How to Start a Non-Profit

I sat down with McGeorge alum Aaron Brieno (’14) to talk about his new non-profit community based organization, Inspire California. Inspire California, to put it briefly, exists to help create and foster and college-ready and college going among high school aged students in the Central Valley, and in particular, the area of the Central Valley that Aaron is from, Hanford.

The quick background as to why Aaron decided to start this organization is that he read in his local newspaper one day in 2014, that the Central Valley had made a list of the top ten least educated regions in the country. Given all the different that California is a leader in, it was stunning to learn that any region in California would make that list.

So he decided to do something about it. At first, he thought it was a task he could tackle on his own. Aaron soon realized this would be an endeavor that would require more resources than he alone could muster.

You’ll need to listen to the podcast for most of the details on what resources you need and how to use them to get from idea to an established and operating organization. But the short answer for those looking for the short answer on resources, Aaron’s go to’s were: Nolo’s How to Start a Non-Profit in California, Google, the California Secretary of State’s website, and the California Association of Nonprofits’ website.

So, how does Inspire California achieve its mission? Thanks to a lot of legwork on Aaron’s part, Inspire California connects high school students in the Central Valley with college educated young professionals who are from the Central Valley. Those young professionals serve as mentors to these students, covering all the bases from taking phone calls to talk to proofreading college essays and personal statements.

There’s a lot more than Aaron and I cover in our conversation, and I hope you take the time to give it a listen and enjoy.




A first response to reports that California taxpayers have paid roughly $25 million in the last three years to settle sexual harassment-related cases is outrage. A closer look reveals a more complex picture. LAPD paid, on average, $30 million annually from 2012-2014 to resolve legal claims involving officers’ conduct. Since 2006, CHP has paid over $25 million in similar claims. Undoubtedly, California taxpayers pay far more than these amounts to resolve claims of negligence and misconduct by state employees. Taxpayer funded sexual harassment settlements aren’t anomalies; they’re part of a broader structure where the state, as employer, pays for injuries caused by employee actions.

Why does the law make employers pay for bad acts by their employees? One reason is that employers direct and control their employees’ actions, making them partially responsible for employee actions within their job’s scope. When employers have to pay out money for employees’ bad behavior they should be motivated to make the appropriate changes.

Another reason is that the purpose of civil damages judgments is to compensate victims – not punish perpetrators. Employers are in a better position to buy insurance or accumulate enough funds to pay for injuries.

What about employees who’ve engaged in egregious behavior? Shouldn’t they be punished by paying? In civil suits, juries may award punitive damages to punish an employee who’s found to have acted in a way that’s more blameworthy than workplace negligence or misconduct (acting with oppression, fraud, or malice); generally the employee, rather than the employer, pays. If the employee’s conduct is criminal, then they may be charged and, if convicted, punished with fines or imprisonment.

Back to sexual harassment…isn’t that bad enough that the perpetrator, rather than taxpayers, should pay? Again, a closer look reveals that it’s more complicated than it seems. For one, sexual harassment settlements are just that – settlements. They’re not adjudicated liability.  Even if we’re talking about sexual harassment judgments, the reasons mentioned above still apply.

Additionally, and importantly, another consideration is the impact that an “employee pays” rule would have on state employees doing their jobs, interacting with other employees and members of the public every day.  We want to deter bad behavior but we don’t want to “over-deter” it with a rule that makes employees frightened to act because if they – maybe – cross a line, or someone claims they did, they’ll be paying for a lawyer and a judgment, if it comes in. UCLA Law School Professor Johanna C. Schwartz, who conducted the aforementioned study of police department payouts, concludes that in most instances the departments, rather than the officers, should pay for misconduct claims because requiring officers to pay would result in this type of over-deterrence. She recommends transparency of payouts, and making the departments pay from their budgets rather than charging the taxpayers from the general fund..

Another note on “over-deterrence” comes from the Constitution. The Constitution provides the President absolute immunity from lawsuits for damages arising from his actions as President.  These lawsuits include claims by an employee of sexual harassment. The Supreme Court has also interpreted the Constitution to give different levels of immunity to different types of government officials. In doing so, the Court explains the Constitution creates “breathing room” around the actions of government officials, shielding them from paying damages even when conduct violates the law:

Public officials, whether governors, mayors or police, legislators or judges, who fail to make decisions when they are needed or who do not act to implement decisions when they are made do not fully and faithfully perform the duties of their offices. Implicit in the idea that officials have some immunity— absolute or qualified —for their acts, is a recognition that they may err. The concept of immunity assumes this and goes on to assume that it is better to risk some error and possible injury from such error than not to decide or act at all.”

