Orrick Pro Bono Team Helps California Woman Win Parole After 34 Years in Prison

April.18.2017

Capping years of effort by an Orrick pro bono team, a California woman who spent more than three decades in state prison walked free on April 13 after being paroled by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sharon Fennix, an inmate serving a 15-years-to-life sentence, earned her release in December, when the state Board of Parole hearings found her suitable for parole. She had received hundreds of pages of support letters, including from the prison warden, who had known her for 20 years and for the first time in his tenure offered support for an inmate’s parole.

An Orrick team led by partners Darren Teshima and Lily Becker represented Sharon for eight years, working through three parole suitability hearings to secure her release. Associates Dan Guerra and Lacey Bangle composed the first draft of the brief in support of Sharon’s parole and wrote numerous advocacy letters to the Board seeking to have baseless accusations removed from her file, an ultimately successful effort that was critical to Sharon’s parole suitability.

A victim of sexual abuse at a very young age, Sharon committed her crime in 1983 after suffering abuse from her then-boyfriend; she was repeatedly denied parole as a result of early problems in prison.

But our parole effort focused on her remarkable transformation in prison. The warden, in supporting Sharon’s release, commented on her “complete turnaround” and involvement in mentoring and charitable efforts in the community.

In addition to the parole effort, Orrick filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking Sharon’s release in 2012, under a California statute recognizing that victims of intimate partner battering who did not have the opportunity to present expert testimony are likely to have been prejudiced.

Lacey met Sharon for breakfast on her first day in San Francisco after her release.

In addition to Darren, Lily, Lacey and Dan, the Orrick team included Lenny Patts, Aris Prince, Erica Bailey and Karen Greer.