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Meet LGBT Pride Month Local Hero Mattheus Stephens

Monday, June 27th, 2016
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LGBT Pride Month Local Hero Mattheus Stephens

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Mattheus Stephens is a founding partner of the Progressive Law Group — a firm based in San Diego, built with the goal of claiming the “progressive” political label in the legal world. But despite his full time work there, Stephens puts a lot of energy in to teaching. He’s lectured at UC San Diego for about a decade. He loves teaching. And part of what he loves most is learning from students.

“We as educators tend not to give students as much credit as they deserve for how creative and intelligent they are,” Stephens says.

He says by far the most important course he teaches is “Race and Law,” which reviews the legal history of slavery through its constitutional end, and the impact that history has on housing, voting and employment today.

Not surprisingly, Stephens’ “Law and Sex” course is quite popular. “When they learn it’s not a how-to course, they get a different feel for it,” Stephens says.

Aside from his academic and professional endeavors, Stephens is also passionate for public service. He’s been on the San Diego Civil Service Commission since 2008. “It’s awesome,” he says. “The reason I love it is because I really am passionate about the city of San Diego. I think it’s a phenomenal place to live and work and raise a family. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Outside the classroom and City Hall, Stephens is a standout in the LGBT community — a leader just by being who he is in the roles he’s earned. He’s the first transgender person to receive KPBS’ Local Hero award, and the highest-ranking transgender person serving the City of San Diego, to his knowledge.

“Frankly, not enough of us survive to achieve the community recognition I have had the privilege to attain,” Stephens says. “We are quite literally just trying to survive.”

Suicide and poverty rates are well above average in the transgender community. Stephens noted that for these reasons, it’s unusual for transgender people to have the resources to help improve local communities as he’s had the opportunity to do.

To that end, Stephens aims to elevate the LGBT community through the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. It’s a national organization that helps elect LGBT politicians to office, particularly in areas with low LGBT representation (unlike San Diego). When more openly LGBT candidates get elected to office, the areas they govern are more likely to support equality, and people get treated the same, according to the nominee.

Stephens said he learned of his nomination by voicemail, left by KPBS general manager Tom Karlo. “I was alone in my office, and when I listened I literally blushed. I turned beat red. I’m beyond thrilled and grateful for the acknowledgment.”

Marriage Equality Decisions

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Shortly the US Supreme Court will decide the “Marriage cases”. It would be welcome if the Court set the Federal floor on equality and made gays and lesbians equal citizens such that they could no longer be the target of expressly discriminatory laws. The Country as a whole is moving away from those tactics and is now realizing that is is about the relationship of all citizens to our government. Nothing less than full equality should be the benchmark. However, if my predictions are accurate we will continue to have fractured equality. The California Marriage case is likely to be dismissed for lack of standing. That would establish marriage equality in California, but not everywhere, which in turn means that at the Federal table, gays and lesbians are served fewer rights than their straight counterparts. The DOMA case may also be dismissed on standing grounds. That would mean DOMA is declared unconstitutional in the Second Circuit, but again would not set the Federal floor on full equality. Edith Windsor would receive her retirement fund back, but there will be another Edith Windsor in a different circuit waiting for the Federal government to take her retirement because of legal inequality by its hand. We are a formidable country and we are better than this. We understand that what makes the US great is not just the ideal of equality, but achieving actual equality for us all. We can hope at least five justices see the wisdom and necessity of this and rule accordingly.

VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Please do not take this right for granted. Not all citizens have had this right in our lifetimes. Not to mention, as we currently face some of the most gripping financial times in our history, it’s something you can do for free. Speaking of free, voting is one of the things that keeps us that way and is an exercise of our important liberties. If you have not exercised your voting muscles in a while (as some candidates have not), then get yourself to the poll and start lifting! We do not want those muscles to get flabby. Likewise, if you vote by mail, complete your mail-in ballot early and send it in before you forget and the date passes you by!

People often ask about voting for judges. It is a bit odd that judges are part of our voting process in California, but it does give the people an opportunity to think about what is happening in a critically important portion of our state government. Take a minute to learn who serves as our judicial officers. Learn their history of appointment to the bench and more. That information is available for sitting judges on the California Courts website: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/courts/. As I have lamented before, we should have more information about potential judicial officers. But, in the meantime, learn what you can and….

VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!

AFFRONT TO JUSTICE
Why Better Courts Now isn’t better at all

Friday, June 4th, 2010

As a concept, it is a good idea to have organizations draw attention to often over-looked judicial races. It raises important questions about whether judges should be elected since it makes them subject to the very political process the Founding Fathers sought to insulate them from. But the organization Better Courts Now is not a non-partisan think tank designed to bring information to the people about judicial candidates, nor is it a “group of ordinary citizens … rising up to preserve democracy” as Baptist Pastor Chris Clark claims. To the contrary, the organization is the antithesis of an effort to preserve democracy. It is instead a group of religious ideologues attempting to shake the very foundation of impartiality that currently exists in the San Diego judiciary. The irony of the organization is their alleged claim to combat “judicial activism”, when in fact their ideology as a group is to tear down what they view as an overly liberal or progressive judiciary. Better Courts now is not about impartiality at all, and they make no bones about that, having put forth a slate of unqualified judicial candidates to carry their political flag to the bench.

An impartial analysis of judicial candidates is conducted by the Judicial Evaluation Commission of the San Diego County Bar Association. The JCE was created in 1978 to fill the information gap that existed around the qualifications of judicial candidates. The Commission is made up of a cross-section of the San Diego County Bar as appointed by the President of the SDCBA. There well may be room for a similar evaluation process by non-members of the SDCBA, but impartial analysis is clearly not what Better Courts Now is here to do. They are nothing more than a bank of candidates with a strikingly narrow viewpoint, who have a history of attacking particular judges when they disagree with those judges’ rulings. The brazenness and transparency of this political challenge to impartiality are staggering.

It is important to dialogue about the qualifications of our judges, including those not currently running for office. But let’s do it by actually evaluating those qualifications, gathering impartial and non-partisan information about our judicial officers and those running for judicial office. The SDCBA is a respected organization that does that work, but it certainly would not hurt to have another group that is a conglomeration of non-lawyers and non-members of the SDCBA make that effort as well. San Diego is America’s Finest City and it will be made that much finer by adding helpful information to our election cycle, particularly as it pertains to our judges, who decide what our laws mean and who have such a profound effect on our lives.