These are some of the cases Michael Risher is litigating or has litigated, with links to more information:
Brodheim v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation: An analysis of data from 2014-2015 found “significant differences in [California’s] parole grant rate among different racial groups” when other potentially confounding variables are held constant. See Kristin Bell, A Stone of Hope: Legal and Empirical Analysis of California Juvenile Lifer Parole Decisions, 54 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, 455, 473, 486 (2019). Specifically, “[i]n the majority of categories, the grant rate among Black candidates is lower than that of candidates of other racial/ethnic groups.” Id. The CDCR has since refused to release data that would allow the public to see whether these disparities still exist. This lawsuit sought to require the CDCR to release this critical information. On July 16, 2020, the San Francisco Superior Court ordered the agency to release the requested information.
Oakland Privacy v. City of Vallejo: Cell-site simulators — also known as Stingrays — are police surveillance devices that impersonate cell-phone towers and trick all cellular devices within their range into transmitting through them, rather than through the carrier’s tower. The police can then track these phones. Because this technology can invade privacy and disrupt cellular service, California law requires cities to go through a number of steps before they buy one of these devices. Vallejo failed to do this before it bought its cell-site-simulator. This lawsuit therefore seeks to stop the City from using its cell-site simulator until it complies with the law.
Stiavetti v. Ahlin: A suit to require the state to provide prompt treatment to people who have been found incompetent to stand trial in their criminal cases because of a developmental disability or mental illness, rather than warehousing them in jail for months with no competency treatment. On March 22, 2019, the Alameda County Superior Court ordered the state Department of State Hospitals and Department of Developmental Services to begin reducing these wait times so that they admit these individuals within 28 days of receiving the required documents from the court. After the government appealed, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court in June 2021.
Center for Genetics and Society v. Becerra: A lawsuit to stop California from continuing to retain DNA samples seized from people who have never been convicted of a crime. Under the current law, if you are arrested on suspicion of a felony but never convicted or even charged with a crime, you have to give a DNA sample, which the government then analyzes and includes in its criminal-DNA database, where it will sit forever unless you go through a procedure to try to get it removed. We are asking the court to order that the government automatically remove these samples. After the superior court dismissed the case, the Court of Appeal partially reversed.
First Amendment Coalition v. Becerra: A California Public Records Act suit against the California Attorney General to obtain records related to officer-involved shootings, use of force, sexual assault, and dishonesty, under California’s 2018 law expanding access to peace-officer records. On May 17, 2019, the San Francisco Superior Court issued an order directing the A.G. to release the records. The Attorney General asked the Court of Appeal to reverse the order, but that Court refused to do so. See Becerra v. Superior Court, 44 Cal. App. 5th 897 (2020).
Walnut Creek Police Officers Assn. v. City of Walnut Creek: A suit by several law-enforcement unions arguing that California’s 2018 law expanding access to peace-officer records does not apply to records relating to incidents that occurred before 2019. Both the Superior Court and the Court of Appeal rejected that argument, holding that the law applies to all records covered by the new law, regardless of when they were created. The government has since released thousands of pages of records.
Berkeleyside v. City of Berkeley: A California Public Records Act suit to obtain records related to officer-involved shootings, use of force, sexual assault, and dishonesty, under California’s 2018 law expanding access to peace-officer records. The City agreed to release these records soon after the suit was filed.
Think Computer Foundation v. Santa Clara Superior Court: A lawsuit arguing that the Santa Clara Superior Court must allow online access to court orders and documents in most of its civil cases. Less than three months after the suit was filed, the court changed its policy and began allowing the requested access.
Scott v. Bowen: A challenge to the California Secretary of State’s unilateral decision to disenfranchise tens of thousands of California citizens living in the community after serving sentences for non-serious felony offenses. The Alameda County Superior Court held that this decision was wrong and that these individuals do have the right to vote. The state dropped its appeal as part of a settlement.
League of Women Voters v. Kelly: A suit to require California to make it easier for people to register to vote when they renew their drivers’ license by mail, as required by the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter). As part of a settlement, the State agreed to bring its procedures into compliance with the law.
Al-Mowafak v. Trump: A challenge to the Trump administration’s attempts to ban people from several majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.
La Follette v. Padilla: A suit to stop California elections officials from secretly rejecting thousands of mail-in ballots because they believe that the signature on the ballot envelope does not match on file for the voter, without providing the voter with any notice or opportunity to show that the signature is genuine. The San Francisco Superior Court ruled that this is unconstitutional and that elections officials cannot reject ballots without providing voters with notice and an opportunity to show that their signatures are genuine. In response, the California Legislature passed a law to fix the problem.
