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ACLU Launches Multi-State Legal Action on Voting Rights

Seeks Information Related to New Trump Election Commission

The myth that is voter fraud is pushing legislation in many states and now President Trump has created a new commission to study “election integrity.”

“The President of the United States has alleged that “millions of votes” were “illegally” cast “for the other side” during the November 2016 General Election. No concrete evidence has been provided thus far to support the President’s serious indictment against American democracy. Yet the President’s allegations are the basis of an Executive Order, issued today, directing the Vice President to establish a “Commission on Election Integrity.”This FOIA demands that the government release the factual bases and evidence supporting the President’s allegations,” wrote the ACLU in a May 11th Freedom of Information Act request.

Though President Trump announced plans to form the commission months ago, he signed the executive order just last week. The commission is headed up by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whom the ACLU has successfully sued numerous times over his voter suppression policies. The FOIA requests target commission members who currently serve as secretaries of state — Kobach of Kansas, Connie Lawson of Indiana, Bill Gardner of New Hampshire, and Matthew Dunlap of Maine — as well as Christy McCormick, commissioner of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Multiple reports have shown that voter fraud is a myth and that we have had only a couple of actual cases of voter fraud out of millions of ballots cast.

Earlier this year, in an interview with CNN, Kobach claimed he had reason to believe out-of-state residents voted illegally in New Hampshire — because Kobach said New Hampshire’s Secretary of State told him thousands of people registered to vote using out-of-state licenses on the day of the election.

“Now some of those are going to be legit, they’re going to be people who just moved to New Hampshire and hadn’t yet gotten a New Hampshire driver’s license,” Kobach told CNN. “But many of those will be out-of-state residents who voted in the state.”

(From NHPR)

“We haven’t seen any evidence that there’s widespread voter fraud taking place. We do get anecdotal reports, but the substance is not available to back up those claims,” David Scanlan, NH’s Deputy Secretary of State told WMUR. “We do know that voter fraud does occur in every election on a small scale.”

Despite a complete lack of evidence Trump and Kobach continue to make claims that thousands of out-of-staters are coming to New Hampshire to vote.  Even after Sec. Gardner stated that voter fraud does not exist in New Hampshire, he has thrown his weight behind SB3, saying that there is an “perception” that voter fraud exists.  This “perception,” not actual voter fraud, is leading the legislature to change the law.  While proponents say that everyone who voted in 2016 would be able to vote in 2018 if SB3 passes, opponents of the bill say it is “voter suppression” aimed at making it harder for young people to vote.

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union sent coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests to officials in Kansas, Indiana, New Hampshire, Maine, and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission seeking information related to the Trump administration’s new “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.”

“We believe the outcome of the commission’s investigation is preordained,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It’s time to shed light on whether any commission members were crafting policy recommendations before their investigation was launched or the commission was even formally announced. If they’ve got evidence, it’s time to stop hiding and start sharing.”


Attached is NH’s FOIA request all of the rest of today’s FOIA requests are available here.

5.18.17_new_hampshire_rtk_request

A Startling Truth: Pregnancy Discrimination on the Rise

By John Sherman

In 1978 the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, protecting women from being fired or discriminated against due to pregnancy. Yet in 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received almost 3,500 pregnancy discrimination charges. There were more cases of pregnancy discrimination filed in 2016 than in 1992. And those are just the cases that were filed, not taking into account the thousands of women who never moved forward with complaints. Startling, to say the least.

Pregnancy discrimination can take many different forms. In some cases, mothers return to work after their maternity leave ends only to find out they have been demoted or placed in a new position. In other cases, a woman is fired simply for announcing her pregnancy. That type of case seems almost too blatant. But shockingly enough, it happens. And then there are countless other situations of pregnancy discrimination that occur every day in U.S. companies.

