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In every client I help, I see my mother

Lilya-Dischyan-CARES-clerkBy Lilya Dishchyan

“MOM! Our homeless man is at the door!” my brother and I shouted across the living room to our mother when we saw the weirdly familiar silhouette of our unusual friend. My mom quickly ran to her purse to see what she had to offer him that day. My brother and I had gotten used to his frequent unannounced visits over the years. He was a nice man whom we knew only through the comfort of the locked, metal screen door under which my mom would slide him food stamps or coupons from time to time. This was my first experience with a person battling chronic homelessness. My supervisor, Lucy Petrow, might even call it an early form of CalFresh advocacy.

I grew up in a small duplex apartment in Hollywood with my parents and older brother. As immigrants from the war-torn, newly liberated post soviet country of Armenia, my family arrived to the United States with, quite literally, only the clothes on our backs. The airline had misplaced all of our belongings and my non English-speaking parents knew little about the remedies they could seek for such a loss. Fortunately for all of us, we had green cards, which helped my mother apply for much needed government benefits for our family. Looking back on that time now as an advocate for public benefits recipients, I realize how fortunate we were to have a place to live.

As I grew older, I began noticing the colorful cardstock resembling Monopoly money that my mother used to pay for groceries. I also became aware that not all of the students at my school used meal vouchers to pay for their lunches. It was an interesting revelation when I realized that my family was on welfare. Even in elementary school, I felt the various social stigmas of the aid. Looking back, I understand that it was that very aid that gave my mom the ability to provide for our family. That aid is what helped feed my body as well as my ambition, allowing me to excel academically and go to law school to become an advocate for social justice.

My mother earned a nursing diploma from the nursing college of Yerevan College of Nursing in Armenia. Unfortunately, her degree did not offer her the same job opportunities in the US, so she started attending nursing and ESL classes at a local community college. During her time as a student, she worked two jobs, one of which was on campus as a student worker in the office for students with disabilities. Her campus job inspired her onto a new career path in rehabilitation counseling.

My family transitioned off of welfare after my mother graduated from community college. After about 10 years of schooling, she had two AA degrees, a bachelor’s degree and a master’s of science in rehabilitative counseling; but still she received countless rejections from several different employers for about 5 years. My mom is now employed at her dream job as an academic counselor for students with disabilities at the community college where she first learned English.

This is the kind of success story I envision every time I advocate at the various Departments of Social Services (DPSS) in Los Angeles County. As an advocate with the CARES program at Public Counsel (Connecting Angelinos to Resources and Essential Services), I have been able to help countless individuals obtain the benefits to which they are entitled, despite several inappropriate administrative barriers placed on the aid. In every client I help, I see my mother. I see the importance of the $221 a month in general relief cash aid and $189 a month for fresh groceries. I also understand the implications of having to subsist on these programs. Even the slightest gap in benefits can result in a client’s inability to pay rent, which can inevitably lead to homelessness. I have a special connection with every person I assist because I have been in their shoes. I am thankful to Public Counsel and the CARES program for giving me the unique opportunity to serve a very vulnerable population of which I was once a part.

Lilya Dishchyan is a clerk with Public Counsel’s Homelessness Prevention Law Project. Ms. Dishchyan is a rising 3L at Whittier Law School where she is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Child and Family Advocacy and a Fellow at the Center for Children’s Rights.

An ethics check-up for in-house attorneys jumping into pro bono law

Editor’s note: This article is republished with permission of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) as it originally appeared on acc.com/docket: “The Ethics of Pro Bono.” © 2014 the Association of Corporate Counsel. All rights reserved.

 

Elizabeth Bluestein - Public CounselBy Elizabeth Bluestein and Michael Sposato

As more legal departments and Association of Corporate Counsel chapters move to identify and create pro bono opportunities for in-house counsel and other legal department staff, it is important to consider the ethical rules that impact pro bono service.

Studies show that more than 80 percent of the legal needs of low-income individuals in the United States go unmet. Millions of people each year find themselves in civil court without legal representation. The lack of available legal resources for people who cannot afford to pay for counsel threatens to undermine our legal framework in which laws are supposed to apply equally without regard to a person’s wealth. Pro bono service by in-house attorneys is crucial to help fill this gap in access to justice.

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Even a small pro bono commitment can mean enormous help

This is the third, and final, blog post in a series about managing pro bono activities for busy attorneys that we are publishing as part of Public Counsel’s Pro Bono Pitch. Click here to read the first and second installments.

