exemption, does being given access to medical marijuana mean that they are not able to get any amount of painkillers? If so, that would be wrong and I would be against that. The medical marijuana exemption should be about providing access and therefore options for a patient who may be struggling with opioid addiction but not a wholesale different treatment plan. Patients on opioids can’t just be forced to stop them cold turkey and then be given medical marijuana like that is the solution. Patients should be able to have both access to the pain meds they need and medical marijuana that may give them an option that can decrease their dependency on those meds. That “instead” is part of the language used in the bill is worrying and something I should’ve picked up upon originally. The very nature of the word substitution should’ve tipped me off that this could be a concern and I mostly ignored it out of laziness. Furthermore, who is allowed to initiate this substitution? If the patients doctor is allowed to look at the patient’s file and determine that they should be given medical marijuana instead of opioids, that would be wrong as well and directly the opposite of putting the people’s voices at the center of health policy. If the patient is the only who can initiate this, then that would be better as it would at least give the person a choice. However, Like I said before, this shouldn’t have to be an either/or. Does a person who is on Opioids who also desires a medical marijuana card and is eligible for it, then have to give up their prescription to opioids? Again, this would be wrong and completely counter to what people have been asking for. It seems like this leaves the possibility for doctors and the state to hold patients opioid access hostage if they desire a medical marijuana card. Those questions need further evaluation and a follow up that I will hopefully provide in the near future.  

Rauner signs law approving Medical Cannabis as Opioid Substitute

In June, this blog detailed how the Illinois legislature approved a measure allowing people with Opioid prescriptions to have access to medical cannabis as a substitute. The measure also made it so doctor’s orders would be the basis of a patient’s ability to access medical cannabis, rather than the bureaucratic process of the Department of Health. But maybe most importantly, it also eliminated the time costly criminal background checks and fingerprinting that patients had to submit to. On Tuesday, Robert McCoppin of the Tribune writes that Rauner officially signed the measure into law. The law crucially includes those criminal background check removals and the sidelining of the department of health when it comes to approving patients access. From the article, “We’ve got to do everything we can to stop this vicious epidemic,” the governor said as he signed the bill into law on Chicago’s West Side on Tuesday. “… We are creating an alternative to opioid addiction. … It’s clear that medical marijuana treats pain effectively, and is less addictive and disruptive than opioids.” As both this blog mentioned in June and McCoppin mentions in his article, Rauner is facing some political pressure from Pritzker(who is for legalization) that undoubtedly was a factor in him making this decision. As a whole Rauner has mainly been against expanding the medical marijuana program and as he said even when signing this measure into law on Tuesday, he is still against legalization. I’ve written a lot about how the Illinois department of health has failed the people it is supposed to serve, mainly because it so so damn restrictive. Illinois is the only state that enforced that criminal background check and it unfairly denied a number of felons the access to a product that now even the governor admits has medical utility. So, all this is good news and a very small forward when it comes to progressive health laws. However, as McCoppin’s article shows, nothing about this is clear cut.