What the Law Says

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was enacted to ensure that pregnant employees or “women affected by childbirth” are treated the same as childless workers. More recently the EEOC updated its expectations and guidelines to make clear that pregnant workers with a medical condition such as gestational diabetes, should be granted reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disability Act.
Far too often, employers refuse to grant pregnant workers accommodations based on medical needs. A problem this recent update by the EEOC hopes to curb.

The “Motherhood Penalty”

According to the The Atlantic, “Studies from 2004 and 2010 have shown that mothers start at a lower pay than their coworkers, make less money over time, and they receive raises and promotions less often than their colleagues—that is, when they’re kept around.” Employers and co-workers also commonly believe, incorrectly, that mothers don’t work as hard and aren’t as capable as their male or single women colleagues.

“The “motherhood penalty” is alive and well. When sociologist Shelley Correll and her colleagues sent out more than 1,200 fake résumés to employers in a large Northeastern city, mothers were significantly less likely than either childless women or fathers with identical qualifications to get interviews,” said the Washington Post.

A University of New Mexico study, reported by NPR, found that moms earn 14% less than childless women. Women also fall short, across every sector, when it comes to occupying leadership positions. The bias towards working mothers and women is evident, yet the perceptions are unfounded. In fact, many studies have shown quite the opposite. A Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis study concluded that mothers were actually more productive in their jobs than childless women.

In the News

It’s companies of all sizes and across every industry that are being accused of pregnancy discrimination. Since 2014, according to the EEOC, pregnancy discrimination resolutions have increased 17%. In the summer of 2015, AutoZone was ordered to pay an unprecedented $185 million in punitive damages to a former employee who claimed that after she became pregnant she was demoted, relocated and her wages cut. When she returned and asked for her job back her supervisor refused to promote her. Ultimately she was fired.

These types of situations are all too common. Unfortunately, many women don’t want to go through with a formal complaint or workplace lawsuit, which only perpetuates the situation and allows the mistreatment of pregnant women to continue and misperceptions of working mothers to prevail.

Why Many Women Don’t File Complaints

Unfortunately, many women don’t file complaints or stand up for their rights when faced with pregnancy discrimination. The reasons are many but the top 4 most common reasons women site are:

  • Feeling guilty
  • Believing that filing a law suit against their employer will ruin their career
  • An ignorance on the law
  • Don’t think they have enough evidence

While pregnancy discrimination filings are going up each year, the reasons listed above stop a large majority of women from moving forward with a complaint. For these women, the alternative is usually to either find a new job or accept an uncomfortable or hostile working environment.

If you believe you are being discriminated against based on pregnancy or because you are a mother, it is important that you stand up for your rights. Every time a woman speaks up, she makes it easier for other working mothers. And with pregnancy discrimination on the rise there has never been a more crucial time for women to stand up for their rights and fight back against discriminatory practices.

Sherman Law, PLLC, located in Portsmouth, NH, represents companies and employees in all types of employment-related matters, including claims involving sexual harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, and discrimination.

 

Shea-Porter And Kuster Vote Against FCC Giveaway Of Your Private Internet Information

Republicans in Congress just sold you out. They have just voted to allow all of your online activities and data to be sold to corporations by your Internet Service Providers (ISPs) without a consumer’s permission.

Both Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) and Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02)  voted “no” on S.J.Res.34.

“Today, I voted against rolling back Internet privacy protections. Allowing Internet companies to sell personal information flies in the face of the New Hampshire ‘live free or die’ values we cherish,” said Shea-Porter. “Congress should be doing more to safeguard our Internet privacy, not making it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect their own data.”

The legislation Shea-Porter opposed would overturn Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules that currently require ISPs to secure a consumer’s permission before selling their private internet browsing history and other sensitive information. It would also overturn rules that currently require ISPs to use “reasonable measures” to protect consumers’ personal information. For these reasons, leading privacy organizations including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Consumer Federation of America, and Access Now opposed S.J.Res.34.

