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 tackling questions regarding housing rights for people living with mental health disabilities, advocating for those living with diabetes, and helping combat environmental crimes in the Amazon. These are just a few examples of the many ways our lawyers are living out our proud pro bono tradition every day.
Preventing Indefinite Immigration Detention for Families
On January 28, 2020, New York litigators Amanda Aikman and Natasha Menell and senior pro bono counsel Jennifer Brown filed an amicus brief on behalf of 40 religious and inter-religious organizations opposing new federal regulations that would authorize the indefinite detention of families during immigration proceedings. The new regulations have been blocked by a federal district court as contrary to the Flores settlement agreement, which requires that children only be detained in state-licensed child care facilities, and for the least time possible. The brief was filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will hear the government’s appeal of the lower court ruling. Read the full brief here.
Making Solar More Scalable
San Francisco corporate attorneys Susan Mac Cormac, Ben Fox, and Jason Parnell, along with tax attorneys Maureen Linch, Shane Shelley, and Jessica Stern, are advising GRID Alternatives (GRID) on a Solar Access Fund. GRID is a nonprofit dedicated to providing underserved communities with access to clean energy and contributing to the clean energy economy through the installation of solar energy systems and solar job training.
Through its Solar Access Fund, GRID is working with one of its partner organizations to develop an online platform that will help make it easier for nonprofit organizations to provide Program-Related Investments (PRIs) to commercial-scale solar projects that serve low-to-moderate income communities. The MoFo team is advising on how to structure GRID’s relationship with its solar developer partner organization, in addition to one or more investment vehicles to attract PRIs, for-profit, and debt investments, among other tax matters.
Supporting a “diaTribe” Against Diabetes
San Francisco trademark attorneys Juliana Finley, Muzamil Huq, Joyce Liou, Ryan Romain, and Jennifer Taylor are providing intellectual property advice to the diaTribe Foundation. Founded by type 1 patient Kelly Close, the diaTribe Foundation’s origins date back to 2006 with the creation of the diaTribe newsletter, aimed at providing meaningful content to people touched by diabetes, and the organization was designated as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2013.
The diaTribe Foundation is passionately committed to raising awareness about the national—and worldwide—epidemic of diabetes, advocating for new approaches to treatment, and improving the daily lives of people with diabetes and pre-diabetes. The nonprofit’s core programs are designed to engage policy-makers, industry leaders, providers, and the public in an effort to elevate the national conversation on diabetes and connect leaders in the field.
Reducing Lengthy Prison Stays for Incarcerated Individuals
MoFo’s pro bono team has initiated a multi-office project with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that aims to help incarcerated individuals who are serving mandatory sentences in Mississippi to reduce their prison stays. Mississippi’s harsh “three-strikes” sentencing law has resulted in numerous individuals receiving lengthy prison sentences, some equating to decades in prison. However, the Mississippi state legislature recently passed a law that allows three-strike, incarcerated individuals who have served at least 25% of their mandatory sentence to petition their sentencing courts and seek parole. SPLC estimates that there are as many as 1,200 inmates who could take advantage of this relief.
Researching Fair Housing Laws for Individuals with Mental Health Disabilities
Los Angeles litigation partner Ryan Malloy and several MoFo associates are helping Mental Health Advocacy Services, Inc. (MHAS) with research on three questions related to how state and federal fair housing laws protect individuals with mental health disabilities who rent rooms in private homes or live in homeless shelters.
MHAS is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to people with mental disabilities. The organization assists both children and adults, with an emphasis on obtaining government benefits and services, protecting rights, and fighting discrimination. MHAS also serves as a resource to the community by providing training and technical assistance to attorneys, mental health professionals, consumer and family member groups, and other advocates. In addition, MHAS participates in impact litigation in an effort to improve the lives of people with mental disabilities.
Combatting Environmental Crimes in the Amazon
Washington, D.C. finance of counsel James Black and partner Charles Cole are reviewing a contract for existing client, Amazon Conservation Association (ACA). ACA has been offered a substantial subcontract to assist with a USAID-funded project focused on combating environmental crimes in Peru, specifically monitoring threats of illegal logging and gold-mining, and building government capacity to respond. This builds on the ACA’s years of work in its Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), as well as its work training forest users in preventing and reporting environmental crimes, working in close collaboration with Peru’s Environmental Prosecutors Office, the Peru Forest Service, and others.
Amazon Conservation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that unites science, innovation, and community to protect the western Amazon—the greatest wild forest on earth. Over the past 20 years, Amazon Conservation’s approach of protecting wild places, empowering people, and putting science and technology to work has protected over 8 million acres of threatened natural areas.
Restoring Tax-Exempt Status to Help Disadvantaged Children
New York tax associate Katherine Erbeznik won restoration of tax-exempt status for a Virginia group that helps disadvantaged children in Fairfax County schools improve their educational opportunities. Our client fell into a not-uncommon trap for small nonprofits: it failed to file an annual informational return with the IRS for three consecutive years, resulting in automatic revocation of its tax-exempt status. Katherine guided the client in submitting the filings needed to regain exempt status, and on December 30th, 2019 learned the good news that the IRS has retroactively restored the client’s tax exemption.
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.