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Civil Rights Litigation

Civil Rights Litigation

McGuire & Associates is dedicated to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, especially those who are indigent and historically underserved. All our citizens are afforded rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Yet many of us, especially those without the means or sophistication to battle the immense power of state and local governments find it difficult and sometimes, impossible to fight back when those rights are violated. Our firm helps thousands of citizens defend, preserve and restore their constitutional rights. It is what McGuire & Associates does every day to protect people from all walks of life. It is who we are.

Here are some of the groundbreaking and important Civil Rights cases litigated by our firm:

McGuire & Associates Challenges Debtors Prison and Illegal Bail Practices

Mitchell v. City of Montgomery

For decades, the City of Montgomery was jailing poor people because those persons could not afford to pay traffic fines and exorbitant fees.  Many of Montgomery’s citizens were jailed for days, weeks or months for being too poor to pay for traffic tickets.  The City of Montgomery, its municipal judges and prosecutors truly operated a “debtors’ prison.”  While in jail, many of these indigent citizens lost their jobs, were unable to maintain payments on their homes and, some even had to split up their children among family members while they suffered in jail.

Our firm, along with Attorney Alec Karakatsanis, founder of Civil Rights Corps and amazing legal professionals, Attorneys Matt Swerdlin and Bill Dawson, represented a large group of these citizens who were illegally jailed for failure to pay traffic fines.  The Federal District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ruled that the City of Montgomery’s jailing practices were unconstitutional and enjoined the illegal practices.  Because of this groundbreaking victory, the City of Montgomery is no longer able to continue its debtors’ prison practices.  Instead, Montgomery is now required comply with the federal law – to conduct indigence inquiries for determinations whether persons who owe for traffic fines and fees can afford to pay.  Montgomery is also now required to offer alternatives, such as community service and payment plans for those among us who cannot afford to pay the traffic fines and fees.

Review the Mitchell v. City of Montgomery Complaint here:
https://equaljusticeunderlaw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Complaint.pdf

Review the Court’s Injunctive Order here:
18-Preliminary injunction order

Mitchell v. City of Montgomery in the press:
https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/11/20/365510846/alabama-settlement-could-be-model-for-handling-poor-defendants-in-ferguson-mo

Cooper v. City of Dothan

During his investigation into the illegal bail practices around the state of Alabama, our firm’s Managing Partner, J Mitch McGuire, discovered that the City of Dothan had for years, operated an illegal bail scheme.  The City of Dothan would allow persons with financial resources, immediate release from jail upon payment of bail money.  Meanwhile, persons who could not afford to pay even nominal amounts of bail money to secure their release were required to languish in jail, sometime for weeks.

Our client, Anthony Cooper, is an Alabama citizen who was jailed for a non-violent misdemeanor offense in Dothan.  He could not afford to pay a few hundred dollars in bail money.  When Mr. McGuire discovered him in the Dothan municipal jail, Mr. Cooper had been there for over a week.  Mr. Cooper had not seen a judge, nor had anyone informed him of any options he may have other than remaining in jail until he was scheduled for a court hearing.

Alec Karakatsanis, founder of Civil Rights Corps joined Mitch McGuire in filing suit in the Middle District of Alabama against the City of Dothan for their illegal bail practices.  Mitch and Alec obtained an injunction against the City of Dothan, putting an end to their illegal money bail practices.  Mr. Cooper was released from the Dothan jail on the day the court held Dothan’s money bail practices unconstitutional.

Cooper v. City of Dothan in the Press

Faulkner University
https://www.faulkner.edu/2015/06/mcguire-fights-to-reform-the-city-of-dothans-bail-bond-policy/

Slate.com
https://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2015/06/is_bail_unconstitutional_our_broken_system_keeps_the_poor_in_jail_and_lets.html

Dothan Eagle
https://www.dothaneagle.com/news/local/city-of-dothan-changes-release-rules-at-jail/article_299b4648-1a01-11e5-a5a2-37d87f3ca6af.html

Dothan Eagle
https://www.dothaneagle.com/news/government/dothan-commissioners-vote-to-pay-settlement-to-former-inmate/article_fea426b4-ebc2-11e5-bcbd-130125b8c16c.html?mode=jqm

McGuire & Associates Challenges Alabama’s Voting and Elections Process

FELON DISENFRANCHISEMENT
Thompson et al., v. State of Alabama et al.

