Kern County’s ‘Immigration Justice Collaborative’ aims to educate community on legal rights

January 24, 2018 | 10:06 am


The following “President’s Message” was published in the April 2017 issue of the Res Ipsa Loquitur, a monthly news magazine from the Kern County Bar Association. It was written by Kern County Bar Association president James Yoro, who is also a partner and workers’ compensation attorney at the law firm Chain | Cohn | Stiles. The article focuses on immigration policy in the United States, which continues to be a topic of debate today, and highlights a group of local lawyers — including Chain | Cohn | Stiles attorneys — aiming to educate our community on their rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, separation of powers, and the status of changes in immigration policy. 

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Immigration Justice Collaborative

By James A. Yoro

At my installation dinner in January, I announced that “service” would be the theme for my year as president of the Kern County Bar Association. In my speech, I asked every attorney in our organization to make a commitment to provide voluntary service to our profession and our community.

In February, I attended an event initiated by Judge Robert Tafoya (with the help of the KCBA’s Multicultural Bar Alliance) that brought together members of the Bench and Bar with representatives of multiple local educational programs that promoted responsible citizenship in order to support, develop and encourage a partnership that would benefit our local youth and our profession. I was surprised to see how well attended this event was by both Bench and Bar especially since it was the first time such an event was organized. I felt encouraged that my theme for the year was being taken seriously by so many members of our organization.

Last month in my president’s message for the Res Ipsa Loquitir, I commented about the uplifting example of lawyers around the country volunteering their services to individuals who were harshly affected by the Trump Executive Order on immigration. Little did I know at the time that there was a movement being initiated by a group of local attorneys who are also doing the same thing here in Kern County. They called themselves the Immigration Justice Collaborative. When I found out about their efforts, I contacted Beto Sala who was one of the organizers of this assemblage of lawyers. He immediately welcomed me and my associate’s participation and invited me to attend an upcoming town hall meeting that was being staged at the CSU Bakersfield campus. When I arrived at the event, I was astonished to see a standing room only crowd of more than 300 people packed into the auditorium listening intently to the presentations being given by more than 15 attorneys with diverse law practices all volunteering their time in order to educate a sometimes frightened and confused public. Numerous attorneys stayed well after the event was over in order to respond to the individual questions that many in the audience did not want to ask publicly.

Afterwards, I asked Beto to tell me more about the Immigration Justice Collaborative and here is the information he provided:

“The IJC was created in mid-November 2016 in response to widespread uncertainty regarding the status of non-citizens in the United States. After the election, there were many instances of children being mocked and bullied at school. Children were being told that they and their parents would be deported and that a great wall would be built to keep them out. Many people were told there would be mass raids and deportations. This created an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and racist treatment towards immigrants. In response, a group of lawyers convened to establish the IJC, which is comprised of local attorneys who practice in diverse fields of law, including immigration, civil rights, employment law, criminal defense and family law. All the lawyers are volunteers. The goal of the IJC is to reach out to communities affected by the President’s executive orders to inform them of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the significance of the rule of law, separation of powers, and the status of changes in immigration policy. Each presentation consists of 12 or more lawyers. Thus far, the IJC has been to east Bakersfield, Lamont, Delano and CSUB. The IJC has reached over 1,000 members of the community and is expected to reach thousands more in the near future. The response by the community has been overwhelmingly favorable. There are numerous pending requests from other communities in Kern County to conduct attorney presentations. Recently, the IJC sent a letter to each principal of every school in Kern County, which was signed by 19 lawyers. The letter places the schools on notice of the legal requirements of protecting students against bullying by other students who resort to racially derogatory remarks and attacks. The California Endowment has funded a film documentary of the efforts of the IJC. We have been informed by the producers of the film that the IJC is unprecedented, and consequently they intend to distribute the film nationwide.”

It is my understanding that the IJC will soon have a website and Facebook page that the public can access.

I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and commend the attorneys involved for their selfless commitment to the public and to the profession.

The following lawyers are members of the Immigration Justice Collaborative (IJC):

  • H.A. Sala
  • David Torres
  • Daniel Rodriguez
  • RL Hutchison
  • Vanessa Sanchez
  • Beatriz Trejo
  • Edgar Aguilasocho
  • Edyta Christina Grzybowska-Grant
  • Emilio Huerta
  • Emily Milnes
  • Gabriel Godinez
  • Gabriela Lopez
  • Win Eaton
  • Xochitl Garcia
  • Joel Andreesen
  • Mai Shawwa
  • Sarah Rich
  • Marcos Vargas
  • Monica Bermudez
  • Richard Rivera
  • Claudia Lopez
  • David Leon
  • Jose Guerrero

Keep up the good work. You are all an exceptional example of why I am so proud to be a lawyer in this community.

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*NOTICE: Making a false or fraudulent Workers’ Compensation claim is a felony subject to up to 5 years in a prison or a fine of up to $150,000 or double the value of the fraud, whichever is greater, or by both imprisonment and fine.

