Keker & Van Nest has a long and proud tradition of providing pro bono representation, ranging from high-impact civil rights litigation affecting communities (including groundbreaking litigation fighting racial profiling by the California Highway Patrol) 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 2012, Dan Purcell and Eric MacMichael were named California Lawyer "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.
In 2009, the Northern District and the San Francisco Bar Association's Volunteer Legal Services Program gave Keker & Van Nest an award for its pro bono service, particularly for its representation of prisoners pursuing civil-rights cases.
Jon Streeter received the Champion of Justice Award from the Alliance for Justice in 2009. He also received the Robert G. Sproul Jr. Award for Commitment to Civil Rights and Pro Bono Services from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights in 2005.
Cases of Note
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 now represent Mr. Ross in post-habeas proceedings seeking 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.