Team Name: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips Pro Bono Team
Team Member Names: Andrea Bird, Lillian Chu
Honored by: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
Since its founding 50 years ago by two visionaries – Thomas Phelps and Charles Manatt – the law firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP has committed itself as a firm and as a community of professionals to ensuring that the most vulnerable among us have access to justice and to effective legal advocates. The firm’s pro bono program has been nationally recognized for creating large, groundbreaking efforts that make a positive difference for thousands, as well as for partnering with outstanding legal services organizations to provide direct representation to individuals in need. Last year, the firm dedicated more than 21,500 hours to pro bono work. Andrea Bird and Lillian Chu, both associates in the firm’s Orange County office, have done exceptional and impactful work over the past 12 months, and are emblematic of the firm’s commitment to pro bono legal services in our communities. Both are deserving of this PLC volunteer honor. In 2015, Andrea Bird and a team of attorneys including Lillian Chu, with support from the Public Law Center, secured a groundbreaking victory for transgender immigrants seeking relief from torture when the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit suspended the deportation of a transgender Mexican woman. The opinion in Avendano-Hernandez v. Lynch is far-reaching and precedent-setting, as it distinguishes gender identity from sexual orientation, identifies the unique vulnerabilities faced by transgender individuals, and recognizes that the Convention Against Torture (CAT) does not require acquiescence of a higher level of government when low-level public officials commit torture. On Sept. 3, the Ninth Circuit overturned a Los Angeles immigration court’s 2013 decision to deport Carey Avendano-Hernandez to Mexico, ruling that she was protected under CAT. The three-judge panel determined the immigration court and Board of Immigration Appeals conflated gender identity with sexual orientation and erroneously concluded that the passage of laws in Mexico intended to protect gay and lesbian individuals demonstrated a commitment to protecting the rights of transgender people. In the opinion, the Ninth Circuit went further by clearly defining gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as clarifying the application of country conditions evidence. In addition to suspending the deportation of Avendano-Hernandez, who came to the U.S. seeking protection after being beaten and raped by Mexican law enforcement and military officials, the decision opens the door for other transgender people fleeing persecution in their native lands and seeking refuge in the U.S. This significance of this important victory was covered by international media, including a Sept. 3 article in The Atlantic, “An Important Ruling for Transgender Rights”. In addition to this very significant case, both Andrea and Lillian undertake considerable pro bono work. This past year alone, Lillian contributed over 300 hours of pro bono service, including representing an elderly, low income man who was accused of bribing a public official in his criminal appeal. Over the course of the last three years, Andrea has contributed over 900 hours of pro bono legal service.