Bay Area Litigation Team Sets Important Precedent in Nationwide Fight Against Money Bail

Pro bono case focused on constitutional challenge of San Francisco’s system of cash bail.

March 05, 2019

Latham & Watkins attorneys Bob Sims, Sadik Huseny, Tyler Young, Aaron Chiu, Clare Toney, Ariel Rogers, and David Derrick, in collaboration with Equal Justice Under Law, won a major summary judgment victory this week in a high-profile constitutional challenge of San Francisco’s system of cash bail.  

Latham represents a class of indigent arrestees who are forced to remain in jail before arraignment under San Francisco’s bail schedule, while equally-situated arrestees with financial means go free. Latham brought the matter to the eve of trial and through renewed summary judgment, seeking to invalidate the bail schedule under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.  

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in the US District Court for the Northern District of California agreed with Latham’s arguments and granted summary judgment. In her opinion, Judge Rogers noted: “The evidence demonstrates that the Sheriff’s use of the Bail Schedule significantly deprives plaintiffs of their fundamental right to liberty, and a plausible alternative exists which is at least as effective and less restrictive for achieving the government’s compelling interests in protecting public safety and assuring future court appearances.” 

This victory is of particular significance because the bail industry is challenging California’s legislative attempt to repeal cash bail statewide. The Court’s careful and thorough framing of the constitutional issues at play will have far-reaching ramifications toward vindicating the constitutional liberty rights of the poor in California and beyond. 

“The Court’s ruling makes clear that operational efficiencies cannot trump the fundamental right to liberty—and rejects the idea that, for the poor, the presumption of detention is to replace the presumption of innocence,” said Sadik Huseny. “We look forward to working with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and relevant constituencies to help frame the contours of the injunction the Court will issue.”

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