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

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.

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