Ruth Borenstein, senior counsel in Morrison & Foerster’s San Francisco litigation group, has been named the recipient of the 2016 Kathi Pugh Award for Pro Bono Service.
Morrison & Foerster established the award in 2013 when Kathi Pugh retired after two decades of running the firm’s pro bono program. It recognizes the values, enthusiasm, and compassion that Ms. Pugh brought to the pro bono program and celebrates the remarkable ways that lawyers like Ms. Borenstein continue Ms. Pugh’s legacy.
In her almost three decades with the firm, Ms. Borenstein has made pro bono work central to her practice. Her extensive work on LGBT rights in general, and marriage equality in particular, has played a key role in the dramatic legal changes in this area.
Ms. Borenstein litigated marriage equality cases in state and federal courts in Montana. She filed amicus briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Harold Hongju Koh and other leading foreign and comparative law experts when the Court considered challenges to bans on same-sex marriage in Hollingsworth v. Perry and Obergefell v. Hodges. Ms. Borenstein and her wife Karen also directly challenged California’s Proposition 8, becoming lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit to void that enactment, which for a time ended same-sex marriage in the state.
All told, Ms. Borenstein’s long pro bono career has encompassed nearly 20 different matters to advance the rights of LGBT people. Her advocacy has run the gamut, ranging from a state court case protecting a lesbian couple from harassment, to representing the American Bar Association as an amicus in Lawrence v. Texas, the case that ended criminal penalties for same-sex relationships. Most recently, she worked on a matter culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous reversal of Alabama’s refusal to recognize second-parent adoptions granted in other states.
As the winner of the Kathi Pugh Award, Ms. Borenstein has the opportunity to direct a $10,000 donation to a nonprofit legal services organization that enhances access to justice. She has directed the contribution, which will be funded jointly by the Firm and the Foundation, to be shared by Lambda Legal and the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project.