Until very recently, Alabama disenfranchised thousands of its citizens of their right to vote if they committed offenses in the past which the legislature alleged were crimes of “moral turpitude.”  Yet, Alabama had not defined which crimes were those involving “moral turpitude.”  This led to absurd results across the state.  For example, if a person who had been convicted of an offense attempted to register to vote in her Alabama county, she may have been summarily denied her right by the county registrar because of the “moral turpitude” crime she committed.  Meanwhile, that exact same crime did not automatically disenfranchise voters who sought to register in other counties.

In September, 2016, McGuire & Associates joined a stellar team voting rights law firms, legal organizations and lawyers from across the country.  Our team filed legal action against the State of Alabama.  The team includes some of the United States’ most accomplished legal advocates with decades of historic civil and voting rights victories to their credit. [Meet the legal team members here] Together, and on behalf of a class of disenfranchised Alabama citizens, our efforts seek to restore the fundamental right to vote for thousands deemed ineligible under Alabama’s “moral turpitude” standard.

In June, 2017 Alabama finally released a newly created list of specific crimes which are considered those involving “moral turpitude.” [see the list here].  As a result, thousands are now eligible to have their voting rights restored.  This is a step in the right direction.  Our firm and our team continue to fight against Alabama’s voter disenfranchisement through crimes of “moral turpitude” and we continue to fight for the restoral of the fundamental right to vote for thousands more.

VOTER PHOTO I.D. CHALLENGE
Greater Birmingham Ministries et al., v. State of Alabama et al.

For five decades, Alabama has one of the nation’s worst records for voter suppression and oppression.  Although the state has been subject to Federal oversight in the past because of its abysmal record on the voting rights of minorities, Alabama latest disenfranchisement efforts are but another method to advance its discriminatory purpose, the effects which suppress minority participation in the political process.

Since the year 2000, there has been only one (1) documented occurrence of voter fraud out of over 22 million votes cast during that period of time.  Yet, in the name of “voter fraud prevention,” Alabama now requires citizens to present one of seven (7) forms of identification.  Those citizens attempting to cast ballots but are not in possession of the requisite identification must be “positively identified” by two (2) elections officials present at the polling place.  If not positively identified, these voters are only allowed to cast “provisional” ballots, which are only counted if the prospective voter provides a designated election official with the required photo ID within a limited period of time before or after Election Day.

The Alabama Voter I.D. requirement disproportionately and dramatically impacts African-American and Latino (or Hispanic) voters – those who are less likely to possess the requisite identification for various reasons including economic, and ease of access.  Alabama has made it more difficult for minorities by reducing hours of operation of agencies where citizens may obtain identification.

Our firm, along with a stellar team of state and nationally recognized organizations are fighting against the state of Alabama to ensure all of its citizens have fair access to cast their ballots and fully participate in the political process.

See the Alabama Voter I.D. Challenge Complaint here:
1-Complaint FILED

Voter I.D. Challenge in the Press:
https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/lawsuit-challenges-alabama-voter-id-law

ALABAMA JUDICIAL ELECTIONS CHALLENGE
Alabama State Conference of the NAACP et al., v. State of Alabama et al.

Alabama elects its Appellate and Supreme Court Judges on an “at large” basis.  This means the entire state votes on who will sit as judges on the Alabama Civil and Criminal Courts of Appeals, as well as the Supreme Court of Alabama.

Because the population of Alabama is roughly 75% white and 25% African-American, it is difficult for minorities to ever sit on one of the state’s higher courts.  This, of course, has tremendous ramifications.  Persons who are subject to cases before the Appellate and Supreme Courts of Alabama will rarely, if ever, have persons who share many Alabama minority life experiences review their cases.

Because of Alabama’s at-large election system for higher court judges, no African American has ever served on the state’s criminal and civil appellate courts and only three on the nine-member Alabama Supreme Court in the past 36 years.

