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Welcome to the blog of the Francis D. Murnaghan, Jr. Appellate Advocacy Fellowship. We're pleased to bring you updates on how your support expands access to equality through reflections by past and present Fellows, Board members, supporters, and staff. 

Thank you K'Shaani!

The Murnaghan Fellowship, 09.13.18

K’Shaani Smith, 2017-2018 Murnaghan Fellow, recently departed the Public Justice Center after a year serving on the Appellate Advocacy Project.

Reflecting on highlights from her year, K’Shaani shared that she “enjoyed working on cases involving a race equity analysis. This was the first time in my career that I was able to pursue cases explicitly fighting for racial justice.”

Among these cases, one that particularly stood out to K’Shaani was that of Ashley Overbey, who was beaten by Baltimore City police officers after calling them for assistance when her home was burglarized.  

Ms. Overbey filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department and the city, which concluded with a settlement agreement. One term of the agreement prohibited Ms. Overbey from ever speaking about the incident (essentially a gag order), and if she violated the term, half of the settlement amount would be withheld. But the then City Solicitor issued a statement about the case in the Baltimore Sun disparaging Ms. Overbey. She defended herself in the comments section of the Sun article, and the city withheld half of her settlement.

Represented by the ACLU of Maryland and Crowell & Moring, Ms. Overbey sued the city over its gag order policy, arguing that it violated her First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed the action, and Ms. Overbey appealed to the Fourth Circuit. Together with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, National Women’s Law Center, and Baltimore City civil rights advocate Tawanda Jones, the Public Justice Center filed a brief in Overbey v. Mayor & City Council of Balt. arguing that the city’s gag order policy inhibits police accountability and allows for the continuation of police violence against Black residents, particularly Black women, in Baltimore. The brief made clear that these gag orders are used to conceal from the public the Baltimore Police Department’s frequent unwarranted violence against civilians.

“Through my work on Overbey, I was able to shine a light on this injustice and educate people about the level of police violence Black women throughout the city and the country endure,” K’Shaani said.
Following her tenure as Murnaghan Fellow, K’Shaani will join Perkins Coie as a political law associate. Please join us in thanking K’Shaani for her tremendous contributions to the Public Justice Center and for her steadfast commitment to building a just society!

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