Sarah-Luppen---Harder-Mirell-AbramsBy Sarah Luppen

We did it. More than 135 lawyers from more than 35 firms and companies signed up to take on a pro bono matter last month. We signed up to help youth and veterans with their accumulated tickets, assist in adoptions, review partnership agreements and tax forms, revise by-laws, and advise on trademarks and logos—among many other things. More than half of those lawyers work in small law firms and in-house legal departments. For many who signed up, the time commitment was small — an evening after work or a morning before — but for the dozens of clients we assisted, the help was enormous.

That is the take-away from Public Counsel’s Pro Bono Pitch: Everyone can help, and a little bit of your time goes a long way.
On October 21, to kick off National Pro Bono Week, I participated in Public Counsel’s Consumer Law Department’s client intake night at the Los Angeles County Law Library downtown. The volunteer attorneys were paired with local law students and met with clients facing a variety of consumer law issues, including student loan debt, mortgage fraud, and other loan scams. I spent the evening talking to an extremely intelligent, self-sufficient woman who had made the mistake, fifteen years earlier, of defaulting on her student loans. Today, she does not have a job or a home, and she owes her lender thousands of dollars she simply does not have. These conversations are the toughest. There are no good answers to a problem like hers.

And that was my job that night — to tell her that there weren’t going to be answers to this problem; that there wasn’t going to be an easy way out of it, or even a hard way. A lot of times, though, these are the conversations that are most valuable to a pro bono client. We were able to discuss her options, develop a plan for going forward, and assure her that her intelligence and resourcefulness would serve her well. I am confident that it will. And though she started our meeting frustrated and in tears, she left with a plan and resolve.

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Ready to get real about pro bono? First be selfish

This is the second blog post in a series about managing pro bono activities for busy attorneys that we are publishing for National Pro Bono Week, Oct. 20-26, 2013.

Sarah-Luppen---Harder-Mirell-AbramsBy Sarah Luppen

I promised you the “real” story behind pro bono.  Now that I’m sitting down to write it, however, I realize that there isn’t one “real” story.  Every pro bono lawyer, client, and matter is different.

Pro-Bono-Pitch-200px-whiteLawyers interested in taking on pro bono matters include big firm civil litigators, entertainment transactional lawyers, small firm employment lawyers, and lawyers working in-house at studios, tech start-ups, or banks. Clients range from domestic violence victims to teens with daytime curfew tickets to unrepresented defendants in federal court. And pro bono matters can involve a morning answering unrepresented litigants’ civil procedure questions, a day helping individuals apply for food stamps and general relief, or several months representing an individual client from discovery through trial.

The trick is finding the right pro bono opportunity for you. We as lawyers have limited time to devote to pro bono work, so it’s important that we make count the pro bono opportunities that we are able to take.

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Leaving “BigLaw” should not mean leaving pro bono

Sarah-Luppen---Harder-Mirell-Abrams

By Sarah Luppen

“BigLaw” gets a bad rap: And, on a lot of points, “BigLaw” deserves it—doc review is real; all-nighters happen regularly; partners yell at you for comma misplacement; etc. But one thing big firms get right, is pro bono. They have pro bono directors and pro bono committees. They handle pro bono adoptions en masse every summer. They dedicate paralegal and secretarial staff to pro bono matters. They encourage young associates to take on pro bono assignments to get substantive experience. Big firms are dedicated to doing pro bono work, and they provide the support to make that work possible.

Pro-Bono-Pitch-200px-whiteI spent almost five years at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett— ranked 7 in the Vault Law 100, Simpson has over 850 lawyers and offices around the world. I did more than my fair share of doc review there, but I also got incredible experience doing pro bono work: my first (and second, third, and fourth) depositions, my first federal summary judgment motion, my first mediation brief, and my first settlement negotiation all came out of pro bono matters that Simpson supported.

In January of this year, I left Simpson to join Harder Mirell & Abrams, a brand new entertainment litigation firm with a staff of ten—partners, associates, paralegals, and support staff included. I love my new job. We work really hard on interesting intellectual property and First Amendment cases, and we have fun and mostly get home for dinner. In order to provide high quality legal work and maintain a “work-life balance,” however, we have to allocate our resources efficiently. Taking on a pro bono litigation matter of the type that I worked on at Simpson would be difficult if not impossible.

