Getting a Will might be on your to-do list, but do you know why it’s important?
Here are the top three reasons.
Reason 1: A Will protects your family
If you have kids younger than 18 years old, a Will lets you designate a guardian to care for them if you pass away, like a close family member. It’s like owning a fire extinguisher: almost no one will ever use it, but everyone with kids should have one.
A Will also lets you pick your heirs. Without a Will, state law will control how your property is distributed, which may not be the best result for your family. But if you have a Will, you can make a plan that fits your family best. Maybe you would like your grandchildren to spend their inheritance on college. Maybe you would like family heirlooms to go to the right place. Having a Will lets you make those decisions.
Reason 2: A Will gives you peace of mind
Once you have a Will, it will be there unless you change it. Once you write a Will, you will have the comfort of knowing it is there to protect your family.
If you have children or grandchildren, then the time for a Will is now. Give yourself the peace of mind of knowing the matter is handled.
Reason 3: Wills save families’ money
When a person passes without a Will, the legal process for settling an estate becomes longer and more complication. Therefore, it costs more money to settle an estate where there is no Will.
In contrast, having a Will makes the probate process much less expensive, and makes it faster, which eases a family’s burden. An ounce of planning on the front end saves a lot of trouble on the back end.
The underlying lawsuit alleged the officers of Texas’s Estelle Unit have a widespread practice of using excessive force on inmates:
PJL is a membership-based non-profit organization. Its members include over 700 TDCJ inmates, over 100 of whom are located in Estelle Unit, which has a capacity to hold 3,148 inmate overall. In the Texas prison system, inmate demographics sometimes vary from unit to unit. The Estelle Unit’s population is older and sicker than at most units – it is colloquially known as a “medical unit.” About a third of Estelle Unit inmates are over age 50. It is one of TDCJ’s main facilities for blind and deaf inmates and is classified as a Type II geriatric facility. It also temporarily houses inmates from other prisons who need physical therapy, respiratory therapy, or dialysis.
The prison is not run the way it should be. Officers walking the halls of the Estelle Unit routinely exercise unbridled discretion to use physical force on inmates that is unnecessary to maintain discipline on the unit – striking them, twisting arms, slamming them into walls, or throwing them to the ground. Officers at the Estelle Unit use force as punishment and display open contempt for policies telling them to do otherwise. The complaint included specific examples.
The majority of PJL members at the Estelle Unit have been assaulted by officers. Many have also witnessed officers assault other inmates. Many of these men use walkers for mobility purposes, report to dialysis multiple times a week, suffer from diabetes, or have visual or hearing impairments. The complaint included specific examples. Virtually all PJL members at the Estelle Unit very credibly fear being assaulted by an officer in the future. They report feeling unsafe in areas they cannot avoid, such as the central hallway connecting the wings of the prison, and in the chow hall where they are served meals. Many report they routinely skip one or more meals a day to minimize their contact with officers and thus the likelihood of being assaulted.
The warden is aware her staff routinely uses excessive force. Inmates in the Estelle Unit file hundreds of grievances every month, which are reviewed and signed by the warden. Inmates complaining of excessive force use grievances to describe attacks by officers and the identity the officers who attacked them. The warden, however, has not endeavored to stop the identified officers from using excessive force. With very few exceptions, grievances are returned with boilerplate rejection messages, such as: “Accused officer denies claim. No further action warranted.”
The warden was also alerted to officers’ pervasive excessive force by their written “use of force reports.” The warden has read reports documenting uses of force that a reader would understand were clearly excessive. Finally, the warden was also put on notice by her personal observations. The warden is known for walking the halls of the unit, and witnessed excessive force in full view of the hallways.
But the warden has not taken reasonable steps to stamp out the culture of violence among her staff. The warden has the ability to discourage wrongdoing by simply punishing officers who deserve to be punished. She can suspend them, demote them, or fire them. Those are the tools a warden uses to punish and deter staff from all sorts of rule breaking, from the mundane to the critical. And yet, although she is aware of the need to punish officers for excessive force, she prefers not to. As a result, an atmosphere of fear hangs over inmates, especially the elderly and disabled, in a prison where the people meant to protect them have become their main predators.
Joseph Carroll is suing Leif Bjorkheim because when Mr. Carroll and a companion entered Bjorkheim’s store to buy jewelry, Bjorkheim brandished shotgun and ordered them to leave, saying “I don’t feel comfortable with you niggers in my store.”
