Public Defender: The People’s Lawyer

L-R: Public Defender Ricardo Garcia, Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Public Defender’s swearing-in ceremony. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Remarks
on the Appointment of Public Defender Ricardo Garcia

Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark US Supreme Court ruling, established the right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

It affirmed in fact that in a society built on the rule of law, the right to counsel is a right that is sacrosanct.

And it affirmed in equity that there are few, perhaps no office more important than that of Public Defender.

The person in this position is the people’s lawyer.

They are tasked with making sure those of lesser means who enter our justice system receive — evenly and equally — quality and careful legal representation.

We are in a defining moment for our justice system, with fundamental changes underway.

Mental health diversion, the end of money bail, probation reform – all of these timely issues require leadership from the Public Defender.

Thank you to Nicole Davis Tinkham and those in the Public Defender’s office who have done such great work in the interim.

In our search, we were deliberate and acted with purpose to make sure we found the right person for this pivotal time.

I, along with the other Supervisors, have all had the opportunity to speak at length with Mr. Garcia.

It was not just his impeccable skill and fine credentials that brought him to our attention, though it did not hurt his case for the job.

It was the caliber of his moral fiber and his tuft as person.

Talk with Mr. Garcia and in just minutes you know that he is passionate in his commitment to the defense of society’s forgotten.

Justice is his map; fairness, his compass.

He’s driven by a fundamental belief that justice is not an abstraction; it’s a very real and tangible way that our laws interact with people in their daily lives.

It all comes from an inexorable belief that ordinary citizens like us, generation after generation, can do our part to uphold our founding ideals.

Because we are here just for a time – whether in this building or even on this earth.

In this time our responsibility, while we are here, is to breathe life into these ideals; to imbue them with the strength of our convictions and the weight of our efforts.

In sum, I believe today’s swearing-in makes more real the promise of Gideon.

The promise of fairness and equality, “of liberty and justice for all.”

And it makes stronger the strength of our convictions and the weight of our efforts.

I look forward to the great work that Mr. Garcia will do as Public Defender on behalf of the people of Los Angeles County.

The Community Gets Serious about Probation Reform

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas delivers welcome remarks at a community meeting organized by the Probation Reform and Implementation Team. All photos by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The Probation Reform and Implementation Team (PRIT) hosted the second in a series of meetings to develop a comprehensive roadmap for reform and to craft a structure for a permanent and independent civilian Probation Oversight Commission.

The PRIT’s overall mission is to transform the nation’s largest Probation Department and make it more transparent, accountable to the public, and in line with the Board of Supervisors’ far-reaching commitment to justice reform. This particular meeting was intended to allow PRIT members to engage community members in defining the mission of the Probation Oversight Commission, and how it should engage communities.

Probation Reform and Implementation Team

Community groups from across the county filled Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Exposition Park field office to dialogue with PRIT members. In his welcome remarks, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas told them, “The current Board of Supervisors has demonstrated – repeatedly – that the business of Probation reform must be addressed, and addressed with a sense of urgency and care. We now have handed the baton over to you to carry forward for your leg of the journey.”

Dozens of community members participated in a dialogue on Probation reform.

PRIT appointee Cyn Yamashiro noted the process already feels different from past reform efforts. “I have been on working on probation reform for six years, and community engagement has never looked as strong as this,” he said. “I am optimistic this effort is going to change things once and for all.”

Probation Chief Terri McDonald speaks with a community member at a meeting of the Probation Reform and Implementation Team.

Marcus McKinney, Director or Policy and Advocacy for A New Way of Life, a community reentry non-profit, remarked similarly about the value of community engagement. “When the community is involved, not only do they feel a sense of ownership, but decision makers are also afforded a chance to hear firsthand from those with the life experience being directly impacted , which is key to any successful reform process,” he said. “Given Probation’s sheer size and the importance of its charge, reform must include sustainable change that helps transition folks back into society, transparency and public accountability.”

Community members were asked to submit comment cards that explored their views on public accountability, transparency and better outcomes for adults and youth, as well as on engagement between the Probation Oversight Commission and the community.

The PRIT will be holding more meetings over the coming months to cover such important topics as the powers of the Probation Oversight Commission, ways to reform juvenile facilities, and issues such as the use of pepper spray, and staff hiring and training. Final recommendations will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors in the first half of 2019.

Mobilizing in Men’s Central Jail to “Unlock the Vote”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and rapper, activist, and Selma cast member “Common” enter Men’s Central Jail to register voters.  Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stood on the steps of Men’s Central Jail with rapper and activist “Common” and representatives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Office of Diversion and Reentry, American Civil Liberties Union, and Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership to promote voter registration for justice-involved individuals. In honor of National Voter Registration Day, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas promoted the recent launch of a campaign to bring voter awareness to incarcerated individuals called “L.A. Free the Vote”, followed by a voter registration drive inside the jail.