The article delved into the debate over whether or not Medical Cannabis actually is helpful to those with Opioid addictions, and if this measure will be helpful if it is. McCoppin cites a number of opinions on the issue. “Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said research has shown clear evidence that marijuana can be effective for treating pain and can reduce opioid use and opioid overdose deaths. He cited a National Academy of Sciences review that found “substantial evidence“ that marijuana is effective for treating chronic pain in adults. “And initiatives like this frankly just makes sense,” Shah said. As I’ve insulted the department of Health pretty constantly, it would be a bit disingenuous to just take their word. Kevin Sabet, the president of a group called “Smart Approaches to Marijuana” had a much different take. “From a scientific perspective, it makes no sense,” Sabet said. “The most comprehensive study on the issue was just published in The Lancet and found marijuana didn’t help with pain, nor did it reduce opioid use.  “From a political perspective,” Sabet added, “it likely signals he feels pressure from J.B. Pritzker, who has welcomed pot with open arms.” It’s important to put into context who Kevin Sabet is and what exactly his groups goal is. Sabet is a former three time White House Office of National Drug Control Policy adviser who was tasked on behalf of the presidents he served with justifying to the public why Marijuana should remain illegal. Now he runs his private non profit group to try and keep legalization from happening in the United States, pointing to numerous studies like the Lancet one he mentioned as proof. It’s important to note that SAM is against criminalization and harsh financial penalties for Marijuana use, and that it claims to be fighting basically against corporate tyranny in the form of big weed companies. While I do think there is something to the critique of what SAM calls “Big Weed” I find the arguments they use as weak and more like deflections to a few pertinent facts. One of those facts being, the people want legalization! If we claim to be a democratic country and the vast majority of people want something, then why should a group like SAM have more sway in policy? Why should the opinions of a person who worked in the damn Whitehouse override the opinions of the majority of the public? I do think that big weed companies are problematic and are more taking advantage of people’s pain for profit rather than actually caring about their well being. But, that doesn’t take away from the fact that no one has overdosed to death on Marijuana, and that the vast majority of people want it. Here’s what McCoppin writes about the Lancet study, “The Lancet study, published in July by substance abuse researchers, involved interviews and surveys of about 1,500 non-cancer patients in Australia with opioid prescriptions for chronic pain. Following up after four years, participants who used cannabis reported more severe pain than people who did not use cannabis, with no evidence cannabis decreased opioid use.” (McCoppin) Here is a link to the study,

I would be ignorant to make criticism of the study when I am not at all qualified. Again though, I think the question is more about what the people are asking for and have voted for. I don’t know if Medical Cannabis is actually any sort of solution to the opioid crisis but I know that it is better to take than pain killers, hasn’t killed anyone, and is wanted by the vast majority of people. I think there are a lot of deeper issues causing the Opioid crisis that go far beyond Marijuana access, like access to healthcare and addiction services. But if a person finds that using it helps ease their pain enough to avoid using pain killers or even just enough to decrease dependence on pain killers, then I don’t see why it should be denied. Another important detail on Kevin Sabet’s SAM group. A ton of their funding has come from a retired millionaire art collector named Julie Schauer, whose views on Marijuana are….less than intelligent. Here’s a snippet of her talking about the evils of weed and its backers on Facebook. “Marijuana was the drug of choice of the Tsarnaev brothers, the recent Santa Barbara shooter(note his video, smoke pot everyday.) James Holmes, Jared Loughner. The POT PROMOTERS are in total DENIAL.” Don’t ask why she put in all caps those select words because I have no idea. What should be clear though is that this person is claiming weed helped create mass shooters, and is the major contributor to a group that aims to affect public policy. That Facebook post also took aim at George Soros, who if you pay attention at all to twitter, is like the holy grail of far right wing conspiracy anger. There is something dark underneath the respectable guise SAM has constructed for itself, and it should be ignored when it comes to crafting public policy.

I’ve made it clear that I support this measure and further legalization but I am under no delusions that this is going to be a revolutionary moment in public health or that it will get to the root of health inequality. People need healthcare as a right and not a privilege. They need free access to addiction services, financial security, and all the things we consider as basic elements of our humanity. So many homeless people and others who are impoverished suffer from addiction issues and other health troubles they can’t afford to treat, and cannabis access isn’t going to be their savior. But clearly there is a well of support that believes Cannabis can help their pain and that the government has no right to deny that. We should listen to them and continue to make the people the center of health policy, not non profit groups, or the government. Here is some further information provided by McCoppin, “Shah said the elimination of background checks and fingerprinting for applicants goes into effect immediately, and all patients may now get provisional approval to buy medical marijuana immediately upon receiving a receipt for payment from the state health department. But it will take the state until Dec. 1 to implement all the new rules for the program, and will take until early next year to develop a new system to monitor the program to make sure that opioid replacement patients don’t go to multiple dispensaries and don’t buy marijuana for more than 90 days at a time. The 90-day period can be renewed by patients’ doctors. Patients who qualify for medical marijuana for something other than opioid replacement can maintain their authorization for three years. Some local health departments are now offering services to help patients complete applications for medical marijuana.”