Leif Bjorkheim’s shotgun
We are pleased to announce today (November 17, 2016) the judge has denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, which sought to have the lawsuit dismissed. Instead, we will proceed to trial in the summer of 2017.
In politics, transparency is a virtue. I am pleased Margaret Moore has been transparent with the public about who she will include in her administration if she is elected.
All too often, a politician can rest on their laurels without discussing policy. Moore could have ridden to a comfortable victory in November without revealing how she would run the DA’s office. Instead, she gave us a window into her plans.
The article chastises Moore for being transparent, saying the election is not a “coronation.” It then questions the diversity in her hiring choices. The latter concern is legitimate — but ironically, if Moore had not been transparent, this newspaper could not have raised that concern until after the election.
Moore’s candor can only benefit the voters of Travis County by better informing them. I would encourage all the local candidates to follow her lead.
By Jacqueline Conn and Brian McGiverin – Special to the American-Statesman
Imagine a place where crime control policies make neighborhoods safer and allow communities to heal instead of exacerbating the very conditions that lead to crime in the first place. Texas’ carceral state makes us less safe because it has burdened 1 out of 3 Texas residents with a criminal history, creating and maintaining an underclass. This is part of the “New Jim Crow.” But on April 3, Austin became the first city in the South to bring the dream of a better future closer to reality by adopting a reform known as Fair Chance Hiring.
Austin’s Fair Chance is similar to policies adopted in over 100 cities and counties and 21 states. Fair Chance helps restore civil rights to the astoundingly large number of women and men affected by our country’s love affair with mass incarceration. It acknowledges their families and loved ones who depend on them for economic security and gives them the opportunity to provide that security.
We love the idea of Fair Chance because it works. Employment is one of the strongest predictors of desistance from crime. But finding a job is difficult for anyone with an arrest or conviction record and exacerbates the challenges for people who already face discrimination. Fair Chance is linked to improved public safety by reducing crime as much as 57 percent for people with a record.
Fair Chance isn’t just morally right; it is also good for business. Fair Chance promotes increased tax contributions, while reducing the number of people who rely on public assistance due to unemployment. Fair Chance policies increase applicant pools, connect employers with valuable workers and raise the output of goods and services by people with criminal records by as much as $65 billion each year nationally.
We live in the most economically segregated city in the country, with few options for people of color to leave poverty and spikes in homelessness due partly to the collateral consequences of Texas’ crime control policies. Imagine what the future will hold, and how communities and the people within may heal now that there is a path for people to leave second-class status.
The vision for our future is threatened by some who dislike the reality of antidiscrimination. The loudest dissent comes from Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing group funded by conservative interest groups seeking to extinguish progress before it ignites hope.
Their criticism that Fair Chance will “exchange the New Jim Crow for the Old Jim Crow” is illogical and fails to tackle the problem. Racial discrimination will not disappear by ignoring it. Based on current trends, 1 in 3 black men will serve time in their lifetimes — and even more will have a record. Rather than fearing that employers may respond to reduced access to conviction records with racial discrimination, we must educate employers of the law as well as existing antidiscrimination laws. This is an opportunity for business and government to work together for the good of the community.
As is typical of moments in history, meaningful change is being told its intent is noble but its goals are off. This is the argument used throughout history against civil rights. In spite of our tremendous victory, conservative groups will likely take this fight to the state, as has been the case throughout history. Yet, in a state that has oppressed people of color for centuries, we must ask ourselves: How much space in this conversation do we allow the privileged few — the few who argue against working to end a racial caste system — in our own communities?
La lucha sigue. The struggle continues.
Conn is chairwomen for Second Chance Democrats. Brian McGiverin is an attorney with Dietz, Lawrence & McGiverin Law Center.
DLM’s Brian McGiverin joined with members of the Second Chance Democrats of Austin and other advocates at the Austin City Council on March 24, and they succeeded in encouraging the Council to pass the “Fair Chance Hiring” ordinance described in previous coverage linked from this blog.
The events from that evening were described in on the well known “Grits for Breakfast” blog, which are copied below.
