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Episode

6

6. Civil Rights and How to Make a Cup of Chai

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Air date: 

July 5, 2022

Anjani Shah and Ellie Sands lead an all-female team from Brooklyn Law against an all-male team from Harvard University at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. National Civil Rights Competition. It’s an epic battle for an important cause. Anjani's immigrant parents watch the trial online, and her dad teaches us how to make a proper cup of chai. Back on campus, Ellie appeals to President Biden for clemency on behalf of her endangered client.

Learn more about the schools, programs and special guests:

Brooklyn Law School

UC Davis School of Law

Fordham University School of Law

Brooklyn Defender Services

North American South Asian Law Student Association

Harvard Law School Mock Trial Association

Follow us on Twitter @ClassActionPod and Instagram @ClassActionPod

Visit our show page for transcripts and more details about the series at ClassActionPod.com

Follow host Katie Phang on Twitter @KatiePhang and Instagram @KatiePhang.


 

TRANSCRIPT

[music – pensive, percussive, vibraphone]

Katie Phang [narration]:

Class Action is a production of iHeartRadio and Sound Argument.

Kathrine Boyko:

I'm definitely having dreams about this trial. I'm having dreams that I'm in court, full on trial, getting objected to, objecting myself. It's actually encompassing every part of my life now. I can't even get a good nights rest without dreaming about trial.

I took a nap the other day, and I had a dream that RBG came into my dream when I was in court and she was getting mad at me that I wasn't objecting enough. It scared the living Jesus out of me. I was literally in court and opposing counsel was just giving their directs or cross and she's one of the judges. She's just looking at me like, "Why aren't you objecting? This is objectionable. Object." I'm just like, "I don't know how to object. I don't know what to say. Oh my God, I'm losing my mind." She's just getting annoyed with me. That just made me really sad. I was like, "I can't." That's just the worst things in life, letting her down like that. She's one of my idols.

Being a woman in the legal profession's not easy and I hope things will change. Honestly, sometimes I have to be like, "Just take a deep breath. You can do it." Just feeling a little insecure and I think she came into my dream and it was smacking that out of my mind.

[music – soft, ambient, piano and synth pad]

[archival from Ruth Bader Ginsburg statement to the Judiciary Committee 1987]

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

I am, as you know from my responses to your questionnaire a Brooklynite born and bred. A first generation American on my father's side, barely second generation on my mother's. Neither of my parents had the means to attend college, but both taught me to love learning, to care about people, and to work hard for whatever I wanted or believed in.

Their parents had the foresight to leave the old country when Jewish ancestry and faith meant exposure to pogroms and denigration of one's human worth. What has become of me could happen only in America. Like so many others, I owe so much to the entry this nation afforded to people yearning to breathe free.

[sounds of NYC subway]

Katie Phang [narration]:

In October 2021, Brooklyn Law School sent an all-female team of second year law students to the Martin Luther King Civil Rights Competition held virtually from the University of California Davis. The team is coached by third year students. They argue their case four different times in one weekend against some of the top rising legal talent in the country.

Anjani Shah:

Then we saw Harvard. We're all kind of just completely silent on the edge of our seats.

Ellie Sands:

We did notice that it was an all-male team against an all-female team.

Katie Phang [narration]:

For these young idealists, the mock trial was a chance to see how their arguments could play out in the real world of American law.

Anjani Shah:

So you've referred to homelessness as a cancer and you've referred to homelessness as causing the decay of America.

Witness:

Yes, as causing decay. That's correct.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Where justice can be scarce and litigation is often a bare knuckled brawl.

[music – motivational, hip-hop groove, horns, drums and bass, theme song]

Katie Phang [narration]:

I'm Katie Phang. Welcome back to Class Action.

[audio from Brooklyn Law team practicing via Zoom]

Jane:

Okay, everyone ready for scrimmage?

Samantha:

Yes.

Jane:

Samantha, you ready?

Samantha:

I'm just getting my timer. Hang on.

Jane:

Oh, okay. Well here let's go with pretrial. Start with pretrial.

Samantha:

Oh, okay.

Katie Phang [narration]:

You're listening to episode six, Civil Rights and How to Make a Cup of Chai.

Ellie Sands:

Good morning, Your Honor. Before we begin, the plaintiff has some housekeeping matters to attend to.

Judge:

Okay, well, let's start with introductions.

Ellie Sands:

I was born and raised in New York City and I went to public school my whole life.

My name is Ellie Sands. I'm a second year law student at Brooklyn Law School. My full name is Eliana, but I go by Ellie.

After college, I came back to New York and I was a teacher in East Harlem, just teaching at a school 40 blocks north of where I went to high school felt like I was in a third-world country. There were things going on outside the school, like gang violence. There were things going on in my students' families, incarceration that were severely impacting their ability to learn and perform in the school environment. That was being ignored and was being disciplined harshly.

I knew that it wasn't right. I ended up coming to law school because I couldn't make the kind of impact I wanted to without a law degree. Without being able to sit in the courtroom and advocate on behalf of the clients that I was working with. I specifically wanted to do a civil rights competition because that's the type of law I want to practice once I graduate.

Phoebe Menaker:

Good afternoon, my name is Phoebe Menaker and I also represent the defendant, Travis Gordon in today's case.

Phoebe Menaker:

My grandmother was a social worker for survivors of domestic violence. Between her impact that she's had on me and my general interest, that's brought me to the victim advocacy route. I’m working for a courtroom advocates project where survivors of domestic violence reach out to us and we walk them through the process of filing for their petition for an order of protection in family court. Then this summer, I was an intern in the Domestic Violence Bureau at the Brooklyn DA's Office, working with misdemeanors.

I think the way people enter the system through domestic violence is interesting because it's not their choice, but I find having connection with a victim and having their perspective is so important in doing justice.

Kathrine Boyko:

Good morning, Your Honor. My name is Kathrine Boyko and I, along with my co-counsel, represent the defendant, Travis Gordon in today's case.