Southern Illinois University’s Proposed Activism Ban sparks controversy

Per Brian Munoz of the Daily Egyptian, Southern Illinois University has come under heat from numerous civil liberty groups after it included language in its student athlete code of conduct that banned any form of political activism while in uniform or while competing in a university event. Here’s the language in question, “It is a privilege and not a right to be a student-athlete, cheerleader or spirit member at Southern Illinois University. Members of the department including student athletes, cheerleaders, and spirit members must remain neutral on any issue political in nature when wearing SIU official uniforms and when competing/performing in official department of athletics events and activities. Any display (verbal or non-verbal) of activism (either for or against) a political issue will not be tolerated and may result in dismissal from the program.” The University rescinded the language and afterwards claimed that this was about displaying unity rather than quashing a form of student speech they didn’t agree with but there are holes in that argument which Munoz later delves into. This story falls a bit outside the bounds of this blog but it is an interesting legal question with important ramifications.

To establish some context though, this rule is clearly representative of the current political atmosphere and the questions over whether sports should be another platform of political activism. It has all been centered around the national anthem and the outrage/inspiration that Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players sparked when they made the courageous and controversial decision to kneel during its playing to protest police brutality and its connection with systemic racism. Many other athletes in various sports soon followed as debates popped up constantly about whether players should be using the publicness of sports to make a difference in politics. The reaction on the Right was unsurprisingly angry and wildly hypocritical. They shifted between screaming about the sanctity of the national anthem and screaming about how sports should be a politics free zone. It’s probably easy to tell from the way I described Kaepernick’s protest and the reaction to it, but I see what he did as heroic and important. I also am under no fairy tale that sports and politics are some separate entities that can’t ever cross over. They’ve been interconnected since when modern sports began and will always be connected. Why is this country so obsessed with the upset over the Soviet Union in the 1984 winter olympics? How do people think sports facilities get built? Do they not think the creation of those facilities and teams themselves are by their very nature political processes? I am confident that posterity will look unkindly at those who tried to silence these justified protests in much the same way that posterity treats unkindly those who tried to silence Muhammad Ali.  The crux of the whole thing is that Conservatives are more concerned about the content of the activism than being an activist itself. And here’s how this all circles back to the Southern Illinois controversy: what activism is the rule intending to prevent?

Numerous law experts weighed in on the controversy, Munoz writes. William Friegal, a media law professor who actually teaches at SIU, noted the rules hypocrisy. “The government can make neutral rules for students to follow and universities can set higher standards of conduct for athletes, cheerleaders and other student leaders,” Freivogel said. “But in the process, the government can’t discriminate based on the content or viewpoint of speech. The university cannot punish a student leader for taking a knee during the anthem if the school is also not prepared to ‘punish pro-flag, pro-military or Tim Tebow-style religious gestures.” Right there is the main reason the reaction against these protests is so two faced, disingenuous, and biased. Every sporting event it seems like there is a mandated celebration of the military with everybody getting up to give a giant round of applause while those who are uncomfortable with the constant presence of nationalism feel like alienated outcasts if they don’t stand and applaud too. There is zero doubt that that is inherently political. Celebrating the military and what it does is political activism, and one that Conservatives are totally fine with. Gregory Magarian, a law professor at Washington University In Saint Louis who was interviewed for the Daily Egyptian article, called out this contradiction as well. “If we’re going to say there’s nothing political about standing for the national anthem then we are saying one of two things – we’re saying it’s meaningless, or we’re saying that we are absolutely forcing a consensus political view on everybody and it has political significance – and you will obey that political significance, or you are out.” Boom, perfectly said. Apparently it is political to kneel for the anthem, but standing for it is some act of pureness and patriotism.

Another potent criticism of the Universities actions that the article mentions comes from Ed Yohnka, the head of Illinois’ ACLU chapter. He makes the very accurate assertion that student activism is what the university experience is all about. “A central purpose for any public university is to engage students and the community in the issues of our time,” Yohnka said. “Schools should not threaten students – or hide them away – because they engage in protests that some in the community may not agree with.” He is right, and the whole thing is especially galling when you consider how much the Right uses the myth of over sensitive left wing college kids as justification for espousing racist, homophobic, and sexist ideals. They whine so much about how the left can’t handle opposing viewpoints, but if you quietly kneel for the anthem they go into a tantrum. As all the experts form the article weighed in, Universities should not be trying to depoliticize a space that is inherently politicized already. It disproportionately affects the marginalized people protesting for better lives and better treatment, which of course seems like the goal.

