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San Diego Attorneys Lead Series Of Legal Workshops In English, Spanish

June 24, 2013 1:08 p.m.

GUESTS

Omar Passons is a San Diego attorney and a member of the Earl B Gilliam Bar Association.

Maricela Amezola is also a San Diego attorney and a member of San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association.

Related Story: San Diego Attorneys Lead Series Of Legal Workshops In English, Spanish

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.


6/24/13 Midday Edition Program Transcript

CAVANAUGH: The US has been famously dubbed a nation of laws, not of men but that does not really help you much if you don't know what the laws are or for how to use them. For instance is illegal for a landlord to say that you cannot rent the top floor because you have kids is illegal for an employer to ask for your Facebook password a series of free neighborhood legal clinics is now underway in San Diego. The topic tonight is employers and employees and information will be available in both English and Spanish I'd like to welcome my guests Omar is a San Diego attorney and a member of the Ruby Gilliam Bar Association. Omar, welcome to the program.

PASSONS: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Maricela Amezola is also a San Diego attorney, she's a member of the San Diego La Raza lawyers Association. Welcome to the program

AMEZOLA: Thanks for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Omar, do you find that people in general are rather confused about their legal rights and responsibilities?

PASSONS: I think there's quite a bit of misconception out there amongst the general public and we as lawyers don't necessarily do a good job of demystifying our profession. So classes like this that the Ruby Gilliam Bar Association has put on for the last couple years really help to break down the barriers in an informal setting.

CAVANAUGH: Give us some background on the free neighborhood legal clinics when they begin in San Diego and why?

PASSONS: Well sort of the foundational premise is that the original members of the Gilliam Bar Association and that it was a privilege to be an attorney and knew that it was very important that they provide a system for those who do not have normal access to the legal community to get that access where they are, which is why for years these classes have been held in communities where there's historically less access to the law. And so more recently, this program has evolved over the last couple of years partnering with Latino lawyers and in this case of San Diego La Raza lawyers Association because our communities are so intertwined and we want to provide access across both groups.

CAVANAUGH: They've already had the first in this particular series of workshops. The first was about accidents and injuries, how did that go?

PASSONS: I think it went well we had Doug Oden is a longtime attorneys been practicing for 30 years in San Diego and he spoke about what to concern yourself with if you get in an automobile accident and several tips and tricks that were really useful for people that were there. I was there speaking pace to do premises liability, protecting businesses from accidents and how to think more carefully about making their businesses or their property safe. The one thing that we were not able to do is to encourage a lot of people to come out. We know, free legal advice, or not legal advice, information, an overview to and access to the legal profession with top attorneys and we really just want to make sure that people know that that is available so we are working with a number of sources to do that.

CAVANAUGH: Tonight's topic is employers and employees as I have said and I want to ask you both this question, what kind of legal issues are you kind of preparing yourself for that, but the workplace. Let me go to first, Maricela.

AMEZOLA: With respect to the workplace issues my topic has been really narrowed down to immigration law which is I believe the August 12 the session we will be having and I will be conducting the Spanish workshop with another attorney. With respect to the implementation is that I can speak of today anyway what I see is an overlap with immigration law and I think it comes in and out all the time and even the potential clients that I see in my office are dealing with these types of issues at all times so having a workshop like this actually would emphasize to them to really come out and see whether their rights are being violated and a lot of these people are afraid to come out. They don't know what their rights are so I think rich workshops like this especially in the Jacobs Center which is really heavily populated with Latinos I believe they are having a workshop in Spanish, yes. This would really help my future potential clients and what not to really understand and narrow down what their rights are in the employment sector.

CAVANAUGH: I'm going to ask you more about that, but Omar, too, for an overview whatever kinds of legal issues are you expecting to,during this employer employee session?

PASSONS: We are fortunate to have Christian Rizzo and Melissa Lewis doing one of the sessions today and they are going to focus on some of the more prominent issues that come up. EEOC equal employment opportunity commission see there I'm a lawyer and I did it right there with the initials, sure. Those types of complaints and what you need to do to prepare yourself and discrimination and sexual harassment understanding what those in the workplace and when you are an employer understanding what your obligations are with the relates to your supervisors when you're talking about harassment or as an employee understanding what really is going on where the obligations of the employer they're going to try to paint those pictures they will talk about the fair employment and housing act which is very significant source of liability protection etc. as a relates to employment law.

