Oklahoma Bar Journal

Celebrating Law Day Throughout the State

By Albert Hoch and Brittany Jewett

The 14th Amendment was established to protect civil rights of all Americans. As part of the Reconstruction Amendments, it is flanked by the 13th Amendment – abolishing slavery – and the 15th Amendment – prohibiting denial of citizens’ right to vote. The 14th Amendment, however, has greatly expanded the protection of civil rights and has been cited in more litigation than any other amendment. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas observed of the amendment, “No patent medicine was ever put to wider and more varied use than the 14th Amendment.”

The Citizenship and the Privileges or Immunities Clauses of the 14th Amendment begin with a sentence conferring legal citizenship on all persons born in the U.S. and indicates, whether naturalized or natural-born, they are citizens of both the U.S. and the state in which they live. The second sentence, noting to privileges and immunities of citizens, prohibits states from infringing rights of citizens. These statements helped ease the issues of a post-Civil War nation not yet past the legacy of slavery.

The Due Process Clause provides a safeguard against arbitrary laws or unjust court proceedings. Study of this clause has led to defining both procedural and substantive due process. Procedural due process generally refers to those procedures that guarantee a fair trial before an individual can be deprived of life, liberty or property, such as the right to a jury, the right to confront witnesses and the right to a speedy trial. Substantive due process is a principle allowing courts to protect individuals from government interference of certain rights deemed fundamental, such as the right to privacy and the right to marry.

The Equal Protection Clause prohibits states from discriminating against individuals or groups and advances constitutional equality.

Law Day is an ideal opportunity to celebrate the civil rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. This year’s theme “The 14th Amendment: Transforming American Democracy” truly reflects its substantive contribution to all Americans’ rights. Its role in desegregation, marriage equality and other once-monumental issues now part of everyday life show it truly has transformed American democracy.

Law Day is also a great opportunity to celebrate the work being done by lawyers across the state in protecting those rights. Whether continuing the fight for equal protection or working to ensure due process, lawyers in Oklahoma are committed to upholding the ideals conferred by the 14th Amendment. Activities planned across the state will honor both the law and those who work to protect and implement it.

It is fitting that Oklahoma celebrates Law Day so thoroughly. With a rich history dating back more than six decades, Law Day was conceived by the late Hicks Epton, a Wewoka attorney who served as Oklahoma Bar Association president in 1953. Before he became president, Mr. Epton served as head of the public relations committee, and in 1951, he launched one of the most important public relations programs ever undertaken by the OBA: Know Your Liberties — Know Your Courts Week. This was one of the last weeks of April dedicated to educating the public about the legal system and celebrating the liberties we have as Americans. Since then, Law Day has evolved into a national celebration generally recognized on May 1.

This year’s Ask A Lawyer program will air Thursday, April 27, at 7 p.m. on OETA, Oklahoma’s public television stations across the state. The topics cover the success of drug court in Oklahoma, adoption and debt and bankruptcy issues.

The show gives an inside look at the Cleveland County Drug Court. Judge Michael Tupper provides insight into how the program works and how it benefits not only the participants but also the community. Two participants share their stories about their struggle with addiction and the joys and pains of creating a sober life.

The adoption segment visits the homes of two Oklahoma families to learn about their experiences with adoption. Attorneys Robyn Hopkins and Khristan Strubhar discuss how to navigate the legal aspects of both private and DHS adoptions.

The debt segment will profile Oklahomans who chose bankruptcy, as well as highlight alternatives to bankruptcy and other issues re-lated to the burden of debt. Attorney Katheryn Bell will also give advice to those considering debt relief solutions.

OBA President Linda Thomas gives an overview of freedoms guaranteed by the judicial branch, and Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Douglas Combs shares his thoughts on the 14th Amendment and recognizes the student contest winners.

More than 900 students from across the state submitted entries focused on this year’s theme, “The 14th Amendment: Transforming American Democracy.” First- through 12th-grade students demonstrated their knowledge of the history and concepts of the 14th Amendment through essays and multimedia art. Pre-K and kindergarten students were given a choice of coloring activity pages related to the theme, allowing them to show off their budding creative and writing abilities. A ceremony was held at the Oklahoma Capitol for first-place winners. Those earning second place or an honorable mention were honored in their home county with the help of their county bar association. See the names of all the winners and their winning entries online at www.okbar.org/lawday or in this issue.

For the 41st year, we are organizing the Ask A Lawyer community service project, providing free answers to Oklahomans’ legal questions. This year’s project will be Thursday, April 27. Again this year, Oklahomans will have the option to email their question instead of calling. Two email addresses have been created — askalawyer@okbar.org and pregunteaunabogado@okbar.org for Spanish-speaking Oklahomans. Participating in Ask A Lawyer is a great way for all Oklahoma lawyers to celebrate Law Day. This annual event gives us the opportunity to provide a much-needed community service while promoting a positive public image of lawyers and the OBA.

The Law Day Committee is also committed to assisting the Hispanic community by offering free legal advice in Spanish. To help ensure we have adequate bilingual coverage, Spanish-speaking callers will be asked to call the statewide toll-free number from 3 to 9 p.m. If you are in the Oklahoma City area and speak Spanish or know lawyers who do, we need your help!

Oklahoma and Tulsa County lawyers will work together to staff the statewide toll-free hotline from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. For other counties, the Law Day Committee works with each county’s Law Day chairperson to establish a network of local county phone numbers in addition to the statewide number. Volunteer lawyers in each participating county staff phones at their local location for a predetermined time period and the numbers are advertised while the Ask A Lawyer TV program is airing.

Anywhere you live or work, your help is needed to make this community service project a success. It takes a total of 30 attorneys for each two-hour shift to fully staff the statewide number. That effort, combined with the local county bars and those answering email questions, creates a huge need for lawyers to step forward.

To volunteer, contact your local county Law Day chairperson, listed in this issue or online at www.okbar.org/lawday.

Chief Justice Douglas Combs is continuing the OBA Law Day tradition of issuing a Law Day Directive, encouraging courts to host Law Day events or to visit schools speaking on the role of the judiciary. The court’s website at www.oscn.net will include Law Day courthouse activities and event ideas. Gov. Mary Fallin has again this year signed a proclamation designating May 1 as Law Day in Oklahoma.

Even as we prepare to celebrate Law Day, the Law Day Committee will soon begin planning for next year’s activities. If you have ideas for Law Day 2018 — or just want to be involved — contact us: Al Hoch, al4notglty@aol.com; or Brittany Jewett, brittany.jewett@laok.org.

Whether volunteering to provide free legal advice or making a presentation to a local school group or organization, we hope you will participate in Law Day. With OBA Law Day Committee members, county Law Day chairpersons, their committee members and volunteers across the state, this year’s Law Day celebration will be another success.

Albert (Al) Hoch is president of the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and a member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He serves as OBA Law Day co-chair. He is a graduate of the OCU School of Law and has been practicing in the area of criminal law for 30 years.

Brittany Jewett is a lawyer with Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City and works with the ReMerge Program, a diversion program transforming pregnant women and mothers facing incarceration into productive citizens. She is a 2011 graduate of the OCU School of Law.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 88 pg. 711 (April 15, 2017)