“The law is a valuable tool for solving problems, but good public policy gives us a whole range of tools to solve the toughest problems.”
Jeff was the kid who stood up for others who were being picked on at school. Engaging in community work is just part of his nature. The greater the injustice, the more Jeff wanted to play a role in fixing it.
He began his law career helping those who couldn’t afford a lawyer, fighting for veterans to get healthcare, helping homeless people who were being punished simply because they had no place else to go, and assisting immigrants who were wrongfully detained.
Jeff built a reputation as one of the best lawyers in America, successfully arguing cases at every level up to the Supreme Court, and always using some of his legal and policy talents for the good of our most vulnerable communities. He stood up and fought to win justice during some of the most historic challenges facing California and our nation:
Standing Up for Immigrants
To score political points with the far right, Governor Pete Wilson championed an initiative to deny basic services, such as school and emergency medical care to children of undocumented immigrants. Jeff served with the team of lawyers that went into court the morning after Prop 187 passed, and won a ruling that prevented that divisive law from ever being enforced.
Giving A Voice to the Most Impoverished
In a cynical attempt to sweep homelessness under the rug, Mayor Frank Jordan of San Francisco established a program of citing and fining homeless people for simply existing in public spaces with their belongings, often directing them to take BART to Oakland to avoid fines. Jeff challenged those laws, and brought attention to real solutions that the next Mayor, Willie Brown, used to actually address some of the needs of homeless people.
Protecting Equal Access to College
Jeff helped protect diversity and equal access to higher education by exposing the discriminatory language within Prop 209. The U.S. Supreme Court ended up repealing portions of the initiative that would have prohibited California from collecting data to prove discrimination in college admissions.
“I just looked at it as plain discrimination – it’s wrong, and we need to strike it down. These are our neighbors, our friends. They have the same hopes and dreams we all have.”
Overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
Navy Lieutenant Paul Thomasson served his country with pride and honesty. He would not lie about who he was or who he loved. Working with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Jeff championed this civil rights fight on behalf of Lt. Thomasson through the courts and helped carve the path for gay men and women to be recognized, respected, and openly serve in our nation’s military.
Recognition for Hong Yen Chang
Jeff helped force the State of California to reverse a more than century-old ruling that denied Hong Yen Chang’s right to practice law. He would have been the first Chinese-American licensed lawyer in the United States. The legal victory gave Mr. Chang posthumous membership in the State Bar of California and an official apology to his family and all Chinese-Americans.
Preventing Mass Shootings
President Bill Clinton recruited Jeff to head up his administration’s Youth Violence Commission after the Columbine shooting. Under Jeff’s leadership, the commission created and enacted widely-respected bipartisan solutions.
Standing Up to the Gun Lobby
Jeff had been warned not to represent cities and counties ravaged by gun violence in a legal action because his involvement could jeopardize possible Senate confirmation if appointed to a position by President Obama. Jeff put the safety of California families above his own political opportunities and argued all the way to the Supreme Court that communities have the authority to close the gun show loophole that allows criminals, terrorists, persons accused of domestic violence, and people with mental illnesses to obtain firearms.
“Everything of significance that I’ve accomplished in my life came with other people pitching in. We all need the help of others at some point to succeed.”
Scholarships and Mentoring for College
As part of his legal efforts in challenging Prop 209, Jeff helped fund and organize other attorneys to contribute to the School to College program organized by the Bar Association of San Francisco, as well as the BASF and State Bar minority scholarship programs that gave kids a leg up toward affording a college education.
Defending The American Dream
Jeff understands that kids who work hard, get good grades, and want to contribute to our communities shouldn’t be penalized for their income bracket or citizenship status. As a Trustee for the California State University system, he took the fight to the legislature for lower tuition rates, and championed the rights of DREAMers to pursue their education.
Preventing Domestic Violence
Along with Vice President Joe Biden and baseball Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays, Jeff helped form a group called the Founding Fathers and later the Coaching Boys to Men program. Together, they developed a set of programs and tools for men to discuss domestic abuse with other men and boys, to bring violence prevention into coaching programs, and to stop the cycle of violence from reoccurring in future generations.
Special Counsel to the President
During one of America’s most challenging economic eras for any new President, Jeff served as a senior advisor to President Obama, helping him build a successful new administration and providing legal and policy guidance on all issues that might require presidential action.
U.S. Ambassador to Australia
Jeff’s work included overseeing record growth in trade and investment between the U.S. and Australia, implementing the Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty, establishing new alliances for cybersecurity, and executing a new space cooperation agreement that supported the Mars Curiosity rover landing.