Firm

Community

Pro Bono

We honor our core principle of giving back to the community through pro bono work.

Farella Braun + Martel encourages attorneys and staff to give back to our local communities. Our pro bono efforts focus on defending unlawful detainer, civil rights, and death penalty habeas corpus cases. Pro bono matters are treated like any other case in the office. Farella does not limit the number of hours for which lawyers can receive credit for pro bono work, and associates are encouraged to further hone their advocacy and trial skills and serve our community by taking on pro bono opportunities. As one Farella attorney observed, “My pro bono appellate work, which included an argument before the Ninth Circuit as an associate, not only provided me with a valuable experience, but great personal satisfaction from knowing I was helping someone who would otherwise have no access to legal assistance.”

Recent Pro Bono Work

U-visa

Farella lawyers have teamed up with in-house lawyers from Oracle and Dropbox and Centro Legal de la Raza  to help victims of violent crime who assist law enforcement apply for “U-Nonimmigrant Status” visas. U-visas incentivize cooperation with law enforcement for people who don’t have a valid visa (and therefore might otherwise avoid reporting crime). 

Each finished application saves Centro Legal at least two full days of attorney work.  Although the time between submission and obtaining the visa has stretched to about 8 years (due to a cap on how many visas may issue each year), applicants benefit simply from having their application filed. For example, deportation orders typically will not issue if a U-visa application is pending, and applicants are eligible for certain public benefits.  Many of the clients we worked with had waited years to file their applications because they didn’t have money to pay legal fees.

Death Penalty Habeas Corpus Cases

Following legal efforts spanning 30 years, Farella’s Pro Bono Program won a significant victory for one of its clients, securing a writ of habeas corpus and dismissal of all remaining claims for Marvin Pete Walker Jr., one of the longest serving inmates on California’s death row. (Case No. 94-cv-01997-PJH)

The pro bono effort included two trips to the Supreme Court of California, an earlier appeal to the Ninth Circuit and years of district court litigation. The effort cleared a major hurdle toward saving Walker’s life when U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton on Dec. 14, 2018 issued an order granting Walker’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The court found that the penalty phase of Walker’s trial violated his constitutional rights because he was not provided effective assistance of counsel, and that the California Supreme Court was unreasonable in its 2004 ruling denying Walker’s claims.

Walker was sentenced to death in 1980 by a jury in the Superior Court of Santa Clara County for the 1979 murder of Joseph Vasquez and wounding of two others in a liquor store holdup in San Jose. The death sentence was originally reversed by the California Supreme Court, but then reinstated after the 1986 election that changed the California Supreme Court’s composition. In 1989, lawyers at Farella, led at the time by Doug Young, were appointed by the court to represent Walker in challenging his conviction and death sentence.

Sunnyvale Measure C (Gun Violence Prevention) Ordinance Litigation

In Leonard Fyock, et al v. City of Sunnyvale, et al., No. 13-cv-05807 RMW (N.D. Cal.), Farella attorneys successfully defended the City of Sunnyvale’s ban on possession of large capacity magazines against a Second Amendment attack by the National Rifle Association. After full briefing and argument, Judge Whyte denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in March 2014. The plaintiffs appealed the ruling and filed emergency motions, first with the Ninth Circuit and later the U.S. Supreme Court, seeking to stop the ordinance from taking effect pending the resolution of the appeal. The Farella team opposed both emergency motions on behalf of Sunnyvale, and both motions were denied. The Ninth Circuit Court heard oral argument from Farella and a specialist hired by the NRA on Nov. 17, 2014. On March 4, 2015 it affirmed the district court’s denial of the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction.

Our recent pro bono efforts focus on defending unlawful detainer, civil rights and death penalty habeas corpus cases, including:

  • Defending eviction cases for individuals who cannot afford counsel through the Justice & Diversity Center’s Right to Civil Counsel Program.
  • Filing amicus briefs on behalf of consumer and human rights organizations in the high-profile Viacom v. YouTube case.
  • Staffing the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Tuesday Night Clinic, which offers walk-in clients assistance with legal matters.
  • Taking on Ninth Circuit pro bono panel matters that have recently included summary judgment reversals in three different prisoner civil rights appeals, all which resulted in reported opinions that have advanced the rights of prisoners.
  • Representing indigent defendants pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act. Matters involve postal and identity theft, drug trafficking and assault. We also represent witnesses appearing before federal grand juries.
  • Assisting people seeking safety in the United States through the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Asylum Program. 
  • Representing the City of Sunnyvale in defending its Measure C gun safety ordinance.
  • Partner with Centro Legal de la Raza to host U visa application clinics.

Notable Honors

  • Daily Journal California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year (CLAY) Award (2016)
  • San Francisco Business Times Corporate Philanthropy – Education Partner of the Year (2015)
  • Equal Rights Advocates Pro Bono Champion Award (2015)
  • The National Law Journal’s Pro Bono Hot List (2015)
  • Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence 2014 Pro Bono Partner of the Year
  • Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Keta Taylor Colby Award– Recipients Richard Robinson (2014) and Richard Van Duzer (2004)
  • Bar Association of San Francisco’s Justice & Diversity Center – Right To Civil Counsel Leader Award (2013)
  • Legal Aid of Marin – Marin Justice League honored Chris Locke (2013)
  • Anti-Defamation League – Doug Young received the Distinguished Jurisprudence Award (2012)
  • Bar Association of San Francisco’s Criminal Justice Section – Doug Young received the D. Lowell Jensen Award for Public Service (2012)
  • Center to Prevent Gun Violence (previously Legal Community Against Violence) – Farella was recognized for its “Outstanding Pro Bono Contribution” (2009, 2010)
  • Pro Bono Institute – Farella received recognition for its vigorous efforts and dedication to the community (2005)
  • Ninth Circuit – Jerome Braun received its highest accolade, John P. Frank Award (2005)
  • California State Bar / California Appellate Project – Award of Appreciation (early ‘90s)
  • American Bar Association – Pro Bono Publico Award (early ‘90s)

Recent Pro Bono Work

Ninth Circuit Grants Re-Trial for Death Row Inmate

Farella has won another significant victory for Marvin Pete Walker Jr., one of the longest-serving inmates on California’s death row, with the Ninth Circuit ruling on July 31 that the prosecutor had engaged in unconstitutional racial discrimination by striking all three Black jurors, and then giving demonstrably false reasons for why he did it.

