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Weil Wins Client Favorable Settlement in Prison Religious Freedom Case

Weil represents “S”, a prisoner incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison. As a descendent of the Uto-Aztecan people of Mexico, S practices the Aztec religion. His religious practices include using the Nahuatl language and creating murals and other artwork (sometimes in collaboration with other inmates) which contain religious symbols (including the Huelga Eagle, the Aztec Shield, and the symbol for the Aztec Calendar). He often sends these murals to his family outside the prison.

The prison, however, has identified S as a member of the Northern Structure prison gang and confiscated several murals he tried to send to his family that contained the Huelga Eagle symbol, which is commonly associated with that gang. The prison also prevented S from accessing materials on the Nahuatl language. In response, S filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California pro se against several prison employees, making claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion, First Amendment right to outgoing mail, and Due Process right to possess personal property.

In August 2013, after his suit survived summary judgment, Weil was appointed by Judge White as pro bono counsel. Counsel David Singh and associates Jessica Mohr, Jevechius Bernardoni, John Stratford and Bambo Obaro assisted S through fact and expert discovery, and opposed the Defendants’ second motion for summary judgment as duplicative of their first. As a result, Judge White refused to hear Defendants’ second motion for summary judgment. The Weil team went on to represent S at two settlement conferences before Judge Vadas, Magistrate Judge in the Northern District of California.

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