It is an honor and a privilege to be the Chair of the Litigation Section of the California Lawyers Association during one of the most consequential moments in American history. There are three major challenges facing the legal community and, more broadly, our society. First, we are living through the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the worst global pandemic in the past 100 years. Second, we are facing the most devastating economic crisis to hit the United States since the Great Depression. Third, we are living in a critical moment in the struggle for racial justice, civil rights, diversity, and inclusion. The way that we respond to these challenges could result in life or death consequences that could last for generations.
The unlawful killings of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Terence Crutcher, Sandra Bland, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, and Elijah McClain have galvanized people throughout the United States and across the globe in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement. Notably, the video of George Floyd being suffocated under the knee of a police officer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while begging for his life, and frantically stating that he could not breathe at least 28 times inspired calls for racial justice and protests throughout the United States and around the world. Yet, notwithstanding all of the public statements of condemnation, and the proliferation of #BlackLivesMatter hashtags and t-shirts, not much has changed. Numerous unarmed Black people have been executed by law enforcement since George Floyd’s death, and, most recently, none of the police officers responsible for Breonna Taylor’s death were charged with her murder following a historic $12 million wrongful death settlement.
For many Black people, including myself, the fight for racial justice is personal. Notwithstanding my Ivy League pedigree or my success as a partner at one of the largest law firms in the United States, I have been subjected to racial profiling and overaggressive policing on several occasions.
During my first year of law school, I was in a coffee shop in Los Angeles, sitting at a table with my laptop and law school books, minding my own business while studying for a criminal law exam. While sitting there, I was approached by 4 police officers who told me that I fit the description of someone who had robbed a store. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by 12 police officers, and 4 of them had their guns drawn and pointed directly at my head.
I tried to explain to the officers that I was just a law student studying for a law school exam. I did not have a criminal record, and I had not robbed any store. Nevertheless, the police officers remained unconvinced. One of the police officers grabbed my computer bag and dumped the contents all over the floor of the coffee shop. Four of the police officers still had their guns pointed directly at my head with their fingers on the trigger. I was afraid to move. I was afraid to breathe. I knew that if I made any sudden movements I would be dead.
I asked the officers if I could show them my law school ID to prove to them that I was a law student because obviously my law school text books and laptop were not enough. My law school ID was in my wallet located in my right front pocket. I was afraid to reach for my wallet because I was concerned that the officers might shoot me thinking that I was reaching for a weapon. So, I calmly asked the officers to lower their guns—which were still aimed at my head—and please allow me take out my wallet from my right front pocket to show them my law school ID. To make a long story short, after being detained for what seemed like an eternity, the officers concluded that I was not their suspect, and they walked out of the coffee shop without apologizing. I narrowly escaped that encounter with the police with my life.
Even after becoming a partner at an AM LAW 100 law firm, I have been subjected to racial profiling on numerous occasions. I specifically recall arriving at the Sonoma County Superior Court to argue a dispositive motion in a multi-million dollar case. I was well dressed in a nice suit. As I made my way through security, one of the sheriff’s deputies asked me what I was doing there. I politely responded that “I am an attorney here to argue a motion.”
The sheriff’s deputy said that he did not believe that I was an attorney, and he thought I was there to “cause trouble.” I was in shock. I explained to the sheriff’s deputy that I had my state bar card, law firm business cards, and my identity could easily be verified by looking me up on Google or my law firm’s website. Additionally, my name appeared on the pleadings of the dispositive motion that I was there to argue. Everything that I said fell on deaf ears. The sheriff’s deputy detained me without probable cause for an extended period of time causing me to miss my oral argument. On the bright side, the judge adopted the tentative ruling in my client’s favor in my absence. I later explained my unlawful detention to the judge who expressed outrage at the sheriff’s deputy’s actions.
In addition to the examples above, I have been stopped by the police numerous times simply because I am a Black man driving a nice car, and the police have had a difficult time believing that I am the legal owner. I have encountered numerous opposing counsel who had a difficult time accepting that I am the lead attorney on a particular matter (or an attorney at all). I have lost count of how many times I’ve been asked, “Are you a REAL lawyer?” “Did you go to law school?” “Did you pass the bar exam?” I doubt that my White colleagues face similar questions.
I have been refused service at restaurants and department stores because I am Black, and the store employees or owners do not believe that I can afford what they are selling. Being a successful attorney at a global law firm has not insulated me from racism or discrimination. Anti-Black racism is alive and well in 2020. Sadly, it does not matter how well educated you are, how well dressed you are, how much money you make, how much success you achieve, you will still be racially profiled and discriminated against in the United States if you have Black skin like mine.
To better understand racism as it currently exists in California and across the United States in 2020, it is important to reflect on how we got here. California was founded on racism rooted in White supremacy. Between 1850 and 1947, California enacted numerous Jim Crow laws that were enforced until at least 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed, and in some instances, well into the 1970’s. These racist California Jim Crow laws discriminated in the following ways:
- Barred non-whites from testifying in any case where a white person was a party;
- Barred non-whites from serving on a jury;
- Barred non-whites from voting;
- Barred non-whites from holding elective office;
- Barred non-whites from serving as judges;
- Barred non-white attorneys from questioning white witnesses;
- Barred non-whites from public schools;
- Barred non-whites from buying/renting property;
- Barred non-whites from being buried in certain cemeteries;
- Barred non-whites from restaurants, hotels, theaters, pools, and beaches;
- Denied non-whites admission to bar associations;
- Barred non-whites from public transportation;
- Barred non-whites from hospitals;
- Denied non-whites equal pay for equal work; and
- Prohibited whites from marrying non-whites (Miscegenation)
In addition to the racist California Jim Crow laws listed above, here are examples of two California Supreme Court cases that reinforced the White supremacy upon which California was established.
