Do journalists deserve some blame for America’s mass shootings?

The reporter who won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for feature writing initially thought she was in Charleston, South Carolina, to chronicle the lives of nine church-goers who died in 2015 when a stranger with a Glock murdered them while they were praying.

The names, mug shots and one paragraph each about the lives of those nine victims did make it into Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah’s story, “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylann Roof,” published in GQ in September 2017.

But the rest of her over 12,000-word story told the tale of their killer instead. Ghansah spared nothing in tracking down intimate details of the shooter’s life, coming from his childhood friends, elementary school principal, church minister, co-workers, teenage pals and more. The reporter went back to his birth, telling of the isolation of his school years as a low-income white boy, can’t-get-out-of-bed depression, rancid racism, incessant preparations for killing African-American parishioners and his death sentence for a federal hate crime conviction.

It’s an incredible work of journalism, but also an example of the type of mass shooting coverage that’s maddening to advocates who, for years, have tried to little avail to persuade the media to stop publishing the names and images of mass shooters.

This article first published in Quill Magazine in June. It’s available for reprints. Contact me for details.

Continue reading Do journalists deserve some blame for America’s mass shootings?

Women-Owned Law Firms Surge Amid Gender Disparity in the Profession

Work-life balance is often pegged as the reason women leave traditional law firms. But for the growing number of women establishing their own firms, their departure is often rooted more deeply in gender inequality in the profession than in raising children or having more free time.

“If women were feeling valued, were getting properly rewarded for their efforts, were getting their fair share and it wasn’t a constant struggle to get your origination credit, and feel you are part of the team—then you would stay,” said Nicole Galli, who in 2017 co-founded a trade association, Women Owned Law, which has already grown to 200 members.

Also growing in membership is the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, which doles out the prestigious Women’s Business Enterprise certification. It currently certifies 300 law firms, and just 11 percent of those law firms have held their certifications for 10 years or more. A full 50 percent of them just earned certification within the past five years. Among the 300 WBE-certified law firms, 16 percent were newly founded within the past five years, according to council spokeswoman Jessica Carlson.

Originally published on on Oct. 9, 2018.

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Brace Yourselves, PACER-Like Systems Are Coming This Winter

By the end of the year, the Lone Star State will have a PACER-like court records system.

The Texas Supreme Court took the next step in expanding re:SearchTX, which grants access to state court records electronically filed anywhere in Texas, so that lawyers can download documents in any case—and so can the general public—at a cost of 10 cents per page up to a $6 maximum per document.

The system has operated since February 2017 with limited access for judges, court clerks and attorneys of record to access documents in their own cases. This new order opens access further to attorneys—they’ll be able to access any case, not just their own—and other registered users who provide personal information like their name, address, phone number and more.

Published on Texas Lawyer on Oct. 4, 2018.


Federal Judge: Prosecutor ‘Absurd’ for Using Deportation As Reason for Denying Bond in Criminal Case

A federal judge has called a U.S. prosecutor’s argument absurd and a problem of the government’s own making in a recent ruling that highlights the clash between criminal court processes and the nation’s increasingly controversial immigration policies.

Magistrate Judge Andrew Austin of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin was frustrated by the prosecutor’s reasoning about why Austin should keep a defendant in jail rather than release him on pretrial bond for a felony charge of unlawful reentry. Unlawful re-entry cases have grown increasingly common under the Trump administration as it charges immigrants at the border en masse with the crime, and as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweeps up undocumented immigrants in raids on employers.


Courts Prepare for Unaccompanied Minor Cases

This story originally published in Texas Lawyer on Feb. 12, 2015.

The “flood” of unaccompanied Central and South American children entering the U.S. last year has only trickled into Texas courts so far, although some experts are watching for a bigger rush further downstream.

Federal courts have jurisdiction over immigration, but state courts play a role in some unaccompanied minor cases. As the so-called surge of unaccompanied children dominated the headlines last summer, David Slayton, administrative director of the Texas Office of Court Administration, said he was afraid that state courts might get hit with thousands of cases at once.

“If that does happen, that will tax the system,” Slayton said, adding, “At this point, we are seeing them trickle into the system, and we believe if they continue in that fashion, we are probably able to handle it with existing judicial resources.”

But it’s possible that many cases haven’t made it to court yet, said 312th Family Court Judge David Farr of Houston. Six months after an unaccompanied child is relocated, the relative could file for conservatorship, he said. But Farr said he could imagine the scenario of an uncle who did not expect a nephew to come live with him, and who did not have money for an attorney.

“I might sit on that decision for a couple of years,” said Farr, adding, “At some point, they are going to hit a life jam, where they say, ‘I have to go to court.’”

In fiscal year 2014, the federal government apprehended 67,339 unaccompanied minors, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Some were sent home, but at least 51,705 were eligible for special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS), which grants asylum for unaccompanied children from countries that don’t touch the U.S.

Federal law requires state courts to handle the first step in SIJS cases.

A state court must determine whether an unaccompanied minor was abused, abandoned or neglected at home and whether it’s in the child’s best interests not to go back, explained Dana Leigh Marks, the president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.

“The state courts are the experts on juveniles and what is in the best interest of the child,” Marks said, adding, “When Congress made that law, they realized it’s the state courts that have the experience and expertise to make those determinations.”