Last night, the Austin City Council passed a Fair Chance Hiring ordinance, becoming the first city in the South to require employers to wait until a conditional offer of employment has been made to inquire about an applicant’s criminal history. While similar “Ban the Box” initiatives have gained traction across the country, the Austin ordinance goes further than most fair chance laws in that it applies to private employers, delays the criminal history question until the point of conditional offer, and includes a civil penalty of up to $500.
According to Grassroots Leadership, which helped lead efforts to pass the ordinance, more than one in three Texans has a criminal record, and 2200 people return to the Austin area each year from prison. Even though employment stability is one of the top factors in preventing recidivism, 60-75% of people released from prison cannot find work within a year of their release. And the effects of incarceration disproportionately impact people of color: African Americans make up nearly 35% of people incarcerated in Texas prisons, while they represent only 12.5% of Texas’ overall population. With Austin’s unemployment rate exceptionally low and employers in need of applicants, it also makes sense for Austin to pass measures that would help increase the labor pool.
At last night’s hearing, the City Council heard public testimony from many formerly incarcerated individuals who spoke about the difficulty of obtaining gainful employment, the shame and stigma that comes with having a criminal record, and how their families have been impacted by their incarceration. Susannah Bannon, a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin, stated that her retired parents should not have to “worry about whether or not their 35-year old daughter who is halfway through her doctoral degree can pay her rent,” and asked if “someone who comes from this much privilege and has this much support … cannot make it in Austin, how can someone who is less fortunate do it?” Jorge Renaud, an organizer with Texas Advocates for Justice, slammed the “privileged few” opposing the ordinance, who he said were trying to persuade the Council “to continue a policy that has resulted in families, communities and entire neighborhoods on the east side and south side of Austin, impoverished and destitute and unable to climb out of poverty.”
Attorney Brian McGiverin, who also testified in support of the ordinance, placed the measure in the context of the Civil Rights Movement. He began his testimony with a quotation from a letter written on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1963 regarding legislation that would become a piece of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The excerpt resembled statements that have been made in opposition to the Austin ordinance: “The problem involves so many considerations that any bill comprehensive enough to cover them all would in all probability do more harm than good. The better approach to the problem is a combination of voluntary efforts and increased education to ensure better understanding of the need.” McGiverin argued that the “gameplan for gutting civil rights legislation really hasn’t changed that much in the past 50 years” and urged the Council not to be persuaded by the same “tired” arguments that have been used in the past to try to defeat antidiscrimination laws.
Opponents to the ordinance were mostly from the business community and included the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Credit Union Association, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation. A representative with the Texas Credit Union Association stated that the ordinance “imposes unnecessary costs and burdens on business and imposes particular risks on financial institutions,” referring to potential conflict with federal laws that prohibit financial institutions from employing people with certain criminal histories. However, Council Member Kitchen pointed out that the ordinance expressly did not apply where state or federal law disqualifies a person with a criminal history from holding certain jobs. Temporary staffing firms also voiced concerns that the ordinance would interfere with their particular business model, where applicants apply to the staffing firm for employment but are ultimately sent to outside employers which have their own hiring requirements. In response to those concerns an amendment was adopted that would allow the firms to conduct background checks either upon conditional offer of outside employment, or upon an applicant’s entry into a hiring pool.
Prior to the vote, Council Member Renteria spoke in support of the measure, and – like many of the advocates who testified in support – invoked his personal experience. He described his brother’s involvement in the criminal justice system and the effects of his brother’s criminal record on work opportunities. His brother, who spent most of his childhood and young adult life incarcerated – first in the Waco State School from age 8 and later in TDCJ until age 32 – is now 68 years old, has never earned more than $10 an hour and has never had health benefits. Council Member Renteria stated that, when his brother was incarcerated, “society at that time really didn’t care about low-income minorities,” and implored his fellow council members to “show our compassion.”
The ordinance was sponsored by Council Member Greg Casar and in the end was opposed by only two Council members. In a moment when communities across the country are looking for ways to improve outcomes for formerly incarcerated people, the ordinance is one of the more progressive efforts we’ve seen and sets an important precedent.
For my part, it was fascinating and inspiring to see a grassroots effort, led by people directly affected by the policy, defeat entrenched and well-funded interests to effect immediate and impactful change. Congratulations to Council Member Greg Casar and the organizers and advocates who have spent the better part of the past year working to get the ordinance passed.
Video from last night’s hearing can be found here.
The Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending issued the orders to HomeTex Enterprises and Jeff Evans, who is listed as its property director, and who residents say lured them into unfavorable housing contracts. The department also ordered another mortgage firm flagged by residents, the Lending Group LLC, to turn over records.
About 40 to 45 homes in the Dove Springs area are believed to be involved in the deals. According to the complaint in a 2014 foreclosure lawsuit involving a Round Rock couple, the real estate group manages a portfolio of more than 300 houses and duplexes in Central Texas.
An attorney for Evans could not be immediately reached for comment.
Austin civil rights attorney Brian McGiverin said he and other lawyers representing the residents are pleased to see progress in the inquiry. The dredging up of documents could help uncover wrongdoing, he said.
“I think the department has gathered as much as it could from speaking to residents,” he said. “The subpoena (against the Lending Group) will get at their books and record keeping, and it is the next full step to flesh out a full picture about how they have been operating.”
Lawyers with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid have said a rotating cast of four firms, all owned and controlled by the same people, targeted Latino and Spanish-speaking buyers in the Southeast Austin neighborhood, many of whom didn’t qualify for traditional loans.
Legal aid attorneys allege the group took advantage of an informal sales process — buyers were often unrepresented by a real estate agent, title company or attorney — and signed people up for financing packages that included large balloon payments. Some buyers told lawyers they did not realize a payment for the remaining balance on the home would come due within a few years, while others believed the balloon payment would be far lower than it turned out to be. In some cases, according to attorneys, homeowners were promised a chance to refinance balloon payments but were then denied at the critical moment, resulting in default.
Residents began organizing against the firms in October, and the home deals have attracted the attention of several state and local officials including state Sens. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Austin City Council Member Delia Garza, who represents Dove Springs.
Eight tenants of Fairway Village Apartments are suing property owners Sage Apartment Communities Inc. and their subsidiary Fairway Village Apartments LLC for unlawful mistreatment and negligence. The complex is a project-based Section 8 property, meaning it receives money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to offer reduced rental rates to low-income families. Tina Greene, one of the plaintiffs, said that with no affordable housing alternatives nearby, the tenants had no other choice but to seek justice from the courts. “I think this lawsuit will show them that we are going to fight for our rights,” she said.
The owners began major construction on the property in March 2015 to improve the complex’s outdated plumbing system. Residents say they were offered two options to compensate them for the inconvenience: a $2,400 stipend or a temporary stay at a nearby hotel. Some, however, claim that they never received the stipend after requesting it. Southwest Housing Compliance Corporation – the nonprofit subsidiary of the city’s Housing Authority which serves as contract administrator for Section 8 projects – investigated the complaint, along with 10 other complaints made against Fairway Village last year, but determined the property management to be in compliance in every case. Greene feels that she and the others who complained have since faced retaliation from property management. “They’ve singled out those of us who put up a fight,” she said.
Unable to relocate, some families found themselves stuck in a construction zone. Tenants, some elderly or disabled, say they have had to deal with constant noise and random holes surrounding their residence. Greene’s mother, Rosemary Martinez, who uses a walker to get around, fell into one of the holes last year. “My leg was bruised and swollen,” she said.
In coordination with the ongoing construction, residents say, the property managers have routinely shut off water and electricity to residents, often without warning. These withholdings, said the plaintiffs’ attorney Brian McGiverin, constitute illegal discrimination against renters who are disabled, because it has a disproportionate effect on their health and well-being. In addition, the plaintiffs allege that property owners have deferred important repairs, including plumbing and heating maintenance. Some tenants have also spotted rats and cockroaches since construction started. “There’s no reason why we should be living like this,” Martinez said. “This isn’t some poor country, this is the United States! This is the capital of Texas!”
Fairway Village was one of the sites hit by the Halloween floods last year, and the residents claim that it was made even worse by construction workers failing to remove debris from the storm drain in the parking lot. As a result, many of the tenants’ vehicles were damaged. Marisol Gauna, a Fairway tenant of six years, said that a representative from Sage Apartment Communities Inc. had visited residents after the flooding and told them that they would be reimbursed for repairs. Weeks later, they received a letter from the apartment office stating that there would be no reimbursements. Gauna, who paid out of pocket to repair her car, said that she felt slighted by property management. “One of the maintenance men told me that I should have been paying closer attention to the weather,” she said.
