Representation of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Justice & Human Rights
From the start, pro bono has been deeply engrained in GSB’s culture. The firm’s founders understood that the practice of law comes with a responsibility to serve our communities, including helping those unable to afford legal services. In 1995, GSB had become the only Pacific Northwest-based charter signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge. In a typical year, our attorneys and paralegals contribute approximately 5,000 hours of pro bono legal work to benefit our communities.
GSB’s pro bono endeavors have helped individuals in cases spanning high-profile criminal justice reform, to individual representation of low-income individuals, Guantanamo detainees, asylum-seekers, and artists.
Examples of GSB’s pro bono involvement include:
Free Speech for People, GSB Lawyers and Contributors Spearhead Potentially Transformative Campaign Finance Litigation
In partnership with Free Speech for People (FSFP), the legal team of GSB lawyers and reputed scholars and experts have spearheaded potentially transformative campaign finance litigation in the District of Columbia. Contrary to popular belief that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC single-handedly created super PACs, it was the ruling in SpeechNow.org v. FEC that have made it possible for political action committees to receive unlimited amounts of money by super PACs on advertising. In SpeechNow, the ruling stated that the federal law capping contributions to political action committees at $5,000 per person per year did not apply to political committees that limited their activities to “independent expenditures." In Lieu v. Federal Election Commission, GSB joins FSFP and its legal team to challenge SpeechNow, and the FEC’s failure to enforce the $5,000 limit on contributions to super PACs, which is still on the books. Noted experts in political corruption and scholars of constitutional law argues that SpeechNow was wrongly decided under Citizens United. The lawsuit argues that SpeechNow allowed unlimited political spending by the wealthy, giving rise to actual corruption and the widespread public perception of corruption in the electoral system.
To this day, the Supreme Court has not reviewed the question decided by SpeechNow. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Roberts has given signals that might suggest he would be willing to sustain limits on contributions to super PACs within the framework of Citizens United.
Helping a Young Burundian Woman Find a New Life Free From Endless Fear and Violence
In collaboration with the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project of Maine (ILAP), former GSB attorney Lowell Turnbull* has helped Jane**, a 24-year-old woman from Burundi, a country in sub-Saharan Africa, achieve her asylum status in the United States despite the seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against her, including the current administration’s rigid stance and policies toward asylum-seekers. While living in Burundi, Jane had been beaten and held captive by her own father after refusing his several attempts to force her into an arranged polygamous marriage. Eventually managing to escape, Jane was able to obtain a U.S. student visa and flee the country. Upon arrival in the United States, she immediately sought legal help through ILAP, where Lowell had accepted her representation and filed her application for asylum, which was then later approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Jane’s bravery and courage in opening up the wounds of her past and telling her story coupled with GSB’s compelling description of her persecution in writing proved invaluable in helping her achieve her asylum status.
Now, Jane leads her life free of fear and oppression. Since arriving in the United States, she has earned her high school diploma, given birth to two daughters, and married a U.S. citizen.
*Lowell Turnbull is a former principal in GSB’s Washington, D.C. office who continues to serve of counsel to the firm.
**Client’s name has been changed to protect confidentiality.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Clinics
In 2012, the U.S. executive branch implemented its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, enabling undocumented immigrants brought here as children to obtain renewable two-year work permits and temporary relief from deportation. Many of the youths eligible for DACA arrived here at such an early age that they have no memories of, or support systems in, their countries of origin. The DACA program does not provide these young adults with a path to permanent residence, but rather allows them to contribute to the workforce while avoiding removal to countries where they lack a history or a home. The relief provided by DACA can be life-changing -- it has provided many vulnerable young people with a means of supporting their families and pursuing higher education opportunities.
In partnership with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (“NWIRP”), Garvey Schubert Barer has committed to providing free legal services to candidates submitting or renewing DACA applications through a series of in-house “clinics” in the firm’s Seattle office. The first of these clinics took place on November 3, 2015. Over the course of an evening, more than 20 GSB volunteers -- attorneys and staff -- ushered 12 youths through the DACA process, performing on-site document translation and legal research to complete intake and processing of all 12 applications.
On March 29, 2016, GSB hopes to build on the success of this pilot project with a second clinic that incorporates assistance from other offices to support on-site volunteers in Seattle. GSB will continue to hold these these clinics on a quarterly basis, pulling together resources from all five of its U.S. offices to assist an even greater number of applicants. As the firm marks its 50th anniversary and looks onward to new horizons, we are proud to invest in the futures of these young adults by creating opportunities and providing essential relief.