Kathrine Boyko:

I was born in Brooklyn, New York. My parents were born in Ukraine and my mom was a lawyer back in Ukraine. My mom had to leave her home country to make sure I had a better life. It was really important for me to carry on those dreams, carry on that ambition.

It's important to me personally because I see that from a personal work experience that there are so many things that are just not right with the criminal justice system. That I don't want to be overly ambitious and say that I'm going to be the person that fixes all of it, but I definitely want to play a part in that. To do what I can to make things better for other people, defend people who can't really stand up for themselves.

Anjani Shah:

Good afternoon counselors. My name is Anjani Shah and I represent the plaintiff, Ms. Riley Taylor today.

Anjani Shah:

This is the first time I've ever done this. There are challenges. They're really just associated with, I think, overcoming your own discomfort, and your own vulnerabilities, and attacking those head on. For example, I think I am a very non-adversarial person and obviously a courtroom setting is an adversarial setting.

You do have people who are opposing counsel who are trying to potentially rile you up or potentially trying to make frivolous objections just to throw you off. Dealing with that sort of discomfort has been challenging, but it's also something to confront before you actually get into a courtroom one day.

[Ellie and Anjani inside the Brooklyn Law moot courtroom]

Ellie Sands:

Anjani is the plaintiff. [Anjani – No, I’m --] No, Anjani's the defense. Anjani's the defense.

[music – funky hip-hop groove]

Katie Phang [narration]:

Anjani and Ellie have spent most of their law school years on Zoom. It's only natural that they would be excited about being in court and in person.

Anjani Shah:

Right now we are in the Brooklyn Law School, Moot Courtroom. Basically what it looks like there is a jury box. There is a witness stand. There's a place where the judge sits and there is a giant audience portion of this room, takes up most of the room.

Ellie Sands:

The party with the burden of proof sits closest to the jury so the plaintiff or the prosecution sits closest to the jury. The plaintiff would sit here and then the defense would sit at the table farthest from the jury box.

Anjani Shah:

They've got to feel out the jury more. They've got the burden. I think the person with the burden really has to convince the jury it's better to be in close proximity because the closer you are to the jury, the more likely they are to see that council tables reactions. The more likely to hear what they have to say.

Ellie Sands:

The point of a direct examination is that you want the jury to be paying attention to the witness. You don't want the jury to be looking at you. You are not the star of the show. Your witness is the star of the show. Whereas on cross examination-

Anjani Shah:

I'll be doing cross of this witness if Ellie is actually directing. I stand here because I want the jury to see me and my reactions. You as the witness are now looking at me and not them. That actually has quite an effect on the jury as well when you're diverting your eyes away from them.

Ellie Sands:

I'm the closer. So, the difference between opening and closing is that in closing, you are reviewing all of the evidence that you brought in during your case in chief. It's less scripted and more a summary of everything that came out during trial. A lot of which can be unpredictable. Some of which could be good for your side, some of which could be bad for your side.

You have to be agile and sort of improvise some of what comes out in the closing. You also have to flip the other side's theme. That means that you want to turn the other side's argument against them.

Jane Dowling:

Right now we're really ramping up for competition. It's less than a week away or about actually a week away. It's a very intimidating process to present a case. As law students we're so unfamiliar with this and over Zoom, it's a whole other challenge.

My name is Jane Dowling. I am the coach of the UC Davis Martin Luther King Civil Rights Competition. Confidence is really key. We're not really making substantive changes at this point. It's just sort of running through the material, practicing, honing in on some details, getting pumped up.

Of course, we're law students. We all have strong personalities. You don't come to law school if you don't have strong volitions and strong opinions.

[sounds of Brooklyn street traffic and pedestrians]

Katie Phang [narration]:

Brooklyn Law was founded in 1901 to serve working people, women, ethnic minorities, and immigrants. The school is across Joralemon Street from the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Municipal building on a stretch of pavement now named Black Lives Matter Boulevard.

Joralemon Street runs down to the East River. An area that once held molasses and sugar refineries, both industries that were rooted in America's slave owning past. The young advocates on the Brooklyn Law team keep that history in mind as they pack up their laptops and coffee, and they fight through traffic to school every day.

The building faces Cadman Plaza Park just blocks away from the Brooklyn Bridge. In the last few years, Cadman Plaza has become the epicenter of many of Brooklyn's most heated protests.

[archival news and video coverage from Black Lives Matter protests in Brooklyn, NY]

Crowd:

I matter. We matter.

Crowd:

Black lives matter. Black lives matter.

Crowd:

I can't breathe. I can’t breathe.

[police siren]

Stacy Caplow:

My name's Stacy Caplow and I'm a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, which has a very progressive and liberal student body here in New York. I'm also the Associate Dean for Experiential Education at the law school.

It's what's called a standalone school. In other words, we're not part of a larger university. As a school, we have a lot of independence and kind of nimble in terms of what we can and cannot do. Because we're located in the heart of New York, we have access to all sorts of resources within what is clearly the largest legal community in the world. Our students are out there all the time working as well as obviously going to school and learning how to become lawyers.

Katie Phang [narration]:

The Brooklyn team has worked on arguments for both sides of the problem for the King Competition. They have to picture what could possibly come at them, whether they're representing the plaintiff or the defense. They have to be ready for anything.

Ellie Sands:

An overview of this case is that an executive order was put into place by the governor of a made up state called the state of Columbia. This executive order implemented what is called a shelter station, which is supposed to take homeless individuals off of the street and help give them a place to stay, food to eat, a roof over their head. The plaintiff is bringing an Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual constitutional violation against the defendant.

Firstly, a homeless person is taken to shelter station against their will. It's a detention center for which they do not know how long they will be detained for. A homeless person must complete classes in English and math. They must pass several hygiene requirements. They have to engage in a job while they're at the shelter station.

