O’Melveny Worldwide

Law360: How O’Melveny Shut Down Challenge To Calif. Execution Ban

November 12, 2021

An O’Melveny & Myers LLP team recently overcame a challenge to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on executions in state, enabling some 730 inmates on death row to breathe a sigh of relief. A lawsuit filed by Republican activist and talk radio host James Lacy challenged the moratorium in February 2021 and the O’Melveny team focused, not on his technical arguments, but on whether Lacy had standing to bring the suit in the first place. “As a litigator the first thing you always look for is ‘Is there going to be a more simple, direct threshold issue that a judge can latch onto, without needing to delve into the substance of the arguments at hand?’” said O’Melveny partner Brett Williamson. “We thought there was a real problem with standing here, so not knowing which judge was going to hear the case, we decided to lead with that.” Kelli Evans, who was one of Governor Newsom’s legal advisers at the time, told O’Melveny’s managing counsel for pro bono, David A. Lash, about the case and he pitched it to Williamson. “We felt this particular engagement was important not just because of the interest some of us already had in the death penalty in general, but especially because Gov. Newsom had stated that the moratorium was expressly premised on what I think is now universally recognized as the primary problem with the death penalty, namely that it is unequally applied to the poor, people of color, and the mentally ill,” Williamson said. Newsom and Allison are represented by Brett Williamson, Bill Trac, Meaghan VerGow, Susannah Howard, James Yi Li and Lauren Kenney-Hanzich of O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

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