PEOPLE V. HALL (1854) 4 CAL. 39
The case involved a White man who had been convicted of murdering a Chinese man in California in the presence of multiple Chinese witnesses. The issue was whether or not the Chinese witnesses were competent to give testimony against the White man based on the color of their skin.
At issue was Section 394 of the California Civil Practice Act, which provided: “No Indian or Negro shall be allowed to testify as a witness in any action in which a White person is a party.”
The California Supreme Court concluded that in using the words, “No Black, or Mulatto person, or Indian shall be allowed to give evidence for or against a White person,” the Legislature, if any intention can be ascribed to it, adopted the most comprehensive terms to embrace every known class or shade of color, as the apparent design was to protect the White person from the influence of all testimony other than that of persons of the same caste. The use of these terms must, by every sound rule of construction, exclude every one who is not of white blood.
The California Supreme Court held that the words, Indian, Negro, Black and White, are generic terms, designating race. That, therefore, Chinese and all other people not white, are included in the prohibition from being witnesses against Whites.
PEOPLE V. ELYEA (1859) 14 CAL. 144
This was a criminal case whereby a White criminal defendant was appealing a First Degree Murder conviction. The issue was whether a Turkish witness for the prosecution was competent to testify against the White criminal defendant under Section 394 of the California Civil Practice Act, which provided: “No Indian or Negro shall be allowed to testify as a witness in any action in which a White person is a party.”
The appellant argued that the Turkish witness had brown skin, and was thus not competent to testify against him. Ultimately, the California Supreme Court concluded that if a witness has dark skin but Caucasian features, they are competent to testify in an action where a White person is a party.
These are just some of the many examples of the White supremacy and Jim Crow racism upon which California was built. Notwithstanding California’s racist past and present, I am optimistic about the future. I am the co-founder and one of the co-chairs of the California Lawyers Association’s Racial Justice Committee (the “RJC”) along with Adrieannette Ciccone, Leif Dautch, Marjaneh Maroufi, and Ellen Miller. The RJC was actually born in the Litigation Section before becoming a CLA-wide committee.
In partnership with the Litigation Section, the RJC has sponsored, co-sponsored and/or participated in more than 50 racial justice, diversity, and civil rights programs this year. The video recordings of many of these programs are available on the CLA website. I encourage you to check them out. Additionally, the RJC and the Litigation Section have partnered with affinity bar associations throughout California and across the United States to promote racial justice, civil rights, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession.
As we move forward, I intend to strengthen the Litigation Section’s outreach to affinity bar associations, women lawyers, Black lawyers, Hispanic/Latinx lawyers, Asian lawyers, Native American lawyers, other lawyers of color, LGBTQ lawyers, and lawyers with disabilities. Together, we are stronger and more effective advocates and/or representatives for our clients and the communities that we serve. I also intend to strengthen our outreach to members of the judiciary and the legislature.
Please join me in my lifelong journey to pursue racial justice, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, disability rights, diversity, and inclusion. We are stronger together, and remember that Black Lives Matter.
Terrance J. Evans
Chair of the Litigation Section of the California Lawyers Association
PROFESSIONAL BIO OF TERRANCE J. EVANS
Terrance J. Evans is a Partner in the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices of Duane Morris LLP, where he serves as the Vice Chair of the firm’s Banking Practice for the Western United States. Evans is also the Co-Chair of the Duane Morris San Francisco Diversity and Inclusion Committee. His practice is focused on representing the financial services industry, which includes international, national and community banks; loan service companies; and insurance companies. During his career, Evans has both recovered and saved clients of the firm tens of millions of dollars in settlements, judgments and extrajudicial procedures.
Additionally, Terrance is the Chair of the Litigation Section of the California Lawyers Association; Vice President of the Charles Houston Bar Association; Co-Chair of the American Bar Association ICLC Diversity & Inclusion Committee, an Executive Board Member of the Bar Association of San Francisco; Co-Founder and Co-Chair of the CLA Racial Justice Committee; Deputy Director of Region 9 of the National Bar Association, and an Advisory Board Member of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) where he provides leadership on diversity and inclusion issues throughout the United States.
In 2016, Terrance was honored by the National Bar Association as one of the top African American attorneys in the USA under age 40. In 2017, he was honored by the Charles Houston Bar Association for his work promoting diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. In 2018, Terrance was honored by the Minority Bar Coalition for his contributions to promoting diversity and inclusion throughout California. In 2019, Terrance was honored by New Dawn Vallejo for his work promoting diversity and inclusion and pro bono legal services. In 2020, Terrance was recognized by Chambers for his efforts to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the United States.
Terrance has been recognized by Super Lawyers of Northern California multiple times. He has also received special honors from the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, the 100 Black Men of Los Angeles, the Young Black Scholars Program, the Association of Business Trial Lawyers, the American Bar Association, the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, the American Legion, and many other organizations.
Terrance is a graduate of Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, with recognition. He also graduated from Cornell University, where he was a Cornell Tradition Fellow.
Contact Information for Terrance J. Evans:
Terrance J. Evans
Duane Morris LLP
One Market Plaza, Spear Tower, Suite 2200
San Francisco, CA 94105-1127
P: +1 415 957 3130
F: +1 415 358 4154