Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Abner Morgan

Compassion of Our Hearts

Compassion of Our Hearts

I love Thanksgiving.  I try to live my life in a spirit of gratitude.  I really appreciate that we dedicate time in our lives every year to be thankful for our blessings.  I am so thankful for my life.  I have lived a miracle and “He didn’t have to do it.  It could have been me outdoors or in jail,” and I know it.  I often remember to be thankful that I am not living on a hill in Haiti.  Current events make me thankful that I am not living under a building in Aleppo, Syria.

thankful-forThis year I am most thankful for forgiveness, for friends who “prayed me through” a very challenging transitional year, for new love and for something called s-a-b-b-a-t-i-c-a-l which I did “my way.”

Compassion in Our Lives

We all can be especially thankful for the compassion in our lives.  As I look around, I am surrounded by friends who show compassion every day.  I am so thankful for my sister Tonsa who takes really good care of my Mom, Mildred.  My foster sisters Gina, Rendi and Virgie took great care of my foster mother Alice. They kept her for more than a decade, long after Mama could no longer speak or move. My cousin Bonita was the solid rock of compassion for my Aunt Eleanore and Uncle John.

It warms my heart to have so many friends who have done the same for their loved ones.  My friend Hope dedicated her life to taking care of her parents, Lela and Ivan.  Since Lela passed, Hope continues to shower compassion on Ivan.  My friend Torrey showed compassion to her mother Mary for years, long after Mary forgot who Torrey was.  Torrey said “she thinks I am just a nice lady who comes to visit her.”

The compassion that my friends demonstrated for their loved ones is so inspiring.  Fania and Angela‘s gentleness with their mother Sallie B. was phenomenal. It has been my privilege to watch daughters like Dianne, Faye and Deborah take care of their mothers, Frances, Imogene and Irene. My friend Shirley‘s steadfast commitment to her Dad, Pops, before he died was comforting to us when Shirley suddenly passed away.

Compassion Knows No Lines

Compassion is not limited by gender.  My cousin Shawn‘s commitment to his mother, Sharon, was unwavering as she battled breast cancer.  How well Antwon cared for his Mother in her last days is one of the most endearing stories about him.  It was my privilege to watch my friend Marshall act with total commitment to his Mother in her final years. My friends, Darryl, Douglas and Duane each showed the same compassion for their mothers in their illnesses when they needed it most.  These are truly men of honor.

My friend Charles continues to honor his mother by taking care of his aunts.  Bishop Macklin‘s concern for his ailing mother touches the heart of every member of our congregation. My godbrother Jay stepped up right away when my foster Mom Amy fell ill and needed 24-hour care. Jay and his wife continue to be there for Amy every day.

Compassion In Action

In law, it is often hard to remember that a law firm is a business. “Beating the drum for justice” is hard work and expensive.  It is very hard to accept that we can not help everybody.  But, it was compassion that moved me to help clients like John Bumphus and Abner Morgan, Deanna Freitag and Tonsa B. What I received in return for that “help” has been life-changing courage and compassion. It was compassion that led me to step off my sabbatical and go to Stuart Florida to rescue Jasmine from jail and bring her home.

In this season, I am reading “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.  The painful truths of our broken justice system grieve the heart. Our criminal justice system is truly an instrument of evil.  Our lack of compassion for children tried as adults and condemned to life in prison is appalling.  The failure of compassion for women who ended up in abusive relationships and then prison is beyond frustrating. Our willingness to accept the death penalty regardless of a person’s guilt or innocence is profoundly disturbing. As Bishop Desmond Tutu pointed out, it’s “as if America’s soul has been put on trial.” Bryan Stevenson‘s compassionate heart is a light of hope for all of us.

In Bay Area politics, we have a rising star in Lateefah Simon.  We are all so proud of her. Her life’s work is rooted in compassion.  I know that her “popularity” is rooted in compassion.  Many people came to know her because of her love for Kevin Weston. The battle she and Kevin fought to save his life touched all of our hearts. Our compassion for this brilliant young couple flooded Facebook. Out of compassion for them, our spirits soared. Our hearts were opened. We were united in community by compassion.

The Greatest Gift of All

As you experience this Thanksgiving, regardless of your circumstances, try to remember that the greatest gift of all is love.  “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13.)  I really appreciate the people in my life and our world who show compassion for others.  As I move forward in my life, I pledge to more consistently practice “random acts of kindness.” Remember that your greatest legacy may be how you showed compassion for someone else.