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‘Justice, justice shall you pursue’: Voices from Public Counsel’s 2013 Pro Bono Awards

Public Counsel’s Pro Bono Awards recognize amazing people who work for justice for everyone. This year’s honorees have helped veterans, children with disabilities, immigrants fleeing persecution, and many others. Hear in their own words what fighting for justice means to them. Click here to read more about them.

‘ “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Public Counsel allows me to use my appellate expertise to do just that. I’ve been privileged to help individuals struggling to vindicate their rights on appeal.’
-Alana Rotter, GREINES, MARTIN, STEIN & RICHLAND LLP

Alana has worked with Public Counsel’s Appellate Law Program since 2007

‘The veterans I’ve helped have all been grateful, appreciative and almost seem to take a certain amount of pride in knowing that they have a lawyer with them in court, speaking on their behalf.’
-Honorable Paul Enright, Retired

Retired Superior Court Commissioner Paul Enright brings more than 30 years experience in the criminal justice system to his work representing veterans in court.

‘It is extremely rewarding to partner volunteer lawyers who are members of our Temple with Public Counsel’s identified clients who are in great need of assistance in securing what they need to succeed in school. As a community we cannot sit back and do nothing while so many children are failed by their public schools.’
-Jeremy Rosen, HORVITZ & LEVY LLP

Stephen S. Wise Temple members Jeremy Rosen, Rabbi Ron Stern, and Chet Kronenberg launched a pro bono program to assist children with disabilities, and more than 20 Temple members have participated. Because of them, an 8-year-old boy diagnosed with a serious mental disorder will finally get the help he needs at school, and our schools are better places for children with disabilities to learn and grow.

“It has been such a blessing to work with the Immigrant Rights Project over many years in representing immigrants in asylum and removal proceedings. Many of those referred by Public Counsel have endured unspeakable violence in their countries of origin. Their stories are always both horrifying and heart-wrenching, yet these clients are full of inspiring strength and perseverance. Helping them to rebuild their lives in this country has been among the most rewarding work that I have done.”
-Peter Perkowski, WINSTON & STRAWN LLP

Peter has represented five immigrants fleeing persecution because of their political views or sexual orientation. Because of him, a Colombian woman who was persecuted because of her husband’s political activities can rest easy knowing she is safe from torture and arrest.

Public Counsel’s 2013 Pro Bono Awards are held July 24 in Los Angeles.
  

Creating a city for all

Editor’s note: Public Counsel represented Chinatown and Lincoln Heights students, seniors and families to preserve affordable housing in this rapidly developing area through the Cornfield-Arroyo Specific Plan. The City Council passed the plan on June 28, and it is a vision for a cleaner, greener, affordable city. This was originally published on the Southeast Asian Community Alliance blog. Click here to read more about this at Go Public.

Sissy Trinh - Southeast Asian Community AllianceBy Sissy Trinh

Three years ago, SEACA embarked upon the impossible campaign. A campaign where we had no prior knowledge, relationships, or experience. But we did it because our group of teenagers insisted that we had to.And today we won!

Today, the Los Angeles City Council voted to pass the Cornfields Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP).

CASP is a blueprint for what Chinatown and Lincoln Heights will look like in the next 25 years. It will set standards and determine the types of buildings and public spaces will be constructed, but more importantly it is now a blueprint for the what sort of community we want.

The original vision of CASP was to serve as a model for moving LA away from 1950s style suburban sprawl to a City Planning model that is more sustainable, public transit focused, and with some of the strongest environmental protections in the City (it’s also the nation’s first LEED certified Neighborhood Plan).

And thanks to the work of SEACA and our attorneys at Public Counsel, CASP is now ALSO:

  • The FIRST plan in the City that pro-actively deals with the issue of gentrification and the displacement of low-income communties by creating incentives for developers to provide affordable housing in market rate developments;
  • The FIRST policy in the City that specifically addresses the needs of extremely low-income families;
  • Removes all parking minimums and maximums;
  • AND is a plan that has garnered the support of for-profit developers, affordable housing advocates, organized labor, environmentalists, and of course, our group of youth from Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, and Solano Canyon.

Today, the Los Angeles City Council voted to build a stronger, more equitable local community. And all of this happened because a group of high school students convinced me, in spite of my concerns about our lack of expertise in the issue, that their communities deserved better and then made a commitment to me and the community at large to learning about City planning and City politics in order to create a REAL vision for community change.

