Tuesday, October 30, 2001
Former Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee to Join Lieff Cabraser
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
Former U.S. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee, who played a pivotal role in the probe that concluded with a consent decree for Los Angeles police reform, will join the national firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein Thursday to head the firm’s human rights practice, the firm reported yesterday.
A noted Los Angeles civil rights attorney, Lee has been a visiting professor at Columbia Law School since leaving the Clinton Administration’s Justice Department in January.
He will split his time between Lieff Cabraser’s San Francisco and Washington, D.C. offices until he moves into the San Francisco branch full-time in June, firm founding partner Robert Lieff said.
“I am proud to join a firm that has taken seriously our law’s promise of equality and fairness,” Lee said.
Lee spent 14 years in Los Angeles, serving five years as supervising attorney for civil rights litigation with the Center for Law in the Public Interest and nine years at the local chapter of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund before then-President Clinton named him acting head of the Civil Rights Division in 1997.
As assistant attorney general, Lee directed the consent decree with Los Angeles after a four-year investigation found that the Los Angeles Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of civil rights violations, including false arrests, searches and seizures.
He also supervised prosecution of hate crimes, employment discrimination, mistreatment of the disabled, and other civil rights violations.
USC Law Professor Erwin Chemerinsky called Lee’s move to Northern California an “enormous loss for the Los Angeles legal community.”
“He’s one of the best lawyers I’ve ever known,” Chemerinsky said. “While I’m sad he’s not going to be in Los Angeles, I’m happy he’s going to be in California.”
Having Lee in California, even part-time, is a blessing for civil rights litigation in the state, Mark Rosenbaum of the ACLU-Southern California said.
“It would be like Michael Jordan signing with the Golden State Warriors instead of the Wizards,” Rosenbaum said. “This helps make San Francisco a center of gravity for civil rights.”
“He has an enormous amount of experience,” Rosenbaum said of Lee. “Fifty percent of his time is worth twice as much as anyone else’s.”
In addition to heading the human rights practice, Lee will also co-chair Leiff Cabraser’s employment practice.
One of Lee’s first cases with his new firm is a class action to ensure that thousands of Mexican “Braceros”—contract workers brought into the U.S. during World II to work on farms and railroads—receive wages that were withheld from them. The workers were forced to deposit part of their wages into forced savings accounts in Mexico to ensure their departure when their contracts expired, but many still haven’t received that money.
“Given his background and his experience with human rights issues, we are very happy to have him,” Lieff said. “It was just a natural fit for him.”
He began his career in New York with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1974 and has served as council for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company