FELDMAN ORLANSKY & SANDERS has a strong commitment to pro bono and public interest representation. The firm was one of five firms in the country to receive The National Law Journal's annual pro bono award. In 2005, the firm was recognized by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union as Civil Libertarians of the Year for its work in a series of pro bono civil liberties cases. In 2010, the firm received the annual John Rader Award by Planned Parenthood for its work in the area of protecting reproductive rights.
The firm's pro bono work includes:
The firm represented Planned Parenthood in two recent cases (Planned Parenthood of Alaska v. Campbell, Fischer v. Campbell) involving challenges to ballot initiatives that impose restrictions on abortion rights.
In Planned Parenthood of Alaska v. State of Alaska, the firm served as co-counsel with the Center for Reproductive Rights in representing Planned Parenthood and a group of physicians challenging Alaska's statutes requiring parental consent for performance of an abortion on a minor. The firm developed the evidence showing that the judicial bypass process would not be a workable option for young women living in small villages in rural Alaska, and that the law therefore would effectively make it impossible for young women in these villages to exercise their right to choose. The firm prevailed at trial and on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. The requirement of parental consent is now unconstitutional in Alaska.
In Valley Hospital Association, Inc. v. Mat-Su Coalition for Choice, the firm represented the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Women's Association as amici curiae before the Alaska Supreme Court in a case challenging restrictions on lawful abortion procedures imposed by a quasi-public hospital. The firm also assisted in Perdue v. Planned Parenthood of Alaska, successfully challenging a ban on Medicaid funding for medically necessary abortions for poor women, making Alaska one of the few states where poor women may obtain medically necessary abortions.
In Council of Alaska Producers. et al. v. Sean Parnell, Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alaska, et al., the firm represents a coalition of groups and individuals sponsoring a ballot initiative that would impose clean water standards on large scale mining projects in Alaska. The initative was triggered by a proposal to develop what would be the largest gold mine in North America adjacent to Bristol Bay, which supports the world's largest run of wild salmon. Mining interests have sued, seeking to have the initiative removed from ballot on constitutional grounds.
The firm represents Elroy Chester, an inmate currently on death row in Texas. Mr. Chester received a capital sentence for the murder of an off-duty fireman in Beaumont, Texas. Subsequent to the imposition of his sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia that the Eighth Amendment prohibits execution of mentally retarded offenders. Mr. Chester has a long history of having been diagnosed by Texas schools and prisons as mentally retarded and the firm is seeking to establish that, under Atkins, his death sentence is unconstitutional. The case raises issues of first impression involving the constitutional standards and procedures for determining a mental retardation claim in a capital case. The case currently is on appeal and awaiting decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In Murtagh v. State, the firm represented a group of criminal defense attorneys and investigators in a civil declaratory judgment action that challenges state laws restricting the ability of defense lawyers and investigators to contact and interview victims and witnesses. Plaintiffs contended that the laws violated equal protection, due process, and the right to effective assistance of counsel. The firm prevailed at trial and on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court, and substantial portions of the law were deemed unconstitutional.
In Cook v. Rowland, the firm represented an inmate convicted of murdering a police officer in an appeal from a civil wrongful death case in which a default judgment had been obtained while he was unrepresented. The Alaska Supreme Court ruled for the inmate on both issues presented in the appeal.
In Robertson v. Phillips, the firm represented a mother with potentially terminal breast cancer who sought to retain custody of her young son. A favorable decision was rendered at trial, and the trial court's decision was, thereafter, affirmed on appeal. The firm continued to represent the mother as the case proceeded on appeal for the second time to the Alaska Supreme Court, this time on the father’s efforts to disturb the trial court’s custody order, and on remand following the second appeal.
The firm currently is representing the Alaska Judicial Council in a constitutional challenge to Alaska's merit-based system of selecting judges. The firm prevailed on behalf of the Judicial Council in the district court and the case now is on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The American Judicature Society and the Brennan Center for Justice are appearing as amicus curiae in the case in support of the Judicial Council's position.
The firm represented a group of state legislators who successfully challenged the Lieutenant Governor’s refusal to place a ballot initiative on the statewide election ballot.
The firm represented U.S. Senator Mark Begich, then mayor-elect of Anchorage, in fast-moving proceedings in both federal and state court that contested municipal election results, and in an election recount proceeding. Mr. Begich won the recount and the federal lawsuit, and prevailed both at trial and on appeal to the Alaska Supreme Court. The firm continued to serve as counsel for Senator Begich in elections-related matters during his successful senate campaign, including challenges to the ballot tablulation following Senator's Begich's narrow victory over then-Senator Ted Stevens.
The firm litigated Hogan v. von Raab, the ACLU national test case challenging the U.S. Customs Department's "Zero Tolerance Policy," which authorized the seizure of boats, cars, and other property of innocent owners in which small quantities of drugs, in the possession of passengers and other individuals, were found.
Firm members dedicate additional time to serving on a number of committees and public commissions. Jeff Feldman completed a 13-year tenure as the Chair of the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is responsible for judicial discipline in Alaska. Susan Orlansky served a six-year term as a member of the Alaska Judicial Council, which is responsible for judicial selection and retention. Mr. Feldman, Mr. Sanders, and Ms. Orlansky also frequently participate as lecturers in CLE programs sponsored by the Alaska Bar Association, the American Board of Trial Advocates, the Alaska Academy of Trial Lawyers, and the Alaska Court System.