Special thanks to Councilmember Ed Reyes and his staff as well as Claire Bowin from the Los Angeles Department of City Planning for having the vision to create this plan and to Public Counsel for being our campaign partner.

Sissy Trinh is the founder and executive director of the Southeast Asian Community Alliance, which builds power among Southeast Asian youth and their communities in Los Angeles for a more just and equitable society through intergenerational, multiethnic dialogue, leadership development, and community organizing.

Homeless Court Means a New Beginning

By Sandra Madera

The judge wore a black robe. The men and women all faced him with their pro bono attorneys in front of the official seal of the Los Angeles Superior Court. But this was no ordinary court session.

The more than 40 individuals and a dozen pro bono attorneys at People Assisting the Homeless on May 16 were all part of the Los Angeles County Homeless Court Program, which holds court sessions several times a year. The Program is designed to help individuals who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless by clearing up traffic tickets and minor “quality of life” offenses and the warrants that arise from not resolving them. The purpose of Homeless Court is to eliminate this legal, and often financial, barrier for individuals who are working towards stability and self- sufficiency. Public Counsel administers Homeless Court in partnership with the Los Angeles County Superior Court, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors/County Chief Executive Office, Los Angeles City Attorney’s office, and other public agencies and advocates for homeless individuals.

Small-time tickets can lead to big-time problems. One participant, who we will refer to as “Jessica,” accumulated five tickets which were preventing her from obtaining a license to be a foster mother in Los Angeles. She was anxious to keep a family of three siblings together because both of their parents are incarcerated. Together with her case manager, she attended Homeless Court session in search of assistance. Judge Greg Dohi declared that it would be a crime if he didn’t forgive her past transgressions because Jessica will be doing so much good by providing a stable home for these children.

“We do this so we can hear your stories and draw strength from them,” Judge Dohi told the packed room.

Several people shared that they could not work or advance in their careers without the help of Homeless Court to clear their warrants so they could have their drivers licenses reinstated: nurses, truck drivers, even a fashion designer.

One of the most moving stories came from a gentleman, who we will refer to as “Robert;” he told the court he had been homeless for 17 years. He lived in the shadows, and he had wanted to remain there and didn’t bother anyone. His ticket stemmed from a single fare evasion ticket; he would roam from Metro station to Metro station collecting cans to recycle for money. The man acknowledged that he was grateful for the ticket – it was the catalyst that helped him to ultimately receive case management, substance abuse support, and mental health treatment from the VA Domiciliary. He has maintained his sobriety since 2006, made friends, secured a job, has stable housing, and now no longer wants to live in the shadows. He shared that he felt as if a switch had flipped and he has a life again.

Most of the pro bono attorneys who attended this session of Homeless Court had never participated before. The group of attorneys was mostly made up of members of Public Counsel’s Board of Directors, and Public Counsel’s Associate Leadership Board – including Board Chair Robert Scoular of Dentons and Philip Cook of Jones Day.

Sirena Castillo, a Manatt associate who serves on the Associate Leadership Board, said, “This was such a wonderful event and I was so honored to be part of it. We would love to get more Manatt attorneys involved during the next Homeless Court.” Another Associate Leadership Board member, Ernesto Velázquez of O’Melveny & Myers, had heard about Homeless Court, and was glad he made the decision to volunteer. He said the experience was so rewarding, he wished he had participated sooner.

To see pictures of this Homeless Court session, please click here.

We would like to thank the following attorneys who participated in representing clients during this Homeless Court Session:

Kristen Terranova, Arnold Porter
Ying Chen, Chen Yoshimura
Robert Scoular, Dentons
Neil O’Hanlon, Hogan Lovells
Phil Cook, Jones Day
Randall Jackson, Kendall Brill & Klieger
Sirena Castillo, Manatt
David Schrader, Morgan Lewis
Ernesto Velázquez, O’Melveny and Myers
Michael Finnegan, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Matt Brady, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Ashley Sim, Public Counsel
Christine Neuharth, Reed Smith

Sandra Madera is communications and pro bono coordinator at Public Counsel.

My ‘unexpected experience’ in preventing homelessness

Public Counsel summer law clerks come from across the U.S. to help people in need.

Public Counsel summer law clerks come from across the U.S. to help people in need.