A staunch Internet privacy advocate, Shea-Porter previously introduced the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2014 to ensure consumers are notified quickly if their private information has been compromised, and help prevent cyber-attacks by addressing the underlying problem of lax security and a lack of accountability. She has also co-introduced legislation that would prohibit employers from requiring current and prospective employees from disclosing their personal passwords as a condition of either keeping or getting a job, and was a leader in 2014’s successful fight to defend net neutrality.

“It is unacceptable that Republicans in Congress are trying to roll back basic privacy protections for internet users. Instead of voting on a bill that will make it easier for Internet Service Providers to sell customers personal information, Congress should be working together to strengthen existing privacy protections for broadband users,” said Kuster.  “Today’s vote begs the question, who is Congress working for: Granite Staters and Americans who use the internet, or multi-million dollar Internet Service Providers? I’m disappointed by today’s vote and will continue to stand up for the right to online privacy.”

Our right to privacy should be protected, not sold to marketing firms and multi-national corporations.  

Justice and Injustice in the Big City – Part Two

(NB: This article was based on interviews with attorneys, court employees, police officers, defendants, and personal observations by this reporter in actual courtrooms and in the Philadelphia Criminal Courthouse. All names have been changed. Multiple real personal stories have been condensed to provide a hypothetical scenario where you are the defendant.)

You’ve rejected every plea deal. You’re one of the few cases that’s made it to trial. Your public defender has urged you to take the deal. You’re innocent, and you refuse. You’ve waited almost a year for this day, and you finally will be able to tell your side of the story. During that year, you’ve lived in constant fear. As a defendant on bail, even being pulled over for running a red light or being in the same room as a potential witness against you (even family members) could have landed you in jail with your bail revoked. The District Attorney knows this and is hoping you’ll do something – no matter how innocent it looks – to land you in jail and to limit your options. You never leave your house if you can help it. You miss weddings. Funerals. Family gatherings. Your heart races when you hear sirens going by.

But you’ve made it! You’re going to trial.

If you’re lucky, you’ve had a hour to go over the facts of your case the week before, and to prepare your testimony. Your attorney has a mountain of cases on their desk, and may even remember your name and what you look like on your trial date. By now the District Attorney’s Office has given your lawyer all of evidence they have against you – called “discovery” – and you’re confident that the evidence of your innocence that you’re collected will eventually exonerate you.

You get to court bright and early because your subpoena says you need to be there at 9:00 am. As I discussed in a previous column, that doesn’t mean your trial starts at that time. You go through the line, emptying your pockets and removing your belt to be run through a scanner. You walk though a metal detector, gather your things, and join the throng of defendants, police officers, witnesses, and attorneys jostling for a place in the elevator.

(Author’s note: If you want to be glared at by police officers, wear a press pass during this process.)

You get to the fifth floor, and enter your courtroom. Outside you may have seen the witnesses against you, but you quickly look away before anyone can unjustly claim you’ve intimidated them. You sit and wait for your lawyer to appear.

And wait. And wait. And wait.

Photo: Mark Dobbins

Real Scene: An Assistant District Attorney (ADA) hands a file to a police officer in the hallway of the courthouse that has the evidence that will be used against the defendant – including the arrest report. The officer “refreshes their recollection” by memorizing this report, and all of the other evidence collected since the arrest. This is information that the arresting officer could not have known at the time of your arrest. But they know it now, and the officer will “expand” their testimony to include language and this information that will be geared to ensure your conviction: “in plain view,” “furtive movement,” etc. The ADA goes over the officer’s testimony. In violation of the rules of criminal procedure, I observed one ADA say, “No, you want to say this,” and the officer repeated their planned testimony until the ADA was satisfied that they will say what the ADA wanted to hear to convict. I witnessed this myself just feet away from this pair with my press pass in plain view – and on other occasions. That’s suborning perjury – and it’s against the law.

Your case is called. You’ve elected for a bench trial, so the judge goes over your waiver of your right to a jury. You sit to the left of your lawyer, and start praying that not all of the witnesses show up. They do. Damn.

