Pro Bono Team Secures Substantial Attorney's Fee Award for Client in Civil Rights Case


An Orrick pro bono team from the San Francisco office successfully represented a former inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison, in a Section 1983 action challenging the due process he received when he was validated as a prison gang associate in 1997. Following a week-long bench trial and years of ensuing litigation, U.S. District Judge William Alsup determined that our client was the prevailing party and awarded attorneys' fees to Orrick. The parties subsequently settled for payment of $900,000 to Orrick, $100,000 to our client, and our client's transfer to a more hospitable prison that was closer to his family.

Our client initially filed his handwritten complaint in 1998 from Pelican Bay State Prison. Over the course of the next 10 years, Defendants were twice granted summary judgment, both of which were later overturned by the Ninth Circuit. Orrick's involvement began after our client filed his second appeal. After obtaining a reversal at the Ninth Circuit, Orrick continued to represent the client before the District Court. In 2009, a week-long bench trial finally took place. The court found that our client had been deprived of procedural due process because he was never afforded an opportunity to present his views to the person making the validation determination.

Just weeks before trial, defendants had revalidated our client in an attempt to moot the case. Judge Alsup ultimately rejected the 2009 revalidation because it was "tainted by the machinations of [defense] counsel." Our client was able to obtain this finding because during the course of discovery, Orrick had successfully argued that defendants had waived the attorney-client privilege and, as a result, obtained numerous correspondences demonstrating defense counsel's orchestration of the entire revalidation process to avoid the payment of attorneys' fees. Judge Alsup was not pleased with defense counsel's conduct and ordered defendants to provide our client a new validation hearing with several additional procedural safeguards, including the presence of counsel.

Unfortunately, the new hearing led to the wrong result, and our client was once again revalidated—this time with Judge Alsup finding that defendants had provided the requisite process. Our client has appealed the decision. In light of our client's success on the two prior flawed validation attempts, however, the court entered judgment in our client's favor. Our client sought a fee award for Orrick's significant efforts spent litigating the case, and the magistrate judge recommended that Orrick be awarded approximately $1.7 million in attorneys' fees. Wanting to ensure that our client was compensated for his efforts, Orrick negotiated a settlement whereby defendants agreed to pay $900,000 to Orrick, $100,000 to our client, and transfer our client to Corcoran State Prison, where he would be housed closer to his family and provided better living conditions—an outcome with which our client is extraordinarily pleased.

Led by San Francisco securities litigation senior counsel James Burns, the team included San Francisco securities litigation senior associate James Thompson and San Francisco securities litigation associate Jennifer Nejad, as well as former associates Erich Lichtblau, Eunice Lee, and Tara McManigal. San Francisco paralegal Michael O'Hara and legal secretary Veronica Adelman were also critical to Orrick's success.