In this edition of Matters That Matter, we honor the many lawyers who have dedicated their time to important pro bono causes. This month, we highlight a variety of worthy projects, such as protecting the freedom to express political viewpoints, advising an organization on their platform to eliminate plastic water bottles from the world, and helping an entrepreneur share her love of healthy baking with others. These are just a few examples of the many ways our lawyers are living out our proud pro bono tradition every day.
Investigating Fair Treatment of FBI Agents In Lieu of Political Viewpoints
Washington, D.C. litigators Bob Litt and Sophie Cash recently filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI on behalf of the editors of Lawfare, a prominent blog on national security issues. The suit charges the FBI with failing to respond to Lawfare’s requests for information regarding the FBI’s discipline of employees for making political comments about the candidates in the last two presidential elections, including Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Mitt Romney.
Lawfare filed the requests to aid its investigation into whether the FBI has treated agents differently based on the viewpoints expressed in their political comments, an investigation that was sparked by the abrupt firing of former FBI agent Peter Strzok earlier this year for text messages he wrote that criticized then-candidate Trump. One interesting fact from the lawsuit that has been largely overlooked in the storm of commentary connected to those text messages is that, under the applicable section of the Code of Federal Regulations, an FBI employee has the right to “[e]xpress his or her opinion as an individual privately and publicly on political subjects and candidates.” The legal complaint, filed December 18th, is available here.
Testing Easier Access to OTC Contraceptives on College Campuses
More colleges are interested in installing vending machines on campus to increase access to over-the-counter contraceptives. New York litigation attorneys Bethany Hills, Felicity Quigley, and Hilary Hoffman are researching if any liability could arise from providing access to contraceptives through on-campus vending machines. They are conducting this research for the National Health Law Program, or NHeLP, a nonprofit whose advocacy priorities include making over-the-counter contraceptives, such as condoms, contraceptive foams, and the morning-after pill, more widely available.
Giving Those with Criminal Records a Second Chance
Los Angeles litigation partners Sylvia Rivera and Eliot Adelson are supervising four separate criminal record–clearance matters in partnership with The Access Project, a nonprofit that leverages cloud technology, online drafting platforms, hands-on training, and a strong network to connect law firms and the legal services community with those in need.
Over the last several years, California’s legislature has passed laws to help individuals clean up their criminal records, which have an impact on nearly every area of a citizen’s life, from employment to housing to the ability to be licensed for certain jobs. MoFo’s team will be reviewing criminal RAP sheets for their clients to assess what relief is available to them, completing judicial council forms for the available relief, meeting with the clients to review the forms and draft short declarations, filing and serving the court filings, and, if necessary, attending court hearings.
Creating a Recipe for Success for a Growing Startup
Palo Alto corporate partner Timothy Harris is advising the entrepreneur and owner of Choc’late Mama Cookies on entity selection and formation. The entrepreneur created her chocolate chip cookie recipe for her daughter, who has a dairy allergy and is unable to enjoy most store-bought sweets. The cookies are vegan and gluten-free, and have become very popular in her Oakland community among people who are seeking allergen-free cookies.
This matter was referred to the firm by Start Small Think Big, a nonprofit organization that helps low-to moderate-income entrepreneurs build businesses in underserved areas of New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area so owners can increase their own personal financial security as, well as stimulate economic activity in their communities.
Making Moves to Eliminate Bottled Water from the World
Tokyo corporate partner Kenji Hosokawa is helping Social Innovation Japan (SIJ) with preparing and reviewing sponsorship and other agreements. SIJ is a nonprofit organization that combines cross-sector, international experience with a deep commitment to an all-of-society approach to solving some of the world’s greatest social, economic, and environmental challenges.
SIJ recently launched MyMizu, a new initiative with a mission to eliminate bottled water from the world. Its first product is a smartphone app that helps users find free water-refill points, making it easier for users to carry their own water bottles. As the initiative continues to scale, SIJ is teaming up with sponsors and other third-party collaborators, and needs assistance with preparation and/or review of sponsorship and other agreements, as well as other legal documents.
Preventing Sexual and Gender-Based Violence on College Campuses
San Francisco litigation partner Arturo González, finance associate Cody McDavis, and tax attorneys Lauren Keller and Olivia Sher, with supervision from senior tax attorneys, are working with SetTheExpectation. SetTheExpectation is a nonprofit organization that provides sexual violence–prevention programming on college campuses across the country. It also works with other nonprofits to provide gender-based violence–prevention training to institutions of higher education, and professional workplaces.
Cody will focus on helping the organization draft a sexual violence–prevention policy, and conduct a multistate survey on laws against sexual and gender-based violence. The tax attorneys will provide the client with guidance on how giving sums of money to other nonprofits may affect its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
Matters That Matter looks at some of the most significant, recently opened matters and developments in our global pro bono efforts, from staffing legal clinics and advising nonprofits on their legal needs to advocating for individuals who would otherwise be denied equal access to justice. For more examples of MoFo’s global pro bono efforts, visit our website.