Chain | Cohn | Stiles files civil rights lawsuit in police shooting that local paralyzed man

September 14, 2016 | 6:00 am


Editor’s Note: The following article was published in the May 20, 2016, edition of The Bakersfield Californian related to an excessive force lawsuit that was filed against the City of Bakersfield and two officers of the Bakersfield Police Department by the Civil Rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles

* Note: Neil Gehlawat is no longer an attorney with Chain | Cohn | Stiles *

 

Homeless man sues after police shooting

By Steven Mayer

The Bakersfield Californian

Adding to a long string of lawsuits being filed against local law enforcement, a 19-year-old man paralyzed from the waist down after being shot last year by a Bakersfield police officer who found him sleeping in his car is suing the officers involved and the City of Bakersfield.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno on Tuesday — exactly one year after the incident in question — claims the plaintiff, Gilberto Fajardo, “was asleep, unarmed, and did not pose a threat of death or serious bodily injury to anyone” on the evening of May 17, 2015, when he was approached in a church parking lot by Bakersfield Police Officers Lindy DeGeare and Juan Orozco.

“It’s very tragic,” said Fajardo’s attorney, Neil Gehlawat, of the Bakersfield law firm Chain Cohn Stiles. “We’re talking about a very young kid who is now paralyzed for the rest of his life.”

Fajardo was essentially homeless at the time. While he was often able to stay with siblings, that night he was left with only one option, sleeping in his car.

“He was there because he believed the safest place he could sleep was in a church parking lot,” Gehlawat said.

Bakersfield City Attorney Ginny Gennaro said Friday she was aware the lawsuit had been filed, but the city had not been served with it.

As soon as the city is served, the case will go to outside counsel, Gennaro said. She noted there will certainly be two sides to the story.

According to the timeline outlined in the complaint, the front driver’s-side window was rolled down about three inches when officers arrived at the church lot in the 600 block of Planz Road for a “check the welfare” call.

The complaint says Orozco and DeGeare began yelling profanities at the plaintiff, who awoke “startled and perplexed.”

Orozco broke off both the driver’s-side and passenger-side door handles, then “proceeded to bash in the front windshield of plaintiff’s vehicle after plaintiff turned on his vehicle,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit continues: “DeGeare then shot plaintiff multiple times while he was in the vehicle. One of her shots pierced plaintiff’s spine, causing him to become paralyzed instantly from the waist down.”

No longer in control of his body, the plaintiff’s foot collapsed on the accelerator, causing his vehicle to slam into a nearby van, it said.

According to the timeline, the two officers then dragged Fajardo from the vehicle and onto the pavement, jumped on him, kneed him and handcuffed him, causing further injuries.

The following July, a BPD Critical Incident Review Board cleared DeGeare in the shooting. She was returned to full duty.

According to a BPD investigation, the incident unfolded when DeGeare and Orozco came upon a vehicle backed into a parking stall surrounded by large vans on each side and across the parking access lane.

Fajardo was in the driver’s seat slumped over the steering wheel.

The vehicle was not running and the driver’s-side front window was lowered several inches, the BPD said.

There were no license plates on the vehicle; a license plate found in the dash returned to a different make and model vehicle, the department said. It was unclear if the vehicle was stolen.

Plaintiff’s attorneys say it was not, and Fajardo was not charged with auto theft.

According to the BPD’s timeline, officers woke Fajardo, identified themselves and asked him to step out of the vehicle.

“During their several minute conversation with Fajardo, the officers ordered him to exit the vehicle numerous times and he refused,” police said in a news release.

Fajardo rolled up his window, started the vehicle, revved the engine and rapidly accelerated out of the parking stall, police said.

DeGeare, who was on the driver’s side, lost sight of Orozco, who was on the passenger side, the BPD said.

“Believing her partner had been or was being run over, she fired her duty firearm at Fajardo, striking him,” police said in the release.

Fajardo hit a van that was parked across the parking access lane from where he was initially parked. Fajardo was taken to Kern Medical Center for treatment.

DeGeare and Orozco were not hurt. Adding insult to injury, Gehlawat said, Fajardo was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, the weapon being the vehicle.

Should he be convicted in criminal court, it could bar the civil case from moving forward, Gehlawat said. Should Fajardo be acquitted, it could open the possibility of a malicious prosecution claim.

 

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If you or someone you know has been a victim of police misconduct, excessive force or had your civil rights violated,  call the Bakersfield police misconduct lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles at (661) 323-4000, or visit the law firm’s website at chainlaw.com.

Recently, the civil rights lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Stiles resolved a wrongful death, civil rights case that garnered international media attention. The case of David Sal Silva, in which he was beaten to death by law enforcement officers, settled for $3.4 million. Click here to learn more about this case.

— Compiled by Marisol Earnest for Chain | Cohn | Stiles

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