NLG Calls for Release of Mychal Bell, All Charges Against Jena 6 Dropped

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls for the immediate release of Mychal Bell, one of the six high school students who have come to be known as the "Jena 6." The Guild also calls for all charges against the Jena 6 to be dropped, and for the investigation and disbarment of Judge J.P. Mauffray and District Attorney Reed Walters.

Judge J.P. Mauffray and DA Reed Walters have engaged in a string of egregious actions, the most recent of which was the denial of bail for Bell on Friday. The NLG urges that: 1) The United States Department of Justice convene an immediate inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the arrests and prosecutions of the Jena 6; 2) Judge Mauffray be recused from presiding over Bell's juvenile court hearings or other proceedings; 3) The Louisiana Office of Disciplinary Counsel investigate Reed Walters for unethical and possibly illegal conduct; 4) The Louisiana Judiciary Commission investigate Judge Mauffray for unethical conduct; and 5) The Jena school district superintendent be removed from office.

"Contrary to what Reed Walters and J.P. Mauffray may think, Jena is subject to the same Constitution that the rest of the United States is," remarked Kerry McLean, member of the executive board of the NLG.

"There have been numerous, brazen violations of the constitutional rights of the Jena 6." McLean continued, "In addition to the constitutional violations, Walters and Mauffray have breached the ethical requirements of their offices. They should be made to answer for all of this."

"The double standard of justice in Jena, one for black students and another for whites, is emblematic of the racism that still permeates many towns throughout the South and the country as a whole. There must be an immediate and full investigation of judicial and prosecutorial malfeasance in Jena, Louisiana," said Marjorie Cohn, President of the NLG.

There is an unequal justice system in Jena, where blacks are routinely the victims of discriminatory and oppressive treatment by officials.

Founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association which did not admit people of color, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every state.

NLG STATEMENT ON THE JENA 6:

The story of the Jena 6 began in September 2006 when, seeking shade from the sun, three black high school students sat under a big, leafy tree in their school yard where usually only white students sat. The next day, white students hung nooses on the branches of the tree, because the black students had dared to sit underneath the "white tree." Hanging nooses, a reference to the brutal lynching of African Americans in previous years, has constituted hate crimes in North Carolina and Maryland. Even so, DA Reed Walters claimed that he could find no Louisiana law to punish the white students responsible. The white students who hung the nooses instead received a three-day, in-school suspension. Notably, the school principal had recommended that the white students be expelled, but the superintendent of the school district overruled that recommendation.

The entire black student body protested the fact that the white students that hung the nooses received only a three-day, in-school suspension by staging a peaceful sit-in under the same tree. The principal and school district superintendent convened a school assembly, and invited Walters to speak. Walters arrived with police officers, and stated that he could take away the black students' lives with a stroke of his pen.

Walters not only failed to file criminal charges against the students who hung the nooses, he also failed to file charges against a white teen who pulled a shotgun on three black students in the parking lot of a convenience store in December 2006. In a startling twist, the three black teens were arrested and charged with aggravated battery and theft when, exercising their right to self-defense, they managed to take the weapon from the gunman.

In December, shortly before the schoolyard fight for which the Jena 6 were arrested, a white man, Justin Sloan, attacked Robert Bailey with a bottle at a party. Robert Bailey is, coincidentally, one of the Jena 6. DA Walters charged Sloan with simple battery and released Sloan on probation.

Yet in staggering contrast, after a schoolyard fight erupted later that December where a white student was beaten, DA Walters charged six black students with second-degree attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The student who was beaten was released from the hospital after two hours, and attended a school function that same night. Walters eventually reduced the charges to aggravated battery for most of the boys because he would not be able satisfy in court the necessary legal elements for attempted murder. Bail for the Jena 6 ranged from $70,000 to $138,000. Most of the six boys remained in jail for months as their parents attempted to raise money for bail. Mychal Bell's family was never able to raise the money for bail, and he has been in an adult jail since December 2006.

In addition to unequal treatment of blacks and whites under the law, DA Reed Walters has participated in decisions concerning the Jena 6 where there was a conflict of interest. The Jena 6 were immediately expelled from school after being arrested and charged. The six boys appealed their expulsion. The school district conducted an internal investigation regarding the Jena Six, but Walters would not allow the school board to review it before it voted not to expel the six boys. Walters' advice to the school board was likely a violation of the Louisiana State Bar Association's rules regarding conflicts of interest.

Walters had charged Mychal Bell as an adult, even though Bell was a minor when the fight occurred. Judge Mauffray allowed the trial to proceed. An all-white jury, which included a family friend of the white student who was beaten, found Bell guilty. The Third Circuit vacated the conviction because Bell should not have been tried as an adult. DA Walters has vowed to appeal the Third Circuit's ruling.

Since the Third Circuit vacated the conviction of Bell in September. Bell's attorneys sought to have Bell released pending Walters' appeal of the Third Circuit's decision. Though Louisiana's Code of Judicial Conduct requires a judge to "disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned," Judge Mauffray, the same judge who presided over Mychal Bell's trial in adult court, presided over Bell's juvenile court bail hearing on Friday. Mauffray denied the request for bail.

At a separate hearing on Friday, a court denied Bell's attorneys' request to remove Mauffray from Bell's case. Mauffray set an exceedingly high bail of $90,000 for Bell prior to his conviction. The day before Mauffray's ruling, the case drew tens of thousands of protesters from all over the country to Jena to rally against the Jim Crow era practices.

"The double standard of justice in Jena, one for black students and another for whites, is emblematic of the racism that still permeates many towns throughout the South and the country as a whole. There must be an immediate and full investigation of judicial and prosecutorial malfeasance in Jena, Louisiana," said Marjorie Cohn, President of the NLG.