On September 26, 2019, MoFo veteran trial lawyer and chair of the firm’s Commercial Litigation & Trial Group Arturo González presented a town hall, speaking to the importance of pro bono work in the Latinx community and beyond. The discussion was one of several activities planned by the firm’s Latino Heritage Month Committee to honor Hispanic Heritage Month and the Latinx lawyers who have made, and continue to make, a lasting impact on our firm and in our communities.
Litigation associate and San Francisco Latinx affinity group member Melissa Perez provided opening remarks. Melissa was part of the MoFo team that helped a MoFo pro bono client named Yeimi win release from an El Paso detention center and reunite with her two young daughters, ages 3 and 5, after nearly four months of separation earlier this year.
During her remarks, Melissa made special mention of local Latina-owned food vendor El Pipila, who catered the lunch. Owned by a mother and her two daughters, El Pipila was founded with the help of the firm’s long-time pro bono client La Cocina, a nonprofit that provides affordable commercial kitchen space, technical assistance, and access to market opportunities for low-income women and immigrant entrepreneurs.
In addition to being treated to traditional Guanajuato cuisine, attendees were entertained by a video profiling Arturo’s long history of pro bono work, filmed by the American Bar Association as part of honoring Arturo with the 2019 Pro Bono Publico Award for his ongoing commitment to pro bono and public service.
MoFo San Francisco partner and Latinx affinity group co-sponsor Alexis Amezcua introduced her fellow co-chair and long-time mentor, speaking not only of his many career accomplishments, but also of his inherent commitment to teaching and helping others.
“As a woman of color, and as a Latina that comes from this community, [I am proud that] we get to help through our pro bono work,” stated Alexis. “I knew that using my privilege, my education, and my license as a lawyer to help those in the community was going to be critical to my life and to my career. That’s something that Arturo has taught me from the very beginning.”
Although Arturo is widely known for his legal prowess in the courtroom, his pro bono advocacy efforts have been equally impactful. During his 35-year tenure at the firm, Arturo has taken on more than 100 pro bono cases, many of which have been civil rights cases resulting in meaningful changes to the policies and procedures practiced by law enforcement and government agencies.
During the presentation, Arturo spoke about four of his most memorable and challenging cases, including one of his earliest: the precedent-setting Butt v. State of California—a case that Arturo argued, and won, in the California Supreme Court while he was an associate.
“The court issued a unanimous decision that education was a fundamental right and that if you deprive children in one district of part of their school year, you are depriving them of equal protection under the law,” recalled Arturo.
Throughout all the pro bono cases he has taken, Arturo has never neglected to give credit where credit is due. “I appreciate the fact that the firm supports the work, but I couldn’t do the work without the support of great associates like these,” stated Arturo as he turned it over to San Francisco litigation associates Camila Tapernoux and Shaelyn Dawson to talk about some of the important pro bono cases they are currently working on with the help of Arturo and Alexis.
“There’s only an upside when it comes to taking on pro bono matters. There is only an upside when we get to give our clients the best legal representation bar none,” said Alexis. She added that, when people seek help from Arturo, “They know that win, lose, settle, whatever the outcome, they were seen, they were heard, and they got the best legal team on their side.”
When asked how he decides which pro bono cases to take, Arturo answered: “I take the cases where I feel the constitution has been violated; the cases that involve a violation of our country’s Bill of Rights—a set of rights given to us, the people. I appreciate the fact that the jury—the people—determine whether the Bill of Rights was violated.”
Watch Arturo Gonzalez’s 2019 Pro Bono Publico Award Recipient video:
Video credit: © 2019 PRIME 312 LLC