CAVANAUGH: Now Maricela, are non-English speakers do you think more vulnerable to being taken advantage of the workplace?

AMEZOLA: I have seen it happen more often than not, believe it or not.

CAVANAUGH: Is it because of his because of the communication problem or something else

AMEZOLA: I think it's two things actually there's a big communication or language barrier, I should say. The second part is their fear, whether they have again I'm speaking from the immigration side, whether or not they have legal status and even the ones that do have legal status they do not think that these rights are applicable to them or they should do anything about if there are any violations to even speak out I think programs like this would at least provide some sort of safe ground to come out and asked generalize questions you know my question (inaudible) for this and in reality it could be them the issues for them as long as it provides the safe ground for them to focus on and just ask a generalize question this is what is going on this is what's happening, what do you think I should do?

CAVANAUGH: It's interesting you said before immigration law seems to have a crossover effect with employment law and how it affects people who are perhaps here illegally and you also mentioned that a lot of people who are here illegally don't think they have any rights under US law. That is not true, is it?

AMEZOLA: It is not, the laws apply to everyone in the US. When a law is broken or violated, there are repercussions that have to be dealt with and I think you have to seek the legal advice of professional counsel in a particular area and I think that is where the problem is that this group of people fear even coming out to a consultation with an attorney or have the fear of believing there is no rights because they are here undocumented and they don't have any rights, you know

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Omar?

OMAR PASSONS: Maureen if I could add in addition to being a safe place for employees who fear the system in a lot of cases, this is a safe place for small business owners, medium-size business authors not to comment major they are able to provide the type of healthy working environment that many business owners want to provide so this gives them the freedom to ask questions as well.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you one that perhaps crosses the line of some came to the country and did not have proper documentation and got a job and perhaps did not disclose they were here illegally to their employer and then became part of the deferred action program, a young person that was brought over here at a very young age but does not have proper documents, is it impossible for that person, that employer to have repercussions against an employee who did not disclose the fact initially that they were here illegally?

MARICELA AMEZOLA: You know, not being an employment law attorney going to go ahead and start my answer by saying that, not being an implement law attorney deleting I can think of as an employer myself because I own a business as well as would see that as a lie on their application and so because they lied on their application I think the employer has the right to same you are gone, or you stay, and we do see that issue a lot. I think, this workshop is going to be good to answer the specific question with employment law attorney that can essentially say whether the employer has a right to do that. As an employer myself I can tell you I would see that as a lie on their application and whether or not that's grounds for termination will be at the discretion of that particular employer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Omar, this can get very complicated

OMAR PASSONS: Yes it really cannot say we are happy to have as matter of fact there is an attorney from Jackson Lewis doing the Spanish version tonight he jumped in at the last minute to help out and try to give back and I think both of these organizations stand on the shoulders of these, our founders who have created this opportunity and I think the younger, newer, midcareer attorneys really take that to heart and are trying to offer these clinics with that in mind.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How do these clinics actually work? We did a little dance about advice as opposed to legal information. How do they work? Are there speakers, are there question-and-answer periods? What kind of information can you dispense at one of these clinics?

OMAR PASSONS: Let's take the last session that already happened this year as an example. The way they are set up is there is roughly an hour of opportunity for the lawyers to provide basic information. In this session I mentioned Doug noted earlier he actually brought in a copy of an auto insurance policy and went through it and said that this is where the insurance company doesn't necessarily tell you that 15,030 is not necessarily what you should get and for a couple bucks more you can do a lot better. A broad practical things like that and I switched over and spent a lot of time talking about what reasonable care is and what their reasonable inspection obligations of the small business owners was and then what we did is give people a free for all opportunity to say what are your questions now as mentioned before depending on those questions sometimes we have to say that the more specific issue and there's always a lot of facts, the lawyerly answer, it depends. So we have to be careful not to dispense specific legal advice but can answer sort of general applicability questions.

CAVANAUGH: If someone does come in with sounds like a real specific little problem can you give them some sort of referral, free or low-cost referral?

