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Hollywood lawyer, Pinay wife in slavery conviction file bankruptcy

LOS ANGELES — James Jackson, 53, former Sony vice president for legal affairs, and his Filipino wife Elizabeth, 54, were sentenced last January 28 by Los Angeles U.S. District Judge Dale Fischer in the forced labor of Filipino maid, Nena Ruiz.  Jackson, who was silent in court, was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service and was fined $5,000 while his wife Elizabeth who told the judge that she took full responsibility for her actions, was sentenced to three years in prison.  Elizabeth pleaded guilty last August to a charge of forced labor while James pleaded guilty last year to a count of alien harboring and acknowledged he kept Ruiz at their home even though he knew her work visa had expired.  Defense lawyers argued against a jail sentence for Elizabeth Jackson saying the couple had already suffered enough by being forced to declare bankruptcy but U.S. District Judge Fischer denied a request for home confinement saying, “It seems she (Elizabeth) treated her dog much better than she treated her victim (Nena)," U.S. District Judge Fischer said at Monday’s sentencing.  Elizabeth admitted, “In my life, I have always tried and strived to do the right thing. I failed in this case."  In 2004, the jury awarded Nena $825,000 that includes $551,000 in compensatory damages and $275,000 in punitive damages.   The couple’s maid, Nena Ruiz, who is a former schoolteacher in a rural village in the Philippines, arrived in the U.S. at age 58 and entered the country on a special work visa at the request of James and Elizabeth Jackson whom she refers to as “Sir Judd" and “Ma’am Beth."  She was supposed to work as a traveling companion and caretaker of Elizabeth Jackson’s mother. However, when she arrived in California, speaking very little English, the Jacksons almost immediately transferred her to their own home as their maid, where they reportedly exploited her in their Culver City condominium to become their domestic slave for several months from 2001 to 2002.  They allegedly took her passport away from her and threatened to report her to the immigration lawyers. Elizabeth allegedly hit her and frequently pulled her hair. Nena said that she received only about $300 for a year of working up to 18 hours per day.   A neighbor finally reported that Elizabeth hit Nena with a water bottle. Too timid and afraid to tell the police about her plight, Nena finally had the courage to run away after the water bottle incident in 2002.  In a CNN interview, Nena revealed that she kept silent for nine long years without seeing her children, until one day she and another woman escaped. That is when the FBI and immigration authorities got involved.  She soon found help from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (Cast), a group that helps people like Nena to seek community services that can help them break out of abusive circumstances.  Through this group, she found her lawyer, Delia Bahan of Pasadena, California and civil rights attorney Dan Stormer who filed a civil lawsuit against the Jacksons.  According to Matthew Heller of Whole Life Times in his article “The Joy of Freedom,": “Frequently, the trafficker is a naturalized U.S. citizen who originates from the same country as the trafficked – Elizabeth Jackson, like Ruiz, is a native of the Philippines. Their own success in ‘making it’ in America only adds to the appeal of their sales pitch to a compatriot struggling to break out of Third World poverty. If the trafficker comes from a higher social class or caste, they can use that, too. “Class differences…are used by traffickers to exploit victims," observes Michael J. Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who is a Cast board member.  Nena sued the Jacksons claiming involuntary servitude, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, negligence, fraud and violations of California wage and hour laws, as well as assault and battery.  Nena claimed during the civil lawsuit that she had strict daily, weekly and bi-weekly schedules for her to follow which included meticulous care of the couple’s two dogs, Andrew and Stella.  She said in a CNN interview, “I had to brush the dogs’ tails, clean their ears and even give them vitamins everyday, but I was forced to sleep on a dog bed."  She said that she had to prepare hot food for the dogs such as chicken nuggets that had to be warmed and bananas and pears while she was forced to eat three-day-old leftovers. She also gave the dogs daily vitamins while she even had no doctor. She said that aside from sleeping in a dog bed in the living room, she was also forced to change her clothes and store her personal effects in a tiny laundry room. James, who was first suspended and then later on terminated from his job as a vice president of legal affairs at Sony Pictures Entertainment, has filed for bankruptcy with his wife.  “These defendants subjected their victim to what amounts to modern-day slavery," said assistant U.S. Attorney Wan Kim.  “They (the defendants) used their power and affluence to coerce a vulnerable woman into their personal service for several months," added Grace Chung Becker, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division.  Nena Ruiz did not attend the sentencing of the Jacksons, but watched it on closed-circuit television. She, however, did not address the court.  These days, Nena Ruiz, the once shy schoolteacher-turned-maid, is now speaking out about contemporary slavery and earning certification as a nursing assistant.   Now 63, Nena Ruiz in a news conference said, “Slavery still exists, and I want to tell victims they should not tolerate it and should not be afraid to seek help."  - Philippine News