Lastly, and perhaps most burdensome, they have to prove that they have permanent housing before they're released, but they're unable to save up money while they're at the shelter station.

Dennis Cota:

The competition is the Martin Luther King Civil Rights Trial Practice Competition. UC Davis School of Law has been hosting that now for the last four years.

I'm Dennis Cota. I supervise the trial practice program at UC Davis King Hall. I am a magistrate judge for the Eastern District of California.

[archival TV news report from Sacramento, CA]

News Anchor:

There's a new option to help get dozens of people off the streets of Sacramento. This is the city's newest homeless shelter. Up to 100 people will begin staying here next week.

The X Street Navigation Shelter is near Broadway and Alhambra. It is more than just a place to sleep though, there's also life skills classes, recovery assistance, Medicare care, and financial counseling. As well as services for help people transition from homelessness to permanent housing.

Dennis Cota:

Being in a city where you were having to step over the people living on the sidewalk made me realize that this is a societal issue with no easy solutions. I thought this would be a good topic because these people, while they're clearly creating a strain on their community still have rights. They're still citizens.

Martin Luther King is a towering figure in the civil rights area.

[16:50]

[archival audio from Martin Luther King Jr. Speech]

Martin Luther King Jr.:

As we struggle to realize the American dream, let us realize that we do not struggle alone.

[music, soft, slow tempo, piano, clarinet and marimba]

Dennis Cota:

The law school at UC Davis is named after Martin Luther King. The students daily walk past a life-size ceramic figure of the late civil rights leader in the lobby of King Hall.

Katie Phang [narration]:

In 1963, Dr. King spoke to the congregation of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights.

Martin Luther King Jr.:

Even though there are the difficult days ahead, even though before the victory is won, somebody else will have to get scared up. Somebody else will have to go to jail. Maybe some will have to face physical death. Before the victory is won, some will be misunderstood, call bad names. Be dismissed as dangerous rebel-rousers and agitators. Even in the midst of that the struggle must go on.

Katie Phang [narration]:

In the run up to the event, the Brooklyn team practices against mystery teams made up of alumni who volunteer to help the 2Ls get ready to compete.

[audio from the Brooklyn Law practicing via Zoom]

Kathrine Boyko:

The other job you ever had was babysitting, correct?

Jane:

Yes. Oh, wait. What the hell. I'm not the witness. Oh my God. I'm so sorry. I'm the attorney. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. So sorry. Can we back up? You take it away. I will be the attorney.

Katie Phang [narration]:

They go at it night and day.

Kathrine Boyko:

That is all for defense.

Jane:

Okie-dokie. Plaintiff, do you have any additional housekeeping matters to address?

Samantha:

Yeah, Your Honor, we just asked that everything that applied to defense also applies to the plaintiff.

Jane:

Of course.

Samantha:

Also, as an aside, Your Honor, due to my own version of cruel and unusual punishment from back to back courses, I may be eating throughout because I haven't had any food since I don't know how long. If you see me eating, I'm sorry.

Jane:

No problem at all. Thanks for the heads up.

Samantha:

Any other housekeeping matters from plaintiff?

Katie Phang [narration]:

The practice judges talk strategy to bring the four newbies up to speed.

Ellie Sands:

Just keep your answers to yes or no, please.

Coach:

The witness if she answers that question can answer however she feels counselor. If you're not getting the answers you want, you might want to narrow your questions a little bit.

Ellie Sands:

Sorry, Your Honor.

Coach:

Don't apologize to me. It's okay.

Ellie Sands:

Ms. Alfred, the shelter station that... [fade out]

Adam Shlahet:

It all comes down to four students and a coach or two in a room working hard.

Katie Phang [narration]:

That's Adam Shlahet coach at Fordham University and one of our commentators.

Adam Shlahet:

Thinking about the case, and arguing, and figuring it out, and practicing, and running it again. That's the same at every single law school. It's what happens in that little room.

The learning happens in that little room. Resources don't give anybody an advantage in that little room. You need people who really care about this, and care about the students learning, and students who are motivated. You can get that anywhere.

Lara Bazelon:

You need to really tie yourself very, very closely to the law.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Lara Bazelon is a former federal public defender who now teaches at the university of San Francisco School of Law and runs its highly acclaimed Racial Justice Clinic.

Lara Bazelon:

It's not enough to just have bravado in style if there's nothing else behind it. You have to absolutely understand what the governing law is and if you're the prosecutor be prepared to prove every element. If you're the defense council, figure out which elements you don't need to contest and which ones you do.

Katie Phang:

Lara, when you're working with your students, is there something that you do to be able to say to them, "Look, on one end you can't have an overzealous prosecution, but also on the other hand, you can't have criminal defense attorneys that have blinders on." How do you work with your students to let them know that this is a possibility when they go out into the real world?

Lara Bazelon:

I think it is really important to be honest about the fact that we have a lot of failings in this system and they're on both sides. You're right, there are plenty of overzealous prosecutors. There are prosecutors who suffer from tunnel vision. There are prosecutors who commit misconduct. Most of them not intentionally, but because they haven't been trained properly or they get caught up in the moment.

At the same time, there are plenty of defense attorneys who are not doing their jobs. They may be poorly trained. They may be overwhelmed or they may quite frankly just be lazy. We have had many, many cases where the level of advocacy at the trial court on behalf of our post-conviction clients has been absolutely abysmal.

[Regina Yu and Ellie Sands at Brooklyn Law]

Regina Yu:

We're in good shape, but the more I learn about their situation, the more just devastating it is.

Ellie Sands:

I'm also blown away by how kind and optimistic she is the more I learn.

Regina Yu:

I agree. I mean the system fails her over and over and over again and she just continues to be the most wonderful person.

Ellie Sands:

She'll also text us and say like, "How are you feeling today? Thank you so much for everything you're doing."

Regina Yu:

She's so grateful.