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Your Blessing Is On the Way

Your Blessing Is On the Way

I run up the stairs in my office to the lobby.  Robin Morgan sits there waiting.  I am so excited.  Today is closing argument in Morgan v. Amtrak and I love closing argument.  I know how long Robin has been supporting her husband, Abner Morgan.  I tell her to “hold on, your blessing is on the way!”  Little did I know that “her blessing” would not come for another seven (7) years.

Morgan v. Amtrak – the Racial Harassment Case

Robin’s husband Abner was an electrician for Amtrak in the Oakland Yard.  He worked there for five (5) years.  Abner walked off the job when the foreman told him to “get your black ass in here.”  That “direct order” from a racist foreman was the last straw for Abner.  For years he and his co-workers had complained about racism in the Yard.  Their complaints had even triggered Senator Barbara Boxer to request an investigation by Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).  The OIG investigation confirmed that Amtrak subjected Black men working on the Yard to harsher discipline, more dangerous job assignments and abusive treatment.

Amtrak fired Abner in 1995.  At the trial in 1998, one of the white foreman came forward and testified that one Amtrak supervisor regularly performed something he called “the shufflebutt ni–er dance.”  The foreman testified that the white supervisor did his dance in the office at night for the other supervisors’ entertainment.

pyramid-of-prejudiceWe presented evidence of the most despicable racism in any workplace.  The jury found that Amtrak’s management was “grossly unprofessional” and engaged in “questionable ethical conduct.”  The jury also found that the response from Amtrak’s EEO Office was “woefully remiss.”  But, the jury still ruled in favor of Amtrak.

 

Our Trip to the Supreme Court

Fast forward to 2000.  I’m standing in my guest bedroom crying.  We had won the appeal in the Ninth Circuit.  Amtrak had filed a petition for hearing in the United States Supreme Court.  We opposed it.  After months, the Court granted the petition and accepted the case.  I was so upset.  We had waited so long and won the case on appeal.  Robin and Abner had three children: two teenagers and a mentally disabled adult son.  Abner’s firing meant they had to survive mainly on Robin’s income for years.  They had suffered great hardships.  My firm had been tested by the years of unpaid legal services as well.

I called my mentor Howard Moore, Jr., the famous civil rights lawyer who raised me from a pup  lawyer.  The conversation with Howard was very short.  I told him through my tears that the United States Supreme Court had granted the petition for hearing.  Howard said “that’s great kid.  Congratulations! This will be great for your career.” And hung up.

I had no idea what Howard knew.  I would be one of the few Black women in history to argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.  We spent six (6) months preparing for the oral argument.  Bill McNeill and the Employment Law Center offered their assistance as soon as it became public that it was my case.  My team included Bill and his lawyers Jory Steele and Willie and Shelley Gregory.  Of course, Howard agreed to serve as my co-counsel on appeal and sponsored my request to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court bar.

The Fight for the Case

It was not long before lawyers around the country contacted me.  Some offered help with the briefing and strategy on how to win the case.  Others simply wanted to take the case.  There was intense pressure on me to let an “experienced” Supreme Court lawyer handle the case.  I quickly learned that “Supreme Court lawyer” was an exclusive all white male club.  So, I called Howard again.  This time, the conversation was equally short but not so happy.  Howard was angry.  When I told him that people wanted to take my case and argue it for me, he said “If a woman with a degree from Yale and two degrees from UC Berkeley can not argue her own case in the Supreme Court, she should give all of her degrees back.”  And he hung up on me again.

morgan-v-amtrak-1And so that was decided.  Abner Morgan, to his credit, co-signed Howard’s statement by saying that I was his lawyer and he was not going to let anyone else argue his case.  I got it.  So I gathered my wits, my spirit, took charge of the situation and got us all to Washington, D.C.

morgan-04

I argued the case in January 2002.  We “claimed the victory” in my office in Oakland and again in the hallowed halls of the United States Supreme Court.  The Court ruled in our favor in June 2002.  We WON!

The Final Outcome

Winning in the Supreme Court meant that we got to try the case again.  It took another two years to get through the appellate process and back to the trial court.  In May 2004, we tried the case a second time.  pam-with-abner-morganThis time, the jury got it right and awarded Abner $500,000.

After nine (9) years of litigation, Amtrak finally settled the case later that year.

Robin’s blessing finally arrived.  What I can say to anyone reading this who has ever been tested, from a woman of faith who has been blessed and highly favored over and over and who believes in the power of prayer, “hold on. Your blessing is on the way.

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