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In one of the biggest discrimination cases against a local taxi company in years, a federal judge ruled in late July that the Diamond Cab Co. was responsible for race- and residence-based discrimination. The case began in 2000 after plaintiffs Lamont Mitchell and Viola Bowen reported to the Equal Rights Center that Diamond failed to respond to their requests for taxis. Mitchell and Bowen are both African-American residents of the District’s Anacostia neighborhood in Southeast. The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs tackled the case with Mitchell, Bowen, and the Equal Rights Center as plaintiffs. Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Roderic Boggs, section directors Reed Colfax and Susan Huhta, and Crowell & Moring partner Peter Work and counsel Daniel Forman all took the matter on pro bono. The opinion handed down by U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts upheld the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment on race- and residence-based discrimination under the D.C. Human Rights Act. However, Roberts granted Diamond’s motion for summary judgment on breach of common carrier duties, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Judge Roberts declined to rule on two counts � intentional discrimination and negligent supervision � which he concluded should be decided by trial. In an Aug. 18 status conference, Roberts recommended strongly that Diamond try to settle the case out of court, says Forman. Diamond is being represented by Bethesda, Md.’s Ridberg, Press & Sherill partner Joel Aronson. Aronson did not respond to requests for comment. The parties have agreed to file a joint status report by Oct. 3, which will outline whether they plan to settle or go to trial. Past cases have involved the discrimination of one driver against one passenger, while the Diamond case takes on the policies and practices of Diamond’s dispatch service and its affiliated drivers. “D.C. is notorious for its taxicab discrimination,” says Colfax. “You talk to any black person in D.C. and there’s a good chance they’ve got a story.” Others involved in the case claim that there are deep-rooted discrimination problems in the taxi industry as a whole. Veralee Liban, executive director of the Equal Rights Center, writes in an e-mail, “While this is certainly a victory, this is only the first step in a lengthy process.” The center, she writes, aims to create a standard under which all taxicab companies will provide “equal professional service” to customers, regardless of residence or race. “There continues to be a real problem in the taxi industry,” says Forman. “Diamond is a fairly high-profile player, [and a favorable decision] could go a long way to convince the rest of the industry to fall in line.” LOBBYING FREEDOM Christina Fu, the wife of Chinese prisoner and activist Yang Jianli, has spent many days this year on Capitol Hill with her 11-year-old daughter, going from office to office seeking support for a resolution calling for the release of her husband from a Beijing prison. Other days, she has meetings at the White House or the State Department. At home in Boston, she spends hours writing thank you cards for the outpouring of support she receives both locally and abroad. Fu’s husband was initially arrested for illegally entering China and later charged with espionage. Yang had been blacklisted by the Chinese government since 1989, after his involvement in the Tiananmen Square uprising and continued political activity in the United States. After being held incommunicado for over a year, Yang, who had been subjected to some 120 interrogations, was granted access to a lawyer. Together, they had just four hours to prepare for his Aug. 4 trial in Beijing, Fu says. A decision is expected shortly. Freedom Now President and Piper Rudnick associate Jared Genser offered to help Fu soon after Yang was detained in April 2002, and has played a key role in the campaign to win his freedom. Freedom Now is a D.C.-based nonprofit composed of lawyers committed to freeing political prisoners. Currently, Freedom Now’s board members are all under age 32, and many are associates at firms around town. For Genser, the case is personal. In 1997, he met Yang during a political protest at Harvard University. Both were graduate students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. “It was that experience that persuaded me to go to law school. . . . In some ways, [the Yang campaign] is bringing my human rights work full circle,” Genser says. Also joining the fight is retired Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison partner Jerome Cohen. Cohen works pro bono in his capacity as a New York University School of Law professor. A former Chinese business lawyer, Cohen says his Chinese scholarship and law practice has “worked out with great satisfaction . . . getting people out of jail.” While these types of human rights cases have not made up the bulk of his practice, Cohen feels strongly that “as a lawyer you have an obligation to help out.” Together, Fu, Genser, and Cohen managed to secure passage of a resolution calling for Yang’s release. In late June, the measure passed the House in a 421-0 roll call vote, while the Senate passed the resolution in late July. The trio also secured a favorable decision from the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in June. Cohen, now in China monitoring the case, says the problem is that China’s courts fall below its prosecutors and police in power, and that many defendants in similar cases are convicted. Sometimes, Cohen says, prisoners are convicted to vindicate the judicial process and then released to uphold American goodwill. Fu has received warnings from her relatives in China to not pursue the issue, but she is convinced that her lobbying efforts are helping. In the meantime, she has trouble sleeping and calls her husband’s lawyer in China for updates. However, Fu says her work on the Hill has been encouraging. “[Congressional staff members] were very sympathetic to me and to my children,” she says. Without that support, she adds, she believes the Chinese court would have already handed down a guilty verdict for her husband. RUN, REZA, RUN “We didn’t really believe he was planning to run across the country on foot, but sure enough . . . ,” says Sarah Cross of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service