It’s the second day of the 13th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference here at the University of Houston Law Center! Mr. Larry McClaugherty, a pharmacist and owner at McClaugherty Consulting Services opened the conference with a discussion on psychotropic medications and children. Next, Professors Jill Campbell and Susham Modi, clinical supervising attorneys for the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center, will follow with a presentation on immigration and juvenile law. Professor Campbell has conducted various outreach programs throughout the Houston area on the subject of immigrant victims of crime and human trafficking, including training programs with women’s crisis centers, law enforcement agencies, and victims’ services organizations. Prior to beginning at the University of Houston Law Center, Professor Modi worked as an advocate attorney at Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program. During lunch, the Center’s own Sarah Muckleroy, a recent graduate of the law center, will be given the Napoleon Beazley Defender Award. This award recognizes the efforts of a graduating law student who is committed to working on behalf of the defense of children in the southwest region of the United States. After lunch, Ms. Kim Dvorchak, executive director of the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition, will speak about legislative and case law updates. Professor Ellen Marrus and Ms. Chris Phillis, director of the Maricopa County Public Advocate, will follow with an interactive game of ethics jeopardy. Ms. Sarah Guidry, executive director of the Earl Carl Institute at Texas Southern University and Ms. Deborah Fowler, deputy director of Texas Appleseed, will present on defending against school-based misdemeanors. Honorable Michael Schneider of the 315th juvenile district court in Harris County and Dr. Olivia McGill will speak about specialty courts, the what, why, who, and how?
This morning marked the start of the 13th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference presented by the Center for Children, Law and Policy at the University of Houston Law Center and the Southwest Regional Juvenile Defender Center. Nearly 100 attorneys from all across the country involved with and interested in juvenile justice have come to participate in the conference. Kicking off the two-day conference was the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) director for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Mr. Bart Lubow, who reviewed the Casey Foundation’s JDAI program in Harris County and around the nation. Gwyneth Rost, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, followed Mr. Lubow with a presentation on linguistics and juvenile defense, focusing on language development and its effect on children and adolescents. After lunch, Professor Ellen Marrus, Ms. Chris Phillis, Director of the Maricopa County Public Advocate, and Ms. Pamela Vickrey of the Utah Juvenile Defender Attorneys, will lead a session on the National Juvenile Defender Center’s Juvenile Training Immersion Program, Multi-Systemic Advocacy: Family, School, and State Agencies. Next, Professor Malikah Marrus from Missouri State University will present on adolescent development and juvenile defense. Mid-afternoon presentations involve breakout sessions where conference participants will be able to choose between one of three discussions including a continuation of the NJDC’s Juvenile Training Immersion Program, Best Practices for Moving out of Solitary and Removing Shackles, and Linguistics and Juvenile Defense. Honorable Judge Angela Ellis of the 315th Juvenile District Court in Harris County and Ms. Anna Stool of the Law Offices of Anna Stool will finish up day one with a discussion of the Ethics of Working with Crossover Youth.
Three years. 1,095 days. 26,280 hours. 1,576,800 minutes. 94,608,000 seconds. Imagine spending that much of your life behind bars without ever having been convicted of a crime. This is exactly what happened to Kalief Browder. On May 14, 2010, Browder, then a 16-year-old sophomore in high school, was arrested in the Bronx while walking home from a party and subsequently charged with robbery in the second degree. After being arrested, Browder was taken to Rikers Island Correctional Facility, the place where he would spend the next three years of his life. With his family unable to afford the $10,000 bail, Browder was stripped of his ability to complete his high school education, attend prom, and do things with other kids his age. He also missed his sister’s wedding, nephew’s birth, and many other special family events. While detained, Browder attempted to commit suicide on six different occasions.
Up until this point, one might have assumed that obviously, there must have been ample, or at least sufficient evidence to suggest Kalief Browder committed the crime he was charged with, thereby justifying his lengthy stay in detention otherwise he would not be there. Disturbingly, that was by no means the case. Browder’s three year incarceration was the result of one man’s actions. On May 14, 2010, a complete stranger told police “that kid” (identifying then 16-year-old Browder who was walking down the street) robbed me two weeks ago. Based on one man’s “identification” of the individual who allegedly robbed him a few weeks prior, with no further evidence subsequently supporting the stranger’s allegations, and despite Browder maintaining his innocence throughout, Kalief Browder’s life was changed for eternity. In January, after spending 33 months in Rikers, Browder refused a judge’s plea deal of time served because he did not want to plead guilty to a crime he did not commit. Five months later, in June, Browder, now 20 years old, was released from detention without explanation or apology and the case against him was dismissed.
Currently enrolled in GED classes and attempting to get his life on track after spending three years behind bars, Browder, represented by civil rights attorney Paul Prestia, has filed a civil suit against the Bronx District Attorney, City of New York, New York Police Department, and New York City Department of Corrections as well as against various individuals employed by the state of New York. Alleging physical abuse by both inmates and guards and prolonged detention in solitary confinement for an excess of 400 days, Browder’s complaint also asserts that he was deprived of meals on numerous occasions and prevented from continuing or pursuing his education. In clear violation of his due process rights as afforded by the United States Constitution, including his right to a speedy trial, Browder now suffers from lingering mental health issues and has missed out on the opportunity to live his last three years as a teenager to the fullest. In what Browder’s attorney says was a “straightforward case to try,” not only was Kalief Browder not even tried or convicted of any crime, but it took New York City officials three years to dismiss the baseless allegations against him. “We need someone to be held accountable. This can’t just go unnoticed. To the extent that [Browder] can be financially compensated – although it’s not going to get those years back for him – it may give him a chance to succeed.”