New Jersey Gets Its First Muslim American Judge

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sunita Sohrabji   

sohailconfirmed_72211The state of New Jersey got its first Muslim American Superior Court judge June 30, as Sohail Mohammed, a former engineer from Hyderabad, took his oath of office.

Following contentious confirmation hearings in the New Jersey State Senate, Mohammed, 47, who became interested in law after serving jury duty, began working July 1 in Passaic County Superior Court’s Family Division.

“I am deeply, deeply honored to be representing the two greatest democracies in the world: India and the U.S.,” Mohammed said, adding that he hoped to create a process in his courtroom that left people’s dignity intact, regardless of whether they had won or lost.

Mohammed, who earned his law degree in night school at Seton Hall University while working for GEC-Marconi Electronic Systems, said he has already ruled on a number of adoption cases.

“You see the kids in court, and there are such smiles on their faces. They are already saying, ‘This is my mommy; this is my daddy,’” related Mohammed, who emigrated from India with his parents when he was 10.

“One kid asked to touch the gavel. I lifted him up and he gave the gavel a loud bang. It was such a moving experience,” he said.

Mohammed refused to comment on his combative confirmation hearings, saying only, “It was a process.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had nominated Mohammed for the post Jan. 14, and the attorney had told India-West in an earlier interview that he expected his nomination to be fast-tracked through the confirmation process.

At his confirmation hearing June 29, Mohammed was grilled extensively about his ties to radical Islamist groups, and his opinion of Sharia law. Republican state Senator Gerald Cardinale, asked Mohammed about the organization Hamas – defined by the U.S. as a terrorist group – and also asked him to define the term jihad.

Cardinale also asked Mohammed if he had ever objected to the term “Islamo terrorist.”

Republican state Senator Joseph Kyrillos asked Mohammed why there was not more condemnation from Muslims about terrorism.

In an editorial, local columnist Bruce Lowry likened Mohammed’s confirmation hearings to a “witch hunt.”

Jolsna John, president of the North American South Asian Bar Association, said the accusations levied against Mohammed were ridiculous.

“Just because your name is Mohammed does not mean you’re a terrorist,” she said.

“Sohail has done some really great work for our community,” said John, noting that Mohammed, post 9-11, had worked to build bridges between law enforcement and the Muslim American community.

NASABA reached out to Mohammed during his confirmation process, said John, who encouraged other South Asian Americans to apply for judgeships, adding that her organization could provide help and resources.

Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager of the Council on American-Islamic Relations New York chapter, told India-West that the New Jersey state Senate had created a double standard during Mohammed’s confirmation process.

“This tells Muslim Americans that their service, their acts of patriotism, aren’t as valuable as those of other Americans,” stated McGoldrick.

“Muslims are being told on the one hand ‘acculturate within your larger community,’ yet our institutions and our people are being shut out,” he said.

Mohammed is a board member of the American Muslim Union and an executive board member of the New Jersey Bar Association. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mohammed represented more than 30 undocumented immigrants who were not affiliated with the attacks, but caught up in sweeps by federal agents. The father of three boys has trained the FBI on Islamic culture and arranged a job fair in New Jersey where young Muslims could apply for jobs with law enforcement agencies.

Mohammed, who formerly practiced immigration law in Clifton, New Jersey, told India-West he has disbanded his solo practice, handing his clients off to other attorneys.

“It was really sad for me,” he said. “But there’s a greater good to be done out there.”

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Community News (V13-I29)

July 14, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Sohail Mohammed sworn in

NEW JERSEY,NJ–Indian born Sohail Mohammed was sworn in on July 1st as a Superior Court judge in Passaic County. He is the first Indian-American judge in New Jersey. He is also probably the first Muslim judge in the state.

Born in Hyderabad, Mohammed came to the U.S. with his parents when he was 17. He graduated with a degree in electrical engineering in 1988 from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and then worked full-time for GEC-Marconi Electronic Systems in New Jersey.

At the same time, he worked on his law degree at the Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark, N.J. doing evening classes.

In 2009, he was named among the 101 most influential people in New Jersey by the New Jersey Monthly magazine. He was on the New Jersey “Super Lawyer” list six years running from 2006 to 2011.

Faheem Zaman bags Thiel Fellowship

NEW YORK,NY–Paypal founder Peter Thiel’s Thiel Foundation has announced its first batch of 20 under 20 fellows. The fellowship awards $100,000 to teenagers to drop out of higher education for two years and invest the time in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Among the fellows is Faheem Zaman who  has shot the moon on nearly every SAT test he’s ever taken: 5580 points across 5 tests. He wants to decentralize banking in the developing world with a mobile payment system. Because savings are difficult in poor countries—including in some regions of South Asia where many have to hoard and protect cash—Faheem believes mobile financial services will help bring prosperity to these areas. Before he introduces his technology to the developing world, Faheem’s initial plan is to gain a foothold in the U.S. market for mobile financial services.