Marin County Bicycle Coalition Successful in Appeal to Permit Bicycle Access to Existing Trail Network

With assistance from Farella Braun + Martel, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition (MCBC) participated as amicus curiae in a successful appeal of a lawsuit challenging the Marin County Open Space District’s approval of MCBC’s proposal to open the Bob Middagh Trail in Mill Valley, Calif. to bicycle use. In a significant CEQA decision, the California Court of Appeal held on Jan. 24 that the “social effects” of bike use on trails falls outside the scope of the CEQA review. Learn more, here.

Don Sobelman
South Valley Islamic Center Cordoba Center

With the help of Farella Braun + Martel Partner Don Sobelman, South Valley Islamic Center (SVIC) won approval for its 16-acre Cordoba Center Project in San Martin, California. Read more, here.

California Supreme Court Amicus Brief Opposing Proposition 8

Farella filed an amicus brief on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups opposing Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that bans same-sex marriage. Farella's amicus brief focuses on the negative and stigmatic impact the measure has on the current and future children of same-sex parents. The groups represented by Farella on the brief include: The Children's Law Center of Los Angeles, Family Equality Council; Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Therapists Association; the Human Rights Campaign; The Human Rights Campaign Foundation; Kids in Common; Legal Services for Children; the National Black Justice Coalition; National Center for Youth Law; the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation; PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian and Gays Inc.) and the San Francisco Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). (Pro bono)

People v. Broderick Boys

We worked with the ACLU to set aside a sweeping permanent injunction issued against alleged members of West Sacramento's 'Broderick Boys' gang. The permanent injunction covers 80% of the city, imposes a lifetime 10 p.m. curfew and affects over 350 individuals, most of whom were never provided notice of the injunction or an opportunity to oppose its imposition. (Pro bono)

Federal Criminal Justice Act Representations

For 18 years served as a court-appointed member of the Federal Criminal Justice Act panel to represent indigent defendants at the trial level. Multiple federal trials and other representations. Also appointed by federal courts, at the trial and appellate levels, to represent three individuals on California’s Death Row: one three-week trial and two Ninth Circuit arguments.

Firm Highlights

Publication

Fire Season Preparedness: What Wineries Should Do Now - Video

Farella's Quinn Arntsen and MaryJo Lopez with guest speaker Christopher Thompson of Napa Communities Firewise Foundation discuss "Fire Season Preparedness: What Wineries Should Do Now." California is at the start of another dry year...

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Publication

The FASTER Act: What Companies Need To Know About the New Food Allergy Law

While the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act (FASTER Act) only makes a minor change to add sesame as a major food allergen, it signals the government’s intent to closely examine food...

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Event

Natural Resource Damages Conference

Sarah Bell is a program co-chair of Law Seminars International's 14th Annual Advanced Conference on Litigating Natural Resource Damages Santa Fe and will speak at the August 12 session "Sources of NRD Claims and the...

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News

What’s Ahead for California Wine Industry With Laws and Regulations - Q&A

More than wine, area lawyers specializing in the wine business have been forced in the past year to take on a number of critical issues. That includes regulations that were put in place to help...

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News

NCRC Applauds Administration’s Announced Move To Rescind Disastrous Trump-Era CRA Rule Changes

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) announced it will propose to rescind its controversial Trump-era rules weakening the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and work with other banking regulators to adopt a clear, strong...

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News

Cannabis Practice Creates Ethical Traps, Conflicts for Lawyers

Ryan Lowther was quoted in the Bloomberg Law article, "Cannabis Practice Creates Ethical Traps, Conflicts for Lawyers."   Read the full article here .

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Event

The Cannabis Cultivar Conundrum: Best Practices to Document and Protect Cannabis Genetics

Jeff Hamilton is moderating the Bar Association of San Francisco Cannabis Law Section program "The Cannabis Cultivar Conundrum: Best Practices to Document and Protect Cannabis Genetics" featuring  Dale C. Hunt, Ph.D., JD , Founder &...

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News

Four Farella Intellectual Property Partners Named 2021 IP Stars; Firm Recommended for Patent Litigation

Farella Braun + Martel’s James L. Day , Jeffrey M. Fisher , Eugene Mar , and Stephanie P. Skaff  have been named IP Stars by Managing Intellectual Property in its 2021 guide to the...

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Publication

Eviction Moratoriums and Commercial Leasing: Current Issues

Farella's Tony Schoenberg and Jonah Trotz with guest speakers Marsha Ramsey and Margaret Duskin of Cushman & Wakefield discuss "Eviction Moratoriums and Commercial Leasing: Current Issues." The pandemic has had wide ranging impacts on...

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Publication

SCOTUS Copyright Fair Use Decision: Google vs. Oracle Recap and Takeaways

Eugene Mar and Erik Olson discuss "SCOTUS Copyright Fair Use Decision: Google vs. Oracle Recap and Takeaways." After more than a decade of litigation that included multiple trials and appeals, the Supreme Court of...

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