Teen deaths from auto accidents on the decline

By: Benny Agosto, Jr.

While car crashes remain the leading cause of death for teens between the ages of 15 and 19, a recent report by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm indicates that the rate of teen fatalities due to auto accidents is falling—and drastically. In the report, “Miles to Go: Monitoring Progress in Teen Driver Safety,” the statistics show a 46 percent decline in teen driver fatalities in crashes between 2005 and 2010, from 2,399 deaths to 1,305. Also, deaths among passengers declined 41 percent, from 1,777 deaths to 1,022.

As hopeful as such statistics are, however, the main problem still remains: teen deaths in auto accidents continue to occur. Additionally, 30 percent of seriously injured teen drivers and passengers in 2009 and 2010 sustained head injuries, including concussions, skull fractures, and traumatic brain injuries.

The fatality rates of teen deaths were evaluated at a state-by-state basis, and the report found a significant variation in those rates. In 2009 and 2010, these fatality rates ranged from 3.9 deaths per 100,000 teens in Massachusetts to 29.1 per 100,000 teens in Montana. The researchers found a correlation between the states having the lowest fatality rates and their implementation of comprehensive Graduated Drivers Licensing programs (or “GDL” programs), a program which Texas employs. A GDL is defined as one that includes at least 50 hours of adult-supervised driving practice, as well as other limitations and restrictions on teen drivers, and that is designed to introduce driving privileges in phases that keep teens out of high-risk situations. The report notes that programs and policies focused on GDL are proven effective strategies for preventing crashes that cause these deaths and injuries.

Benny Agosto, Jr. is a partner at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend in Houston, Texas. For over 60 years, Abraham Watkins has successfully represented injured people and families who fall victim to catastrophes. Our attorneys have the knowledge, experience and resources necessary to obtain just compensation their clients. For more information, please contact the office of Benny Agosto, Jr. at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend, by letter 800 Commerce Street, Houston, Texas 77002, or by phone (713) 222-7211.

Can People of Color Stand Their Ground?

By Priscilla Jimenez | Apr. 26, 2012

You’ve probably heard a lot of public outrage over the Trayvon Martin case. In case you haven’t, here’s a quick synopsis of the story: George Zimmerman, 28, a neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot Martin on February 26, 2012. He said the killing was in self-defense, and he reported to 911 dispatchers that Martin appeared to be a “suspicious” looking guy just walking around the neighborhood. Zimmerman proceeded to follow him, got out of his vehicle and fatally shot him. At the heart of this tragedy lies Florida’s Statute Chapter 776, which deals with justifiable use of force, including the controversial stand your ground provision.

The stand your ground provision of the Florida Law allows an individual to use deadly force when they feel a reasonable threat of death or serious injury. Both critics and supporters of the law have argued over precisely what it allows, when it applies and whether it achieves its intended effect. In light of the shooting of Martin, where Zimmerman claimed he was acting in self-defense and essentially “standing his ground” against the “threat” presented by Martin’s presence, the question of who may stand their ground begs to be asked.

As a result, on April 19, 2012, it was announced that a task force made up of a “diverse and qualified group” (according to Governor Rick Scott) has been convened to review certain laws. Officially, the group is tasked with reviewing laws and policies that affect public safety, including the seemingly confusing stand your ground provision of Florida Statute Chapter 776. The task force will hold public meetings throughout the state to hear from local citizens. The first meeting took place May 1, 2012 in Tallahassee. You can also get in contact with the task force by emailing them directly at CitizenSafety@eog.myflorida.com, and according to their website, they invite public input.

One of the issues that the task force will hopefully target and as a result clarify, is whether or not this type of law is discriminatory in practice and what can be done to prevent individuals who feel threatened by minorities from harming and potentially killing them. Geraldo Rivera weighed in on the situation by stating that “parents of Black and Latino youngsters” should not allow their children outside of the home wearing “hoodies.” Hopefully the task force will come to a more practical solution. The perceived threat of minorities is a very real problem, and may result in more casualties if laws like Chapter 776 aren’t clarified or repealed.

Priscilla E. Jimenez is an Associate at the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia and works on personal injury, pharmaceutical litigation, products liability, and medical negligence and malpractice cases. In addition to being a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association, Jimenez also serves as a director on both the Board of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania (HBA of PA) and the HBA of PA’s Legal Education Fund Board. She can be reached at 215-893-3420 or pjimenez@lockslaw.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The views expressed are those of the people writing and not necessarily those of the HNBA.

