California Lawyer magazine announced that Morrison & Foerster partners Arturo González and Wes Overson, and associates Ted Hasse and Felicia Gilbert have been awarded 2013 California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year (CLAY) Awards. The CLAY Awards are given to California lawyers whose achievements had a significant impact over the past year, or whose work is expected to have such an effect in the coming years.
Mr. González, Mr. Overson, Mr. Hasse and Ms. Gilbert are being honored in the Civil Rights Law category for their work on behalf of the family and estate of Steve Anthony Vargas of Fresno, who was unarmed when fatally shot eight times by a Fresno police officer in 2009. At trial, the team advanced a difficult argument, namely, that the City of Fresno was liable because the shooting was part of a pattern of unlawful police shootings within the Fresno Police Department. The case shined an intense spotlight on the Fresno police department's training, investigation and discipline protocols.
In December 2011, a jury found the City of Fresno liable for violating the Fourth Amendment based on the pattern of police shootings. Following the jury verdict, in January 2012, the city of Fresno settled the case for $1.3 million. The settlement also includes important policy changes for the Fresno Police Department: adoption of new written policies to properly investigate police shootings, a "good-faith effort" to complete all officer-involved shooting investigations within one year and family status updates if an investigation is not complete six months after a shooting incident.
The awards will be presented by the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court in March in San Francisco and an article on the case will be published in California Lawyer's March 2013 issue.