Real Scene: Jane is arrested in November of 2016 and charged with retail theft for forgetting to pay for a soda. Her family cannot afford the five-hundred dollar bail. She sits in jail. During her first hearing, the complaining witness fails to appear. The case is continued for another six weeks. Six weeks of no income. Six weeks where she rarely sees her children. The case is called a second time. Still no witness. Another six weeks of jail. Another six weeks of your public defender telling you that all Jane needs to do is sign this piece of paper and she can go home. She justs have to plead out. Jane refuses. During the third hearing the witness still fails to appear. The judge tells the ADA to either withdraw the charges or they will dismiss. They case is withdrawn. Jane’s processed and eventually released. Jane has lost her job. She’s lost her apartment and everything that she owns. All she has are the clothes on her back. Where does she go to get her life back? She can’t sue the District Attorney – under Pennsylvania law, they’re immune from that. She can’t sue the police. She’ll lose. With no apology and no offer of assistance Jane gets on the bus with her mother. Jane and her children can’t stay long at her mother’s apartment because it’s Section Eight – and there are limits as to who can live there. Jane has no job, no money, and about two weeks to figure something out before she ends up in a shelter. Over a can of soda that, in the haste of taking her children out for some pizza, she forgot to pay for. Jane breaks down in front of me and starts sobbing, “What do I do?”

The ADA calls the arresting officer. It’s clear to everyone in the room that they’ve been coached. Their answers use language and phrases that no regular person uses. It’s also clear that they’re lying. Yes, the police lie every day in court – hundreds of times. The ADA knows that they are lying and will put them on the stand anyway. The ADA will “rephrase” questions if they realize the officer has forgotten their pre-planned answers. Every person in the room knows that they are lying – and no one says a word.

Photo: Mark Dobbins

Your lawyer cross examines the officer, and tries to poke holes in their account. But it’s too late. The damage has been done. The judge believes their lies.

Fast forward: You’re found guilty.

Because you’re accused of a non-violent offense, and since you’re never been arrested before, you’re lucky. You’re later sentenced to two years probation, plus court costs. You’re a felon, but you get to go home.

Real Scene: Bob goes home and start talking to his family and neighbors. He’s heard something that stops him cold. His neighbor said that the DA’s office questioned them about his case, and they told the ADA that you were miles away when they say you committed the crime. But they never told your lawyer about that witness – and that’s what’s called a “Brady Violation,” after the case that said the prosecution must turn over all evidence about the crime – even evidence that may point to your innocence. Bob calls his lawyer, excited that his case may be overturned. That’s when Bob finds out from his lawyer that it doesn’t matter. Brady violations happen every day. Bob has one witness against the weight of the police and District Attorney’s Office. No one will believe him. Bob’s conviction stands.

At this point you’re wondering why this happens. How can the District Attorney’s Office get away with this? You’ve watched court dramas on television and that’s not what happens.

It happens every day.

When I planned this series, I was like you. I believed that the system was self-correcting, and that people who lie on the stand get caught, and punished. I believed that the District Attorney existed to charge bad people and to seek the truth. That the truth mattered above all. That there was justice.

Then I started talking to the people who work in the system. And I was shocked.

In Philadelphia, our District Attorney, Seth Williams, isn’t one of the good guys. For years people have noted his ethical lapses. Then this happened. He took money from tax cheats. He took gifts from people who had business before his office. The words “scandal” and “District Attorney” now are synonymous in Philadelphia. In any jurisdiction he’d be facing criminal prosecution. But in Philadelphia, he’s only looking at fines. He will walk away smiling.

And that’s wrong. I’ve called out our District Attorney for his ethical lapses. Like you, I expect out District Attorney to be ethical. To follow the rules. To be one of the good guys. To put justice above personal ambition. I posted one tweet calling for him to resign.

This was his response.

Photo: Mark Dobbins

In my next column, I’ll write about the wreckage this system causes. Lost jobs. Lost families. Lost homes. Lost hope.

Oddly enough. I have been called for jury duty this Thursday. Once my name is called – how long do you think until I’m shown the door?

Place your bets.

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