Mercy & Justice

Mercy & Justice:
A Christian Perspective on the Justice System and the Poor

June 15, 2022

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. - Leviticus 19:15

Many low-income people face all kinds of injustices, such as wage theft, scams, elder abuse, unwarranted evictions, etc. For them, we lament the lack of “access to justice” because so many of them can’t afford legal help to fight for their rights. But what about people who suffer legal problems seemingly as a result of their own mistakes and bad life choices?  Or people who commit crimes to feed their drug or alcohol addictions?  Homeless people who have dozens of fines for illegal panhandling and loitering?  Parents who fail to pay their child support obligations?

Listen below to CLS' discussion on this topic by a panel of experienced criminal justice and legal aid attorneys.  Issues addressed include:

•     Do people in poverty and racial minorities get disparate treatment by law enforcement and the justice system?

•     How do court fines and fees, suspension of driver's licenses, and other penalties disproportionately impact the poor?

•     What are the impacts of collateral consequences lasting long after people with criminal convictions have served their sentences?

•     Do certain crimes, such as loitering, panhandling, vagrancy, etc., unjustly target the poor and homeless?

•     How can Christians balance law and order with compassion and rehabilitation?

•     How can we address these issues from a Christian perspective, both individually and societally?

•     What are ways that attorneys can help address these issues? 

Panelists:

Aisha Cornelius Edwards - Executive Director, Cabrini Green Legal Aid

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Aisha is the Executive Director of Cabrini Green Legal Aid (CGLA), which provides holistic legal services that include social support services and advocacy for individuals and communities negatively impacted by the criminal legal system. Aisha is also an adjunct professor at Loyola School of Law, leading and co-leading courses focused on social justice leadership. She was previously a Senior Program Officer at the MacArthur Foundation supporting the Safety and Justice Challenge, a national initiative to eliminate racial disparities and reduce jail incarceration. Aisha has been both an indigent defender, supervising Criminal Defense at Cabrini Green Legal Aid, and a prosecutor in Cook County, IL. Aisha obtained her MBA and undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Illinois. Aisha received her law degree from Loyola School of Law. Aisha credits her experiences growing up on the south side of Chicago and being personally impacted by crime and the criminal legal system, both directly and through the experiences of family and friends, as a source of passion for her career and pursuit of justice.

David Mace - Managing Attorney, Open Door Legal Services

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Since 2007 David has been the Managing attorney at Open Door Legal Services, a ministry of Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission that serves the legal needs of homeless individuals in the Seattle/King County area.  Prior to his work at the Mission, David was a prosecutor in the Family Support unit of the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s office for seven years, working primarily on child support collection.  He began his career as a criminal prosecutor in King County in 1999.  David is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center.

Kate Trammell - Vice President of Advocacy, Prison Fellowship

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Kate serves as the vice president of advocacy at Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest Christian nonprofit serving prisoners, former prisoners, and their families. She is well-versed in criminal law and has unique expertise conducting state and federal issue advocacy campaigns and equipping people of faith for political engagement. Prior to joining Prison Fellowship, Kate worked directly with law enforcement, victims of crime, and criminal defendants as a magistrate for the Supreme Court of Virginia. She is a graduate of Liberty University School of Law with added studies in international law and comparative criminal procedure and is a member of the Virginia State Bar. Kate oversees the development of Prison Fellowship’s policy positions on criminal justice issues and directs the organization’s state and federal advocacy initiatives designed to bring justice that restores to those impacted by crime and incarceration across America.

Drew Willey - CEO, Restoring Justice

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Alongside his wife, Jessica, Drew founded Restoring Justice and currently serves as its CEO. Drew left a career as an accountant to attend law school at the University of Houston Law Center. An internship with the Texas Innocence Network showed him how the legal system dehumanizes poor people, people of color, and those with mental health conditions. After training from Gideon’s Promise, Drew became a criminal defense attorney, primarily working on representation of the indigent. He is dedicated to providing passionate, proactive, and client-centered representation to marginalized people in the greater Houston area. This work eventually led Drew to found Restoring Justice to not only provide high-quality, holistic counsel to those who need it the most, but also find ways to expose, disrupt, and fix the systemic racism and discrimination in our criminal justice system. Drew’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Texas Monthly, Texas Tribune, and the Houston Chronicle.

Moderator:

Lakuita Bittle - Director of Attorney Ministries, Christian Legal Society

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Lakuita is the director of Attorney Ministries at Christian Legal Society. Previously, Lakuita worked for the Office of the State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, Maryland, which she joined in 2015 as a law clerk in the Grand Jury Unit. She was sworn in as an Assistant State’s Attorney in 2017 where she first handled misdemeanor criminal and jailable traffic cases before prosecuting cases involving domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, motor vehicle theft, armed robbery, attempted murder, and other related felonies. Lakuita is a graduate of David A. Clarke School of Law at The University of the District of Columbia. Lakuita also has her associate’s degree from Guilford Technical Community College and her bachelor’s degree in sociology from High Point University. Lakuita also had over nine years of professional work experience in the legal field prior to attending law school.

Statement of Non-Endorsement: We are pleased to host this panel of leaders experienced in the criminal justice system. You will hear thoughts from diverse perspectives. Christian Legal Society does not endorse all views that may be presented, but offers this discussion as a means for participants to hear and engage with different ideas in addressing important criminal justice issues facing our country.