Capital One Lawyer Representing Arrested Protestors
Sponsored Content - Lesley Fierst offered pro bono services to 50 peaceful protestors arrested during social justice demonstrations
In the first days of June, the City of Fredericksburg attempted to curtail demonstrations by enacting an 8:00 p.m. citywide curfew.
Fredericksburg’s police force arrested approximately 50 protestors who breached this sudden imposition and continued demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other Black people who have lost their lives at the hands of police brutality.
By the numbers: Fredericksburg was the smallest of the 30 American cities where tear gas was deployed on protestors that week.
Lesley Fierst, a Fredericksburg resident and lawyer at Capital One who provides counsel to our U.S. Card team, joined together with a group of local colleagues to offer pro bono representation to any peaceful protestors charged during demonstrations.
On October 30, nearly 30 of those protestors accepted an offer that will allow the violation charges to be dismissed and expunged from their records after they complete 15 hours of community service in the city.
Why it matters: Despite an initial ruling in July that deemed this sudden imposition unconstitutional, the ruling was appealed and reversed at the Fredericksburg Circuit Court in September.
- With the curfew order back at issue, the cases went to trial in October, where the majority of protestors decided to accept the plea offer and perform community service.
Those convicted of breaking curfew could be charged with a class one misdemeanor which is the most serious level of misdemeanor and carries the same maximum punishment as reckless driving — one year in jail.
“Those people put their commitment to the betterment of their community on full display by protesting for equality,” Fierst said. “Still, many felt like they had to take the deal because if they went to trial and lost, they would have a Class 1 misdemeanor on their records for life.”
Yes, but: Nearly 20 peaceful protestors who were not offered or did not take the deal were acquitted, either following a trial or because the officer who summoned them had since left the city force and did not appear in court.
All of those acquittals can be attributed to the help of the pro bono legal team that included Fierst.
- Her team helped clear one man who was charged shortly after the 8 p.m. curfew by showing that a city police Facebook post suggested that summonses would not be issued before 8:30 p.m.
- That ruling helped clear several other protestors who were arrested before 8:30pm.
- Another man was cleared after this legal team argued that he was homeless and had nowhere else to go.
Of the handful who were convicted, several intend to appeal and Fierst and her team will continue to represent them as they pursue their cases. A trial date has not yet been set.
The Road to Justice
Fierst and her colleagues offer pro bono representation to any peaceful protestors charged during demonstrations because the government does not provide public defense attorneys for criminal infractions and some misdemeanors.
This group of lawyers wanted to ensure that none of those protestors fell into the justice gap — in which someone that has been charged with a criminal infraction or misdemeanor may not be eligible to receive free representation from a public attorney and cannot afford to hire their own representation.
“The police deployed aggressive tactics toward peaceful protestors — many of whom were young Black and Latinx people,” Fierst said. “In addition to arresting and charging those protestors, the police also utilized tear gas, mace and pepper spray. I wanted to make sure that there were people helping them so they didn’t have to pay to hire attorneys or go alone to defend themselves.”
In Virginia, the justice gap can have a disproportionate impact on people experiencing poverty.
- The Virginia State Bar reports that there is only one legal aid lawyer for every 7,000 Virginians living in poverty compared to one lawyer per every 350 Virginians.
That in turn could affect Black people more.
- According to a Kaiser Family foundation study based on the 2008 to 2018 American Community Survey, 18% of people experiencing poverty in the Commonwealth are Black compared to 8% who are white.
Fierst’s commitment to ensuring equality for individuals of all backgrounds throughout their legal process is a constant across the pro bono cases she pursues according to Steve Otero, Senior Vice President of Litigation and Employment and Head of Capital One’s Pro Bono Legal team.
“Lesley is passionate about making sure the system as it exists is as fair as we can make it,” Otero said. “She’s not just talk, she backs that passion up with her actions over and over again. She’s a real inspiration to me and everyone in the legal department.”
While Fierst was the only lawyer from Capital One on this legal team, seeing that this case aligned with our commitment to Black communities for social justice, Capital One legal specialists Laura Stevens and Bonnie Goodbody joined in to help.
“Even if we’re not working for Capital One as a client, the Capital One name travels with us as pro bono lawyers and legal professionals,” Otero said. “We try to make sure that the work we’re doing is reflective of Capital One’s values and our associates’ interest in what’s going on in the world.”
This team of lawyers ramped up their efforts to connect with arrested protestors as initial court hearings began in mid-June.
- They distributed cards with their information to protest leaders and connected with active protestors to offer representation.
- During the following months, this legal team explored potential ways to challenge these cases and reviewed police reports and body camera footage, prepared clients to testify, called witnesses and ensured all 50 charged protestors showed up to court for trial.
“The protestors came out because they felt strongly about being part of a message for equality and justice and those are the same reasons why this group of lawyers wanted to offer free support,” Fierst said.
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