Ellie Sands:

So sweet.

Katie Phang [narration]:

In addition to trial team, Ellie and third year law student, Regina Yu, are working together on a real world case for the Brooklyn Defender Service.

Stacy Caplow:

Any law school these days would have to have some clinical offerings, but we've been doing this for 50 years now.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Stacy Caplow is the supervisor for the clinic.

Stacy Caplow:

Most students here at Brooklyn Law School by the time they're finished have three, four, maybe even five semesters of experiences in either in our clinics, which are in house or off campus in law offices all over the city.

Stacy Caplow:

That's the annoying form that the Pardon Office requires. How far along are we on the form?

Ellie Sands:

Actually almost done. Most of it's filled out.

Stacy Caplow:

Our client is a woman, and a mother, and a daughter, and has been in this country for at least half of her life and all of her adult life. She first came here as a young teenager and had lawful status in the US, but as a result of a single mistake she made that violated federal law she was prosecuted, convicted, served a sentence and then was put into deportation proceedings.

One form of relief that we can try to obtain for them is to get a pardon from the president. That pardon has the possibility of acting as in effect the defense to their deportation. Not a lot of people get pardons.

Stacy Caplow:

You still want to do this?

Ellie Sands:

Yeah.

Stacy Caplow:

All right, good. With all the aggravating details?

Ellie Sands:

That's what makes you want to do it more.

Regina Yu:

This is the least aggravating thing that I do.

Ellie Sands:

By far.

Stacy Caplow:

The most meaningful.

Ellie Sands:

Yes.

Stacy Caplow:

Okay, good. Good.

Stacy Caplow:

I know Ellie from working with her this semester in the clinic and she is dogged, but also has an extremely warm and pleasant way of expressing herself. I think she's a good example, as is Anjani. If there's a way that you put yourself out there and you present yourself, be true to yourself, they really don't need to yell and scream. They can just be calm, collected, and forceful without having to pound the table.

Anjani Shah:

On Friday around 1:00 we had a little team get together over Zoom like we would in like a locker room sort of.

Katie Phang [narration]:

This is Anjani.

Anjani Shah:

Pump each other up, let each other know that we're not going to be more ready than we are today. Like we were about to go into a game and it was like, "Leave it on the scoreboard."

Then in the hour right before we actually entered the competition room, I have some personal rituals that I do, which include listening and dancing to a very embarrassing Aretha Franklin “Respect” by myself in my room alone. [laugh] I actually have not even admitted that to a lot of people. It's a very sacred ritual to me.

Kevin:

Well, you just admitted it probably to a lot of people, but that's okay.

Anjani Shah:

It's out there now.

Kevin:

It's out there now.

Anjani Shah:

Exactly.

[audio from UC Davis King Competition via Zoom]

Judge:

Very well. Plaintiff, are you ready to proceed with openings?

Anjani Shah:

Yes, Your Honor. We're ready to proceed.

Judge:

Very well. You may proceed.

Anjani Shah:

A veteran, a Patriot, a United States citizen stripped of the rights she risked her life to protect. May it please the court, opposing counsel, members of the jury. My name is Anjani Shah and I, along with my co-counsel, Ms. Ellie Sands represent the plaintiff, Ms. Riley Taylor in today's case.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Anjani opens as Brooklyn Law takes on the University of Connecticut in Round One. It's her team's first appearance ever at a competition.

Anjani Shah:

After she was honorably discharged, she again, answered the call to keep our country safe as a mechanic on military aircrafts. Unfortunately in 2015, you will learn that Ms. Taylor was let go from her job. Just after she was let go, you will hear that her welfare check started getting smaller and smaller. So, Ms. Taylor became just another data point in the city of Oakland's growing homeless population.

Katie Phang [narration]:

The Brooklyn team argues that the plaintiff has value and humanity. They deny that the homeless were rounded up in order to help them. Instead, Brooklyn insists the homeless were arrested for being poor.

Ellie Sands:

Now, Chief Gordon business was better in downtown Oakland?

Chief Gordon:

Sure, yeah.

Ellie Sands:

But the homeless population still existed?

Chief Gordon:

Yes, we were not able to eradicate it completely.

Ellie Sands:

You referred to homeless individuals as, "Skid row rejects."

Chief Gordon:

I may have. Yeah.

Ellie Sands:

You referred to homeless individuals as "Derelicts."

Chief Gordon:

Yes.

Ellie Sands:

You referred to homeless individuals as, "Mr. Ratso."

Chief Gordon:

Oh, in connection with the public defecation, yes.

Ellie Sands:

And vermin?

Chief Gordon:

Yes.

Ellie Sands:

I'm jumping ahead to your current role, Chief Gordon, you enforced Executive Order 113, right?

Chief Gordon:

I did.

Katie Phang [narration]:

After the round, the team gathers online to wait for feedback and they hear that they beat Yukon, but the judges say they need to work on a few things.

Judge 1:

Remove all references to, I believe, I think. The court doesn't care about your feelings. It doesn't care about your beliefs. The court cares about the law. It cares about the facts and it cares about what's happening the record. It's not that you believe it's this, it's that this is the law.

Judge 2:

There were times when I think you all could've done a better job, listening to your witness, especially on direct. It often felt like maybe an objection came up or your witness didn't give you the exact answer. Then you had a hard time pivoting from there.

Judge 3:

Well, thanks everybody. That was a great round. I thought the plaintiff, your crosses were good. Very, very good in fact. Ellie, your cross was very good.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Brooklyn Law is listening. They beat Texas A&M in Round Two. Then they're power matched to UC San Diego.

Ellie Sands:

Your Honor-

Judge:

Objection sustained.

Judge:

Yes.

Ellie Sands:

I also ask for motion to strike of all answers that reference camps from the record.

Judge:

That I'm not going to do, you let the cat out of the bag a little too early. We're just going to go ahead and proceed with what we have. Overruled on that.

