MFJ Forum Tackles Racial Justice Issues in Legal Practice

Two dozen MFJ attorneys and paralegals listen to panel of three speakers seated at table in front of conference room.

Dozens of Mobilization for Justice attorneys and paralegals came together on January 10, 2018 for a forum on “Race and Your Practice: A Conversation with Two Advocates.” Runa Rajagopal, Managing Director of the Civil Action Practice Group at the Bronx Defenders, and Samuel Spital, Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund shared their experiences with the group.

Mr. Spital discussed Buck v. Davis, a death penalty case in which the NAACP claimed that the defendant’s trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for knowingly presenting an “expert” who testified that Mr. Buck was more likely to be dangerous in the future because he is Black. Future dangerousness was both a prerequisite for a death sentence and the central issue at sentencing. Mr. Spital also discussed Open Communities Alliance v. HUD, which successfully challenged HUD’s suspension of an Obama rule that allowed families who disproportionately are African-American, Latino, and other racial minorities to use their housing vouchers to move from poor and racially segregated communities to areas that provide greater opportunity in education, jobs, and more.

Ms. Rajagopal discussed the Bronx Defenders’ work to protect families who were evicted from their homes based on New York Police Department’s petitions to Supreme Court for nuisance abatements.  These abatements allowed the NYPD to close down residential apartments, evicting all residents, often based on hearsay testimony that criminal activity had occurred in those apartments. Ms. Rajagopal described a multi-year effort involving other legal services providers, community partners and the media to end the widespread use of this practice.

Tiffany Liston, MFJ Deputy Director for Program and Development, moderated the forum

This forum, organized by Supervising Attorneys Elizabeth Lynch and Leah Goodridge, was one of many activities sponsored by MFJ’s Racial Justice Taskforce.