PASSONS: I'll tell you, yes is the short answer and there's a wide spectrum. The County Bar Association takes its obligation to provide access in this community also very seriously and it has a lawyer referral information service, the San Diego legal aid Society, who has several attorneys donating their time to participate in these workshops also provides income qualified legal advice and is actually a mile from where we are holding the session tonight and we will make that information available during the session or at the conclusion of the session and then obviously if anybody wants to find other attorneys the State Bar of California maintains a website where you can search, and so those are some of the options.

CAVANAUGH: And you made the point earlier too, Omar that this is not just for employers are having some kind of question about the employment situation is also for people who are business owners perhaps small-business owners or people even thinking of starting a business is that right?

PASSONS: Absolutely about tell you we had a gentleman who found out about it we get some great crossovers there's a councilmember in District 4 Myrtle Cole who I sent a note about this to our office and within minutes they have said the distribution to all of their communications circles and one of the people who attended got it through the diamond business improvement District which is a business organization immediately in that area. He's not even a business owner but joined because he wants to become a business owner he came and had questions about how to I get situated and we have a small business workshop scheduled for July 8 so hopefully he will come back and get more information.

CAVANAUGH: What are some of the other topics coming up very solid company told us about immigration law, when is that coming up?

AMEZOLA: That is coming up on August 12.

CAVANAUGH: Things may have changed by then

AMEZOLA: That's right that is my hope, anyway.

CAVANAUGH: We will have to see what Congress does by that time, what other topics are coming up, Omar?

PASSONS: We have a small business workshop coming up on July 8, we also have

CAVANAUGH: Let's see, I have it here, actually we have landlords and tenants, understanding criminal law and landlords and tenants, that's funny, we had a workshop about that a while ago here we had a discussion on income and justice anybody is wondering, it's not legal for your landlord to say that you cannot rent a second-floor apartment because you have kids. We went through that end broken down. And it is so fascinating I think the questions people have in their daily lives that pertain to the law, and you find that to be the case?

PASSONS: It really is and you know you lawyers who just passed the bar start getting the questions almost the day after they pass the bar.

CAVANAUGH: Like doctors.

PASSONS: Sure like hang on a second I need to spend some time with us imagine a criminal law is being taught by a deputy district attorney and eight federal public defender defender so you get opportunities to hear both sides of that equation and the number of legal questions that come up on a daily basis I can't tell you how many times we probably here, is that legal, in our daily lives, so this is a chance to sort of check some of those off and find out.

CAVANAUGH: how important is it for you, Maricela to take part in this discussion tonight and in these clinics?

AMEZOLA: It's very important to me I actually do this a lot I go to high schools and speak and I do my own seminars and forms in my own logical offer for free especially when (DACA) and we did all the forms in North and South Bay.

CAVANAUGH: That is the deferred action program

AMEZOLA: Correct. I want to say that we dedicate 30% of my practice to pro bono practice or speaking engagements and any opportunity brought to me I say yes, then the time because it's very important to me because I know there is a need I see these people all the time I've had consultations with them and it's amazing to me what kind of violations are out. I really enjoyed this because at the end it's really gratifying when you walk out of the foreign form the feeling that you feel is being complete, like finally you are an attorney you have your own business for people who have their own business you realize there's a lot more out there than just practicing law and really reaching out and helping out.

CAVANAUGH: Omar, do you think that it benefits the entire community the more people that actually know their rights and responsibilities under the law?

PASSONS: I really think that's true. We live in a community where civic engagement is receiving a lot more attention and this is another element of that were the better informed business owners are the quicker they can get problems and the better informed employees or landlord or tenant's are, the better able they are to participate in our society. I mean, as Maricela said we really take this whole process very seriously and it is one of those situations where it is a privilege to be an attorney and this is one of the obligations of those privileges to give an opportunity for people to get their legal questions answered.

CAVANAUGH: Once again a free legal clinic workshop with legal information that's about employers and employees and will take place in both Spanish and English that is tonight

PASSONS: At 630 at the Jacobs Center for innovation 404 Euclid Ave.

CAVANAUGH: We will also have that on the website I want to thank my guests Omar and Maricela thank you so much for talking with us today.

PASSONS: Thank you, we really appreciate it.

AMEZOLA: Thank you for having us.