Competitor:

Ms. Alfred, where are you going after you testify here to today?

Mr. Alfred:

I'm going back to the shelter station.

Competitor:

How long have you been in the shelter station?

Mr. Alfred:

Since January 2020 or so.

Katie Phang [narration]:

UC San Diego wins round three, but the judges have some surprises in store for the Brooklyn team.

Ellie Sands:

We were all at Anjani's house and we were starving. None of us had eaten yet because it was a 13 hour day. We had gone straight through. We had ordered pizza and we were just stuffing our faces because we were so hungry at that point.

Kathrine Boyko:

We were sitting on the couch and on the screen, they were about to give off awards. I was just like, "Oh, opening statement awards, Anjani or Phoebe should get that." Then the first thing that comes on is Anjani's name.

Ellie Sands:

What just happened?

Kathrine Boyko:

Anjani got the best opening statement!

Ellie Sands:

We just all tackled her to the ground and were crying, and screaming, and so happy.

Anjani Shah:

To get recognized for something that I had no idea how to do three, four months ago out of a field of 44 other people who gave opening statements from Ivy League schools all across the country so many talented advocates, was extremely validating. That I have picked the right thing and I can do this and this is for me, even though some days it may not feel like it.

Ellie Sands:

Then they announced the semi-finalists and they named the schools one by one. One school went by, then another school went by, then the third school went by, and we were the fourth school.

Anjani Shah:

Our name pops up on the screen and it was an eruption of screams, and joy, and shrieking. I feel so sorry for my poor next-door neighbors who have young kids because it must have been like 10:45 Eastern time when this was happening.

Kathrine Boyko:

We were like, "Oh my God." We were screaming. We were jumping. We were screeching. We were laughing. We were crying. We were hugging. It was a mess, but it was so exciting and I'm so glad we got to share that moment together.

Ellie Sands:

Then we were like, "We got to go home. We have to prepare for tomorrow morning." The way it worked was that there was a coin toss to see which side of our team would be competing in the semi-final. Our school won the coin toss. Our coaches chose to have Anjani and I go. Then we ended up putting on a case in the morning. Harvard was the reigning champion of this competition. They had won last year. Going against Harvard I think, sure the name is intimidating.

[audio from the home of Leena and Pritesh Shah]

Anjani Shah:

When I told my parents, I mean, they were just ecstatic. They know how much time has gone into this and how much sacrifice I've had to make because they're right over the bridge in New Jersey.

Dr. Leena Shah:

We just knew she was preparing. She was up against this big teams that have proved themselves in the past. It was going to be a formidable competition.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Doctors Leena and Pritesh Shah are Anjani's parents.

Dr. Leena Shah:

When she told us about how well their team did unexpectedly and how she did personally on a personal level, how she excelled, we were just so happy and proud of her.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

Well, to me, it was not unexpectedly. To me it was, I knew.

Dr. Leena Shah:

No. I meant for the team, for the team, for the school. You know Brooklyn Law had never been placed that high in this sort of a competition.

Anjani Shah:

First time doing this competition for Brooklyn.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

If you're passionate about something, you can only be successful.

[34:00]

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

Can I make you a cup of tea or something? A chai? You guys want to drink some chai?

Anjani Shah:

Yeah.

Kevin:

Sure. Absolutely.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

It'll be spicy. You like spicy?

Kevin:

That's okay.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

How about you, Lauren?

Lauren:

I don't know about spicy.

Anjani Shah:

It's like pepper, cinnamony-

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

It's flavorful.

Lauren:

I could try it.

Anjani Shah:

Yeah. You try it.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

Try a little bit. Okay, let me make some. This is loose leaf tea. I got three cups of water in there. I have two tea bags and I put three spoonfuls of loose leaf tea. Then I have, this is chai masala. Chai masala is cardamon, black pepper, cloves. That's the spice.

Dr. Leena Shah:

Anjani's the middle child. From the day she was born, she already had that sense of fairness and justice even when she was much younger. She would take an issue however small and just come up with an argument and say why this is not right.

Anjani Shah:

I'm basically the first lawyer in the family. Kind of something that I had to chart by myself. I think I told them after the fact, I was like, "Okay, I'm on the Moot Court Team." They were like, "We have no idea what that is."

I do think that the color of my skin makes it such that I need to be more prepared than whoever my adversary is at every turn. I mean, it's certainly something I've just had to live with my whole life. At this point it's become a hustle. It's become hard work and a way of life because I know that the only reason my parents got to where they were, and subsequently how they've been able to support me to get to where I am is because of all of that hard work and being more prepared than the person standing next to them. That's really all it comes down to.

Dr. Leena Shah:

I'm the oldest of four siblings. I lost my dad at a very young age. My mother raised us all four by herself. She managed to make sure we were all not only just provided for, but also went on to be well educated and professionals.

I went to medical school at a very young age. I was not even 18 when I started medical school, this was in India. I went from a small town to a big city to learn medicine. That's where I met him and he was a quote unquote foreigner because he came from Kenya.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and my father was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Kenya was a British Colony, East Africa was a British Colony. My father was a person of modest means.

We lived in a one bedroom apartment, five of us. I'm the middle of three siblings. So my father said, "Okay, who's going to become the doctor here?" It was left up to me and being a person of modest means, education's very expensive abroad, England, America, things like that.

I opted to go to India where the education was cheap. Four and a half years in medical school and then I decided to come here to the United States. Took me two years to find a residency and it was, somebody gives you an opportunity...[crying]

Anjani Shah:

Dad. I’ll et you some water.

Dr. Leena Shah:

He hasn't thought of the whole journey in a long time.

Anjani Shah:

I know. I love hearing it, with this much detail.

Dr. Leena Shah:

It's all coming back to him.

Anjani Shah:

It's been awhile.