In January of this year, the property owners threatened some tenants with eviction unless they paid thousands of dollars. According to McGiverin, considering that most Fairway Village renters pay around $200 each month, these excessive totals could only be arrived at by including late fees, which would contradict the terms of their lease, or by including unpaid rent from more than two years before, which is beyond the statute of limitations. Martinez, who has lived on the property for almost seven years, said that these threats were nothing new. “Almost every year there’s a new manager,” she said, “and every year they try this.”
The plaintiffs are grateful that their testimony is finally being recognized. “We tried so hard,” Martinez said, “to get somebody to pay attention to what we’re going through, and nobody ever listened, until Brian started working with us.” McGiverin said that the property owners have been able to shirk their legal obligations partly due to the city Code Enforcement Department‘s failure to follow up with the tenants’ complaints. “It’s a matter of priority,” he said. “The Department focuses on inspecting higher-value properties Downtown or elsewhere rather than investigating claims made by people living in poverty.”
At press time, Sage Apartment Communities Inc. had not responded to the Chronicle‘s request for comment.
Ken Casaday’s criticism of Police Chief Art Acevedo for standing with Black Lives Matter activists, and his urging to move criticism of police to “behind closed doors,” was really urging the Austin Police Department to take a step backward to the Paleolithic era of policing.
The Department of Justice investigated the Austin Police Department from 2007 to 2011. Early in its investigation, it praised Acevedo for “dramatically increasing community relations.” In the DOJ’s more recent review of Ferguson, Miss., it said Ferguson Police Department’s failure to engage the community increased the likelihood of discriminatory policing. In short, isolation begets polarization, because a police department that is not meaningfully engaged with the community develops an “us versus them” mentality.
Acevedo was smart to appear with the Black Lives Matter activists. He needs to build trust to maintain productive engagement with the community; community engagement is an essential ingredient for us to avoid future tragedies. If Casaday wants to weigh in, he should look for a seat at the table, not try to kick the table over.
Suit against APD alleges excessive use of force, racial discrimination in jaywalking arrest
From KUT: A local law firm is suing Austin police officers involved in an incident on Sixth Street downtown early in the morning of Nov. 6, 2015. The lawsuit (embedded below) claims that officers used excessive force and singled out African-Americans in arresting people for the misdemeanor offense of jaywalking.
A video of the incident gained national attention and hundreds of thousands of YouTube plays. The following version of that video was posted to YouTube by a group called PINAC, which stands for Photography Is Not a Crime, a couple of days after the arrests.
Note: The video below contains profanity and the use of physical force.
One of the two plaintiffs, Lourdes Glen, is a Hispanic woman who was arrested after questioning what police were doing. She can be seen being handcuffed about halfway through the video.
Austin attorney Brian McGiverin is representing Glen and the other plaintiff, Jeremy King, one of the two men arrested for “crossing against the light,” which is the reason stated for the arrest at one point by one officer in the video.
“What happened here was outrageous,” McGiverin said at a press event Monday afternoon. “It was unreasonable, it was racist and it was unconstitutional. The people of Austin, and tourists visiting Austin, and really everyone here deserves better; we deserve a police department that is going to abide by the restrictions of the Constitution.”
Both plaintiffs, who live in Bexar County and were visiting Austin when the incident occurred, spoke at the press conference Monday. King can be seen in the video being handcuffed by officers and lying on the ground with an officer’s knee on top of his neck area. King said he felt that he was discriminated against by the officers because of his race. He says that’s because friends of his who are not African-American but were also jaywalking were not arrested for the misdemeanor that night.
McGiverin was asked why it took so long to file the suit, given that the incident took place in November. King jumped in to respond, saying he’d spoken to several other lawyers who would not take the case because “there wasn’t enough injury.” The suit filed Monday with the U.S. District Court says King suffered a cervical strain, wrist sprain, contusions and abrasions due to the force used by the Austin Police Department.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, along with legal costs. The suit also requests a jury trial.
McGiverin said they hope to “raise awareness about the reality of how police officers are conducting themselves.”
APD said after the arrests that the incident was being reviewed. KUT’s request for the findings of that review is still pending.
Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT News. Plaintiff Jeremy King (center) speaks Monday at a press conference called by his attorney Brian McGiverin (right). King’s mother, Nevetta King (left), sat with her son.