Congratulations to Bill Sheppard and Sam Jacobson for their receipt of the Robert J. Beckham Equal Justice Award, given each year by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA). This award is given in recognition of their efforts to "provide justice for the poor and marginalized", and specifically recognizes their "pro bono service, philanthropy and unwavering dedication to fairness and honesty."
Qualified immunity is one of the largest obstacles facing civil rights attorneys. The doctrine of qualified immunity gives police officers or other state actors immunity from suit in certain situations. To overcome the defense the plaintiff first needs to prove that (1) the defendant violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights; and (2) that the constitutional violation
The legal doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials who apply force reasonably or apply force in situations where the law is unclear. The purpose of qualified immunity is to prevent government officials from being discouraged carrying out their duties or protecting themselves from violent individuals. In practice, however, qualified immunity often causes judges to throw meritorious lawsuits out of court.
Many people accept violence between prisoners as an every-day facet of life for incarcerated individuals. Some even argue that such violence should be tolerated as part of the punishment for committing a crime. While these issues often remain unaddressed by policy-makers and prison officials, the Eighth Amendment provides recourse for certain individuals who have been the victim of violence at the hands of another inmate. An Eighth Amendment claim for failing to protect an inmate from violence is difficult to bring. However, a recent decision, Lane v. Philbin shows that these causes of action remain viable in the Eleventh Circuit. The Lane case reversed a lower court which had granted a prisoner's motion to dismiss.
In a recent groundbreaking opinion written by Judge Mark Walker, Winstead v. Lafayette Board of County Commissioners, the Northern District held that Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of an employee's sexual orientation or their perceived sexual orientation. The opinion arose out of a lawsuit filed by two female EMTs employed by Lafayette County. Their complaint alleged that members of the Lafayette County Commission had engaged in harassment and failed to protect them from harassment of a co-worker based on his perception of their sexual orientation. The county argued that the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The AAJ Civil Rights Section presents the Leonard Weinglass in Defense of Civil Liberties Award, annually, to honor an attorney or a civil rights advocate who has made a noteworthy contribution to the defense of our civil rights and civil liberties bringing, trying, or resolving a suit, or by otherwise protecting or advancing civil liberties, in a way that has had a significant impact.
In the latest battle over gun control in Florida, the Florida First District Court of Appeal recently rejected a challenge against the University of Florida's regulations on firearms. The case, Florida Carry, Inc. v. University of Florida, held that the University of Florida could enforce its campus-wide ban on firearms in college housing. While the plaintiff alleged both Second Amendment and state law claims, the case as a whole turned on whether on-campus housing should be considered a home or part of the school under state and federal law.
William "Bill" Sheppard has been prominently featured in a new book Fifty Years of Justice: A History of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida by James M. Denham, published by the University Press of Florida. From the very first page, Mr. Sheppard is identified as a prominent civil rights lawyer alongside the likes of Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, William Kunstler, Drew S. Days, and Tobias Simon.
March is the anniversary month for the famous protest along Alabama's Edmund Pettus Bridge led by Martin Luther King Jr. in his mission to achieve fair voting rights. Fifty years later, the fight for equality for African-Americans is not over.
Our own Bill Sheppard and Betsy White are featured in an article written by The Florida Times Union about the state's prohibition against same-sex marriage. The weddings of thousands of gay and lesbian couples throughout Florida since January 6th were made possible in part because of the the groundbreaking lawsuit brought by Sheppard and White.