Dr. Leena Shah:

Thank you, Kevin. He probably needs this.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

No. I ended up getting an opportunity from a residency training director, my own director who gave me the externship called me up and said, "Come and do a residency with me. I don't need to interview you. I know who you are."

Dr. Leena Shah:

You're still in touch with him. He's your mentor. He was an immigrant himself.

[back in the kitchen, making chai]

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

Okay, then I flavor it with cardamon, ground up cardamon. Then I'm going to get some mint and I'm going to get some ginger, fresh mint, fresh ginger. This is the ratio I use. Everybody doesn't use the same ratio. I'll take my ginger and I'll grate some ginger in it.

Kevin:

I can already smell it.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

You can smell it, right?

Lauren:

Very fragrant.

Dr. Pritesh Shah:

Then I'll take some fresh mint. Put the fresh mint in there and then it'll come to a boil because you've got to let it boil and then you'll add the milk.

[audio from UC Davis King Competition Semi-final Round via Zoom]

Judge:

Starting with the plaintiff. Do you have any other housekeeping matters to cover that I have not covered?

Katie Phang [narration]:

Right from the start. The judge is tough on Ellie.

Ellie Sands:

Yes, Your Honor. The plaintiff has a few housekeeping matters to attend to. Firstly, would Your Honor like a courtesy copy of the plaintiff's notice of appearance?

Judge:

No, I don't need one.

Ellie Sands:

Would Your Honor like a brief recitation of the facts for today's case?

Judge:

Not as a housekeeping matter, no.

Ellie Sands:

Your Honor, for judicial notice, we have discussed our motions in limine with opposing counsel during pretrial and have stipulated to exclusion of three pieces of evidence.

Judge:

Those are in limine matters. I am asking only for housekeeping matters. Stipulations will cover.

Ellie Sands:

Yes, Your Honor.

Ellie Sands:

Additionally, Your Honor, permission to have local rules constructively read into the record?

Judge:

Local rules do not need to be read into the record.

Kathrine Boyko:

He was a tough cookie for sure, but Ellie she stood her ground. She recuperated and she was not phased and I'm really proud of her for that. I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat. My whole family was actually watching too as spectators and they were on the edge of their seats too.

Ellie Sands:

But just because those competitors go to Harvard Law School doesn't necessarily make them better advocates than us because we go to Brooklyn Law School.

Ellie Sands:

We've all had the material for the same amount of time. We’ve all been training for the same amount of time and you all have the same resources to a certain extent. Going against four males, it's interesting now that was the first thing Anjani and I said to each other is that, "We're going against an all-male team and we have a male judge."

Katie Phang [narration]:

The case is on. Ellie questions Phoebe, who is acting as a witness.

Ellie Sands:

How long have you been at shelter station three, Ms. Alfred.

Phoebe Menaker:

Over a year and a half.

Ellie Sands:

Do you know how much longer you'll be there for?

Phoebe Menaker:

I have no idea. No one's actually told me. All I know is that I can't leave.

Ellie Sands:

Why not?

Phoebe Menaker:

Well, there are requirements before I can leave. Detainees must work. I have to take classes in hygiene, and math, and English, and I need to pass a test that they give us at the end of every month. The test is really hard.

Ellie Sands:

Why is the test hard?

Phoebe Menaker:

Well, they're a whole bunch of word problems on the math test and I don't have enough time to complete the questions. We also can't use a calculator.

Ellie Sands:

Would you recognize that test if you saw it here today?

Phoebe Menaker:

Yes.

Ellie Sands:

Your Honor, directing witness court and count's attention to what has been pre-marked as Trial Exhibit 2. Permission to share via the screen share function constructively outside the presence of the jury?

Judge:

You may proceed.

Ellie Sands:

Please let the record reflect-

Harvard competitor:

Your Honor, I have an objection to this exhibit on hearsay ground.

Judge:

You're premature for your hearsay objection. Proceed, counsel.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Anjani pushes back against the Harvard defense.

Harvard Competitor:

So let's start by talking about the shelter station program. Can you describe it for the jury?

Dr. Cole:

The shelter station program was a rehabilitative program put in place because the state of Columbia was in a state of crisis.

Anjani Shah:

Objection Your Honor. On two grounds, one being speculation and two being lack of expertise and I can explain further, Your Honor, if you wish.

Judge:

I have not yet had the witness tendered as an expert. The proper objection would be foundation and if you are disputing the qualifications of the expert, you're free to voir dire if that's your request?

Anjani Shah:

Your Honor, may I?

Judge:

Plaintiff, do you wish to voir dire the expert?

Anjani Shah:

Yes, Your Honor may I inquire?

Judge:

You may.

Anjani Shah:

Dr. Cole, you've based your conclusions today on the established principles in the field of urban social symmetry?

Dr. Cole:

That's correct.

Anjani Shah:

Urban social symmetry is a relatively new field?

Dr. Cole:

Yes. It's an exciting new field.

Anjani Shah:

And you testified that urban social symmetry is about how demographic groups interact with each other, correct?

Dr. Cole:

Exactly and the effect it has on urban life and communities. Exactly.

Anjani Shah:

Just a yes or no will suffice, Dr. Cole thank you.

Anjani Shah:

Dr. Cole, you consider homelessness to be one part of that broad specialty?

Dr. Cole:

That's correct.

Anjani Shah:

You're aware that the issue in today's case is homelessness?

Dr. Cole:

That's correct.

Anjani Shah:

We're not here to discuss urban social symmetry.

Dr. Cole:

No, not that the field as a whole, that's correct.

Anjani Shah:

In fact, today is the first time you're testifying about homelessness?

Dr. Cole:

Yes, that's correct.

Anjani Shah:

No further questions, your honor. He does not meet the first requirement of Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and should not be tendered as an expert today.

Katie Phang [narration]:

As Anjani cross examines a key witness she's honing in on Harvard's main line of argument. She denies that shelter stations are a way to help homeless people. Instead, Anjani insists, "The city and state are more interested in scoring points with voters for cleaning up the streets. They don't really care about helping the homeless."

