Recap: Lobby Day and Defenders' Day of Action

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On January 18, 2019, about fifty volunteer lobbyists braved the cold, wintry weather in the wee hours of the morning to push for justice reform in the offices of the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, VA. For the second year in a row, Justice Forward Virginia joined forces with NACDL and VACDL to organize this impressive and important effort. While many of the attendees were attorneys, in 2019 we were joined by many non-lawyer allies who have come to care about the cause of justice, and are motivated to advocate for change. Turnout was considerably larger than in 2018, and was a really encouraging sign that our movement is building strength.

After gathering for a quick breakfast and debrief, the volunteers broke out into groups of 3 or 4 and made their way to the Pocahontas building, which houses the offices of every member of the General Assembly. The groups attended scheduled meetings with members and their staff, and dropped by the offices of others where appointments weren’t available. By around 1pm, we managed to meet with every delegate, senator or members of their staff.

The focus of our Lobby Day was bail reform, but we also advocated for several other bills, including a proposal to repeal Virginia’s arcane interdiction law and a bill to allow jurors to know the truth about sentencing (and sentencing ranges) prior to verdict. We also discussed our opposition to a number of bills, including one that would have authorized trial by affidavit. With our help, that bill never made it out of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. We managed to have a lot of good conversations about the need for bail reform and a data collection bill that was introduced to help us work toward a smart fix for Virginia’s discriminatory cash bail system.

We found allies where we might not have expected. We brought information and new issues to allies and opponents we already knew. We pushed back against the concerted efforts of prosecutors to keep Virginia “justice” in the dark ages. And perhaps most importantly, we had fun, made friends, and continued to build a strong community of volunteer advocates dedicated to moving our justice system forward.

After we were finished in the legislative offices, we gathered at the Capital Ale House for food and drink and a recap of our efforts. We also discussed how we can continue the fight, ride the national wave toward justice reform, and make voices like ours a more prominent part of the policymaking conversation.

For everyone who joined us, THANK YOU! For everyone who didn’t, but who would like to get involved, stay tuned for upcoming calls to legislative action. With the unwelcome surprise of the Virginia Supreme Court delaying discovery reform, we will have much to do over the next year to continue our positive momentum. Also, keep an eye out for our run-down of justice reform in the Virginia legislature this year.

Thanks to Shawn Stout for helping write this post.

Brad Haywood