Lawsuits Against EPA Continue Cascading in- This Time from Madigan

Per Chicago Tonight’s Alex Ruppenthal, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is joining 12 other states in filing lawsuits towards the EPA over recently dismissed director Scott Pruitt’s final order suspending a 2016 regulation limiting the number of highly polluting trucks allowed to be on the road. A few weeks ago in a separate lawsuit, a District Court judge ruled that the EPA violated clean air standards in multiple states, including Illinois. This blog covered the issue here. It has been a deservedly bad last few months for Pruitt. On July 6th he resigned after it became clear that he was failing to enforce conflict of interest laws along with evidence of unethical spending on travel and security. His whole tenure was defined by scandals and lies, like the administration who appointed him. In his creepy resignation letter, it was very clear who Pruitt thought he was there to serve- Donald Trump. This is generally not the way positions like the director of the Environmental Protection Agency are supposed to work. Ideally they would serve the people’s interest in limiting the damages businesses do to the environment, but unfortunately Pruitt was more likely to make the EPA a business partner to polluting industries rather than an actual barrier against them. This is historically how the EPA has operated even before Trump and Pruitt took office. Industries have largely been given free reign in doing damage to the environment wherever and whenever they want, draining valuable resources from the world. The Independent just posted an article today where ecology experts claim that humanity used up a years worth of the earth’s resources in just seven months, 1.7 times faster than the planet’s ecosystem can regenerate according to those experts. America is not the only one contributing to the damage, but they are clearly a very big culprit. The point is that we are in an increasingly dire environmental situation, and it’s only being compounded by men like Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump.

As to the details of this particular lawsuit, the EPA just can’t get out of its own way or maybe it just doesn’t want to. They announced on Pruitt’s final day in office that they wouldn’t even bother enforcing the 2016 Glider rule, a rule the EPA itself created. According to Ruppenthal, the “Glider rule mandates that most engines installed in gliders meet the same emissions standards applicable to newly manufactured engines, which create significantly less pollution. It also caps the number of gliders a company can manufacturer each year at 300. The rule is meant to limit the excessive amounts of smog and lung-damaging particulate matter emitted by outdated truck engines, which have been described as “super polluting.”(Ruppenthal) As the article mentions, this is the not the first time Madigan has sued the EPA, the details of which Ruppenthal helpfully links. Madigan’s office claims that the trucks Pruitt suspended this rule to allow the sale for, will emit up to 55 times as much air pollution as trucks structured with more modern emission standards outlined by the Glider rule. As Ruppenthal notes, this pollution has been tied to various illnesses such as asthma and cancer. On Friday, Madigan declared in a statement that “If left unchallenged, this outrageous special interest giveaway will cause widespread harm to the environment. Allowing these highly polluting trucks to circumvent necessary clean air safeguards is unlawful.” Madigan is a career politician and an extremely skilled one at that so it’s hard to buy that there is much idealism in this decision. But that really doesn’t matter in the current climate, as any politician willing to make the faintest stand for the environment is valuable. It’s also nice to see that these lawsuits are serving as a sort of unifying force for multiples states who have had enough of the EPA’s corruption, and the coalition seems to be gaining strength. We can only hope that politicians like Madigan don’t forget about environmental issues when their political value decreases.

The Law of Office Birthday Parties

By: Tim Black

Whole Crew

The Law of Office Birthday Parties is clear – have one every chance you get!  I could swear there’s a statute to back that up, but our team of legal researchers is among the best in the business (according to our moms), and they can’t find it anywhere.  If there isn’t a statute, any casual reader of the LauraLaw blog could tell you that we here at the Law Offices of Laura J. Morask certainly stand for the codification of the “have an Office Birthday Party every chance you get” rule of law.  And as luck would have it, we had the chance to throw an Office Birthday Party for our beloved Maddy this week – and it was all the rage.  We had clowns, we had elephants, we had waterslides, and we had a bouncy castle.