In our lawsuit against the State of Alabama, we seek to have the Federal Court recognize that Alabama’s at-large method unlawfully dilutes the voting strength of African Americans and prevents them from electing candidates of their choice. Working with a team of lawyers and organizations across the country, we requested the Court to hold that Alabama’s higher court elections system violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Alabama’s Appellate and Supreme Court Judges Election System  in the Press:
https://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2016/09/voting_rights_lawsuit_seeks_to.html

McGuire & Associates Challenges the Worst Sex Offender Law in the Country – The Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act.

Michael A. McGuire v. Luther Strange III

All reasonable people want to protect children from those who pose a threat of harm to them.  But all our citizens, even those who have committed crimes in the past, and particularly those who have never harmed a minor or a child, have a right to recover and move forward with law abiding, productive lives after paying for their crimes in full.

For the broad class of persons that Alabama deems to be so-called “sex offenders,” the right to recover from past offenses, even if their crimes did not involve minors or children, is impossible.

The Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act (“ASORCNA”) has been determined by a Federal Court to be the “most comprehensive debilitating sex offender scheme, by far, in the United States.”  The statute applies with limitless retroactivity, capturing thousands of people who committed certain crimes 20, 30, even more than 40 years ago.  Many of these captured persons have never harmed children a day in their lives, and have not committed any subsequent crimes.  The statute even captures, for example, 17-year-olds, who have had consensual sex with 15-year-olds, and treats them the same way they do 40-year-old serial pedophiles.

In 1985, our client, Michael McGuire, was convicted of sexual assault of his long-time girlfriend.  After being released from prison in 1989, he lived as a free and productive citizen, working as a musician and cosmetologist over the next 21 years.  In 2010, he and his wife of 16 years decided to move home to Alabama, to care for his aging and ailing mother.  He had seen reports of Alabama’s “tough” sex offender laws.  A few days after he moved to his mother’s home in Alabama, Mr. McGuire voluntarily visited the local police department to confirm his belief that Alabama’s sex offender law would not apply to him.  After all, he had never been required to register as a sex offender with any state.  By the time he left the police department that day, he had been detained, fingerprinted, required to submit a DNA sample, and required to register as an Alabama sex offender for the crime he committed back in 1985.

Alabama restricts all person on their registry from living or working within 2,000 feet of schools or childcare facilities.  Because of Alabama’s unprecedented sex offender restrictions, Mr. McGuire had to leave his mother’s home.  Because over 80% of homes in his city are off-limits for him, he now lives homeless, under a bridge in his hometown.  Meanwhile, his wife of 15 years lives in a home alone.  Mr. McGuire cannot live with his wife because the home is restricted to Alabama “sex offenders.”  Mr. McGuire is not allowed to work in locations where over 85% of jobs exist in his city.  His Alabama driver’s license is branded with the inscription, “CRIMINAL SEX OFFENDER”, in bold, red, capital letters on its face.  He must present this identification each time identification is required such as, during banking, shopping at stores or applying for jobs.

In 2011, our firm challenged Alabama’s sex offender law in Federal Court.  The lawsuit sought to strike down ASORCNA because it violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution, meaning the law should not be applied retroactively to persons, like Mr. McGuire – persons who fully paid for their crimes before the statute was enacted.  Lawyers from a small nonprofit law firm joined the case in 2014 and have provided additional legal support.  The trial resulted in a victory, with some of Alabama’s sex offender restrictions being invalidated as unconstitutional. We continue our fight against this law today and, seek relief for those who paid for their crimes in full prior to the enactment of ASORCNA, particularly those who have never harmed minors or children.  Mr. McGuire’s challenge to ASORCNA is currently under review at the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. He expects the Eleventh Circuit decision soon.

Review the District Court’s Opinion and Order here:
283–FINAL OPINION AND ORDER

Review the Eleventh Circuit Briefing here:
7-14-2017–Appellant’s supplemental brief

John Doe # 1 et al., v. Luther Strange et al.

