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Criminal Justice Advocacy: A Discussion with Kevin Benedicto on Morgan Lewis’s Pro Bono Counsel to the San Francisco Bar Association

October 26, 2020

In July 2020, a Morgan Lewis team partnered with the Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) Criminal Justice Task Force (CJTF) to advise city leaders on various police reform proposals related to labor negotiations with the San Francisco Police Officers Association, the city’s police union. Below, associate Kevin Benedicto describes the efforts Morgan Lewis has undertaken with the CJTF and their importance.

What does the work entail? What are the issues at stake?

Morgan Lewis provides pro bono legal representation to the CJTF, which provides independent advice and advocacy to law enforcement agencies such as the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), as well as to city leaders and policymakers. I am part of the Morgan Lewis pro bono team that includes partner Clifford Sethness and associates Amy McGeever and Joseph Lewis. As part of our work, we have been advising the CJTF on a variety of legal issues, including issues related to police unions, labor relations, Public Records Act requests, and the ballot initiative process. Morgan Lewis lawyers have provided legal research and lent their knowledge and perspective to help the CJTF’s advocacy.

How and why did you get involved in the work?

Several factors contributed to our current involvement and pro bono work. In 2015, I was part of the Morgan Lewis pro bono team that represented the Blue Ribbon Panel on Transparency, Fairness, and Accountability in Law Enforcement, which conducted a one-year investigation in order to promote best practices and procedures into the San Francisco Police Department. Since then, Morgan Lewis has stayed active in the criminal justice reform space in San Francisco. In 2018, I was asked in my personal capacity to join the CJTF, and with the launch of the firm’s Mobilizing for Equality Task Force earlier this year, saw a great opportunity to connect the firm and the Bar Association and lend our experience to this work.

What is the status of the support we’re providing to BASF?

We are currently continuing our pro bono representation of the CJTF, working on a variety of issues. With the SFPD and city leaders continuing to discuss and tackle serious proposals for reform, and significant upcoming events such as ballot initiatives on police reform and the renegotiation of the city’s contract with the police union, the Bar Association expects to remain an active advocate in this space, and the firm expects to continue to assist the CJTF in this important work.

Why is it important to be involved in pro bono work like this?

As lawyers, we are called to defend the ideal of equal justice under the law, and it is so important that we contribute to this work at this critical moment. Lending our experience, our skills, and our resources to this important cause is a key way that lawyers at Morgan Lewis and elsewhere can improve our communities and our country. I am proud to be at a firm that has a serious dedication to pro bono, and to racial justice, and that it demonstrates this dedication through work such as this.