2012 Supreme Court Cases Will Have Direct Effect on Latinos

By:  Benny Agosto

The upcoming U.S. Supreme Court docket will force the court to decide on issues that could have a major effect on Latinos.   The topics at issue range from redistricting in Texas, immigration laws and President Obama’s national health care law.

“These issues, taken together, may drastically change the way in which Hispanics go about their daily lives in the sense that voting trends may be hampered, access to affordable healthcare may be fleeting, and state immigration laws may have the effect of exclusion for many Hispanics,” says Houston Attorney and President of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), Benny Agosto, Jr.

The Supreme Court will attempt to resolve a Texas redistricting case which involves a San Antonio court-drawn map that was favorable to Democrats and could have received three favorable districts because of Hispanic voters, compare to just one for Republicans.  The new map could help the Republican Party keep control of the House of Representatives.  The Supreme Court is set to rule on the issue in early-2012.

“This is a very important issue because redistricting concerns how the states draw up their congressional districts,” Agosto says.  “If they’re democratically leaning – while Texas is pretty staunchly Republican – that should be reflected.  The HNBA is bipartisan, but we will stand shoulder to shoulder with voters on their rights.”

The Supreme Court will also take up the issue of the government mandated health care bill, The Affordable Care Act, passed by the Obama administration.  If the GOP succeeds in getting the health care law overturned, however, it may very well affect their standing within the Hispanic community.

Stephen A. Nuno, assistant professor at Northern Arizona University believes “[Hispanics] will remember which party tried to limit their access to resources and which party tried to limit their representation . . . Latinos have a long memory.”

Additionally, the Supreme Court will rule on recent immigration laws passed in South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Utah and Alabama.  The Supreme Court has previously ruled in favor of defending state rights unless a federal law clearly limits a state’s involvement in a certain area.

But regardless of how the court rules, it is clear that their decisions will have a widespread impact on the Latino community.

A Safer Neighborhood for Whom?

A Safer Neighborhood for Whom? 

By Priscilla E. Jimenez

If Arizona is successful in the defense of its recently passed immigration law, the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act,” better known as SB1070, then anyone who appears upon “reasonable suspicion” to be an illegal alien, may be detained by the police in the state of Arizona. Furthermore, if they have probable cause, the police may arrest an individual without a warrant whom they believe has done things that would make him or her deportable under federal law. As a young Hispanic attorney, who occasionally forgets her wallet in another purse, and as a result walks around without proper identification, a law like this gravely concerns me.

On April 23, 2010, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law what has been called the nation’s toughest bill on illegal immigration. In July of 2010, a preliminary injunction was granted in response to the Department of Justice’s challenges of four provisions of the law. On April 11, 2011, the 9th Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of those four provisions from being put into practice in the state of Arizona.

On December 12, 2011, after granting the state’s petition for certiorari, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments this term on the Obama Administration’s challenges to Arizona’s immigration law. Although a specific date for oral arguments has yet to be set, it will likely be in April of 2012. The four provisions of the law which are being challenged are:

This law, and similar laws which have been enacted in South Carolina, Alabama and Utah, is shaping up to be one of the key issues in the 2012 presidential election. President Obama has criticized these laws since their inception and continues to support the Department of Justice in its efforts to challenge the provisions of the Arizona law which are “unable to be reconciled with federal law.”

Putting forth a tough stance on immigration control has become a key issue during the GOP primary. One way candidates are demonstrating this is through their support for state laws regulating immigration which shows how they would crack down on unauthorized immigration if elected president. One example of such a supporter is Republican Gov. Mitt Romney who, as of January 11, 2012, has been endorsed by Kris Kobah, Kansas’ Secretary of State and the chief architect of the Arizona and Alabama immigration laws. On his website, Romney announces that he is “so proud to earn Kris’s support,” and continues on to say that “Kris has been a true leader on securing our borders and stopping the flow of illegal immigration into this country…I look forward to working with him to take forceful steps to curtail illegal immigration and to support states like South Carolina and Arizona that are stepping forward to address this problem.” Romney has also said that if elected president, he would veto the DREAM Act, legislation that would allow for undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as minors to get unconditional legal status upon meeting certain criteria.