McGuire and Associates is challenging the application of certain provisions of Alabama’s sex offender law.  The Alabama Sex Offender Registration and Community Notification Act (“ASORCNA”) has been determined by a Federal Court to be “the most comprehensive debilitating sex offender scheme, by far, in the United States.”  The statute serves to effectively banish nearly every registrant of the statute, including youthful offenders, from living and working almost anywhere where most homes and jobs in Alabama exist.

ASORCNA requires its registrants to carry branded state-issued identification with “CRIMINAL SEX OFFENDER” in bold red capital letters on the face of the identification.  The statute requires travel permits prior to most out town travel.  The statute renders many persons homeless because of its zones of exclusion.  And, the statute requires more in-person reporting to law enforcement than any other statute in the United States.  ASORCNA does all of these things and more to registrants, even if those persons have never harmed minors or children a day in their lives.  The law offers no individualized assessments of the risk these registrants may or may not pose to the community.  Under ASORCNA, everyone receives the exact same  harsh treatment.

McGuire & Associates is representing a class of Plaintiffs, none of whom have ever harmed minors or children.  For example, one of the plaintiffs has a conviction in another state for indecent exposure.  There was no victim other than perhaps the police officer who arrested him.  But in Alabama, he is required to register as a sex offender and is subject to all the statute’s restrictions and requirements.  Another plaintiff was 13 years old when he was captured by police and beaten until he confessed to a murder.  He was then shipped to a mental institution for two years because he was too young for adult prison.  At the age of 15, he was shipped to adult prison and “protected” from harm in prison by being locked in a solitary cell on death row.  He spent 40 years in prison, only to be released and required to register as a sex offender because of a crime that involved no sex or even sexual contact against a 30-year-old male while in prison. [See more Plaintiffs stories by reading the Complaint and other filings here].

On behalf of the Plaintiffs, McGuire & Associates is asking a Federal Court to rule that the harshest restrictions and requirements of ASORCNA are unconstitutional.  We believe that, absent risk assessments and findings that those subject to the restrictions pose a threat to the community or children, the law should be invalidated.  We have received positive rulings in the early stages of this case. [See the Court’s opinion here].  We will continue to fight for those who live at the margins of our society, like the plaintiffs in this case, until their constitutional rights are restored.

Review the Doe v. Strange Complaint here:
1-Complaint

Review the Court’s Pre-Trial Opinion here:
51-Memo & Opinion-Defendants MTD

See Doe v. Strange in the press here:
https://www.leagle.com/decision/infdco20160321512

McGuire & Associates Challenges the Alabama Death Penalty Drug Protocol

Alabama Open Records Act Challenge to Death Penalty Protocols
Tabitha Isner v. Alabama Secretary of State, Jefferson Dunn

Alabama is one of several states who punishes criminals by death for certain crimes.  It is within each state legislature’s authority designate the death penalty for crimes.  That said, most states make public the manner in which they put convicted criminals to death.  Most, if not all states provide the manner and methods of execution of the condemned.  Alabama does not.

McGuire & Associates has volunteered its legal services for our client, Tabitha Isner, an ordained minister.  Her faith has called her to pray for the condemned.  She states, “I want to know about how executions are carried out. I want to pray over each and every detail of each man’s march to Calvary, including the people who carry it out and tools they use to do it (be it nails or drug cocktails).”  She requested the method of execution of Alabama inmates pursuant to Alabama’s Open Records Act.  Inexplicably, her request was summarily denied by the state.

On her behalf, our firm filed suit against the State of Alabama, demanding that it provide the method of execution including, but not limited to, the protocols used, expiration dates of the drugs used, and other important information about how the state executes its death row prisoners. [see Complaint here] We are in the early stages of litigation and expect vigorous litigation from the State of Alabama.  Learn more about Tabitha Isner and her calling to pray for the condemned below.

See the Isner v. Alabama court briefing here:
7-14-2017–Appellant’s supplemental brief

Isner v. Alabama Secretary of State Press:
https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/opinion/columnists/2017/07/25/alabama-voices-praying-over-nails-and-drug-cocktails/508039001/

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