Quebec judge refused to hear single mother’s case because of hijab

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hijabIt’s hard to believe that Canada’s freedom of religion laws are not at least as robust as the United States. Therefore, it’s even harder to understand why a person who is charged with maintaining at least the appearance of impartiality should make such a patently absurd ruling, depriving a litigant of her day in court because of her religious beliefs.

“In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” Judge Eliana Marengo told Rania El-Alloul Tuesday, according to a courtroom recording obtained by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

“Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed, and I don’t see why scarves on the head would be. The same rules need to be applied to everyone.”

Ms. El-Alloul testified she was on welfare and the mother of three sons. She was trying to get back her car, which had been seized by the provincial automobile insurance board after one of her sons was caught driving it with a suspended licence.

She told the judge she needed the car to provide for her family. “I’m facing money problems,” she said.

But Judge Marengo refused to hear the merits of the case, citing a regulation governing court decorum that states simply, “Any person appearing before the court must be suitably dressed.”

She noted Ms. El-Alloul had said her hijab was a religious requirement. “In my opinion, the courtroom is a secular place and a secular space,” she said. “There are no religious symbols in this room, not on the walls and not on the persons.”

You would think that common sense would prevail in such an instance and the judge would realize that requirements that help maintain religious neutrality in the courtroom applies to the court and its personnel (and even then only to a limited degree). It certainly does not apply to litigants.

I hardly think this “judge” would have dared to treat a nun the same way and refuse to hear her case unless she removed her headscarf.

But it seems this was a case of a judge who is clearly biased against muslims and thinks that she’s clever enough to fashion a pretext under which she can exercise her biases. Judging from the national coverage the case has garnered, I would say she’s failed miserably. Alas, sometimes it takes national infamy to realize the folly of your ways.

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The Super Lawyer you never hear about

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Clive Stafford Smith is the founder and Director of Reprieve.

Clive oversees Reprieve’s casework programme, as well as the direct representation of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and on death row as a Louisiana licensed attorney at law.

After graduating from Columbia Law School in New York, Clive spent nine years as a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights working on death penalty cases and other civil rights issues.

In 1993, Clive moved to New Orleans and launched the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a non-profit law office specialising in representation of poor people in death penalty cases.

In total, Clive has represented over 300 prisoners facing the death penalty in the southern United States. While he only took on the cases of those who could not afford a lawyer – he has never been paid by a client – and always the most despised, he prevented the death penalty in all but six cases (a 98% “victory” rate).

Few lawyers ever take a case to the US Supreme Court – Clive has taken five, and all of the prisoners prevailed.

You would think with a track record like this, I would have heard about him in law school or even on TV some time – any time. His success record before the Supreme Court alone is newsworthy not to mention his success record in general. I have some case law to read. This will be interesting. Many thanks to my friend David O’Neil for introducing me to him.

Gas prices up, contract attorney fees down

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These days, it’s a familiar theme. The cost of living keeps rising – while take home earnings go down.

Today I noticed gas prices at the pump rose 10 cents per gallon, overnight in South Jersey. They had risen 6 cents per gallon from the night before, for a total of 16 cents in less than 48 hours. That’s a steep incline and I don’t imagine that will slow down any time soon.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 9.12.11 PMMeanwhile, I noticed another dramatic change today, a steep decline in the going hourly rate that agencies are paying attorneys to review documents for their clients, presumably for discovery for various types of matters. Last week the same agency was paying a minimum of $29. Today a whopping $25 per hour – flat. $200 less in take home pay per week for ten hour days (which is usual for projects like these).

For a comparison, a skilled graphic designer (with or without an undergraduate degree) often commands $50 an hour and usually gets overtime.

That means those who bothered going to college and thereafter law school, have nothing to show for it but a jumbo student loan (usually upwards of $100,000) and half the hourly wage of someone who spent 7 years less of their lives “learning.”

It also means that the price of gas and everything else on this wretched planet has gone up that much more relative to the income doc review attorneys are commanding in this “free” market economy.

Think about that before you or a friend or a relative dives into law school thinking there are great paying jobs when school’s out. That was then, in the 90’s. This is now. If an attorney wants to make a living in this market, they either have to litigate, preferably against deep pocket defendants, and charge their clients an arm and a leg, or do transactional work for midsize or large corporations, the only clients who can afford to pay a decent rate.

Those are the attorneys who get paid a decent rate. Everyone else is squeezed for their labor by unscrupulous “agencies” and paid only as much as they can command in a market awash with debt-strapped contract attorneys, who can’t afford to live without steady pay.