Crystal-Wammack-summer-clerkBy Crystal Wammack

Working with Public Counsel has been an aspiration of mine for two years now. About a week before my internship began with a different Public Counsel project, I was offered a position on the Homelessness Prevention Law Project. I was thrilled, and took it immediately. I did not know very much about the project, only what I learned from reading the web site. It did not do the Homelessness Prevention Law Project justice.

We hit the ground running on Tuesday and I was in the field at a local Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) office on Thursday! It took me a couple of days to understand exactly what I was in for. I quickly realized I might have been the luckiest intern at Public Counsel to be invited to join such an extraordinary project. While other law clerks are sitting at their desks working on projects, I am at a DPSS office helping clients receive or maintain their benefits (mainly General Relief and CalFresh). When I go home at night I am full of energy and excited to begin the next day. I am so happy to have found an internship that allows me to get practical experience by helping the people who need it the most.

There is nothing more rewarding than helping a man going through homelessness to receive hotel vouchers that are rightfully his, or informing a couple, who properly mailed their QR-7 form to the DPSS office and their benefits were still terminated because of an administrative error, that they are entitled to back benefits. This is such fulfilling work. I expected to be helping people this summer, but I never imagined how much I, a student with one year of law school experience, could help the community.

Crystal Wammack is one of 37 students currently participating in Public Counsel’s Summer Clerk Program. She is enrolled at Santa Clara University School of Law, class of 2015, and received her Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA. Click here to learn more about our Summer Clerk Program.

The ‘fierce urgency of now’ for asylum seekers

Loeb & Loeb partner Laura Wytsma has worked extensively with Public Counsel, and she wrote about her experience with three asylum seekers in a recent issue of the National Law Journal. Public Counsel is still working to bring “Dr. Ambua’s” family here on an expedited basis, and our Immigrants’ Rights Project is actively involved in refugee work. The article “The Fierce Urgency of Now” is reprinted with permission from the April 11 edition of the National Law Journal ©2013 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

Laura Wytsma - Loeb & Loeb By Laura Wytsma

For more than a decade, Isaiah advocated for democracy and self-determination by participating in peaceful political rallies and demonstrations in his homeland of Cameroon. As a result of his political expression, Isaiah suffered severe persecution at the hands of gendarmes. He was repeatedly arrested, held without charges under inhumane conditions, interrogated and tortured. Isaiah’s family also suffered; the gendarmes frequently arrested Isaiah’s aunt, a well-known political activist, and ultimately beat her so severely that she died from her injuries. After surviving repeated arrests, beatings and interrogations, Isaiah—fearful of still further persecution—fled his country and began a long and arduous journey across an ocean and two continents, ultimately seeking refuge in the United States where he obtained political asylum.

Prisca is a Cameroonian mother who, along wither her husband, joined the Southern Cameroon National Counsel (SCNC) to advocate for equal rights. While she was holding a SCNC meeting in her home, the police arrested Prisca and her husband. During her time in custody, Prisca was interrogated, beaten and tortured. She bears scars on her feet, back, abdomen and buttocks from the torture. After their release, Prisca and her husband continued to support the SCNC. During another meeting in their home, the police arrested Prisca and her husband again. This time she was not only beaten but raped—she later learned that she contracted HIV as a result of the rape. After being held for three months without charges, Prisca was released. Fearful for her life, she fled Cameroon for the safety of the United States, where she was granted political asylum.

Dr. Ambua is a physician from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was detained and tortured by his government because he treated civilian victims of police repression and cooperated with international human rights observers documenting the dead and injured. For speaking with “white” human rights workers, Dr. Ambua was deemed a traitor to his country and threatened with extermination. Fearing for his life when the police attempted to arrest him a second time, Dr. Ambua fled the country. After arriving in the United States, an immigration judge granted Dr. Ambua political asylum.

Justice was served in each of these cases, right?

Wrong.

Isaiah is the father of two. His son was five when Isaiah fled; his daughter just three. Isaiah would not see them again for another five-plus years.

Isaiah applied for asylum in August 2002. It took more than four years for his asylum claim to be resolved. After his court case was continued four times, an immigration judge concluded that Isaiah had been tortured but nevertheless denied him asylum on impermissible grounds. Thus, Isaiah was forced to continue fighting his asylum claim on appeal. Even with the assistance of pro bono counsel and the government’s capitulation in a new hearing, it took another year for Isaiah to obtain asylum. During the many years that Isaiah spent fighting his case, he was separated from his young children.