The motion to officially dedicate Tuesday, September 25, 2018 to voter registration in Los Angeles County was authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Together, he and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, created the Voter Engagement Taskforce for Justice-Involved Populations, directed at increasing voter education and registration to justice-involved communities. Their L.A. Free the Vote work aims to register as many justice involved individuals as possible by the November 2018 election.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, yet more than one million eligible citizens in Los Angeles County have not registered to vote,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“I think the vote is one of the first steps that we can do as people in this country to show that we care and people have made mistakes, but we’re still reaching out for them. That’s what America is supposed to be about,” said rapper, activist and Selma cast member.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stands with LASD Commander Roosevelt Johnson, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan, Director of the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the American Civil Liberties (ACLU) SoCal Jails Project Esther Lim, rapper and activist “Common” and others on the steps of Men’s Central Jail. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Commander Roosevelt Johnson, who oversees the Men’s Central Jail, stood with the facility unit commander, Captain Ruthie Daily, and Chief Joanne Sharp, who oversees Custody Services Division-General Population, and stated, “We are excited to partner with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Registrar Recorders Office and ACLU’s SoCal Jails Project to ensure eligible inmates in the county jail system are afforded an opportunity to register to vote. While we realize this is not an easy task, we are committed to assisting our partners in this effort.”

Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, Los Angeles County, said, “When we don’t use our vote, we unwittingly give up our voice either to others or to deafening silence. By exercising our right to vote we are claiming power, influence and significance.”

Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry and co-convener of the County’s Taskforce, said, “The Office of Diversion and Reentry is excited to help lead the L.A. Free the Vote taskforce and campaign to support the reentry population in exercising their civic right to vote. We see this as an important part of ODR’s strategy for supporting this population holistically through job training, mental health services, housing and more.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Common help a Men’s Central Jail inmate register to vote. Photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors

Esther Lim, Director of the American Civil Liberties SoCal Jails Project, announced participation in today’s event, as part of the “Unlock the Vote” project, designed to bring voter registration to eligible individuals incarcerated within the Los Angeles County jail system. “All because someone is behind bars DOES NOT preclude them from participating in our most important right, the right to vote. We are proud to be a partner in this countywide effort that we hope will be a shining example across the state and country to show that every voice matters and every vote matters.”

Troy Vaughn, Executive Director of Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LAARP) states, “LAARP is thrilled to be a community partner in the LA Free the Vote campaign, engaging thousands of people in Reentry who don’t know they are eligible to vote, because research tells us that after a job, civic engagement is one of the best protective factors that can drastically reduce recidivism.”

After the news conference, volunteers and representatives went inside Men’s Central Jail to register incarcerated voters. They walked the rows, providing inmates with information on the voting registration process and giving them the opportunity to register for November’s election.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added, “From where I stand — informed by the civil rights movement — every day is an opportunity to celebrate voter registration. Voting is how we are heard, and every vote counts.”

Registering Eligible Voters Within the Justice System

L-R: A New Way of Life’s Manuel Galindo and Marcus McKinney, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Registrar/Recorder-County Clerk Dean Logan, and Office of Diversion and Reentry Director Judge (ret.) Peter Espinoza.

Los Angeles County is ramping up its efforts to register all eligible citizens to vote in the November 6 General Election, including those currently or previously involved with the justice system.

“The election is fast approaching, and we can’t afford to miss the opportunity to engage our justice-involved residents in the work of their democracy,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “The work and importance of this initiative go well beyond this November, however, as voting and civic engagement must be a lifetime commitment if it is to result in meaningful empowerment for these residents.”

With the voter registration deadline coming up on October 22, Judge (Ret.) Peter Espinoza, director of the County Office of Diversion and Reentry, and Registrar- Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan reported on the County’s progress in empowering as many justice-involved individuals as possible to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Espinoza and Logan are collaborating with the Chief Probation Officer, Public Defender, Alternate Public Defender, Sheriff and community stakeholders such as A New Way of Life in a campaign called LA Free the Vote. It builds on the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Voting While Incarcerated program and works in tandem with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Unlock the Vote program. They have developed voter education materials, trained staff at various County departments on how to register voters, and distributed voter registration cards at County facilities and various events countywide.

Their combined efforts have already registered about 1,000 inmates at the Pitchess Detention Center and Century Regional Detention Facility. Plans are underway to register more inmates at Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility in the coming weeks.

A New Way of Life founder Susan Burton has been helping jail inmates register to vote, in addition to facilitating their successful transition back into society. “I cannot tell you how impactful it has been to help people in the justice system, such as I used to be, feel like they have a voice in democracy,” Burton said. “At the end of the day, this is stuff that’s going to change our communities.”

 

 

 

Protecting the Sanctity of Attorney-Client Privilege

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Statement on Protecting the Sanctity of Attorney-Client Privilege, including within Law Enforcement Facilities

“Confidentiality is one of the pillars of the attorney-client relationship. Legal representation is a cornerstone of our justice system.

“These are fundamentally important for us to uphold and, if there are problems, we have an obligation to correct them.

“The Public Defender must be afforded the privacy necessary to have the tough conversations that must be had between attorneys and clients, particularly during complicated, sensitive, stressful times.

“The sanctity of attorney-client privilege is pursuant to the Constitution and recording these critical conversations — intentionally or unintentionally — creates challenges to the provision of effective counsel. I am not a lawyer but even I understand this fundamental principle

“I trust that all parties will move forward in the spirit of collaboration to protect these constitutional rights with, perhaps, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Office of Public Defender and the Sheriff’s Department, and even the District Attorney’s Office. There should be no equivocation as to how this gets done. None.”

Interim Public Defender Nicole Tinkham testifies before the Board of Supervisors on September 18, 2018. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors