After six years of fighting on her behalf, an Orrick team has helped a domestic violence victim take her first steps of freedom after more than 17 years of incarceration and tragedy.
In 1996, Orrick pro bono client W.C. was convicted of failing to protect her infant daughter from her abusive boyfriend, the baby's father. Although her ex-boyfriend killed their daughter while she was sleeping, they were tried jointly in a trial that never raised the issue of domestic violence and during which W.C. still lived in utter fear of her partner. Although W.C. was acquitted of physically harming her baby, both she and the baby's father received the same sentence: 15-years-to-life in prison for second-degree murder.
Orrick began representing W.C. in 2006 through a referral from a nonprofit organization, the Habeas Project, and had planned to bring a habeas petition under California Penal Code 1473.5, which permits battered individuals convicted of felonies to file a writ of habeas corpus with evidence demonstrating the effect of battering on the commission of the crime. Ultimately, an extensive fact investigation was unable to establish enough independent evidence of abuse because so much time had passed and because—as is typical of many domestic violence victims—W.C. lived in isolation and was so controlled by her boyfriend that she did not report the abuse to friends or authorities. Thus, Orrick opted to focus on the possibility of parole instead of bringing a habeas petition.
In 2008, Orrick represented W.C. at her first parole hearing. After receiving a split-decision denial from the panel, Orrick represented W.C. before the full Board of Parole Hearings in Sacramento. After denial there, Orrick filed petitions for Writ of Habeas Corpus successively in Superior Court, the Court of Appeals and a Petition for Review in the California Supreme Court. After denials in each instance, the team filed writs in federal district court and for the first time, the court required a response from the State. Shortly after the completion of several rounds of briefing, the United States Supreme Court eliminated federal intervention in California State parole proceedings, and the Orrick team turned toward helping W.C. prepare for her next parole hearing.
In April 2012, Orrick represented W.C. in her subsequent parole hearing and achieved a recommended grant of parole. Following a waiting period, Governor Jerry Brown passively affirmed her parole late last month, and W.C. was finally released. W.C. is now living in a sober, transitional housing facility in San Francisco. She became a powerful advocate for domestic violence survivors while in prison, and is committed to continuing to work on these issues.
The Orrick team was supervised by San Francisco litigation partner Walt Brown and included San Francisco public finance contract counsel Dan Bort; San Francisco employment law managing associate Katina Miner; San Francisco litigation managing associates Cathy Lui and Michelle Rutherford; and former Orrick attorneys Anne Hawkins and Na'il Benjamin. Additional Orrick teams are supporting two other clients through the Habeas Project, and several possible Habeas Project clients are still in need of pro bono representation.