Gassing protesters is bad. Gassing prisoners is worse

During the protests outside the Hatfield Courthouse in downtown Portland this summer, federal agents and police indiscriminately deployed chemical weapons designed to stop the protests.

Chemical weapons are designed to inflict pain. And they do that well. They were used to quell protests and inflict pain on protesters. In that sense, their use is indefensible.

But it gets worse.

The county jail is adjacent to the protest site. Most of the people held there are being detained pending trial.

The chemical weapons repeatedly entered the jail through the ventilation system, and people incarcerated there were repeatedly contaminated by these chemicals. Unlike protesters who could run away from gas, people incarcerated while awaiting trial can’t move. Their stories are harrowing.

We filed suit today to stand up for people who were harmed by chemical weapons while being held at the Multnomah County jail. The case is Davis v. Multnomah County, US District Court Case No. 3:20-CV-2041. A copy of the complaint, which provides much more detail, is here: Davis v. Multnomah Co Complaint



When the Feds Invade Portland

It started with an idea among a group of Portland lawyers. We took oaths to support the Constitution. And that means supporting Black lives and supporting the rights of protesters.

Portland protesters put their bodies on the line to stand for Black Lives Matter. Donald Trump and Chad Wolf chose to send in federal agents who gassed, shot, and beat Portland protesters. Lines have been crossed. We will not sit quietly while peaceful protesters are gassed, beaten, and shot.

We filed a class action complaint today in federal court in Portland. The case is Clark v. Wolf. I am serving as lead counsel and look forward to doing my part to stand up for Black lives, to stand against the darkness, and to protect the rule of law.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Complaint Dkt 1 



City of Portland takes a pass on enforcing housing discrimination laws

Another great coffee-spitting moment brought about by political wisdom. This one from my friend and former colleague, Nick Fish. According to this Oregonian article, a study commissioned by the City of Portland found widespread discrimination in housing rentals. In 50 tests, 64 percent of Black and Latino renters encountered discrimination in rental housing.

Commissioner Fish waffles a bit, but the upshot is that it looks like Portland is simply not going to enforce fair housing violations. Instead, the City defaults to education of wayward landlords.

This is wrong in more ways than I can count. Teachable moments come in many forms, but most notably they include the process of enforcement.

As a trial lawyer, I am much more effective at changing an adversary’s thinking and obtaining resolution if I can point to serious and concrete consequences of misconduct. “Yes, Mr. Jones, I understand that you don’t think you should follow the law like the rest of us. Neither did Mr. Smith. After that jury issued its verdict, Mr. Smith seems to have…uh…changed his thinking on the subject.”

Commissioner Fish’s conduct sends a couple of poisonous messages. First, every landlord who practices racial discrimination just got a love letter saying that there are no consequence for flaunting the law. Bad move. Second, every person of color just got a bureaucratic brush off letter. (“Oh, gee that’s bad. Good luck to you.”) That’s a helluva a message to send, huh?

The ironic part of all of this is that city officials and good liberals wring their hands over the lack of diversity in this way-too-white metropolis. And yet we have elected officials choosing to ignore enforcement of civil rights laws. Seriously?

While it’s not nearly as effective as City enforcement, private citizens can file lawsuits for race-based housing discrimination. So I suppose I should be pleased because I represent consumers for a living and handle discrimination claims. Those who loudly complain about lawsuits and the litigious nature of American society frown on such notions. Worse, those who the laws protect have every right to expect that the government will actively enforce racial discrimination laws.

The truth is that I have more work than I know what to do with, given the nature of unregulated greed in our society. It’s time for the City to get serious about enforcing anti-discrimination laws. A few high-profile enforcement actions would go a long way toward stopping abuse.

My hope is that we see some push back and that the backlash on this causes the City to reconsider and enforce our civil rights laws. This reflection on this morning’s coffee-spitting moment is my modest contribution toward that goal.

David Sugerman

Downfall of Bobby DeLaughter, a civil rights legend

Sad to read this morning’s news about famed civil rights prosecutor, Bobby DeLaughter. He was the Mississippi lawyer who obtained a criminal conviction in the Medgar Evers civil rights murder case some 30 years after the fact. His work inspired the movie, “Ghosts of Mississippi.”

DeLaughter went on to become a judge in Mississippi, and he’s been caught up in that state’s judicial corruption scandal.  Much of it goes back to disgraced trial lawyer Dicke Scruggs.  But that’s beside the fact.

Corruption on the bench is the hallmark of a corrupt state. For obvious reasons, we can’t tolerate it.  Still, it’s hard not to be witsful about this one.  DeLaughter’s work on the Evers case is the stuff of legends. For his sake and for the sake of the Evers family, I hope he’s remembered for that work and not what came after.