TCAL forum takes on justice system

RJ Addresses crowd

Los Angeles defense attorney RJ Manuelian addressed the crowd at TCAL's Justice Forum Saturday.

PALMDALE – The Community Action League (TCAL) rallied residents Saturday to take a stand against a justice system they claim is failing the poor and minority communities of Lancaster and Palmdale.

“How many of you are fired up today?” Board Member V. Jesse Smith said, to cheers from the diverse crowd of about 75. “It’s time for us to take back our justice system!”

Smith’s comments came during TCAL’s Justice Forum Saturday afternoon at the Palmdale Moose Lodge. The Forum featured a panel of attorneys who educated residents about the justice process and gave advice on countering the elements of a system they claim puts minorities at a disadvantage.

Amy Konstantelos says public defense attorneys in the AV are often new and inexperienced.

Amy Konstantelos says public defense attorneys in the AV are often new and inexperienced.

Private defense attorney Amy Konstantelos cautioned the crowd against using public defenders, whom she said were not invested in the community.  “There are only so many people willing to live up here and so the majority [of public defenders] are coming from other areas, coming with the promise that they only have to stay 18 months,” Konstantelos  said. “They are short timers and they’re just counting their days until they can get out.”

She also claimed that public defenders in the AV were often new and inexperienced.

“In essence, they are practicing on you,” Konstantelos  said.

RJ Manuelian told residents that he would represent them pro bono if he felt they have a viable case.

RJ Manuelian told residents that he would represent them pro bono if he felt they had a viable case.

Another attorney panelist, RJ Manuelian, a criminal defense attorney from Los Angeles, agreed.

“It shocks me in Lancaster that they’re sending people up here that don’t have experience to sort of work on you like a project and that’s a shame,” he said.

Attorney panelists also said judges were scaring defendants into taking plea deals because there wasn’t enough time or space in the courts to handle all the cases.

They urged attendees to assert their constitutional rights and demand a jury trial over a plea bargain.

“In Lancaster more than other places, they have a shortage of courtrooms for the number of cases they have,” said Konstantelos. ”If everyone asserted their constitutional rights up here and demanded a jury trial, this system would grind to a stop.”

“Friends don’t let their friends plead guilty,” Manuelian said. “If you believe you haven’t committed a crime, don’t take a deal. What are you scared about?”

Attendees were given the opportunity to pose specific questions to the attorney panel. Many attendees made claims of being unfairly harassed and in some cases arrested by deputies.

Manuelian encouraged residents to file a complaint immediately after each alleged incident.

“You should comply with the police, but what I would do to make their jobs a little more difficult and to create more of a nightmare for them, as far as paperwork, is complain,” Manuelian said. “If you do that, and he does that, and everybody does that, then eventually that list gets into an attorney’s hands and ultimately will be able to be used to avoid future circumstances.”

Manuelian also suggested that residents combine their complaints into a possible class action suit against the sheriff’s department.

“The only way your voices are heard in this society with sheriffs breathing down your necks is when you hit them in the pockets,” he said.

During the meeting, residents were encouraged to write their names and contact information on a sheet labeled “Department of Justice Complaints,” to allow TCAL Board Members to contact them for future actions.

“We’re going to follow up with the complaints and forward the complaints as deemed necessary to the appropriate attorneys,” said TCAL Board Member Nigel Holly. “We want to make sure that they are properly represented and that they are not being railroaded.”

The meeting also included a voter registration table. Additionally, Steve Ipsen, candidate for Los Angeles County District Attorney 2012, detailed his Reform First plan.

  6 comments for “TCAL forum takes on justice system

  1. Dana
    August 25, 2012 at 9:53 am

    I have witnessed these actions. I too was not at the meeting, but I can tell you that unless the complaints are filed by numerous people the sheriffs department has no plans to do anything at all about it. I would love to see the outcome of this probe by the DOJ.

  2. Amy Konstantelos
    October 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    Please read my reply under “viewpoints” where I respond to this article and Mr. Brown’s response. It is my position that my comments are out of context. This article failed to address that my complaints about the Public Defender’s office were mostly about the management of the the office. I believe the majority of Public Defenders are extremely hard working smart attorneys. They are often superior to private attorneys. The problem is that they are understaffed and over burdened. They deserve lighter case loads and more financial incentives to make Lancaster a desirable courthouse to work at since it is on the outreaches of the county.

  3. Ronald L. Brown
    October 11, 2011 at 7:18 am

    I write in response to your article published September 18, 2011 entitled: “TCAL forum takes on justice system”. I am the Public Defender for the County of Los Angeles with more than thirty years of experience as a defense attorney in the Law Office of the Public Defender. I honor and respect the fact that our Constitution guarantees everyone in this nation the right of free speech and expression of opinion.

    However, I respectfully and strongly disagree with the assertions of the two attorneys in the above referenced article concerning the qualifications of attorneys that staff the Lancaster branch of the Public Defender. Simply stated, their statements are factually inaccurate, baseless and without merit.

    I am proud of the fact that the attorneys at the Lancaster branch, and indeed all attorneys and staff, receive extensive and continuous legal training throughout their legal careers in this Office. In fact, I can assure you that the attorneys and staff at the Lancaster branch are among the finest and most committed defense attorneys in the state as a result of our rigorous attorney selection and hiring process, and ongoing training regimen. I am also pleased with the level of direct supervision that is provided to this branch office by its very experienced on-site attorney manager, in addition to the level of legal support available from numerous sources throughout my Office. Hence, the claim that these attorneys are practicing on their own is once again absolutely false.

    I refuse to speculate on the motives of those expressing these baseless opinions. Nonetheless, I strongly believe that the record is clear that the attorneys at the Lancaster branch provide exceptional legal representation to their clients. This Office strives to ensure equal treatment within the justice system by safeguarding the liberty interests and upholding the rights of all of the individuals we are privileged to represent.

    We will continue to honor this sacred oath.

    Thank you.

    Yours most truly,

    Ronald L. Brown
    Public Defender
    Of Los Angeles County

  4. September 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    Since AV Times gives us this space to talk about any article they write, would you write your take on the forum? I wasn’t able to attend, but am interested in varying viewpoints on it.
    What did you get from it?

    Thanks, Andrew

  5. Anita Wilson
    September 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Makeeda I am very disappointed that this is all that you took away from the forum. The message that was given we way more indepth and powerful that what I see here. These allegations are more than just claims they are a reality. A reality that people live every day. Not to belittle your take on the forum but I am just saying this story is just a glossed over version of the real meaning and purpose of the forum.

    • S. Parker
      September 19, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      I was not at the forum, but unless there were members of the sheriff’s dept. to answer these claims of brutality, harassment, etc., then how can you call this a reality? It sounds like a bunch of claims to me. When the Dept. of Justice’s probe is complete and we get some real, hard evidence to back up these claims of brutality, harassment, etc., then you can call it a reality. For now it is just claims by a bunch of people whining about problems with no real solutions on the table. Check with the sheriff’s dept. and you will get a completely different story. I’m sure deputies would like you to believe their ‘reality’. Unless you personally witnessed any of these violations then you shouldn’t be so quick to believe everything you hear… It’s makes you appear gullible and unbalanced.

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