Ayman Khan wins water scholarship

LONG ISLAND,NY–Lynbrook High School students Ayman Khan wAS awarded a $2,500 scholarship in a recent ceremony in Albany by Long Island American Water. She is one of the two local winners of the National Association of Water Companies New York Chapter (NAWC-NY) Scholarship program.

Both students  showed a bold passion for the environment and the water industry through their applications and essays,” said William Varley, chairman of the NAWC-NY and President of Long Island American Water. “These students displayed great potential, and we are excited to award each of them a scholarship to help in their pursuit to achieving success in the water industry.”

The NAWC-NY launched this scholarship program for high school seniors interested in pursuing a career in the water utility industry or related fields.  As a member of NAWC-NY, Long Island American Water offered two scholarships to high school students in its service area who will be attending a university or college in New York and pursuing a degree related to the water utility industry or related field.

Ayman Khan will be attending the City College of New York in the fall. She has held leadership roles in numerous organizations, including serving as President of Students Taking Active Roles (START) and Secretary of Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD). She has also received numerous awards including the Long Island Science Congress Merit Award, Discus Award and President’s Volunteer Award

Khan leaving Samsung for Citibank

NEW YORK,NY–The Chief Technology Officer  at Samsung Mobile’s USA group, Omar Khan, has announced that he is leaving the company for a position at Citibank heading up the financial company’s global mobile efforts. Khan led the unveiling of the revised Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 tablets on stage at CTIA for Samsung earlier this year, as he has done for many of Samsung’s mobile devices over the past three years. Khan formerly worked as a VP for Motorola before joining Samsung. In the recent past Khan often introduced the company’s tablets and Galaxy phones at events.

At Citibank he will reportedly be leading its mobile initiatives.

Dr. Maha Hussain leads study on prostate cancer drug

A study led by Dr. Maha Hussain shows that a prostate cancer drug may prevent bone metastatis, reports the Renal and Urology News.  The  promising results for cabozantinib, a new therapeutic agent for castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC), particularly against tumors that have metastasized to the bone. In a phase 2 study of men (median age 68 years) with metastatic CRPC (mCRPC) who were followed for a median of four months, 47% of the 100 evaluable patients had undergone prior treatment with docetaxel. Seventy-eight percent had bone metastasis. Among the 65 patients evaluable by bone scan, 56 (86%) experienced complete or partial resolution of bone lesions as early as week 6 of cabozantinib treatment. In addition, 64% of the 28 men receiving narcotics for bone pain had improved pain relief, with narcotics reduced or halted in 46%. By week 12, the disease control rate was 71%. Cabozantinib, an inhibitor of the MET and VEGF pathways, showed clinical activity regardless of prior docetaxel therapy.

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LA District Attorney Settles Case Against Nativo Lopez

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Alexis Calvo

A settlement not totally to the liking of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office was finally reached after twenty-four months of attempting to bring to trial the case against Nativo Lopez, National President of the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA) and the Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana. Originally charging Lopez with eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury in June 2009, District Attorney Steve Cooley finally conceded to eliminate seven counts and stand on one count of voter registration fraud, a felony wobblier, which will be reduced to a misdemeanor and expunged from the record (constituting a dismissal) after twelve months assuming Lopez complies with probation conditions of 400 community service hours.

The original case was filed by the district attorney in June 2009 with four felony charges and subsequently amended to include four additional felony counts for a total of eight. After one year the D.A. was unable to bring the case to a preliminary hearing, and actually came close to losing the case, Commissioner Kristi Lousteau, the first judge to hear the matter, was overheard to say by the eleventh month of the case. The D.A. then moved to convene the Los Angeles County Grand Jury to obtain an indictment, which it successfully did in June 2010. One year later, after three different judges ordered Lopez to be examined by court-ordered psychiatrists on six separate occasions and three incarcerations lasting from four hours to five days, including two instances of strict solitary confinement, and having been before six superior court judges, the case was finally set for trial on June 22nd before Superior Court Judge William Ryan.

Lopez sought to have private counsel engaged after defending the case himself for most of the two years with no previous legal court experience. However, two judges denied him the right to legal counsel of his choice and imposed on him the public defender over his repeated objections on the record. Judges George G. Lomeli and Patricia Schnegg also denied him additional time for private counsel to prepare for a trial.

With literally one day to prepare for a trial, review all discovery documents, interview prospective witnesses, and prepare pre-trial motions, the defense was inclined to offer a settlement in the interest of the defendant. At the end of the day, the district attorney’s office was motivated to drop seven felony counts, not seek any jail time, and settle for a plea on the one felony charge (defined as a wobblier – could be filed as a felony or a misdemeanor), which it conceded would be reduced to a misdemeanor and ultimately dismissed from the record once Lopez completes the community service hours. On the other hand, conviction of the eight felony counts was the equivalent of a 48-year prison sentence.

