Keker & Van Nest has a long and proud tradition of providing pro bono representation, ranging from high-impact civil rights litigation affecting communities to habeas corpus, criminal, immigration and asylum matters on behalf of individuals.
Our attorneys have broad discretion to choose pro bono matters that appeal to their areas of interest and expertise. Once we take a pro bono case, we dedicate the same level of attention as any other matter. Our firm regularly exceeds all professional standards with respect to the percentage of lawyer time spent on pro bono matters.
In 2015, the firm was named one of Law360's "Pro Bono Firms of the Year."
Also in 2015, Elliot Peters won The Northern California Innocence Project's Pro Bono Award and Matthias Kamber won the Federal Circuit Bar Association Public Interest / Pro Bono Award.
In 2014, Elliot Peters and Jo Golub were named the California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year for pro bono award by California Lawyer, for exonerating Ronald Ross. Mr. Ross was wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and had served nearly seven years of a 25-to-life sentence.
In 2014, Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus named Keker & Van Nest its Pro Bono Honoree for its social justice work on behalf of immigrants.
In 2013, Keker & Van Nest was named one of Law360's Pro Bono Firms of the Year.
In 2012, Dan Purcell and Eric MacMichael were named California Lawyer's "Attorney of the Year" in the area of pro bono. They dedicated five years to exonerating Caramad Conley, a man who was wrongfully convicted of a double homicide and spent 18 years in prison.
Cases of Note
Shell Gulf of Mexico, Inc., et al. v. Center for Biological Diversity, Inc., et al.:
We successfully defended a group of Native Alaskan and environmental advocacy groups from Shell Oil's unprecedented lawsuit. Shell filed three lawsuits against our clients, seeking declaratory judgments that its oil-drilling permits were validly issued. We prevailed before the Ninth Circuit, which held that the district court lacked jurisdiction because Shell’s novel litigation tactic did not present an Article III case or controversy.
Plaintiffs v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security:
Our victory in this class action corrected a massive injustice being inflicted upon California’s undocumented immigrants. Prior to this case, the federal government routinely arrested undocumented immigrants and held them without bond, often for many months, while they faced deportation proceedings. Many immigrants caught in the mandatory detention dragnet were longtime residents of the United States who years earlier committed minor crimes and have since rehabilitated themselves and raised families. Yet they were still denied the opportunity to make an individualized case against their detention. With Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the ACLU as co-counsel, we took on the representation of three immigrants who were taken into mandatory detention for minor crimes they had committed years ago. They all had records of employment, strong family relationships and aspirations to become citizens. We filed the class action on behalf of all persons in California who have been, or will be, mandatorily detained and won our motion for a preliminary injunction. This victory has effectively blocked mandatory detention throughout California, where 20% of the country’s immigration detentions occur.
In re Alejandro N.:
On behalf of the ACLU and other amici, we submitted a brief challenging the San Diego District Attorney’s refusal to offer juveniles the benefit of sentencing reforms made available by Proposition 47. We argued that the DA’s position contravened voter intent and violated juveniles’ equal protection rights. The Court of Appeal for the Fourth District agreed, ruling that Proposition 47 should apply equally to juveniles and adults. The court’s decision is now binding on trial courts across California, and the sentencing relief afforded will help thousands of young people access better opportunities in education, employment, and the military. It also ensures that they face less severe penalties in future criminal or immigration proceedings.
In re Ronald W. Ross:
In this pro bono habeas corpus case we won freedom for Ronald Ross, an innocent man who had been wrongfully convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2006. Over the course of a four-year investigation, we, along with our co-counsel at the Northern California Innocence Project, uncovered trial-witness recantations and other newly discovered evidence that conclusively established Mr. Ross’s innocence. We presented this evidence at a three-day evidentiary hearing in Alameda County Superior Court, and we eventually convinced the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to join in our request that Mr. Ross’s conviction be vacated. The Court granted Mr. Ross’s habeas petition and the District Attorney dismissed the underlying charges. After spending almost seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Mr. Ross was freed. We also represented Mr. Ross in post-habeas proceedings, winning him significant compensation from the State of California for his wrongful conviction and incarceration.
Caramad Conley v. State of California:
In this pro bono habeas corpus case, we overturned the unconstitutional conviction of Caramad Conley, who had been wrongly sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for a double homicide he did not commit. We discovered thousands of dollars of undisclosed payments and other benefits given to a the linchpin prosecution witness by the San Francisco police, none of which had ever been disclosed to Mr. Conley or his trial counsel. We used this evidence to convince California Superior Court Judge Marla Miller to vacate Mr. Conley’s conviction. The State elected not to appeal Judge Miller’s ruling or retry Mr. Conley, and instead released him from custody after 18 years of unlawful imprisonment. For his efforts on Mr. Conley’s behalf, lead trial counsel Dan Purcell was awarded the 2012 California Lawyer magazine Attorney of the Year Award for achievements in pro bono work.
John J. Tennison v. City and County of San Francisco:
We pursued John Tennison’s civil rights claim against the City and County of San Francisco and the police and prosecutor responsible for Mr. Tennison’s wrongful conviction. We had previously represented Mr. Tennison in his habeas corpus case, where we unearthed exculpatory evidence hidden by the police which proved Mr. Tennison’s innocence - including the taped confession of another man. As a result, we won an order reversing Mr. Tennison’s conviction, after which he was set free. After several years of hard-fought litigation, we settled the civil rights case for $4.6 million. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it was the largest amount the city has ever paid to a wrongly convicted person.
Plaintiff v. Berkeley Unified School District:
We successfully defended the Berkeley Unified School District’s plan to achieve diversity against a challenge under California’s Proposition 209. Berkeley’s innovative plan considers the demographic characteristics (race, household income, and parental education) of a student’s neighborhood for school assignment, rather than simply relying on the student’s race. Berkeley’s plan thus aims to create diversity of experience among its schools. After prevailing in superior court, we convinced the court of appeal to affirm the lower court’s decision and find that Berkeley’s assignment plan is fully consistent with California’s Constitution. Since Berkeley’s assignment plan has been in place, test scores have improved across the school district, and the plan has become a model across the country.
Plaintiffs v. California Highway Patrol:
We represented pro bono an African American and two Latino motorists who were stopped and searched by California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers while driving on California interstate highways. Working with the ACLU, we pursued a racial profiling action against the CHP and won a ground-breaking settlement. Under the settlement, the CHP agreed to stop using minor traffic violations as a pretext for searching cars for drugs, to compile data on traffic stops, and to have an independent auditor review the traffic stop data to identify officers who might engage in racial profiling.