When she bought her car, Tinker Martin-Bowen signed a contract with an arbitration clause that took away her right to a jury trial. Only later did she realize just what she had given up.
Deborah L. Pierce, an emergency room doctor in Philadelphia, was optimistic when she brought a sex discrimination claim against the medical group that had dismissed her. Respected by colleagues, she said she had a stack of glowing evaluations and evidence that the practice had a pattern of denying women partnerships.
She began to worry, though, once she was blocked from court and forced into private arbitration.
Presiding over the case was not a judge but a corporate lawyer, Vasilios J. Kalogredis, who also handled arbitrations. When Dr. Pierce showed up one day for a hearing, she said she noticed Mr. Kalogredis having a friendly coffee with the head of the medical group she was suing.
During the proceedings, the practice withheld crucial evidence, including audiotapes it destroyed, according to interviews and documents. Dr. Pierce thought things could not get any worse until a doctor reversed testimony she had given in Dr. Pierce’s favor. The reason: Male colleagues had “clarified” her memory.
When Mr. Kalogredis ultimately ruled against Dr. Pierce, his decision contained passages pulled, verbatim, from legal briefs prepared by lawyers for the medical practice, according to documents.
“It took away my faith in a fair and honorable legal system,” said Dr. Pierce, who is still paying off $200,000 in legal costs seven years later.
If the case had been heard in civil court, Dr. Pierce would have been able to appeal, raising questions about testimony, destruction of evidence and potential conflicts of interest.
But arbitration, an investigation by The New York Times has found, often bears little resemblance to court.
Over the last 10 years, thousands of businesses across the country — from big corporations to storefront shops — have used arbitration to create an alternate system of justice. There, rules tend to favor businesses, and judges and juries have been replaced by arbitrators who commonly consider the companies their clients, The Times found.
The change has been swift and virtually unnoticed, even though it has meant that tens of millions of Americans have lost a fundamental right: their day in court.
“This amounts to the whole-scale privatization of the justice system,” said Myriam Gilles, a law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “Americans are actively being deprived of their rights.”
President Obama is laying out a weeks-long campaign for criminal justice reform that will include visits with ex-prisoners and trips to cities riddled with drug addiction.
In his weekly address Saturday, Obama renewed his push for a “fairer and smarter” criminal justice system at a time when he has faced heavy scrutiny for both policing and sentencing issues over the last year.
He announced Saturday that he has planned trips to “highlight some of the Americans who are doing their part to fix our criminal justice system,” including meetings with law enforcement officers, former prisoners and community members most familiar with substance abuse.
“Ever since I was a Senator, I’ve talked about how, in too many cases, our criminal justice system is a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails,” Obama said.
Obama touted some progress he’s already made, including a bill that he said reduces “the 100 to 1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.” He’s also cut the sentences for dozens of drug offenders, taking a stand against mandatory minimum sentences.
The president also vowed to work with members of Congress “who are determined to get criminal justice reform bills to my desk,” specifically highlighting a bipartisan Senate bill to reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent drug offenders.
In 2005 judges in England and Wales started giving out a new kind of life sentence for relatively minor offenses, including the possession of low classified drugs, shoplifting, and affray (fighting in public).
These Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPPs) were supposed to protect the public from a few hundred of the most dangerous criminals. There was no fixed prison term and a release date was determined by the parole board. Yet IPPs were badly implemented and thousands were doled out for all kinds of crimes.
The UK government finally abandoned the controversial sentence in 2012. But VICE News can reveal that thousands of people sentenced to IPPs remain behind bars – three years after they were abolished – at an extraordinary cost to the taxpayer. Not a single inmate has a set release date.
By analyzing Freedom of Information requests and prison reports, and speaking to prisoners, their families, lawyers, and a retired judge, VICE News investigates the UK’s forgotten prisoners.
Watch “Institutionalized: Mental Health Behind Bars” – http://bit.ly/1iYLUx5
These eight charts suggest there are racial disparities at every phase of the justice system.
In the year since Michael Brown was killed, Americans have focused their attention on the harsh treatment of black Americans at the hands of police. A shocking number have been killed in encounters with police, in the year since Ferguson and in the years before. Thousands more have suffered subtler forms of discrimination in the criminal justice system, where social science research shows striking racial disparities at nearly every level—from arrest rates, to bail amounts, to sentence lengths, to probation hearing outcomes. We combed a vast body of research to find the clearest indicators of racial disparities at different phases of the justice process. The eight charts below offer a grim portrait of what it’s like to be a black American in our nation’s justice system.
1. Black Americans are more likely to have their cars searched.
Police are three times as likely to search the cars of stopped black drivers than stopped white drivers, as the chart below, based on data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, illustrates. Nationally, black drivers are also more likely to be pulled over and less likely to receive a reason for being stopped. In one Rhode Island study, black drivers were stopped more even though they were less likely to receive a citation.
New York City has agreed to pay $5.9m (£3.8m) to the family of Eric Garner who died after a violent arrest.
The arrest was captured on video and Garner’s words “I can’t breathe” became a slogan for protesters nationwide.
Garner’s death was one of a number of controversial cases in the US where unarmed black people have been killed by white police officers.
Family members had begun steps to file a lawsuit against New York, initially seeking $75m.
Police officers stopped Garner on 17 July 2014 outside a store on Staten Island for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes.
After Garner argued with police and refused to be handcuffed, officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a neck hold. Garner, who had asthma, was wrestled to the ground and restrained by force. He died later at a local hospital.
“Following a judicious review of the claim and facts of this case, my office was able to reach a settlement with the estate of Eric Garner that is in the best interests of all parties,'” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer said on Monday.
New York City did not admit to any liability. Mr Stringer has spearheaded efforts to settle civil rights case quickly, saying it saves the city money on legal fees.
The city’s medical examiner’s office found that Garner’s death was a homicide and was caused by “the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police”.
Critics said Mr Pantaleo performed a chokehold on Garner, which is banned by police department policy. Mr Pantaleo claimed the hold was a legal manoeuvre.
A grand jury declined last December to charge the arresting officers, setting off weeks of protests. A federal investigation into the case continues.
Garner’s family plans to lead a rally pushing for federal charges against the officers on Saturday outside the Brooklyn offices of the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
The Garner family and the Reverend Al Sharpton also plan to hold a news conference about the case on Tuesday.
“This is not about people getting money,” Mr Sharpton told the New York Times. “This is about justice – we’ve got to restructure our police departments – and how we deal with policing nationwide.”