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Clinical Professor Penny Venetis to Argue for Jama Plaintiffs in Human Rights Trial Set to Begin on Sept. 26

September 26, 2007 – 

Penny Venetis, clinical professor of law at Rutgers School of Law–Newark and co-director of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, will present opening arguments today in the first case to apply international human rights standards to a U.S. corporation for events that took place on U.S. soil. Jama et al. v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc. will be heard in Newark by Senior District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Opening arguments will begin at 11 am on Wednesday.   

The plaintiffs represented by Venetis and the Rutgers clinic are nine political asylum seekers who, while awaiting processing of their asylum claims in an Elizabeth, NJ detention center run by Esmor, were subjected to horrific physical and psychological abuse. “Our clients have waited 12 long years for their day in court,” said Venetis. “It is now time to hold the Esmor Corporation and the individuals who worked there accountable for abusing and degrading these nine men and women.”

The plaintiffs will seek to establish that they endured cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment as those terms are defined under international law. In a landmark 2004 decision, Judge Debevoise ruled that abuses committed in the U.S. against political asylum seekers can be prosecuted as human rights violations under customary international law using the 1789 statute, the Alien Tort Claims Act. Judge Debevoise has also ruled that the jury may apply the international law doctrine of command responsibility, which imposes liability on superiors, such as Esmor and its officers, when they know or should have known about subordinates’ violations of international law but fail to prevent or remedy the violations. In addition, Venetis will present evidence that the plaintiffs’ rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were violated and that the defendants negligently hired, retained, supervised, and trained the guards at the Elizabeth detention facility.

The abuse against the Jama plaintiffs took place in 1994 and 1995. They have been represented since 1996 by Constitutional Litigation Clinic faculty and students.