ACLU Honors Law Firm for Helping Quash Laguna Beach's Anti-Homeless Ordinance

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Just shy of a year after Laguna Beach agreed to settle a federal lawsuit over the city's treatment of disabled homeless people, a law firm has been honored for its "outstanding pro bono work" in the case.

Irell & Manella, which has offices in Newport Beach and Los Angeles, recently received the 2010 Social Justice Award from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.

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The award was presented during the 16th annual ACLU Foundation Law Luncheon held June 10 at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in LA.

On behalf of 45 to 70 homeless people in Laguna Beach, the ACLU, Irell & Manella and UC Irvine law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky in December filed Sipprelle v. City of Laguna Beach over Laguna's controversial "anti-camping" ordinance.

The ordinance allowed police officers to cite or arrest people for sleeping in public places even if there was no health or safety risk present.

The homeless individuals' legal team claimed the ordinance selectively--and unconstitutionally--targeted the homeless.

The mere threat of legal action prompted the Laguna Beach City Council to repeal much of the ordinance, and after the suit was filed the law was essentially gutted.

Irell & Manella, according to a statement from the ACLU that hailed the settlement as "a major victory on behalf of the homeless community in Laguna Beach, Calif.," was further able to get the citations and arrests that the homeless people suffered as a result of the city's enforcement of the ordinance expunged.

The firm wound up donating the attorney's fees it received as part of the settlement to the Friendship Shelter.

"Irell played an extraordinary role in this case," said Ramona Ripston, ACLU's executive director, in a press statement. "Not only did the team provide exemplary legal counsel in a complex area of law, but they organized the homeless community, developed strong relationships with many of its members, educated them about their rights, and engaged city leaders to promote humane efforts to end homelessness."

Andra Barmash Greene, the managing partner in the firm's Newport Beach office who led an Irell team that included associates Jill Sperber, Brian Bark and Cathy Moses, returned the love.

"The ACLU has a long history of defending and preserving civil rights and liberties, which continuously shape U.S. constitutional law," Greene says in the same statement. "To be recognized by such an influential organization is quite an honor."

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