United States: Matters That Matter: August Pro Bono Roundup

Last Updated: August 30 2019
Article by Morrison & Foerster LLP

In this edition of Matters That Matter, we honor the many lawyers who have dedicated their time to important pro bono causes. This month highlights a variety of worthy projects, such as helping an organization dedicated to finding a cure for an aggressive form of cancer, encouraging the development of LGBTQ+ writers through the incorporation of a literacy foundation, and advocating for domestic violence survivors. These are just a few examples of the many ways our lawyers are living out our proud pro bono tradition every day.

Helping Lambda Literary Establish a Legal Footprint in NY

New York corporate attorneys Dario de Martino and Ryan Farha are helping existing client Lambda Literary with advice regarding its operating status in New York. The Lambda Literary Foundation, based in Los Angeles, is a nonprofit organization that encourages the development of LGBTQ+ writers. The organization hosts a number of programs designed to help emerging writers, including the annual Lambda Literary Awards, the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, Lambda Literary Review, a weekly e-newsletter, an annual anthology, scholarships, and the LGBTQ writers in schools program.

Although it is licensed to do business in New York, the Lambda Literary Foundation is not a New York entity. By establishing a legal footprint in New York, the foundation may be in a better position to qualify for much-needed funding opportunities and financial benefits available only to New York entities.

MoFo's pro bono team is advising the foundation on whether to incorporate in New York and other actions it can, and should, take to qualify for these opportunities. In addition, Washington, D.C. litigation attorneys Kevin Mullen and Alissandra Young are providing the client advice regarding compliance with the terms of a New York City Department of Education grant.

Advancing Research to Cure Aggressive Cancer (ROS1+)

San Diego corporate attorneys Steve Rowles, Lisa Abbot, Shai Kalansky, and Kevin McKenna assisted ROS1DERS with incorporating as a nonprofit in California. ROS1DERS was started by a group of patients and their family members as a means of support to those facing a very aggressive form of cancer known as ROS1 positive (ROS1+).

ROS1+ cancer occurs when a gene called ROS1 fuses with a nearby gene and swaps pieces of DNA. It occurs in 1-2% of non-small cell lung cancers, and has also been found in a number of other cancers as well. ROS1ders has catalyzed a unique program: a clinical trial that will accept tissue samples from across the globe, allowing researchers to gather enough data to investigate ROS1 issues in ways that would not be possible in geographically based clinical trials.

Supporting Harvard World Model United Nations for its 2020 Tokyo Conference

MoFo is assisting the Harvard World Model United Nations (WorldMUN), a nonprofit run by Harvard undergraduate students, in connection with the Harvard World Model United Nations conference in Tokyo in 2020. In Tokyo, MoFo corporate attorneys Stan Yukevich and Ethan Donovan are advising WorldMUN on its agreement with a Japanese student-run organization. The agreement will govern the working relationship of the parties as they coordinate the Tokyo conference. In Boston, MoFo corporate attorney Leo Martin is supporting WorldMUN on entity formation and filing matters, and tax attorney Katherine Erbeznik in New York is supporting on WorldMUN's 501(c)(3) status.

Each year, WorldMUN selects a country through a competitive bid process for its conference of around 2,000 students from over 100 countries, where students simulate the United Nations and draft policies to tackle topics such as poverty, educational inequalities, migration, and LGBTQ+ rights. The conference frequently features high profile guest speakers such as Pope Francis, the President of Panama, and the King of Spain. The Tokyo conference will be held in March 2020, and has received approval for a subsidy from the Tokyo government.

Fighting for Tenants' Rights in LA

Los Angeles litigation attorneys David Walsh, Sylvia Rivera, Niles Pierson, Billy Herbert, and Soo Park are acting as co-counsel with the Inner City Law Center (ICLC) in a tenants' rights lawsuit. ICLC is preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of 27 individuals who are tenants in a six-unit building, subject to rent control, located in the East Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Among other issues, the building has infestations, leaking pipes, clogged sinks, bad plumbing, crumbling walls and ceilings, and mold. In late 2018, the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department cited the building owners for over 100 violations and later found that they failed to comply with repair orders. ICLC believes that the owners of the building are attempting to harass long-term tenants in the hopes of getting them to vacate the premises so the owners can move in new tenants at higher rents.

ICLC plans to file suit in Los Angeles Superior Court against the owners, former owners, and former building management. The claims will include Breach of Warranty of Habitability, Negligence, Premises Liability, Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, Breach of Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment, Negligent Maintenance, Violation of Unfair Competition Law, Excessive Collection of Rent, Nuisance, Collection of Rent on a Substandard Dwelling, Negligent Failure to Provide Habitable Premises, and Harassment.

Promoting Financial Independence for Domestic Violence Survivors

San Francisco litigation partners Anna Erickson White and Christine Wong, working with summer associates David Gorsche, Kelsey Miller, and Joline Desruisseaux, assisted FreeFrom with multi-state research on the laws of criminal restitution for victims of domestic and gender-based violence. FreeFrom is a California-based nonprofit whose mission is to create pathways to financial security and long-term safety for survivors of gender-based violence.

Survivors are often unaware that they can seek restitution, which is available as a component of sentencing in any criminal matter where the victim suffers financial loss as a result of the crime. To make seeking restitution easier, FreeFrom launched a California-specific online compensation tool that provides survivors of domestic and gender-based violence with information on how to obtain financial compensation for the harm that they have suffered. Our research will help FreeFrom expand this tool to help survivors in other states advocate for themselves and achieve financial independence.

Offering Structuring Advice for Cleaner Waterways

Miami corporate attorneys Alexandra Aguirre and Roberto Rodriguez, with assistance from San Francisco tax attorney Lauren Keller, are providing structuring advice to microTERRA, a for-profit social enterprise that is incorporated in Mexico. microTERRA is a startup that uses microalgae to produce an organic fertilizer from the excess nutrients in agricultural wastewater.

microTERRA manufactures, sells, and installs systems that transform waste into a resource, cleaning the water and making it reusable to irrigate crops. Over time, microTERRA's goal is to reduce the use of synthetic fertilizer and clean Latin America's waterways. The company was founded by Marissa Cuevas, a 2019 Echoing Green Fellow, who has received other awards including being named an "Ocean Leader" by the Sustainable Ocean Alliance. The attorneys will help microTERRA incorporate in the U.S. as a C Corp., as required for an accelerator program that microTERRA joined, and will help structure a services arrangement to enable running the business from Mexico.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

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