ACLU/SC Honors Manatt with Religious Liberty Award
Lawyers recognized for work on behalf of Buddhist congregation in zoning dispute.
LOS ANGELES AND ORANGE COUNTY, CA – June 22, 2009 – A team of Manatt lawyers who partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC) to help resolve a zoning dispute for a congregation of Buddhists with the City of Garden Grove, California, received the ACLU/SC’s Religious Liberty Award at the organization’s 15th Annual Law Luncheon on June 19, 2009, in Los Angeles, California. The award was accepted by the firm’s Managing Partner & CEO William T. Quicksilver and shared by Roger A. Grable, Susan K. Hori, Sean Matsler, Keli N. Osaki, Lauren Tang, Yi-Chin Ho and Cristin Zeisler.
At the heart of the two-year-long dispute was a request for a zoning change that would allow the Buddhist group to tear down an existing office complex and build a temple where some of its monks could live and worship along with community members.
The city initially denied the application, citing complaints from neighbors about increased noise and traffic. But the denial raised freedom-of-religion concerns among the group’s members.
Ms. Osaki, counsel in the firm’s Orange County office, led the multioffice Manatt team assisting the Buddhist congregants, along with the ACLU/SC and the law firm of Lee & Tran, LLP, as pro bono co-counsel.
With the legal team’s assistance, a settlement was reached in September 2008 whereby city staff agreed to recommend approval of a new application based on certain criteria. On March 5 of this year, the application was heard by the city's planning commission, but the staff report submitted to the commission included several conditions that would have been costly and that put limits on the temple's free exercise of Buddhism. The lawyers worked with the temple to appeal those items to the City Council on April 15, winning unanimous approval with a 4-0 vote.
"Freedom to worship is a cherished part of the American landscape,” said Ms. Osaki. “As a firm, we are extremely pleased for members of the Quan Am Temple, who are able to move forward. Manatt was proud to be a partner in this important effort."
Cristin Zeisler, Manatt’s director of pro bono activities, noted that “serving the needs of local communities is at the heart of what it means to be a Manatt lawyer. Whether we assist individuals with asylum claims, families with special needs or entire populations through impact litigation such as this matter, our lawyers dedicate themselves to the pursuit of justice.”
Manatt has a long history of pro bono leadership, with both professionals and staff actively involved in the firm’s many pro bono representations. In 2008, the firm devoted nearly 33,000 hours to serving hundreds of small nonprofit organizations and individuals unable to afford legal services. Earlier this year, the firm was recognized with the coveted National Law Journal's Pro Bono Project of the Year Award for creating and growing the nationwide Holocaust Survivors Justice Network – the single largest coordinated pro bono effort in U.S. history. In August, the Justice Network will be awarded the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award, the legal services community’s highest honor.
Over the years, numerous local, state and national bar associations, legal service entities and the media have honored the firm’s pro bono service.
About Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, provides legal and consulting services to a global client base from offices in Los Angeles, Orange County, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Sacramento, California; New York City and Albany, New York; and Washington, D.C. Manatt includes Manatt Health Solutions, a healthcare policy and strategic business advisory group, and ManattJones Global Strategies, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary that develops and implements strategies to expand client businesses and facilitate their effective competition in global markets. For more information, visit www.manatt.com, www.manatthealthsolutions.com, and www.manattjones.com.