Arizona v. United States is shaping up to be a landmark decision and its impact on the Hispanic community will be monumental. If provisions, such as the ones being challenged in the Arizona immigration law, are permitted to be enforced by states, the subsequent impact on anyone who looks like “an alien” is immense. The police, upon “reasonable suspicion” — already arguably a low standard — would be able to detain a person for failure to carry legal documentation demonstrating his or her legal right to be in this country. The successful implementation of a law like this could greatly affect you, your family, your clients and anyone who “appears” to be an alien. The year 2012 promises to be epic one regarding immigration control. Staying abreast of current events, the status of this case and the stance of candidates on immigration issues is imperative.


Priscilla E. Jimenez is an Associate at the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia and works on personal injury, pharmaceutical litigation, products liability, and medical negligence and malpractice cases. In addition to being a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association, Jimenez also serves as a director on both the Board of the Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania (HBA of PA) and the HBA of PA’s Legal Education Fund Board. She can be reached at 215-893-3420 or pjimenez@lockslaw.com.

[1] Lyle Denniston, Another landmark ruling in the offing, SCOTUSBLOG (Dec. 12, 2011, 11:09 AM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2011/12/another-landmark-ruling-in-the-offing/

In Austin, Holder Defends Voting Rights Act

By Celeste I. Villarreal, HNBA VP – External Affairs

“Let us continue.”

With these words, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder invoked President Lyndon B. Johnson, the visionary architect of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1962. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKVhodv9zpE.

Addressing an audience of approximately eight hundred persons in the halls of the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, AG Holder recounted the events that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, and the continuing necessity for the law. Recounting recent examples of voter intimidation, fraud and suppression across the country, Holder expressed the Justice Department’s deep commitment to protecting and defending the Voting Rights Act against constitutional and legislative legal challenges. http://www.kvue.com/news/AG-Holder-takes-on-Texas-redistricting-voter-ID-law-135554298.html.

Given the current redistricting court battles in Texas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and California and other states, the timeliness of AG Holder’s presentation is undeniable.

HNBA President Benny Agosto has declared his term to be the Year of the Advocate, and the affiliate organizations have answered the call to action. For example, HNBA affiliate Mexican-American Bar Association of Texas (MABA-TX) is an active participant in the Texas redistricting arena. Testimony at hearings by Celeste Villarreal, HNBA Vice President of External Affairs and Legislative Director for MABA-TX, during the legislative session on proposed redistricting maps resulted in collaboration with MALDEF and the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force.

Ultimately, MABA-TX joined the Task Force Coalition and the MALDEF federal lawsuit that challenges the electoral maps enacted by the Texas Legislature. In essence, the Texas maps are considered to be in violation of sections two and five of the Voting Rights Act, and are therefore illegal. The maps fail to account for the growth in the Hispanic population, and gerrymandering of districts result in retrogression, directly infringing on the Hispanic community’s right to elect their candidate of choice. The case is currently pending in three courts and developments occur on almost a daily basis. Oral arguments are set for January 9, 2012 in the U.S. Supreme Court. Protecting the Hispanic electoral voice is of utmost importance to MABA-TX, the Task Force Coalition and HNBA.

AG Holders remarks were warmly received, and HNBA supports the Justice Department’s efforts to ensure that the Voting Rights Act is upheld and that all persons are protected at the polls.

Vamos a continuar!

“But Your Honor, He’s an Illegal”–Ruled Inadmissible and Prejudicial: Can the Undocumented Worker’s Alien Status Be Introduced at Trial?

Click the image to read this article.

Eric Holder: Voter ID Laws Hurt Minorities (Politico)


“Under increasing pressure from civil rights groups to take action against a wave of state voter identification laws, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a public warning Tuesday that the new laws could disenfranchise minority voters, but he stopped short of promising the broad legal crackdown many activists are seeking.”

HNBA Vice President of External Affairs Celeste Villarreal attended a speech given by Holder in Austin, TX.

Click here to read this article on Politico.

The ABA Ratings and Minority Nominees: Shedding Light on Disparate Impact

November 28, 2011

By Robert Raben, president and founder of The Raben Group and Chair of the HNBA Standing Committee on Judicial Endorsements

The secrecy around the American Bar Association’s judicial vetting process is a fact, probably in their view necessary in order to arrive at firm judgments about professionals. For many, acutely among those of us who identify and promote talented minority candidates for the bench, that secrecy breeds suspicion, particularly when the outcomes seem to have a disparate impact on minorities.

