Fenwick Secures Federal Trial Victory for Pro Bono Client in Eighth Amendment Excessive Force Case

Mountain View, CA (June 22, 2017)– On June 9, 2017, Fenwick & West secured a federal trial victory on behalf of one of the firm’s pro bono clients, a California state prisoner who was subjected to excessive and unnecessary force in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution as confirmed by the jury verdict.

The case was referred to Fenwick through the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California and San Francisco Bar Association’s Justice and Diversity Center’s Federal Pro Bono Project.

The litigation and trial involved allegations of the use of excessive and unnecessary force by correctional officers at Salinas Valley State Prison in violation of the client’s rights under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Our client was forcibly tackled to the ground and then had his head shoved into the pavement. He suffered minor physical injuries, lost many of his privileges and was placed in more isolated confinement for the next three years.

After a four-day trial, a federal jury found that two correctional officers violated our client’s constitutional rights, and awarded the client compensatory damages against those two officers and punitive damages against one of the officers. This case is the first referred to a law firm through the Pro Bono Project that has gone to trial and received a favorable result.

“Fenwick has a long history of fighting for pro bono clients,” said litigator Amy Hayden, who led Fenwick’s team. “We’re thankful for the opportunity to advocate for our client, provide him the chance to tell his side of the story and ultimately prevail in trial.”

The client originally filed the case on his own in 2013, and a judge appointed Fenwick as pro bono counsel in 2016. The firm litigated the case in federal court.

In addition to Ms. Hayden, the Fenwick team included litigation attorney Abigail Wald, paralegal April Sanchez, staff members Marti Guidoux, Donna Skarloken and Julie Jimenez and former Fenwick lawyer Stefan Szpajda. Litigation partner Lynn Pasahow provided advice and guidance.

As a firm, Fenwick places great value on pro bono work. Fenwick’s pro bono program includes civil rights, child advocacy and asylum work, as well as impact litigation. In the last three years, Fenwick lawyers have logged more than 50,000 pro bono hours valued at over $20 million in fees. Last year alone, the firm donated more than 19,000 hours valued at more than $9 million.

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