Matters That Matter: February Pro Bono Roundup
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 ensuring medical supplies make it to the epicenter of the Coronavirus outbreak, turning two wrongful arrests into a justifiable settlement, and securing a landmark settlement to improve literacy rates in California schools. These are just a few examples of the many ways our lawyers are living out our proud pro bono tradition every day.
Responding to the Coronavirus Crisis
New York attorneys Jiang Liu, Tony Carbone, Katherine Erbeznik, and Malka Levitin are providing legal advice as needed to the Wuhan University Alumni Association of Greater New York, Inc. The Association is raising funds in the U.S. to purchase medical necessities for doctors and patients in the Hubei province of China, which includes Wuhan, the epicenter of the current outbreak of the new coronavirus.
The Association is also accepting medical donations and shipping them from New York to Wuhan. While support continues to grow, the Association has reported that it has raised more than $1.3 million for this effort thus far, allocating around $775,000 to purchase and ship over 2.2 million pieces of consumable medical supplies, such as surgical masks, protective gowns, gloves, shoe covers, and respirators to hospitals in the most affected areas.
Ensuring Justice After Wrongful Arrests
On February 11, 2020, the San Diego City Council approved a $1.475 million settlement on behalf pro bono clients Brandon Duncan and Aaron Harvey. The civil rights law suit was filed in 2017 by a MoFo legal team, led by litigators Mark Zebrowski and John Lanham, against the City of San Diego and two police officers over the 2014 arrest under Penal Code Section 182.5 that were based in part on their social media postings and Duncan’s rap lyrics.
The charges were ultimately dismissed by a judge who found there was no evidence that Duncan or Harvey committed any crimes after they spent seven months in county jail. The civil rights lawsuit claimed that they were wrongfully arrested and incarcerated and the federal court found there was no probable cause for the arrests. Read more about the case here.
Fighting for the Safety of an Immigrant Child
Northern Virginia litigation partner Tina Reynolds and corporate of counsel Shouvik Biswas are representing a 6-year-old boy from Honduras who is seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) or asylum. The boy, abandoned by his parents, was raised by his maternal grandmother. In mid-2019 the boy and his grandmother began to receive threats to hurt the child, and they ultimately fled to the United States.
At the border, U.S. officials forcibly separated the boy from his grandmother, and she remains in detention. The boy lives with a maternal aunt in Springfield, Virginia and now needs an attorney to help his aunt file a petition for custody in the Fairfax County Juvenile & Domestic Relations District Court, where SIJS findings will be sought based on his parents’ abandonment and neglect. Attorneys will also explore a potential asylum claim. Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) referred this matter to the firm and continues to provide mentoring services for this case.
Reaching a Landmark Settlement in California Literacy Lawsuit
On February 20, 2020, MoFo and Public Counsel announced that a $53 million settlement was reached in Ella T. v. State of California, the first civil rights action brought under any state constitution to protect students’ right to access to literacy. Under the settlement, the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond have agreed to provide resources to improve literacy outcomes for the state’s lowest performing schools and provide extra support to the Stockton Unified School District.
The settlement provides multiple remedies to improve literacy, including $50 million in block grants for 75 low-performing elementary schools to develop and implement customized three-year literacy action plans allowing schools to invest in evidenced-based practices to improve student literacy, the adoption of a holistic approach to literacy, a shift away from punitive school discipline practices, and $3 million for the creation of a statewide “expert lead on literacy” who will work to strengthen the state’s literacy infrastructure and training opportunities, and assist grant recipients.
The MoFo team—led by partners Michael Jacobs and Erik Olson and—included partners Greg Koltun, and Jack Londen, of counsel Robin Stafford, and associates Roman Swoopes, Dan Hubin, Alessa Yin-Chen Hwang, and Janet Lee. More information on the settlement and case can be found here.
Building a Movement with iamtheCODE
London litigation partner Chiraag Shah and corporate attorney William Akman are helping iamtheCODE to incorporate the organization as a charity in the UK. iamtheCODE describes itself as “the first African-led global movement to mobilize government, private sector, and investors to advance STEAMED (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics, Entrepreneurship, and Design) Education.” The organization’s mission is to build a generation of 1 million women and girl coders by 2030. It focuses on marginalized communities, in part by running programs in places like the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and libraries in Africa, Asia, and the UK.
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.