When Prisca fled Cameroon in 2003, she was unable to take her children—two sons, aged 10 and 14, and a daughter, just two years old. Prisca would not see them again for over six years. For many of those years, she did not know where her children were living.

Prisca applied for asylum in August 2004 and was placed in immigration removal proceedings in November 2004. Her case languished in the immigration courts for five long years. On at least five occasions, her case was continued—usually at the government’s request. Each time that Prisca prepared to attend a hearing, she relived the horror of being raped. And each time that her case was continued, Prisca broke down, realizing she could not yet put the nightmare behind her.

After Prisca’s brother—also tortured in the Cameroon—sought refuge in the United States, she learned that her father, mother, husband and brother had all died. Her mother died of AIDS, which she contracted while being raped in police custody. Her husband and brother died while in police custody. And her father died from lack of medical treatment.

Without any surviving family in Cameroon, Prisca’s children had no one to care for them. A missionary pastor eventually looked after the children, but they lived in a primitive one-room structure. The children did not attend school and often went without food. They begged on the streets for survival. Prisca’s eldest son contracted typhoid and survived only through the intervention of a visiting doctor. It was not until 2010, after significant lobbying efforts and media attention, that Prisca finally embraced her children again as they disembarked a plane at LAX after eight years of painful separation.

At the time Dr. Ambua fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, his son was six and his daughter was eight. Shortly after he left, the country, police arrested his wife and raped her—twice. Recently, Dr. Ambua’s son was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor that cannot be adequately treated in Africa.

Although the immigration judge believed Dr. Ambua and granted him asylum, the government appealed the decision, making it impossible for Dr. Ambua’s family to join him here for the next several years while his case remains on appeal. Daily, Dr. Ambua questions whether he should abandon his asylum case and return to a place where he is not safe but can care for his son.

These are not rare stories. Asylum claims often take years to resolve. In California, the average immigration case takes 674 days to complete. That figure is even higher in cases in which relief is granted. Bear in mind that, barring exceptional circumstances, the law requires the completion of asylum claims within 180 days, and that by the time an asylum case arrives in immigration court, it has already been pending for many months, if not longer.

Despite significant scrutiny from the media and U.S. circuit courts in the past few years, the situation has not improved. An October 2012 report prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General notes that the “overall efficiency of the [immigration] courts” did not improve between 2006 and 2010 despite an increased number of judges.

You may respond that this is simply how our justice system works. But if this is how the system works, we need to stop calling it just. For there is nothing just in justice so long delayed.

“To delay justice, is injustice”

We are all familiar with the expression “justice delayed is justice denied.” It is frequently attributed to Sir William Gladstone, a prime minister of Great Britain who used the expression in a March 16, 1868, speech addressing Ireland: “If we be chivalrous men, I trust we shall endeavour to wipe away the stains which the civilized world has for so long seen, or seemed to see, upon the shield of England in her treatment of Ireland. If we be compassionate men, I hope we shall now…listen to that tale of sorrow which comes from her.…But, above all, if we be just men, we shall go forward in the name of truth and right, and shall bear this in mind: that, when the case is ripe and the hour has come, justice delayed is justice denied.”

However, the expression actually appeared decades earlier, in an 1842 article in the Louisiana Law Journal entitled “Observations on the Present Judiciary System, in the Western Districts of the State of Louisiana”: “If it be admitted, that the State does not prosecute vindictively, but merely to warn and hold up her punishments as a beacon to others, then it is a most important requisite, that the penalty should speedily follow the commission of crime. If in civil matters ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ in criminal cases tardy punishments are worse than useless.”

A Yale Book of Quotations, however, suggests that the concept was well-rooted in the law as early as the late 1600s. William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, wrote on 165 subjects in Some Fruits of Solitude in Reflections and Maxims (1693). He observed: “Delays have been more injurious than direct Injustice.…Our law says well, ‘To delay justice, is injustice.’ ”

Indeed, the concept can be traced back to 1215, when clause 40 of the Magna Carta declared: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.”

Seven centuries later, the point remained just as poignant when Dr. Martin Luther King delivered a sermon in April 1967 entitled, “Beyond Vietnam, A time to Break Silence.” His sermon closed with the following observation: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. ”

Dr. King was correct—there is such a thing as justice being too late. Justice came too late for the families of Isaiah, Prisca and Dr. Ambua.

Laura A. Wytsma is an intellectual property partner in the Los Angeles office of Loeb & Loeb.