In this edition of Matters that Matter, we honor the many lawyers who have dedicated their time to important pro bono causes. This month highlights a variety of worthy projects, such as building sustainable food systems, safeguarding the freedom of art, protecting the rights of immigrants, and advocating for global women’s rights. Below are a few examples of the many ways our lawyers are living out our proud pro bono tradition every day.
Structuring a More Sustainable Food System
San Francisco corporate partner Susan Mac Cormac is helping Stone Barns Center with structuring and strategic advice so that it can better leverage its business relationships and have a wider impact on global food systems. The center is seeking to put new agreements in place that will accentuate its partnership with for-profit restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located in Pocantico Hills, New York. The Stone Barn Center’s mission is to create a healthy and sustainable food system and farming techniques that benefit citizens and the planet. A major cornerstone in the center’s vison to build a resilient ecosystem is paying living wages to farm workers.
Protecting the Freedom of Art in Germany
Berlin TTG partner Christiane Stuetzle and senior associate Patricia Ernst, along with Berlin litigation partner Julia Schwalm, are representing German painter Martin Eder in an appeal related to a copyright dispute. Mr. Eder recently had a solo show at the Newport Street Gallery, a privately financed museum by UK artist Damien Hirst. Following the show, an individual who specializes in computer graphics sued our client, claiming that an image of a blossoming cherry tree referenced in one of our client’s collages was his creation, and that our client was infringing his copyright.
The team successfully represented the artist in the lower court, persuading the court to agree that the use of the cherry tree image in the oil painting was a permitted free use covered by the “freedom of the art” law guaranteed by the German Constitution. The Court also shared our view that there was no urgency to initiate a preliminary injunction as the plaintiff himself made copies of the work in question for use on his social media pages, including an Instagram video, in an effort to garner press attention. The decision has an impact beyond the facts of this individual case because it takes a stand for important artistic expressions that would otherwise be prohibited.
Ensuring Appropriate Medical Treatment for the LGBTQ Community
New York litigator James Hough and San Francisco litigator Andre Fontana, along with summer associate Justin Young and SEO intern Eli Ashenafi, are helping the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) on amicus briefs before the Ninth and Fourth Circuits in cases involving the Title X gag rule. Title X of the Public Health and Service Act provides federal funding for family-planning services. The federal government’s recently issued gag rule restricts the information that health care providers can give to patients, particularly individuals seeking reproductive health care assistance. NCLR took the lead on an LGBTQ-organizations brief, which now has been joined by organizations such as Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign.
There are currently three related cases before the Ninth Circuit, as well as one before the Fourth Circuit. Each district court — the District of Oregon, the Northern District of California, the Eastern District of Washington, and the District of Maryland — granted preliminary injunctions to the rule’s enforcement, all on grounds that the rule violates the Affordable Care Act and requirements in Title X’s appropriations funding that pregnancy counseling be “nondirective.” A panel for the Ninth Circuit ordered the injunctions be stayed pending resolution of the merits, but the Ninth Circuit is now reviewing that stay order en banc. Briefing in the 4th Circuit will be completed in August 2019.
Helping Legal Permament Residents Become Citizens
A number of New York attorneys are taking on eight separate naturalization matters. They will be assisting clients with completing applications for naturalization to become U.S. citizens and, if applicable, for a waiver of the application fee. The attorneys will submit the applications, respond to any requests for additional information from USCIS, and will prepare and accompany the client to the naturalization interview when it is scheduled.
Seeking to Free an Innocent Man
San Francisco litigator George Harris and San Diego litigation attorney Christian Andreu-von Euw are assisting the Northern California Innocence Project (NCIP) with proceedings on a petition for habeas corpus that seeks to free an individual who has served 28 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. There was a two-day evidentiary hearing in Solano County Superior Court in April. The post-hearing briefing was recently completed and final arguments are set to take place in late July.
Supporting Women’s Voices Now
Palo Alto corporate associate Jennifer Ta and Tokyo technology transactions associate Daisuke Gatanaga, with assistance from corporate partner Mike Krigbaum, are advising Women’s Voices Now on governance and regulatory compliance. Palo Alto summer associate Michael Andrews and corporate paralegal Marie Liu are also assisting the team. They are working with California-based nonprofit Women’s Voices Now to draft a checklist of legal obligations for their newly-registered charity, as well as amending governing documents. Women’s Voices Now is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity which uses film to advocate for global women’s rights through an annual online film festival, a free streaming archive of international films relating to women’s rights, educational programs, screening events, and multimedia workshops.
Galvanizing Support for Immigrant Teens’ Reproductive Rights
Washington, D.C. litigation partner Roxann Henry, Los Angeles litigation associate Neil Tyler, and senior pro bono counsel Jennifer Brown represented Asylum Access and four other organizations that advocate for immigrants’ rights in an amicus brief to support access to abortion services for a class of teens in government custody. The brief, filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Garza v. Azar, brought by the ACLU, was cited twice in the appellate decision upholding access rights.
The purpose behind the brief is to end government interference in access to abortion for pregnant immigrant minors who are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). The case, now a class action, began with representing a single minor who was barred by ORR from obtaining an abortion, despite having won a Texas judge’s permission to obtain one under that state’s judicial bypass procedure. Her ultimately successful battle to obtain the care she sought was widely publicized.
The MoFo team, in support of the lower court class action ruling enjoining the ORR’s interference, conducted extensive outreach to gain support and advice from organizations that work with migrant teens on both sides of the border, as they travel through Latin America and once they are released from ORR shelters in the U.S. The brief documents the sexual violence migrating teens often encounter during their trip, such as rapes that leave many pregnant. Then, once they are here, they are often challenged with trying to find sponsors who can get them out of government custody and explain the legal processes.
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.