November 4, 2008 4:14 PM
ELECTION 2008: Spotting Law Firm Trends in Proposition 8 Camps
Posted by Zach Lowe
It's not a surprise that Laura Brill of Irell & Manella donated $15,000 to a group opposing California's ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage; Brill, who is gay, wrote an amicus brief asking the California Supreme Court to strike down the state's ban on gay marriage--which the court did in May.
It is perhaps more of a surprise that Knobbe Martens Olson & Bear associate Jeff Van Hoosear contributed $4,000 to fight Prop. 8 in recent weeks; Van Hoosear, who is gay, works at the firm most united in its opposition to gay marriage, according to donor records.
Irell is one of the few firms with a decidedly con position on the highly contested Proposition 8, according to donor filings with the California Secretary of State. Irell attorneys come up seven times on a list of people who donated recently or contributed more than $5,000 to fight Proposition 8; there were no Irell lawyers who came up on the other side.
"We've always been a very diverse and open place," Brill says, "and we've done other pro bono work in support of gay civil rights."
Most firms don't have such a unified record, according to the Daily Journal, which last week found that 2,600 attorneys, judges, and law professors donated about $1.6 million total to the Prop. 8 debate, with those against the initiative (and thus for keeping gay marriage legal) giving 14 percent more than those supporting the measure.
It starts at the top. Firm chair Keith Wetmore is gay, and he contributed $15,000 to fight Prop. 8.
"It's a matter of civil rights," Wetmore says. But the firm took no stance on the issue, and Wetmore says he wouldn't have any problem with MoFo lawyers contributing to the other side. "I find myself disagreeing often with my colleagues," Wetmore says with a laugh. That's good news for Nathan Jensen, a MoFo associate who donated $15,000 in support of Prop. 8. Jensen did not return messages seeking comment.
Jensen would be most at home at Knobbe among all California firms, records show. Lawyers there donated $23,500 in support of Prop. 8 after Oct. 1; over the same period, firm attorneys donated only $6,000 to the other side, and one associate, Van Hoosear, contributed $4,000 of that amount.
A former Knobbe associate, Brian Leubitz, suggested on a California-themed blog that Knobbe's stance on the issue stemmed from the high number of Mormons at the firm.
Van Hoosear, who is gay and married, confirms that's part of the explanation. But he says he's "comfortable" at Knobbe, even though the passionate intersection of religion and politics surrounding Prop. 8 has surprised him.
"It has been a little uncomfortable lately," Van Hoosear says. "But we don't talk politics a lot here. It remains under the surface. I'm sure there are some people here who aren't that happy with it," he says of his marriage and stance against Prop. 8. "But I am treated professionally."
Several Knobbe partners and a firm spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.Make a comment