February 28, 2024

Munger, Tolles & Olson Recognized with Public Counsel’s 2023 Law Firm Pro Bono Award

Public Counsel has named Munger, Tolles & Olson the recipient of the 2023 Law Firm Pro Bono Award in recognition of MTO’s significant commitment of time and talent to Public Counsel, in impact litigation and other pro bono matters. The firm was recognized during Public Counsel’s William O. Douglas awards dinner held on February 25, 2024, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles. The event also recognized Congresswoman and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi with the William O. Douglas Award, and MTO client Mattel, Inc. with the Corporate Achievement Award.

In Stephen C. v. BIE, the firm and Public Counsel collaborated in challenging the federal government’s failure to provide adequate education to Havasupai children, ultimately obtaining the government’s commitment to pay for a third-party facilitator to work with the Havasupai Tribe and the government on reforming the school, to provide immediate funding to increase staffing at the school and to create an $850,000 fund for families to obtain extracurricular and enrichment activities. The litigation spanned more than six years and established in the Ninth Circuit that the government is required to comply with regulations dictating the minimum education that must be provided to Native American students. Then-MTO partner Brad Phillips initiated the litigation and, after Judge Phillips was appointed to the bench, current MTO partner Bryan Heckenlively led the matter to its successful conclusion.

In Kevin S. v. Blalock, the firm, Public Counsel and Stanford’s Youth & Education Law Project served as lead counsel for 14 foster children and two non-profit organizations who challenged the New Mexico child welfare system. The plaintiffs alleged that New Mexico’s system failed to place trauma-impacted children in appropriate homes or facilities, did not provide these children with needed behavioral health services and inflicted additional trauma on these children. Led by MTO partner Grant Davis-Denny, the MTO team worked with co-counsel to obtain a novel settlement requiring New Mexico to fundamentally reform its foster care system so that it addresses and mitigates trauma, provides children with appropriate placements, and gives them access to behavioral health care services. It also recognizes and addresses the specific needs and interests of Native American children in foster care. The settlement’s focus on trauma-responsiveness and on Native American children sets it apart from past efforts to reform state child welfare systems.

In August 2023, the firm, Public Counsel and two non-profit co-counsel firms initiated litigation challenging Los Angeles County’s and the State of California’s failure to ensure transition-age foster youth (ages 16-21) have access to the housing, behavioral health services and case plans to which they are legally entitled. Mr. Davis-Denny also co-leads that effort.

MTO partner Michael Soloff has worked tirelessly over more than 15 years partnering with Public Counsel and other legal services organizations to defend tenants facing eviction from their homes in Los Angeles County. Mr. Soloff has obtained precedential judicial opinions recognizing expanded tenants’ rights against unlawful evictions and helped hundreds of tenants stay in their homes.

MTO partner Stuart Senator has been a member of the board of directors of Public Counsel for many years and is currently also a member of the executive committee. He has previously co-chaired the Public Counsel Board’s volunteer committee, leading efforts to further engage law firms in providing pro bono legal services in partnership with Public Counsel. Mr. Senator also provides legal counsel to the organization in the area of legal ethics.

About Munger, Tolles & Olson’s Pro Bono Practice

Contributing to the community through pro bono work and other forms of volunteerism is a core tenet of the culture at Munger, Tolles & Olson. The firm was one of the charter signatories to the American Bar Association’s pro bono challenge and consistently devotes more than three percent of all attorney time to pro bono legal services.

Learn more about MTO’s pro bono practice and news.