A Journey to Collective Liberation: EJS Judge Motley Civil Rights Fellow Yoana Tchoukleva

A Journey to Collective Liberation EJS Judge Motley Civil Rights Fellow Yoana Tchoukleva
From Left to Right: Yoana Tchoukleva, Chris Bridges, Lisa Holder, Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove, and Kimberly Papillon.

In June 2018, Elizabeth J. Cabraser provided a generous gift allowing the Equal Justice Society to reactivate its Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellowship. Ms. Cabraser, who funded the 2001 conference that led to the founding of EJS, pledged to fund the fellowship for five years.

EJS established the Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellowship in 2006 to nurture the talents of a new generation of progressive lawyers to transform anti-discrimination law and policy. Judge Motley (September 14, 1921-September 28, 2005) was the first African American woman to serve on the federal bench and the first African American woman to serve as chief judge.

EJS selected Yoana Tchoukleva (formerly “Ioana”) as its 2018-2020 Motley Fellow. Yoana is an attorney, restorative justice practitioner, and organizer devoted to community-led initiatives for justice. She is a graduate of Berkeley Law and was previously a litigation fellow with ACLU of Northern California and a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Thelton E. Henderson of the Northern District of California.

“It is a true honor to serve as an attorney in the tradition of Judge Constance Baker Motley. Every day I come to the office I ask myself how I can best honor her legacy,” said Yoana. “Drawing inspiration from Judge Motley, my own freedom fighter ancestors, and countless racial justice activists around the country, I hope that I too can play a role in our multigenerational intersectional journey to collective liberation.”

In her first ten months as EJS’s Motley Fellow, Yoana played a key role in numerous initiatives.

Passing of Historic Implicit Bias Legislation

Earlier this month, California became the first state in the country to pass sweeping legislation on implicit bias. Two bills, which Yoana helped write in collaboration with Assemblymember Kamlager-Dove (D-LA) and her staff, were signed into law.

AB 241 requires all doctors, nurses and physician assistants in the state to take implicit bias training as part of their continuing medical education. AB 242 adds implicit bias training and testing to the ethics course that nearly all judges in the state complete, in addition to requiring implicit bias training for all attorneys and public-facing court personnel.

A similar bill mandating training for police officers died in Senate Appropriations but will be attempted again in the future. Under the supervision of Lisa Holder, Of Counsel to EJS, Yoana worked closely on every aspect of the bills’ passage from drafting language, to suggesting amendments, to garnering support from dozens of organizations. EJS is now advocating for meaningful implementation and for legislation addressing bias in other industries, including parole and probation.

Push for Teacher Diversity in Kern County

EJS is involved in monitoring the implementation of a 2017 settlement agreement with the Kern High School District arising out of their policies and practices of disproportionately punishing students of color. Yoana’s work on the case focused on articulating the link between the absence of teachers of color and the harsh punishment of students of color.

In advocating for the District to hire and retain more Black, Latinx and other teachers of color, Yoana presented at community forums, submitted PRA requests, reviewed thousands of documents, sent letters to the District, and drafted op-eds on behalf of community members.

Collaboration to Develop a Progressive Pipeline to the Federal Judiciary

While the Federalist Society runs a nationwide network of conservative attorneys ready to be nominated to the bench, the progressive community has yet to build a similarly organized network. EJS launched a new initiative with California ChangeLawyers, American Constitution Society, professors and judges to develop a progressive pipeline to the federal judiciary.

Yoana leads EJS’s efforts to build the first segment of the pipeline—supporting progressive law students of color and other law students from underrepresented backgrounds to clerk and get the experience they need to one day become judges.

More than 100 law students from around the country joined our webinar earlier this month entitled “Law Clerks Who Look Like the People.”

New Initiative to Create Implicit Bias Jury Instructions

Yoana leads EJS’s initiative on creating new civil and criminal jury instructions that would make jurors aware that they hold implicit biases which, if left unaddressed, influence their perception of the evidence and the parties. The instructions would give jurors tools for how to reduce the impact of their biases, thus moving us one step closer to the Constitution’s promise of a fair trial by an impartial jury.

She also supports EJS’s broader efforts on dismantling white supremacy, from helping prepare EJS President Eva Paterson’s written testimony for a Congressional hearing on white nationalism, to participating in coalitions that tackle education inequity.

“At a time when the President of the United States uses every opportunity to harm communities of color, the poor and the Planet, it will take all of us to create the kind of transformative change that we need,” said Yoana.

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