Electronic Frontier Foundation v. County of San Bernardino: A California Public Records Act suit to obtain records about search warrants where cell-site simulators — devices that allow police to locate and track people by tricking their cell phones into a connection — were authorized in criminal investigations. The County eventually released the warrant numbers as a result of the lawsuit, and EFF has now asked the Court to unseal those warrants.
Haskell v. Harris: An 8-year challenge to a California law that requires anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony to provide the police with a DNA sample. After three arguments (in 2013, 2012, and 2010) in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the appellate court remanded the case to the trial court, which eventually dismissed the matter.
Doe v. Harris: A challenge to an unconstitutional requirement that tens of thousands of Californians with sex-related convictions on their record, not matter how old, provide the police with information about their online speech. The federal district court and the United States Court of Appeals both held that the law violated the First Amendment. The California Legislature has since repealed the unconstitutional provisions.
ACLU-NC v. U.S. Department of Justice: A federal Freedom of Information Act case to obtain information about the government’s use of cell-site simulators, which are devices that allow police to locate and track people by tricking their cell phones into a connection.
ACLU-NC v. Federal Bureau of Investigation: A federal Freedom of Information Act case to obtain information about the FBI’s surveillance of the Occupy movement.
Byrd v. Fresno: A challenge to local laws that prohibit seriously ill Californians from cultivating medical marijuana as authorized by state law.
ACLU-NC v. CDCR: A California Public Records Act suit to force the California Department of Corrections to disclose how it was obtaining drugs to use in administering the death penalty. The San Francisco Superior Court and then the California Court of Appeal ordered the CDCR to turn the documents over.
Harris v. Los Angeles: A California Public Records Act suit to obtain records from the Los Angeles District Attorney about the costs of prosecuting capital cases. The government initially claimed it had no responsive records, but in response to the lawsuit, it provided over 200 pages of responsive documents.
People v. Allen: An amicus brief arguing that the court should dismiss felony conspiracy charges against two photojournalists who accompanied a group of activists into a vacant bank building. The court dismissed the charges, citing the amicus brief.
In re Taylor: A habeas corpus petition arguing that Mr. Taylor was improperly sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for a crime committed when he was 16 years old. The California Supreme Court granted an order to show cause, meaning that it determined that Mr. Taylor was likely entitled to relief, and sent the case to the Los Angeles Superior Court for a hearing.
Baker v. Katehi: A suit on behalf of U.C. Davis students who were pepper-sprayed while demonstrating on the university quadrangle. The University officials settled the suit, agreeing to pay one million dollars, reform their policing policies and procedures, and issue a formal apology to the students.
Brown v. Shasta High School District: A challenge to to a Northern California school district’s policy of mandatory drug testing for students who take part in activities such as choir and the math team. The superior court and the California Court of Appeal held that the program violated the California Constitution.
Kincaid v. City of Fresno: A lawsuit on behalf of several hundred homeless residents of Fresno, California, to stop the city and the state Department of Transportation from continuing to repeatedly take and destroy their clothing, medicine, and other personal property without warning. After the federal court issued an injunction stopping this unconstitutional program, the government agreed to change its policies and pay $2.35 million as part of a settlement.
In re Casillas: A set of three habeas corpus petitions arguing that criminal courts were violating the First Amendment by prohibiting people arrested during Occupy Oakland demonstrations from Plaza in front of Oakland City Hall.
ACLU v. CDCR: A California Public Records Act suit to force the California Department of Corrections to release information about people serving life sentences for crimes committed as juveniles. As a result of the lawsuit and a superior court order the CDCR provided the information.
Long Haul v Regents of the University of California: A lawsuit on behalf of two San Francisco Bay Area community organizations after the groups’ computers were seized and the data copied by federal and local law enforcement. The parties settled the lawsuit and the government agreed to delete improperly seized computer data and pay $100,000 in damages and attorney’s fees.
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children v. California Department of Corrections: A suit to require the CDCR to publish formal, public regulations that say exactly which prisoners can be transferred to prisons in other states and what rights those prisoners have. After we filed suite the CDCR complied with the law and published the regulations.
ACLU of Northern California v. City of Fresno: A California Public Records Act suit to force the City of Fresno to release the names of officers who had been videotaped beating a homeless man. The City released the names in response to the lawsuit.
Maryland v. King: An amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court arguing that taking and analyzing DNA samples from people merely arrested on suspicion of a felony violates the Fourth Amendment.
People v. Buza: An amicus brief in the California Supreme Court arguing that taking and analyzing DNA samples from people merely arrested on suspicion of a felony violates the Fourth Amendment.
City of San Jose v. Superior Court: An amicus brief in the California Supreme Court arguing that the California Public Records Act requires government officials to disclose emails they send or receive relating to government business, even when they use their personal email accounts.