Judge:

You may proceed cross examination.

Anjani Shah:

Yes, Your Honor.

Anjani Shah:

Dr. Cole, can you hear me all right?

Dr. Cole:

Yes, I can.

Anjani Shah:

Dr. Cole, have you testified as an expert before?

Dr. Cole:

Yes I have.

Anjani Shah:

And you get paid by your client each time you testify?

Dr. Cole:

Of course.

Anjani Shah:

Today the client paying your fee is the defendant, right?

Dr. Cole:

That's correct.

Anjani Shah:

I think I saw what they were trying to do and that actually lit a little bit of a fire in me to say this expert is trying to sound really good, and pull the wool over the jury's eye, and pull the wool over my eyes, frankly and it's not going to work.

Anjani Shah:

You're aware that Executive Order 113 created by Governor Ferris, is that issue in this case?

Dr. Cole:

Yes. I'm aware of that.

Anjani Shah:

Dr. Cole, you've published research about urban social symmetry?

Dr. Cole:

That's correct.

Anjani Shah:

And much of that research is specifically focused on homelessness, right?

Dr. Cole:

Yes.

Anjani Shah:

For example, you published a piece titled, A Societal Sickness: The Cancer Called Homelessness.

Dr. Cole:

Yes, that's correct.

Anjani Shah:

You also published a piece titled, A Society Out of Balance: Homelessness and the Decay of the American Community.

Dr. Cole:

Yes, exactly.

Anjani Shah:

You referred to homeless individuals as a cancer.

Dr. Cole:

No. I referred to homelessness as a cancer, not homeless individuals. It's a fine distinction. It's a cancer upon the people who it inflicts.

Anjani Shah:

So you referred to homelessness as a cancer.

Dr. Cole:

That's correct.

Anjani Shah:

And you referred to homelessness as causing the decay of America.

Dr. Cole:

Yes. It's causing decay. That's correct.

Anjani Shah:

This expert is an expert in urban social symmetry, which is just absolutely the most absurd specialty I have ever heard of. Sorry to anyone out there who is actually an expert in urban social symmetry. I'd like to meet one someday.

Yeah, I felt that was the most effective way to make this expert really look silly. Those traps were very purposefully laid.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Everything now depends on the closing.

[music, pulsing, electronic bass ambient]

Katie Phang [narration]:

It's Ellie against Harvard. She argues that the defendant in effect sentenced a veteran to indefinite detention at a shelter station and she denounces the defendant's refusal to take the stand.

Ellie Sands:

Members of the jury, the defendant didn't even bother to show up in court today. The defendant himself has no defense. There were countless other ways the defendant could have helped the homeless population. He chose not to.

Katie Phang [narration]:

In its closing argument, Harvard flips that theme claiming the shelter stations are meant to help. This is a part of the process that activist lawyers relish. Ellie goes straight at the defense in her rebuttal.

Ellie Sands:

Ms. Taylor and all homeless people in the state of Columbia are subject to future indefinite detainment because of the fact that they are homeless. The defendant is not interested in eradicating homelessness. The defendant is interested in eradicating homeless people.

The defendant has used belligerent language to describe Ms. Taylor and other homeless people before. Words like vermin and derelicts are simply part of his vocabulary. The fact that government officials like Chief Gordon use words like this to describe members of the public show he's not qualified to be a public servant.

Now this executive order lumps all homeless people together under the definition of vagrancy. It does not distinguish-

Bailiff:

Ballots in, thank you. You guys would like to give feedback if you want and then Vivian will come and announce which team moved on.

Judge 1:

This is by far one of the best mock trials I've witnessed. I tried to take notes. I couldn't see much room for improvement. I want to take note of when you guys actually become lawyers so that I can set my retirement for that time because I'm not going to be able to compete.

Bailiff:

Next.

Judge 2:

I was honored to be here today. These are two extraordinary teams, four extraordinary future lawyers. I'd be happy to work with you. My job is I'm a general counsel for a $340 billion financial institution. I hire lawyers all the time. I retain lawyers all the time. All four of you would be in my pool.

I'd hire you anytime. You've chosen the right profession. You're extraordinary. I've judged a number of these mock trials over the years and I think this is the best that I've seen.

Judge 3:

I have to say you were all terrific. My only suggestion would be that the closing argument probably ought to be easier to remember than a long argument.

Judge 1: I will echo those comments that when you get out in practice, you're going to find that the hardest part about jury trials or any kind of court appearance is standing up in front of 12 people who couldn't escape jury duty or three judges that you think know the law so much better than you when they really don't. Not stammering and losing your place and then sitting down and realize that you didn't zip up your fly after the last trip to the restroom.

I guarantee you those mistakes will happen to you, but I would encourage you to focus your opening statements simply on your narrative of the facts. How can you explain the facts of your case in a persuasive way in three minutes, in a way that would persuade your Trump supporting drunk uncle at Thanksgiving to believe your case.

Katie Phang [narration]:

The judges issue their ruling.

Vivian:

Hi, it's Vivian. Congratulations to all teams that made to the semifinals. I mean, it's been wonderful having you all. This was a very, very close round, but the team that is advancing to the final round is Team F.

Congrats. Also, team A wonderful job. Really, really congratulations you all. Everyone's been doing wonderful and good luck team F in the next round. If you have a few questions, I'm going to jump back to the main room. Ask me questions there, but otherwise everyone else is free to go.

Ellie Sands:

Thank you all.

Vivian:

Yeah, congrats.

Judge:

Thank you all.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Harvard advances. Brooklyn is out.

Ellie Sands:

They threw a huge curve ball at us. They didn't call the defendant and they were representing the defendant in their case. We've run so many hypotheticals. We've practiced against so many different people. We've combated so many different personalities thinking that we had prepared for every possible scenario.