Sadly, none of that is true except for the party part – we couldn’t get the right permits.  So, Olivia and I waited until Maddy left the office on Tuesday evening, and spent hours filling the room with balloons, streamers, and CONFETTI (so much confetti) to surprise Maddy when she walked in on Wednesday.  Boy, was she surprised!  If only we had captured the look on her face when she found the surprise, it would probably be our new LauraLaw logo.

There was a buzz throughout the office as we worked through the morning, knowing that we couldn’t sing “Happy Birthday” until all of our work was done.  So we all sat at our desks, typing away and making phone calls to clients until the clock struck 2:30.  That’s when the lights went dark, the candles illuminated Maddy’s cookie cake, and our voices joined in perfect harmony to celebrate the anniversary of Maddy’s introduction to the world.  (Side note about the cookie cake – sometimes we affectionately call Maddy ‘Matilda,’ which is not her name, and we asked the bakery to write ‘Happy Birthday Matilda’ on the cookie cake, but when the candles were blown out, we realized it said ‘Happy Birthday Malilda.’ Let that be a lesson to always cross your “t”s and dot your “i”s.)  After Maddy blew out the candles (all in one breath, defying the science of aging), we snacked on a delicious cookie cake while the birthday girl opened her gifts.  Everyone had a smile on his or her face, and it was a great opportunity to put on a party hat, let loose, and spend some time together in the middle of a hectic week.

It’s important to Laura, and to all of us, that we follow the Law of Office Birthday Parties every chance we get because it helps us grow closer as a team and reflect on how thankful we are to have such a wonderful crew of people working at our office.  So, if you see Maddy this month (yes, she gets a whole birthday month), wish her a happy birthday.  If any of your coworkers or colleagues are having a birthday any time soon, throw a party!  It’s the law (well, it should be the law).

Riverside County(California) Facing Lawsuit for Oppressive Law Enforcement Towards Students

I’m going to widen the scope of this blog a little bit to cover a story in California that I found equal parts absurd and infuriating, but it is related to issues covered regularly here. Per Carimah Townes of the Appeal, Riverside County is being sued by four plaintiffs claiming that the county is annually funneling an estimated 400 students per year into the Youth Accountability probation program under such labels as “pre delinquent” and “delinquent” for extremely vague accusations of misconduct which ends up having huge negative effects on the kids targeted. Unsurprisingly there is also a discriminatory aspect to this funneling as Towne notes. “According to the lawsuit, YAT probation skirts due process, leads to unreasonable searches and seizures under California law, violates the right to freedom of expressive association, and adversely impacts Black and Latino students like Andrew.” (Townes) The Andrew mentioned(one of the plaintiffs) was a 13 year old goofing around with his friends at school during lunch when he accidentally kicked an orange in the direction of a Moreno Valley officer stationed in the area. Unfortunately the officer decided to arrest him on grounds that I am really having an impossible time figuring out. An officer putting cuffs on a 13 year for kicking an orange paints a terrifying image that seems to summarize the state of policing in this country, and their relationships to marginalized people. The officer used the arrest as justification to search in Andrews backpack in which he found, gasp, Marijuana. Andrew then was forced to discuss probation at the Police station and was basically coerced into joining the Youth Accountability probation program in exchange for avoiding Juvenile court.

Here’s what Andrew had to deal with after signing the contract to join the program. “He(Andrew) had to attend school, earn good grades, abide by an 8 p.m. curfew, participate in 25 hours of community service, meet with a probation officer regularly, follow all YAT instructions, go to counseling, go to weekly programs facilitated by the Moreno Valley Police Department, and visit a correctional facility. Any violation could result in a referral to the Riverside County district attorney’s office for possible prosecution. Upon signing, Andrew was repeatedly forced to leave class to talk to YAT officers, who also conducted house visits. On one occasion, he was pulled out of class to fill out a YAT survey, even though it meant he would miss a Spanish quiz. Even after sticking to these strict conditions, Andrew was still summoned to Superior Court less than two weeks after signing. He ultimately pleaded guilty to the marijuana possession charge and received a sentence of 10 community service hours, an agreement to complete a drug test, and a fine.” (Towne) Basically, a student that gets funneled into the program is forced to live like they’re in a police state and can have this stuff used against them by the district attorney if they don’t cooperate. Notice how terrifyingly vague those standards for delinquency are. Good grades? Are you fucking kidding me? Under this program, law enforcement can force a student with bad grades into a situation where they can find themselves being prosecuted! Even more horrifying was the mention of a student being sent to the program after school staff complained that he “pulled the race card on them.” I can only imagine this scene as a student rightly pointing out the schools racist behavior and as usual racists are the biggest cowards imaginable so they respond viciously by jeopardizing the students future. Even if the student was doing what they accused him of doing, their actions are still discriminatory and absurd but sadly they’re not uncommon. Black students were 2.5 times more likely to be targets for the program and Latino students 1.5 times.