in Baltimore. Sure enough, Reza Baluchi began a cross-country journey on foot in Los Angeles on May 17 and is set to arrive at Ground Zero in New York City on Sept. 11. Baluchi averages 30 to 40 miles a day, every day. Baluchi, a 30-year-old Iranian who has been assisted by Cross since the beginning of this year, has no stated political or religious agenda. His message is peace � more specifically, the rehabilitation of the image of Middle Easterners in the eyes of some Americans. Arnold & Porter and the United Nations high commissioner for refugees welcomed Baluchi when he jogged through the nation’s capital on Aug. 18. Along with the CAIR Coalition and the Tahirih Justice Center, Arnold & Porter arranged a brown-bag luncheon at the firm’s office. UNHCR Regional Representative Guenet Guebre-Christos and senior staff sat down with Baluchi for nearly an hour. Baluchi’s U.S. journey, which has been supported through donations of money, clothing, food, and lodging, is the last leg of a seven-year peace campaign that has traversed six continents and more than 50 countries. In 1995, Baluchi was imprisoned for 18 months in Iran for associating with “counter-revolutionaries.” He was released in 1996 and began his peace journey. Baluchi was biking for peace when he “accidentally crossed the border” from Mexico to Arizona in November 2002, says Cross. He was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol and charged and imprisoned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which took away his bicycle. With the help of the Florence Immigration and Refugee Rights Project in Arizona, which is funded in part by the Lutheran immigration group, Baluchi was granted political asylum in February. About 20 people who ran with Baluchi in their respective hometowns plan to fly out to New York to run the last miles to Ground Zero with Baluchi, says Dave Hyslop, a Los Angeles man who is accompanying Baluchi on his journey in a donated mobile home. According to Hyslop, Baluchi says that after his trip, he plans to sleep for a month and, perhaps later, pursue a formal education. “It’s been a journey for him and for me as well,” says Hyslop via cell phone from rural Pennsylvania, waiting for Baluchi to catch up. “You get to do a lot of thinking about life and what’s important.” NEIGHBORHOOD SUPPORT The Neighborhood Legal Services Program is moving into the 21st century, but it can’t do it alone. The 38-year-old organization, partly funded by the Legal Services Corp., is seeking donations � both money and in-kind � to physically and technologically revitalize its building and services. The three-story building on the corner of Fourth and G streets, N.W., needs cosmetic work, such as new carpeting and paint. Other repairs, however, are more pressing, such as fixing the leaky basement, cracked walls, and inoperative photocopiers, and revamping an impractical library and filing system. Just this year, the program’s new executive director, Roberta Wright, introduced the Internet, e-mail, and case management software. With these upgrades, Wright hopes to perform intake onsite at congregations and community service organizations in order to double or triple the 1,600 people the program currently serves. Wright hopes the work will make the program the “hub of the civil legal services community” and that it will “revitalize the neighborhood concept so we are back out into the neighborhoods.” The program will hold a refurbishing event (including a painting party) on Nov. 1 and an opening celebration Dec. 12. “It really is the duty of this city and this bar [to help]. I feel very strongly about that,” Wright says. LEARNING LEADERSHIP On break from the District’s Macfarland Middle School and an otherwise playful summer, a group of students interned at Drinker Biddle & Reath; Dow, Lohnes & Albertson; Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot; and Humphries & Brooks. As part of Macfarland’s Colin L. Powell Leadership Club, selected students participate in internships at businesses across the city, including the Raytheon Co. and Deloitte & Touche. Drinker Biddle sponsored seventh-grader Isiah Guinyard for a six-week internship. The 12-year-old spent time with various partners, conducted research with paralegals, was briefed by the firm librarian, and visited the accounting, computer, and records departments. Isiah says some of his tasks were more difficult than others. The copying and faxing, for instance, Isiah felt were more challenging than fixing the computers. “I want to be a computer specialist when I grow up,” says Isiah, whose favorite part of the internship was his visits to the Computer Information Systems Department. “I learned a lot there,” he says. As part of the program, the firms pay for the transportation, meals, and incidentals of their interns. Each day, Isiah had lunch with a different person in the firm and took field trips most Fridays to the Supreme Court, museums, and Capitol Hill. To Drinker Biddle Washington administrator Sheila Bonham, the summer interns are a delight to have in the office. Many past interns stay in touch with friends or mentors they made during their internship. Some interns demonstrate real potential and maturity, Bonham says: “You see these kids and you say, ‘Remember this name.’ “ The program began in 1997 after then-Gen. Powell expressed a desire to expand his education outreach into the District. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, then a private consultant to Powell and now his chief of staff at the State Department, implemented and still directs the program. At the beginning of each school year, Wilkerson recruits over 50 Macfarland students based on academic performance and community service. In addition to the summer internships, the children are offered intensive tutoring, scholarships to private schools, and leadership-building field trips. They also receive visits from African-American and Hispanic leaders, as well as a one-time visit from Henry Kissinger. The programs offer the children lessons in discipline, responsibility, and the knowledge that “education is central to your life and your success,” says Wilkerson. “I’d do it again,” says Isiah. “It was fun.” “Pro Bono Bulletin Board” appears on the first Monday of each month. Alicia Upano can be reached at [email protected]. Next column: Oct. 6.

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