September 11, 2023 by Celeste Fremon
On Monday, September 11, Mark Ridley-Thomas filed what is called a Notice of Appeal, an eight-page document in which his attorneys notified U.S. District Court Judge Dale S. Fischer that their client is appealing his conviction and his sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Fischer is the judge who oversaw Ridley-Thomas’s trial, and on Monday, August 28, sentenced Mark Ridley-Thomas to 42 months in federal prison, and three additional years of post-prison supervised release. Fischer also ordered Ridley-Thomas to pay a $30,000 fine.
MRT, as he is known by many, is to self-surrender to the federal marshals on November 13, 2023.
Whether Ridley-Thomas will instead be permitted to stay out of lock-up for the duration of any appeal is, as yet, unclear.
The appeal was expected. But the less expected part of the document filed this morning, was the announcement that the former lawmaker will change the makeup of his legal team for the appeal process.
To be specific, on Monday Ridley-Thomas described a new four-person team which is made up of lawyers who are particularly experienced in federal appellate and constitutional litigation, and who have a depth of experience when it comes to the Ninth.
In three cases, the members of the new team have actually worked within the Ninth Circuit.
The first of the team members listed is Alyssa Bell, a partner at Cohen Williams LLP, who in addition to her mountains of federal defense and appellate experience, was a clerk for the 9th Circuit.
Number two, Michael V Schafler, is also a partner at Cohen Williams where he has recently served as Co-Chair of the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference Lawyer Representatives for the Central District of California, an organization that provides support and advice to other lawyers in the functioning of the courts. He has also been known for working successfully with “indigent defendants,” who need help battling federal charges, but have no way of affording that help. (And, unsurprisingly, he is also a former clerk for the Ninth),
Number three on the team is Paul J. Watford, a partner in the Los Angeles Office of Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich who, before he joined his present law firm, served for 11 years as a judge on the Ninth Circuit. (When he was younger he also clerked for the Ninth, and for Ruth Bader Ginsberg when she was a member of SCOTUS.)
Yet, in some ways the most interesting person on the new team is its fourth member, Erwin Chemerinsky, who is the dean of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. He is also the founding dean for the U.C. Irvine School of Law, the author of a large pile books on the law, including the occasional moderate best seller, and has written over 200 law review articles about constitutional law and criminal procedure.
And, as luck would have it, this month he was awarded the John P. Frank award, the winner of which is chosen for the honor by the 9th Circuit’s Advisory Board.
Each year, it seems, the board gives the prize to a lawyer who has “demonstrated outstanding character and integrity; dedication to the rule of law; proficiency as a trial and appellate lawyer; success in promoting collegiality among members of the bench and bar, and a lifetime of service to the federal courts of the Ninth Circuit.”
In the case of Chemerinsky, according to the 9th Circuit’s board of advisors, in addition to being recognized “as the most influential person in legal education,” Chemerinsky is “the most often cited American legal scholar,” and “is acknowledged as one of the most important legal thinkers in the United States.”
Okay, so does any of this breadth of experience, or the honors, and/or the connections in the legal world guarantee that MRT and his new team will prevail in their client’s appeal or appeals?
Of course not.
But the four attorneys’ deep familiarity with the way the 9th functions certainly cannot hurt.
In the meantime, according to Dean Chemerinsky, there are “several grounds” that the new team believes “could warrant a reversal of his convictions or, at a minimum, a new trial.”
More soon so watch this space
This article was originally posted to Witness LA