By Leslie Mehta Legal Director
I am thrilled to join the ACLU of Virginia as its new Legal Director.
I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly a decade. I am a North Carolina native so I am equally excited to be returning to the South.
Advocacy is my passion and life’s work. I was drawn to and attended Howard University School of Law because of its social justice legacy. Howard Law instills in its students a responsibility to be social engineers and I take that responsibility very seriously.
I have more than a decade of litigation, civil rights and public advocacy experience. I have devoted my career to advocacy for the disenfranchised. From successfully lobbying state senators to pass consumer protection laws, to advocating for a class of consumers whose privacy rights were breached, to advocating on behalf of prisoners’ rights and litigating on behalf of victims of police brutality, I have spent my career focused on social justice civil liberties, and civil rights through litigation, legislation and lobbying.
As an associate at a business litigation law firm in Kansas City, I represented an incumbent state treasurer who was unseated in a close election. I convinced the court to order a recount and won the recount, but the decision was appealed. Under an extremely tight deadline, I argued the merits of each challenged ballot under state constitutional law before the Missouri Court of Appeals. I convinced the court about the validity of the ballots which led to the reinstatement of my client as state treasurer and the State of Missouri being represented by its chosen candidate.
Working at another law firm where I represented companies in class actions, I knew I wanted to do more to help the underdog. So, in my spare time I took on pro bono cases in which I represented indigent tenants against their slumlord landlords.
I then decided to return to my advocacy roots full time by joining a San Francisco civil and prisoners’ rights law firm. There I successfully handled prisoner wrongful death actions against private prisons, harassment cases, and police brutality matters – changing the policies of the prisons and police departments.
I also advocated for equal access to gym and workout facilities for female prisoners in compliance with Title IX. Through impact litigation and working with community leaders to spread the word about the issue, I also worked to secure voting rights for underrepresented groups.
In one case, I represented a group of Hispanic residents in Compton, California. Despite the majority Hispanic population, the City had never had a Hispanic councilmember. I deposed an African-American sitting city councilwoman who falsely claimed to be Hispanic – specifically in an attempt to maintain the voting method and deny Hispanics a Hispanic councilperson. The city councilwoman’s false claims in the deposition were reprinted in local newspapers and led to the City settling the case and changing the voting method – allowing for the City’s first Hispanic city councilperson.
Most recently, I advocated on behalf of California consumers. As a telecommunications staff attorney at a California organization, I fought against mergers of big telecommunication companies that could have led to outrageous rate hikes for consumers, strengthened privacy concerning consumers’ information against companies that planned to use the information for their own profit and lobbied for kill switches on smart phones to render them useless if stolen to help eradicate the number of violent assaults as a result of phone thefts. I testified before state senators and representatives and built coalitions with key leaders in the community on public policy issues.
I bring my litigation, civil rights, public policy, and lobbying experience to this position. I seek to maximize the organization’s ability to take on new cases by reaching out to cooperating attorneys to work with on matters, take on even more impact litigation matters, and build coalitions with community organizations.
I am excited to be part of an organization that works on the most important constitutional issues of our time and I look forward to working on an array of different issues.
I hope to continue the ACLU of Virginia’s work through proactive impact litigation and other advocacy.
Let’s continue to make Virginia a better place.
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