Lopez never conceded that he had not taken up residence in his Boyle Heights office during the height of the historic immigrants’ rights marches of 2006 thru 2008, the period under investigation by the D.A.’s office. Cooley conceded that Lopez had been registered to vote in only one location, not two, and that he voted only once in each of the elections – never in two jurisdictions and never more than once. To the prosecutor’s insistence that Lopez verbalize a plea of guilty to the one count, Lopez responded, “a plea of guilty has been entered because it is in my interest to do so based on the plea agreement reached with the district attorney’s office.” Judge Ryan immediately found this acceptable and so ordered.

Lopez was quoted as declaring, “I am happy to put this behind me, and ironically glad that District Attorney Steve Cooley brought the charges against me. Over the past two years I was forced to study the law, the judicial system, the common law, courtroom decorum and procedure, and the Uniform Commercial Code, like never before. Cooley put me on a course of study that I would not have otherwise pursued. With this knowledge I am now positioned to help literally tens of thousands of others to work their way through the legal system. I now intend to continue a serious study of law and commercial remedies for the layperson. I have turned lemons into lemonade.”

The offenses for which Lopez was charged are actually extremely common.

The most common occurrences of an individual registering to vote in a domicile where he does not live 100 percent of the time are college students living and studying elsewhere, but maintaining their voter registration address in the residence of their parents; business-persons who have a business address and a residence address elsewhere; and individuals who frequently travel and have multiple residences. Many people have made the observation that the prosecution by the D.A.’s office against Lopez was politically motivated and heavy-handed in terms of the multiple felony charges.

Dissimilar to other public officials charged with criminal offenses in the recent past, Lopez was not accused of texting pornographic photos of himself to women, soliciting sex from prostitutes, laundering money, trafficking arms, abusing drugs or alcohol, attempting to bribe a government official or soliciting a bribe for himself, sexual assault on a women, or other such felonious crime. He was accused of registering to vote from his office domicile and voting from that address and allegedly residing elsewhere – and because of that he received the wrath of Cooley’s office with eight felony charges.

Lopez was actually born in Boyle Heights and has maintained offices in East Los Angeles since the 1970s with the numerous organizations with which he has been affiliated over the past forty years, including the Center of Autonomous Social Action (CASA), Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, and the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA). He has participated in multiple electoral and political campaigns throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan region, which have resulted in the election of many public officials, both Latino and non-Latino. His most prominent and recent activities in the region were the historic immigrants’ rights marches and economic boycotts.

ORIGIN OF THE CHARGES

The origin of the charges against Nativo Lopez stemmed from an internal dispute within the Green Party Los Angeles County Council. Old guard conservative leadership led by Michael Feinstein lost their power sway to a reform slate, which came to prominence in the primary elections of June 2006. Lopez represented the Senate District 22 as a county party delegate, encompassing the cities of Boyle Heights, Maywood, and parts of the city of Los Angeles, and immediately became a target of harassment, surveillance, and spying by the Feinstein faction.

Feinstein’s group refused to concede the reins of leadership to the reformers and launched attacks against a number of its leaders, including Lopez.

Court documents revealed that the source of the original complaint to the California Secretary of State’s Office, and subsequently to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office, was the Feinstein cohorts. This party faction worked with state and county police agencies to run Lopez out of the Green Party. Lopez actually ceased any party activities in 2008 after concluding with other party activists that this party could not be a viable alternative to disaffected Democratic and independent Latino voters. State and county detectives and investigators conducted surveillance against Lopez in 2008 and 2009, with the connivance and cooperation of the Feinstein faction, prior to filing the criminal charges in June 2009. “Feinstein and his allies were not interested in a darker hue of green for the Green Party by way of recruiting thousands of new adherents of color to the party as we had intended and repeatedly proposed,” stated Lopez. “And the party has remained a miniature cult under the control of white party activists in the face of a colored tsunami of demographic shift throughout California, but especially in the Los Angeles metropolitan region,” he concluded.

ONLY REGRETS

At the conclusion of the case, Lopez expressed that, “I only regret that we did not have the opportunity to challenge the manner in which the county grand jury is convened by the district attorney’s office, which truly does not reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the surrounding community of Los Angeles – of the accused; and that we were not permitted the time to challenge the selective prosecution trajectory of the D.A.’s office over the years, which has been oriented against persons of color.”

He also expressed his deep gratitude to the many people that stood by him on some fifteen court appearances, and contributed to his defense, especially the hard-working immigrant workers who took days off from work to accompany him to the court.

*Reproduction of this article is permitted. Please credit the author.

calvoalexis@ymail.com

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