“Even though I’ve been working as an immigration paralegal for the last 18 years here at GSB, the most rewarding cases that I work on are those involving people who truly need help. DACA provides certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children a chance to feel safe and grants them legal employment authorization. The DACA clinic that we held last year was one of those rewarding and heartwarming experiences where you provide that help to someone who is trying to do the right thing.” -- Verna Seal, GSB Immigration Paralegal
Holocaust Ghetto Workers Reparations Project
GSB was one of eight firms honored by Jewish Family Service of Seattle with an Outstanding Service Award in recognition of work for the Holocaust Ghetto Workers Reparations Project. In 2007 the German chancellor announced the creation of the Ghetto Work Payment Program, which offers a one-time payment of 2,000 Euro (approx. $2,600 USD) to Holocaust survivors who performed involuntary labor in Nazi-controlled ghettos during World War II. Approximately 60,000 survivors may be eligible for these payments. To help these survivors, Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles collaborates with law firms across the nation to organize legal clinics and train volunteer lawyers to properly prepare the forms.
Representation of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Justice & Human Rights
GSB represented the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Justice & Human Rights on a pro bono basis. In a lawsuit we filed on behalf of the center, the court ordered the U.S. Department of the Treasury to release hundreds of documents about water and sanitation projects in Haiti. In ruling in the center’s favor, the court found the treasury had no legal basis under the Freedom of Information Act to withhold the documents, which showed the U.S. government’s role in stopping the projects. GSB continued working with the center to increase congressional awareness of Haiti’s need for safe drinking water. The center aims to fulfill the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy through promoting the full spectrum of human rights within the United States and throughout the world.
Representation of Guantánamo Prisoners
GSB principal Robert C. Weaver, Jr. and former GSB attorneys Samuel C. Kauffman (Portland office) and Eldon Greenberg (Washington, D.C.) volunteered to represent two detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Since 2005, the three have devoted thousands of hours representing two men who have been held, without charge and virtually incommunicado, at the U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. Subsequently, the firm has taken on representation of two additional Guantánamo Bay detainees.
In January 2002, the U.S. military began transferring prisoners captured in Afghanistan to hastily-built prison facilities at the U.S. Naval Station Guantánamo Bay in Cuba for interrogation. It was not until the summer of 2004 that the United States Supreme Court held that those prisoners were entitled to be represented by counsel in the federal courts of the United States, and that they were entitled to have their cases heard under the habeas corpus protections of the U.S. Constitution. Jurisdiction having been established, there was a critical need for attorneys to assist the prisoners. "We volunteered without thinking twice. The legal fiction that this administration has created to hold these men without due process should offend every lawyer in the United States," said Mr. Weaver. Added Mr. Kauffman, "When I was in law school, I would have never imagined that the U.S. government would imprison anyone indefinitely, without formal charges, let alone deny them access to a court of law. Now I represent two men being held at GITMO who have not been charged with a crime."
Assistance to Childhaven
Scott Warner and members of Garvey Schubert Barer's Seattle office helped the nonprofit organization Childhaven develop a plan to protect its intellectual property (IP) and worked to educate them about the principles that govern IP. The firm's pro bono assistance focused on Childhaven's copyrights in the materials it created to train therapists who work with families that are at risk, the issues related to licensing those materials to others, the trademark rights Childhaven holds in their logo, and the obligation a trademark owner has to protect their mark from infringing uses.
Childhaven President Debra Ronnholm gave special commendations to Scott Warner for the firm's work. Childhaven's mission is to prevent and stop the cycle of abuse and neglect through scientifically supported programs that protect and treat children ages one month through five years and their families.
Grant County, Washington Agrees to Overhaul Public Defense System
GSB's pro bono efforts, along with those of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Columbia Legal Services and Perkins Coie LLP, helped clinch a victory against Grant County, Washington, as officials agreed to overhaul the county's system for providing legal defense to people charged with felonies who cannot afford an attorney. The GSB team was led by principal Donald Scaramastra and served as co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
Under the settlement, the county agreed to reduce excessive caseloads, guarantee that public defense lawyers are qualified to handle serious felony cases, and provide adequate funding for investigators and expert witnesses. The county agreed that its public defense system would comply with standards endorsed by the Washington State Bar Association and authorized by the Washington State Legislature. The parties selected a monitor to ensure compliance by the county during the six-year term of the agreement — the first time a county public defense system in Washington became subject to comprehensive monitoring.
"We are very pleased with the settlement, which requires the county to comply with state and national standards, provides for a monitor acceptable to the plaintiffs, and implements effective enforcement mechanisms," said Scaramastra. "This settlement should ensure that Grant County citizens who can't afford a qualified, committed, and effective lawyer get one."
Class Action on Behalf of Homeless Children
In 1997, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a favorable decision in a six-year class action lawsuit filed on behalf of homeless children in Washington State. Working as co-counsel with Columbia Legal Services (formerly Evergreen Legal Services), we persuaded the trial court and the Supreme Court that Washington's Department of Social and Health Services had a duty to implement a comprehensive plan for providing services to homeless children and to provide housing assistance in cases where homelessness was a primary factor in the decision to place or keep a child in foster care.