But we don’t know the contours of that impact until we address the threshold problem: the lack of transparency.

The New York Times’ Charles Savage is the latest intrepid investigator to try to get behind the veil of the ABA to determine whether that organization’s judicial vetting process is a good one, especially with respect to minority nominees. And, apparently, it’s not pretty.

To be slightly unfair to the ABA, as a matter of politics — that is, actual senators voting yea or nea on actual questions — the ABA is in my view of regrettably modest influence on policy across the board, particularly in light of the fact that it represents the most powerful people in the nation –attorneys. ABA positions, so carefully constructed, are treated almost completely pretextually by federal elected officials.

If the Member agreed with the position, it will be sure to be raised in debate. If the Member disagrees with the position, it is of zero moment.  This is not an indictment of the ABA’s substantive positions — which, except for the Individual Rights Subcommittee, I’ve long stopped following.  Rather, it’s because the ABA refuses to put either of the things that matter to electeds — votes [constituents] or money [fundraising] — behind its policies. Hortatory works for prayer; not in politics.

Gloria Navarro of Nevada was rated poorly by the ABA, but with the muscle of Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, was confirmed 98-0. Res ipsa loquitur.

Re: judges, those of us who jockey for minority judges in particular, progressive judges generally, the ABA’s process matters because their “dinging” of our candidates is relied upon by the conservative right as a pretextual excuse for inaction or opposition. Their evaluation has two related but distinct tracks: 1) a “partial” not qualified rating, in which some group of ABA vetters rate the candidate poorly; and 2) a pure not qualified rating, which by ABA practice merits the ABA seeking to testify against the nominee in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Both tracks are problematic. The latter for obvious reasons, but at least in that forum their endorsement can be challenged. The former is de facto devastating, as it operates with very rare exception as a stealth veto. That is, in the land of nitty gritty, the White House counsel or Department of Justice adds the threatened unstellar endorsement to the list of variables over which they will have to fight for a particular minority nominee, and are not indefensibly motivated to move on to the next candidate — too frequently the white managing partner at the white shoe law firm.

Complaints about poor pay aside, it is almost never the case that there aren’t many qualified nominees for a particular opening on the federal bench; it is the rare White House counsel that will spend days or weeks fighting with the ABA or any other entity to prove merit or excellence over a single nominee; the pressure to fill the constant openings is too great, the politics against nominees generally too strong.

For some of us who work on judges’ nominations and confirmations day in and out, these efforts by Savage and others to dig out what’s going on in the ABA are at least welcome, at most desperately needed. Generally speaking the process lacks transparency; it’s an open question [although not to me] whether it would be a better process if it were less inscrutable.  Specifically speaking, figuring out why minorities more than whites seem to crash on the establishment shoals seems to be of crucial importance.

This problem isn’t limited to the ABA, of course. It’s likely the same in most of the senators’ judicial selection committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other august but usually wholly unrepresentative bodies of decision-makers who make or break particular nominees.

I have been on the Hispanic National Bar Association’s judicial nominating committee for some years now [although I do not in this piece speak for them]. I have not seen a single Latina nominee who wasn’t either hit or slammed by some establishment group — a bar association, a leader of a not for profit, a bar leader, a judicial committee — as being “intemperate”; lacking “seasoning”; “inexperienced”, “not that bright”, etc etc.

This is neither partisan nor ideological in my view; it’s an American problem. These inchoate criticisms come from all quarters — the conservative right when the nominee is putatively progressive, but equally damning from the liberal left when the nominee isn’t progressive enough.  And in the closed tunnel of a secret process, whispers become tornadoes faster than the candidate can know either how to respond or seek shelter.

Re-read the letter that Lawrence Tribe nastily wrote about Sonia Sotomayor; “she’s [inter alia] a bully”. Stir water, mix. This happens candidate in and candidate out, across the nation. The exception that is Justice Sotomayor occurred because President Obama went with her despite his former teacher’s nastygram.

There’s a possibility that the entire cohort of Latina lawyers who want to be federal or state judges just don’t deserve it yet, but I’m not buying it.