In no possible scenario did we ever think the defense would not call the defendant. I ended up having to give a cross examination that I had never done before because I normally cross the defendant and I had to rewrite my entire closing statement during the trial because my entire closing statement was attacking the character of the defendant. There was a lot of agility and adjusting necessary in that round.

Anjani Shah:

I felt that it was so close. Honestly, when we were getting the judges' feedback, I go through this it's been what a month now. I go through this almost daily in my head. I'm like, "Why did we lose?"

I think that, I felt we won just because of how hard we worked and how good our trial was. Despite the craziness of what happened behind the scenes. I felt that we walked away as winners despite not advancing to the final round.

Ellie Sands:

Their advocacy was better than our advocacy in that round and that's why they won. Harvard didn't call the defendant, that was well within their choice. We as a team fell short in preparing for that possibility.

I learned a lot from that competition. I learned more than anything to expect to be thrown off your game. It's a matter of anticipating that there is going to be something in the course of the trial that you are not going to expect. You need to go in being prepared to go outside of your comfort zone. Going in being prepared to do something differently than what you anticipated. It's a little bit of a metaphor for life.

Katie Phang [narration]:

Sure, it'd be nice to beat Harvard, but the Brooklyn team has learned a valuable lesson. Soon they'll be walking out the door to take the Bar exam and instead of practicing for mock trial, they'll be practicing law. On behalf of their real-world clients, they'll never let someone do that to them again.

Ellie Sands:

I think for myself, for Anjani, for the rest of our team, and for our coaches, this isn't a game for us. This is what we want to do with our lives and we're very much invested in social change. We're very much invested in the issues that this case raised; homelessness, police discretion, poverty, criminal justice, constitutional rights.

For us, this was really an introduction to our careers. It really wasn't about winning or losing. It was about representing our client, and our values, and our morals in the best way that we could.

[audio from call between Ellie and her client with the Brooklyn Defender Services]

Ellie Sands:

I think the biggest update that we have is that your pardon is officially filed. Crystal, it's a 500 page application that we sent over to the Federal Pardon Office and now we just wait. Now we just wait for a response.

Cristal Morris:

Okay.

Katie Phang:

Cristal, how does it make you feel to know that you have this exceptional group of people that are just good people as human beings, but are exceptional advocates that are working for you to help you and your family be able to stay in the United States?

Cristal Morris:

I feel very wonderful. I feel very blessed and I thank all of them for their help to take the time out to take my case.

Katie Phang:

I understand that your family has faced great tragedy and that there is this possibility that if you were to return to Jamaica that you yourself would be at serious physical risk of harm and maybe even death. I can't imagine how difficult it is for you to have to kind of process all of this information.

How do you manage this just on an emotional level, on a personal level, when you think about on a day by day basis what your future may be?

Cristal Morris:

Well, it's hard. It's hard for me and my kids because... [crying] I'm sorry. It's getting closer to court dates and my kids cry all the time. Now everybody starts sleeping in the room with me. They trying to spend time with me before and then my family comes over. My niece and nephew, they coming back over for spring break. It's really sad.

Katie Phang:

Ellie, if you had that unfettered completely free conversation maybe with the immigration judge, or maybe even if it was just Joe Biden, just sitting there across from you, what would you say, Ellie?

Ellie Sands:

I'd probably read them a couple paragraphs from the pardon application. I would just look that pardon official in the eye and ask them, "What would you do if you couldn't feed your child and how would you want to be treated?" Okay, this is an introductory paragraph to the entire pardon.

In this application, we will share Ms. Morris's story with you. It is a story of resilience. Crystal Morris is a woman who refused to let herself be defined by the cruelty and hardships inflicted upon her, but instead took the fragmented pieces left behind by her abusers and the murderers who took the lives of her brothers and turned these misfortunes into a beautiful, complex, and full life.

Ms. Morris has against all odds created a stable home for herself, her six children, and her mother. In this application we will bring you into her life through the past, into the present, and provide a window into her future. However, we implore you to recognize that Ms. Morris is so much more than we could ever explain through words on a page.

Cristal Morris is joy and grace embodied. We hope to provide you with the opportunity to become as moved and inspired by Ms. Morris's incredible display of strength and perseverance as we have been.

Katie Phang:

Cristal, I'm sure that there are miracles, but it sounds like you've got angels on earth that are looking out for you right now in the form of Ellie, and Michelle, and Dan and everybody. I wish you the very best of luck, Cristal, but if I had anybody like these fighting people fighting for me, I'd feel like I got a little bit of luck and I got a whole lot of some of God's grace helping me out right now.

Cristal Morris:

Thank you, yes.

[59:00]

Katie Phang [narration]:

As for the rest of the season for Brooklyn Law, the team won the Fordham University Kelly Competition beating UCLA. Ellie competed in the Regional National Championship for the Texas Young Lawyers Association advancing to the quarter finals.

She was then voted on to the National team for next season. Anjani competed in the Queen's County District Attorney's Competition advancing to the quarter finals. She was selected to serve as president of the Moot Court Honor Society.

[music, hip hop positive bass and percussion groove, theme song]

AJ Bellido de Luna:

I received the phone call saying, "Hey, the judges are saying that you guys are cheating because you have one advocate playing all the roles."

Bailiff:

Before you all remove yourselves from the room can we have the team for the plaintiff. We need to verify which one of you all did, which portions of the trials.

AJ Bellido de Luna:

The only thing that's similar to them is that they're both Latinas. They're both Brown skinned. Other than that, it's two completely different people and you can't mix them up.

Katie Phang [narration]:

That's next time on Class Action.

Class Action is a production of iHeartRadio and Sound Argument. Created, produced, written, and edited by Kevin Huffman and Lisa Gray.

This episode was written by Wendy Nardi. Executive producers are Taylor Chicoine and Katrina Norville. Sound design, editing, and mixing by Evan Tyor and Taylor Chicoine. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio App, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your favorite shows.

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END