Most state employees are not government officials entitled to constitutional immunity. Even state government officials entitled to immunity may lose it if their actions violate clearly established law. Nevertheless, the over-deterrence concern runs through legal and policy judgments about who should pay for employee misconduct and explains why often, when the employer is the state, the taxpayers pay.




The Partnership, the brain trust, and the activists working to end domestic violence

This week, I’m posting another conversation I had with Erin Scott – Board Chair of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. As we allude to in our conversation, she is also the Executive Director of the Family Violence Law Center, which is based in Oakland, CA.

Today’s conversation is related to last week’s chat that I had with Erin about The Partnership’s effort to double funding for domestic violence, which would allow for more prevention efforts in California. It’s also a follow up to the conversation we had a while back with Beth Hassett, the CEO and Executive Director of WEAVE, and the work that they do with coalitions, including The Partnership. We talked, in a broad sense, about the work The Partnership does to achieve its vision of “a California free of domestic violence.”

In addition to the coalition work that The Partnership does with its members all across California, they lean on and assist other ally organizations that don’t necessarily work on domestic violence issues but do work on issues that overlap with domestic violence like sexual assault, immigration, employment law, economic security, and many other issues. When thinking about useful tools to change public policy with, a brain trust of other experts that know the issues that overlap with yours inside and out is a very good tool to have.

The other thing that stands out to me about how The Partnership works is that their approach to public policy is designed to minimize unintended negative consequences of policies aimed at eradicating domestic violence. The process by which The Partnership does this is by pulling in input from their members all over California, which helps ensure that its policy decisions don’t inadvertently hurt some of its members. Erin said it better than I did,

One of the great things about that amount of input is … my agency is in Oakland, and something that might be very beneficial to my agency in Oakland might have a negative impact in a rural area that I might not think of if it was just me on the phone giving that input to The Partnership.”

It’s this balancing act that The Partnership pulls off – balancing the need and conditions of its member agencies and the domestic violence survivors that they serve – between the urban and rural parts of the state that I find special.

To learn more about CPEDV, please visit their website and specifically, their page on their policy priorities.

To keep up to date with the work The Partnership is doing, you can check out their page on Facebook and you can follow them on Twitter, @cpedvcoalition.

You can also follow Erin’s organization on Facebook and Twitter, @FamilyVLC.

By: Mike Vitiello

What Rescinding the Cole Memo Means

All use, possession, or sale of marijuana violates federal law. So, why did states like Colorado, Washington, and now California believe that they could legalize marijuana for recreational use?

In 2013, after Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana, James Cole, an attorney in the United States Department of Justice, issued a memo stating the federal government’s policy concerning states’ efforts to legalize recreational marijuana. That position was that as long as states followed certain guidelines, like keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors and keeping drug cartels out of the business, the federal government would let states regulate as they saw fit. That memo, known as the Cole Memo, along with a similar memo in 2009 relating to medical marijuana, encouraged investors, who are now pumping billions of dollars into marijuana businesses.

In 2016, candidate Trump seemed to take a similar position, allowing states to regulate as they see fit. But, he chose Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General, and Sessions has a long history of opposing marijuana. After a year of the Department of Justice sending uncertain signals about the federal government’s position on state regulation of marijuana, the Attorney General announced that he is rescinding the Cole Memo. What does this mean?

It means that US Attorneys can resume enforcing federal marijuana laws in states with legalized recreational marijuana. The Department of Justice has significant tools to use if it chooses to use them, including criminal prosecutions that could lead to long prison terms, and forfeiture that would allow the government to seize assets of marijuana industry members. That said, the Department of Justice has other more important priorities, including immigration and the opioid epidemic.

Further, Attorney General Sessions’ actions may actually help supporters of legalizing marijuana. Democratic members of Congress, especially those from states that have legalized recreational marijuana, oppose Sessions’ action. But a number of Republicans have seemingly been galvanized by this as well, including Iowa Congressman Rod Blum and Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. In what I think is a sea change, we’re seeing many members of Congress speak out in favor of the Cole Memo, when until now, no member of Congress had done so.

My own prediction is that the industry is already too big to fail, and investors have political clout. Their money, and the money in the industry isn’t red money or blue money, it’s green money, and as we all know, money talks.

