On April 25, 2013 the Asian Law Caucus honored the law firm Morrison & Foerster with its Pro Bono award. Film by Joshua Chuck.
In 1991, Morrison & Foerster (MoFo) galvanized the gathering of law firm leaders that led to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®, the bedrock of pro bono today. In 2012, MoFo attorneys contributed more than 75,000 hours of pro bono legal services. Their work runs the gamut, from class actions benefiting thousands, to advocacy for individuals who would otherwise not have access to justice.
In 2007, the Asian Law Caucus, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) and The San Francisco Bay Guardian filed a Freedom of Information Act Request seeking documents concerning FBI interactions with members of the Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities. When the government tried to stall the FOIA request, the groups obtained pro-bono representation from MoFo. With MoFo’s efforts, a settlement was procured and resulted in the release of over 50,000 pages of undisclosed documents.
The documents that MoFo has helped obtain have been extremely helpful in understanding and changing how the FBI has interacted and will interact with AMEMSA community members. The documents have shown that in the Bay Area the FBI has used “community” outreach to collect and illegally store intelligence information on Americans’ political and religious beliefs. The documents have also shown that the FBI has been targeting not only the AMEMSA communities but other communities, including the Chinese and Russian communities, through racial mapping. Another set of documents revealed discriminatory FBI trainings concerning AMEMSA communities, and the publication of these problematic trainings has resulted in the FBI purging many such discriminatory trainings. Moreover, a recent New York Times article about documents obtained from this FOIA also show the FBI’s lax and negligent response when Arab and Muslim community members have been potential victims of hate crimes.
MoFo continues to represent ALC, ACLU-NC, and the SF Bay Guardian in obtaining these important documents and will continue to work to challenge exemptions and redactions to the documents received. ALC and other groups have used these findings for local and national debates demanding accountability and transparency to FBI practices. In addition to their work with ALC, MoFo is representing multiple organizations in FOIA suits to uncover government wrongdoing, including representing We Count and the Florida Immigration Coalition, and to obtain DHS information about allegations of brutality and abuse in law enforcement raids. Other recent achievements include winning a landmark decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, winning reinstatement of a lawsuit on behalf of children who were abused in foster care, and co-counseling Graham v. Florida, in which the Supreme Court ruled that imposing life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a juvenile’s non-homicide crime violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.”
The MoFo team has dedicated its energy, time and resources to bringing light to some of the most vexing and important civil rights issues of our time. We are grateful for their partnership.