According to Townes the YAT program was established in 2001 under the ostensible purpose of identifying at risk youth so they can help get them in a different, better direction. But the program isn’t really being used in this way as the lawsuit alleges, but rather it’s used as a punishing tool and a convenient way for law enforcement to skirt around a students civil rights. Hannah Comstock of the ACLU, who is helping represent the plaintiffs, accurately states that “It’s kind of like this expedited version of the school-to-prison pipeline by having this extrajudicial system operating exclusively through the school.” By operating exclusively through the school, Law enforcement is able to coerce students who don’t have full knowledge of their rights and no legal counsel present. The program allows law enforcement to build up extensive profiles of their targets which are then accessible down the line for future prosecution. The attitude of the program is summed up in this passage of the article, “In a YAT presentation recounted in the book Psyche-Soul-ology: An Inspirational Approach to Appreciating and Understanding Troubled Kids, Debbie Waddell, a former senior probation officer, was quoted as saying that YAT is used to “get them into the system by fingerprinting and photographing them. We can search their homes any time we want and work to obtain evidence against them so that when we can get ’em, we can really get ’em!” Former Deputy District Attorney Anthony Villalobos, who participated in the same presentation, also explained, “We can do all kinds of surveillance, including wiretaps on phones, without having to get permission from a judge.”(Townes) Those quotes made me honestly want to throw up. These people are so happy over being granted the power to screw over students lives, it is sadistic. When the rightwing evokes “law and order” as a core part of what they believe the country should like, this is what is being advocated. Debbie Waddell gleefully exclaiming “We can search their homes any time we want and work to obtain evidence against them so that when we can get ’em, we can really get ’em!”

There is even more to the program that damages these students futures. If a person who had completed the YAT program has to show up in court for a low level offense, they are no longer eligible for diversion. If they fail the YAT program, that failure can be used against them in their prosecution. Over 10,000 students have had to deal with this shit, and about 25% are for non criminal offenses.  This is all under the guise of a mentorship program supposedly to help these kids futures! But they’re using it to create a pipeline to prison and a cycle of suffering for the students involved. As Corey Jackson of the Sigma Beta Xi mentorship program (one of the plaintiffs) asserts, “It’s being sold to these school districts as a mentoring program. There is nothing in the program that has anything to do with mentoring, based upon best practices and national standards.” The plaintiffs are specifically asking to prohibit the signing of coercive contracts without fully explaining to the student their rights. They also want to end the searches of students homes, the build up of their profiles for future use, and the discrimination that infests the program. I really hope they succeed because I just can’t get over how evil this is. People who defend law enforcement’s every action will of course defend this one, and I just don’t get it. What about this is right? What about this is good service to the community? We’ve so valorized anyone that wears a uniform that for many, they can do no wrong. Well nobody is a hero for putting on a uniform, they’re heroes for doing the right thing and helping others, which this very much isn’t. When marginalized people assert that they face harshness in policing that others don’t, how can anyone read this story and not believe them? I’m not saying the police are evil or someone is evil for joining the police but i’m tired of them being able to get away with so much, with so little accountability. They are supposed to serve the people, not the prosecution, and not the prison industrial system. The DA too should be ashamed of themselves, but that is nothing new. DA’s in the United States are overzealous to the extreme and are partly responsible for the racial discrimination rife in sentencing. I’m sorry for the sanctimonious rambling but it’s upsetting to see kids being set up for failure by people who are supposed to be there to protect them. 


