New CBA Practice Group: Social and Criminal Justice

Jun 22, 2021

CBA forms new Criminal and Social Justice Committee

By Rickell Howard Smith and Sasha Naiman

Many of us are familiar with the criminal legal system, but what is social justice? Social justice is a type of justice rooted in the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights. The broad goal is to ensure an equal distribution of power, opportunity and privileges in our society. As co-chairs of this newly formed committee, we provide here an overview of the committee’s focus and our individual perspectives on its’ importance.

Committee Topics and Activities
Through lenses of power, access, opportunity, privilege, and equity, this committee will tackle topics that complement, rather than duplicate, efforts of existing committees. Topics will include fairness in criminal legal systems, housing access, health equity, education, and economic opportunity. The committee will explore how our legal system creates protections and obstacles based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and more.

The committee will not only focus on “what is happening,” but also, “what we should do.” Programming will offer practical advice on advancing social and criminal justice through pro bono work, policy advocacy, and engagement with communities.

Why did we volunteer to lead this effort?

Rickell Howard Smith:
I am a career social justice advocate and civil rights attorney. It’s no secret that there are significant racial and gender disparities in nearly every system operating in our society. The pandemic amplified existing disparities, and in 2020, our nation embarked on a renewed movement toward social justice.
This is the first time in my lifetime all sectors—government, business, nonprofit, and philanthropy —are focused on social justice, advancing equity, and centering the voices of people directly impacted by injustice. Equity is no longer an afterthought; it is our goal. We are having honest conversations to identify the root causes of inequities and build new systems designed to promote fairness and justice.
Legal professionals are critical players in advancing social justice. Often, we are behind the scenes designing systems, creating policy and legal precedent. We do not always see the impact our work has on individuals, families, and communities. This committee will not only provide space for us to explore the social impact of our work, but will push us to use our collective skill, social and financial capital to advance social justice and equity.

Sasha Naiman:
Justice-work, and this committee’s work, is rooted in equitable access to the things people hold dear, including the safety, prosperity, and health of their families and communities. This work requires us to consider how individuals, systems, and cultures can contribute to disparities in access. It requires us to be honest, patient, brave, and nuanced.
For me, this work is personal. I was born under an anti-Semitic Soviet regime, which systemically prevented people, like my family, from having fair access to justice, employment, education, housing, and good governance. My parents’ hard work and many supportive organizations and people opened doors for us. As an attorney at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center, I am dedicated to removing unfair barriers for, and elevating voices of, people harmed by our criminal legal system.

We are grateful the CBA has created a home for this work. We are inspired by the growing community of attorneys who are learning, discussing, and acting for social and criminal justice. We thank the Cincinnati Bar Association leadership and staff for having the vision to form this committee. If you are interested in joining this committee, please contact LaDonna Wallace Smith at lsmith@cincybar.org.

Rickell Howard Smith is a civil rights attorney, policy advocate and founding Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice at Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio. Rickell has worked in a variety of social justice areas, including housing, children’s rights, disability rights, education, criminal justice reform and philanthropy.

As the Deputy Director of the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC), Sasha Naiman oversees OJPC’s organizational operations, supports criminal-justice policy advocacy, and provides legal representation for incarcerated people and people with criminal records in the community. Sasha also launched OJPC’s initiative to help survivors of human trafficking and conducts presentations statewide about overcoming criminal-records-based barriers.