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Los Angeles prioritizes legal aid to privileged UCLA Israel-Palestine arrestees


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to direct county-level legal assistance to protestors arrested at UCLA during the clearing out of the university’s sprawling pro-Palestine encampment earlier this month.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Linsdey P. Horvath motioned the board to “direct the Los Angeles County Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender to direct resources and services toward the defense of the UCLA students and affiliates that were arrested on the evening of Wednesday, May 1, 2024, and morning of Thursday, May 2, 2024″ and a report on the level of assistance provided and the legal outcomes.

Hundreds were reported to have been arrested late on May 1 and early on May 2 after the school had declared the encampment an unlawful assembly. The day before the encampment clearout, violent skirmishes between counter protesters and protestors went on for hours before the police arrived and did little more than separate the two groups.

Legally, anyone charged with any crime is eligible for public legal representation if one is unable to afford an attorney. However, given the cost of law school and low pay for public defenders, public defenders typically carry very high caseloads. Thus, specifically focusing limited legal resources on protestors as a group, and seeking reports on the outcomes of the group’s legal status in the next 60 days — which suggests defense will be available to all arrested protestors, regardless of income or assets — will mean redirecting public defender attention away from other cases unless volunteers help with the extra caseload.

Toya Fields, meanwhile, suggested that it was unfair that the county would consider prioritizing “privileged” college students over lower income individuals.

“Seriously, a bunch of white fools get arrested and you’re all concerned about them? Public defenders represent folks who can’t afford to hire attorneys,” wrote Toya Fields in her submitted opposition. “Since when are privileged college kids in that category?”

By and large, most of those submitting comment regarding the measure seemed aware of the fact that public defenders are already legally required to be available to arrestees and that “hate speech” is largely protected under the First Amendment except in direct incitement to imminent violence or a “true threat”; those in support argued it would be unfair for protestors to be denied legal resources, while the vast majority of those against argued hate speech is illegal.

“Ample evidence has now been provided by mainstream news outlets such as the NY Times and ABC News that these students were not provocateurs of violence and instead were the victims of brutal attacks by outside agitators themselves,” wrote Aliya Yousufi, a senior policy coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, in support of the measure. “Please do not give further insult to injury by denying these students the resources to receive legal representation to competently refute any charges brought against them with regard to these incidents.”

The least-represented public opinion was that arguing against reassigning public defenders from individuals believed to be in greater need.