Ground Zero

In fiscal year 2014, 7,409 unaccompanied minors were relocated with friends or family in Texas, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement. Texas courts would be responsible for handling those cases. Among them, 4,028 young immigrants relocated to Harris County.

Farr, the administrative judge for Harris County’s family courts, noted that one of the county’s three juvenile courts handles SIJS cases.
The courts have handled 167 independently filed SIJS cases since July 15, 2014, he said. But Farr noted that Harris County courts have probably handled more, because SIJS cases can arise within other child custody matters.

“It’s more than we saw before this time last year. Significantly more, probably,” said Farr. “I don’t think it’s as big as we thought that it was going to be. We sat around a table in spring last year ,and I think the judges’ reaction was: ‘Well, here it comes.’”

SIJS cases are not too time-intensive for a judge.

Farr said that legal aid groups often represent unaccompanied minors. Normally, there is no opposing counsel. Farr said that a judge must review filings and hold a 20-30-minute hearing to take testimony from the child and listen to his lawyer’s arguments. He said he would often rule from the bench and sign proposed findings that the child’s lawyer filed.

“The challenge in Harris County, of course, is anything of length—anything of 30 minutes or more—you have to squeeze in with everything else you are doing,” Farr said, explaining that the family courts typically carry 2,000 cases. “We’ve had to maneuver and figure out how best to handle the cases in order not to have an adverse effect on our dockets.”

Docket Juggling

Federal immigration courts also struggle with juggling unaccompanied minor cases on their dockets.

After a state court issues findings, an unaccompanied minor must apply for SIJS status in immigration court. The federal government has ordered immigration judges to handle the children’s cases first, Marks said.

“The immigration courts are completely and utterly overwhelmed and overburdened,” she said, adding, “Older case are getting pushed aside and languishing on the docket to handle these cases of recently arrived juveniles in a quicker fashion.”

In the Texas-based immigration courts in fiscal year 2014, there were 70,099 pending cases involving immigration charges, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. People had to wait an average of 501 days just to get into court. In 2014, the Texas-based immigration courts completed 7,176 immigration cases. The average case took 193 days from filing to closure.

The numbers of juvenile immigration cases are growing. In fiscal year 2010, the Texas-based immigration courts handled only 1,622 juvenile immigration cases. In fiscal year 2014, they handled 10,654, which is more than a sixfold increase.

Finding time for SIJS cases could be a long-term issue.

“These children under federal law are allowed to seek the status up till they are 21 years old or they are deported from the country,” explained Slayton, adding, “The fastest-growing group of these children are over 12 years of age. This is not a short-term issue for us. We don’t expect this to be resolved quickly.”

The Pink Ladies: Mary Kay’s Top Lawyer Keeps Makeup Mavens’ Meeting Looking Good

The flashy pink Cadillac symbolizes ultimate success for Mary Kay Inc. beauty consultants. And for Mary Kay’s top lawyer, working with those consultants is the best part of her job.

Chief Counsel Laura Beitler — who joined the company in 2000 as a staff attorney — manages Mary Kay’s 11-lawyer legal department and provides counsel to European subsidiaries. Her legal department helps plan Mary Kay’s annual event and teaches legal-oriented classes to new and veteran beauty consultants.

The coveted Cadillacs and other pink rides will grace the Dallas Convention Center from July 21 through Aug. 6, as Mary Kay’s annual meeting attracts 30,000 beauty consultants to learn more about Addison-based Mary Kay and how to boost their independent businesses.

“It is like a big party with Cadillacs, makeup and a lot of women,” says Mary Kay spokeswoman Kathrina McAfee. She describes the scene: “Thousands of women, perfectly clothed, sharing their success stories with other women, seeing the excitement in their eyes.”

PDF: The Pink Ladies Mary Kays Top Lawyer Keeps Makeup Mavens Meeting Looking Good

Productivity and Performance: Allison Levy Helps Ensure AdvoCare Plays By the Rules

An exciting aspect of being general counsel of AdvoCare International Inc. is that Allison Levy occasionally meets celebrity athletes like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and NASCAR champion Richard Petty.
Meeting athletes who endorse AdvoCare is a nice reward for Levy, who shoulders a big load as the company’s sole lawyer. The Plano-based company develops and markets nutritional supplements for general health, weight management and sports performance, among other products.

Levy supervises three nonlawyer employees in her legal department, but as the company’s only lawyer, she manages a vast range of issues: ensuring the company’s products, marketing and direct-sales business model comply with regulations; overseeing distributors’ compliance with company policies; legal issues with sponsoring sporting events; and managing outside counsel representing AdvoCare in litigation.

“My day can consist of switching gears a dozen times,” she says.

PDF: Texas Lawyer_ Productivity and Performance Allison Levy Helps Ensure AdvoCare Plays By the Rules

Texas Immigration Law Professors Take Action to Help Reunite Families Seeking Asylum

Law students were on summer break when outrage erupted nationwide over the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant parents and children who crossed the country’s southern border.

But summer didn’t stop Texas immigration law professors from taking action, and in the coming school year, they’re planning opportunities for law students in their schools’ immigration clinics to help reunited families seek asylum or fight deportation.

Law professors all over Texas jumped into action at various levels to help immigrant families the government separated.


PDF: texas-immigration-law-professors-take-action-to-help-reunite-families-seeking-asylum