I think there’s something else going on, and I think that unearthing what may be going on within the ABA’s cloistered process may help us get to the bottom of this.

I spend a great deal of time working on the newest possible cohort — openly gay nominees — which President Obama — and thus far two Senators, Schumer and Boxer — have the courage to identify and send up to the Senate. The sample size is still too small to know what disparate impact gays will have in the process, but I can see the whiffs already.  How do you talk about a nominee’s “spouse” or “partner”?  What’s the screening process and background check for the “partner”?  Was knocking on doors against Proposition 8 tantamount to “gay activism”?  Was the lesbian’s ad [yawn] on match.com too intemperate?  

We who do this work are not or should not be afraid of data and open-ness. The closet tends to produce stuffy and stifled outcomes. I lived in one for years, I know.

Thank you, Charlie Savage for prying open the doors to the ABA chamber and deriving some numbers. Rather than scramble to defend or explain, let’s figure out a way to have more open and hard and meaningful conversation about what is going on. For every tsk tsk we’ll hear about a minority candidate that just wasn’t “seasoned” or of the proper “judicial temperament”, we might learn that the people doing the vetting, or the criteria relied upon, may be rooted in presumptions and parameters that aren’t as useful as they could be in determining whether or not a candidate will make a great or good judge.

The American Bar Association Honors HNBA Scholar Sarah E. Redfield

The ABA Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Education Pipeline awarded the Fourth Annual Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Award to HNBA member Professor Sarah E. Redfield in recognition of her exemplary leadership in pipeline work.  The award honors those demonstrating success working along the educational pipeline in a collaborative approach involving more than one segment of the continuum from preschool to high school to college to law school to the practice.

Professor Redfield is a tenured member of the faculty at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.  Professor Redfield’s expertise is in issues related to diversity of the legal profession. She is a nationally known author and speaker. Her bibliography includes Diversity Realized: Putting the Walk with the Talk for Diversity in the Pipeline to the Legal Profession and The Education Pipeline to the Professions: Programs that Work to Increase Diversity. She recently authored the lead article for the third edition of the HNBA Journal of Policy and Law, “Hispanics and the Pipeline to the Legal Profession: a.k.a. Lawyers Don’t Do Math,” which highlights significant issues affecting the number of Hispanics in the legal profession despite much attention to given to “diversity” efforts within the profession.

A founder and organizer of the Diversity Pipeline Collaborative (formerly Wingspread), Prof. Redfield brings together law schools and others focused on improving the educational pipeline from preschool to the legal profession.  Professor Redfield’s other work with diversity and educational pipeline issues includes serving as a Member of the ABA Presidential Council for Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline and chair of its Education Sub Committee; Member of the State Bar of California’s Council on Access and Fairness and member of its Early Pipeline and US News & World Report Subcommittees; a Member of CLEO’s Board of Directors; and a Member of the University of California at Irvine Saturday Academy of Law Oversight and Curriculum Committees (an organization devoted to providing high school students from underrepresented communities with the skills and tools they need to successfully pursue careers in law).

Professor Redfield wrote, “I’ve long been interested in social justice and social change… I’m particularly interested in the role the law does, can, and should (or should not) play in these arenas.  Law students and lawyers are blessed with an education that enables them to understand and analyze complex situations. I’m particularly interested in the role lawyers play in using their skills to help those individuals or groups who do not have adequate information to understand or participate fully in our system of government.”

HNBA National President Benny Agosto said, “We are incredibly proud that Professor Redfield’s many accomplishments, including those on behalf of the Latino community, are recognized by the ABA’s award.”

Benny Agosto, Jr. selected as Guest Speaker for JAG Luncheon in San Antonio

The U.S. Army South Office of the Staff Judge Advocate hosted its quarterly San Antonio Joint Base Judge Advocate General luncheon at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Course. Hispanic National Bar Association President and trial attorney, Benny Agosto, Jr., was selected as the guest speaker for the fall event.  Mr. Agosto discussed the HNBA’s Veteran’s Initiative Program and its primary focus on providing pro bono legal services to veterans and the women and men of our armed forces.  Pictured is Mr. Agosto (right) speaking to Capt. Armando G. Rancano, international and operational law attorney, U.S. Army South (center) and Air Force Col. Eric Bee, staff judge advocate, 24th Air Force (left).