Kicking ass and representing prisoners. Kelly O

Anita Khandelwal, 33, can be a savior to the downtrodden or a thorn in the city's side, depending on how you view the law. A Yale Law School graduate, founder of the Yale Law Women Activism Committee, former Relman Civil Rights Fellow, and a rising powerful attorney with the Defender Association's Racial Disparity Project, she has been quietly defending the poor and challenging public policies widely denounced by legal experts.

"I've never not worked on behalf of the indigent," says Khandelwal. Her parents are uneducated immigrants from north India; her dad worked four jobs in the U.S.—starting as a parking-lot attendant—to pull his family up from poverty. "It was always apparent to me that he was really lucky and that others weren't," she says.

On Khandelwal's desk right now: a challenge to the Seattle Police Department's trespass admonishment policy, a legally murky regulation disproportionately enforced on homeless people and young minorities. She says her clients are "banished or arrested for being places they don't appear to belong—not for being a threat to public safety." For instance, police arrested one of her clients for sleeping next to an abandoned building two nights running, officers arrested a teenage boy she represents after his brother was shot for seeking out his friends in an area he wasn't welcome, and cops arrested a man for sitting in his car outside of a store where he was banned while waiting for a friend. The city charged all of them with trespassing.

Under the admonishment rules, adopted in 1987 by the city council, business owners may sign contracts with the city that grant SPD the authority to ban anyone from their private business for a year—at officers' discretion—and if he or she returns, to arrest them for trespassing. Khandelwal says this is unconstitutional and is trying to have the rule repealed.

Some business owners don't see the harm in admonishments. "I think it's effective if resources are allocated right," says Greg Anderson, chair of the Rainier Beach Merchants Association. Officers recently approached the association to form a coalition that would ban individuals from an entire neighborhood of businesses for a year, instead of just one business. Some Aurora Avenue motels function this way.

But not all businesses are interested. "You can't punish one person by throwing them out of a bunch of businesses," says Rainier Beach business owner Raymond Anderson.

SPD spokesman Mark Jamieson says, "Businesses usually approach us to be a part of this program. It's entirely voluntary."

The department reported 3,225 trespass admonishments in 2009, according to a public record request filed by Khandelwal. And while black residents make up 8.1 percent of Seattle's population, they accounted for 40 percent of trespass admonishments in 2005, according to Banished, a book written by UW Law, Societies, and Justice program professor Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert.

On other fronts, Khandelwal is considering challenges to similar exclusion rules in parks and on buses. King County Metro, she says, "suspended one kid for life after allegedly having drugs on the bus. He wasn't arrested for possession or prosecuted, but when I pointed that out to them it didn't seem to matter." If cited, Khandelwal says the accused have a difficult time challenging the bus and park exclusion charges because filing an appeal requires a phone (which most homeless people don't have), and the toll-free number to call for the parks exclusion "is disconnected anyway," she says. "It's a serious due process problem." With only seven days to file an appeal after a parks citation is issued, Khandelwal looks for would-be clients on the streets.

Casey Trupin, a staff attorney with Columbia Legal Services, notes that Khandelwal is "taking an important closer look at ways in which we continue to criminalize homelessness."

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Khandelwal sees at least one solution: "Help property owners put up very clear rules about who's allowed on property after hours so officers can approach [trespassers]," she says.

Another option: Get City Attorney Pete Holmes on her side to challenge the rules. The Defender Association, along with other public-defender agencies, the NAACP, and Real Change, cosigned and sent Holmes's office a letter in mid-February expressing their concerns about these ordinances. Holmes is taking note. City attorney spokeswoman Kathy Mulady says, "We're aware of the issue. It's on our to-do list." recommended