Opinions are Jake Morask’s not Law offices

Federal Judge rules EPA Administrator failed to enforce conflict of interest regulations in Illinois

Per Michael Hawthorne of the Chicago Tribune, District Court Judge Christopher R. Cooper has ruled that Donald Trump’s former EPA director Scott Pruitt(recently resigned) violated the Clean Air act by “by allowing Illinois, Alabama and Mississippi to omit ethical standards from each state’s federally mandated plans to reduce lung-damaging smog and soot pollution.”(Hawthorne) The ruling is intended to force Illinois to adopt those ethical standards. The problem doesn’t start and end with Pruitt though, as the article dives into. Illinois has long had trouble enforcing conflict of interest laws because of largely the incompetence and corruption of the state EPA. Top officials at the state EPA use their position not for its ostensible purpose- to regulate business damages to the environment and just in general to you know protect the environment- but rather they use the position to protect Industries that they either are apart of or will profit from helping. United States environmental protection agencies, both federal and state, have long put the profit interests of businesses over the health of the environment. With a president who couldn’t give less of a fuck about the environment, that type of attitude is only going to become more and more common. I mean, he already pulled the country out of the Paris Climate conference, with much of the world laughing at America’s ignorance. But as mentioned with Pruitt before, the problem doesn’t start or end with Trump. Unfortunately it is a pretty fundamental tenet of Capitalism to put the profit interests of industry over the health of the environment and the health of the people who depend on a healthy environment. The Country’s early history is full of environmental destruction in the name of the god like free market, usually at the expense of First Nation peoples as well.

I bring this history up because this type of stuff is still happening. It is still largely how the country deals with the environment and government agencies designed superficially to stop Industries from doing damage are more likely to work with those businesses in doing damage than stopping them. (And First Nation peoples and communities with large minority populations are still the ones being especially fucked over by it, check out the case of Standing Rock) So, It’s nearly impossible to expect businesses themselves to limit their environmental damage if there is profit lost by doing it. There needs to be accountability somehow, something the government continually fails at. That’s why cases like these are important. According to the article, three major environmental groups brought this lawsuit against the state EPA. Those groups are the Center for Biological Diversity, The Center for Environmental Health, and the Sierra Club. Jack Darin, the director of Illinois’ Sierra Club Chapter stated, “The people making these decisions should be putting our health and environment first.” Obviously he is right and it is great that the Judge agreed and made Illinois adopt ethics standards for its environmental regulators that include conflict of interest rules. The top target of these groups symbolizes the corruption and greed that infests these agencies. Alec Massina led a Industry trade group before he was chosen by Bruce Rauner to head the states EPA in 2015, a position he has of course used to help Industries he is tied with. The Tribune detailed a story in 2016 in which Massina apparently had been “working behind the scenes since at least November 2016 on a plan intended to benefit one of his former clients: Dynegy Inc., a Houston-based energy company that owns eight financially struggling coal plants in central and southern Illinois. Drafted with extensive input from the company’s Chicago-based attorneys, the proposed changes would allow Dynegy’s fleet to emit substantially more lung-damaging pollution than the coal plants did during 2015 or 2016, according to a Tribune analysis of federal pollution data.” That is pretty damning, and when pressed by reporters in 2016 about how Massina was making decisions about water pollution, the state EPA drafted a memo that barred the director from being involved in those types of decisions for two years. But as the article notes, absurdly that restriction is only on water pollution conflict of interest decisions, not air. The guy still easily won confirmation from the Illinois senate. A spokeswoman for the Illinois EPA claimed that Massina had to only comply with two state laws to satisfy federal requirements, to which environmental groups rightly responded that conflict of interest laws are important and there to hold jackasses like Alec Massina accountable. Though I mentioned this is good news, even with this ruling, it is hard to be optimistic about the direction the state(and country) is going in its relationship with the environment. If the EPA operates more like a business partner than a regulation agency, than what is really going to change? They’ll still find ways to skirt around regulations to help out business partners. It’s been happening forever and will continue to happen unless there’s a drastic revaluation of the relationship between Industry, government, and the environment.