If you’d like to learn more about the marijuana industry in California, and particularly, if you are interested in joining the cannabis industry in California, I recommend that you attend the McGeorge Capital Center for Law & Policy’s upcoming Executive Training on The Essentials for Cannabis Businesses, which I will be presenting at. You can purchase tickets here.

The Partnership’s Push to Increase State Funding to Prevent Domestic Violence

As a heads up, this podcast was recorded early last week, before Governor Brown revealed his January budget proposal. Some of the conversation is dated in that regard, now that this post is going up after the budget proposal was revealed. That aside, the conversation I had with Erin Scott – Board Chair, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence (The Partnership) – is still very much relevant.

Erin Scott – Board Chair, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence – sitting down with Jon Wainwright at The Partnership’s office in Sacramento.

Funding for domestic violence work in California has remained steady for the past few years at roughly $20.6 million annually. That funding comes out of the General Fund. and covers emergency response for domestic violence survivors and has become a part of California’ social safety net. It’s essential funding, but there’s more that could be done. Put another way, current funding only allows nonprofit organizations that serve domestic violence survivors to react to the problem of domestic violence. The Partnership is leading a push this year to double the amount of money in the General Fund being spent on domestic violence work with the new $20.6 million being spent on domestic violence prevention and addressing the longer term root causes of the issue.

As I mentioned before, our conversation was recorded before the budget proposal was revealed. Since then, the Governor’s budget proposal has been revealed, and the state’s investment in domestic violence crisis services remained steady at $20.6 million. In a statement following the announcement of the budget proposal Kathy Moore, Executive Director for The Partnership said,

We appreciate the state’s consistent investment … over the last 10 years,  but it’s simply not enough. […] On any given day, about half of the 5,410 domestic violence victims being served in California access emergency shelter, while the other half receive non-residential services – things like legal assistance, children’s counseling and other complimentary services. Yet average data also shows there are over 1,086 unmet requests for services every day. Continuing to band-aid these families crises with inadequate resources isn’t the solution. Victims are telling us they need more.

No budget fight in the California Legislature is easy. The level of difficulty is only exacerbated when an organization is fighting for General Fund dollars – of which a minimum of 40% are already constitutionally earmarked for K-12 education. We said in the podcast that the funds The Partnership is going for comes out of one pot. It’s more like the funds are coming from half a pot, and there are numerous other groups angling for those same dollars. While Erin noted that “it’s never the perfect time for this kind of request,” I see a couple trends that point towards this being a good year to make the ask to double the funding for domestic violence work.

The first of those is the windfall – or surplus as some others are calling it – in this year’s state budget. It’s easier to ask for more funding in a year when there is more money available to the state to spend. The other trend that could help The Partnership is the #WeSaidEnough movement that has taken the California legislature by storm. While the issues of domestic violence and sexual harassment and assault in the workplace are most certainly not the same, my feeling is that the return to focusing on victims, and victims’ rights, and getting those victims the help that they need puts the political winds in a more favorable position for The Partnership in their effort to get the funding that agencies across California to start being more proactive, start addressing the long term root causes of domestic violence, and, hopefully, start reducing domestic violence in California.

Liah Burnley – Policy Advocate, Californians for Safety and Justice









Informing Criminal Justice Reform Policies by Engaging with Crime Survivors and the Formerly Incarcerated

I recently spoke with Liah Burnley, who is a Policy Advocate for Californians for Safety and Justice (CSJ), about the history of and work that CSJ does. CSJ works on criminal justice reform issues, with a particular focus on reducing wasteful spending in California’s justice system and breaking the cycle of crime by promoting policies and spending that help create safe communities and safe neighborhoods.

But what I found particularly interesting in our conversation was how CSJ informs itself before making decisions on various policies. There are two main groups that CSJ works with to get this information, crime survivors and the formerly incarcerated. It should be pointed out that – at least according to CSJ – a crime survivor is not the same as a crime victim. Crime survivors are those who are impacted by crime. Does that include victims of crime? Absolutely. But survivors also include the family and neighbors of those victims. If you think of water dropping, the crime is the drop and all the ripples that come from that drop are the impacted survivors.

The sense that I had after talking with Liah is that this second group, the formerly incarcerated, are really at the core of what CSJ works on. CSJ got started, and made a name for itself, by working on Prop 47 implementation. In doing so, they learned about multiple other inefficiencies in California’s criminal justice system and expanded their work accordingly so that, as Liah put it, when people are out there trying to pull themselves up by their bootstraps that “those bootstraps are actually there.”

There was one other thing that Liah shared with me that stuck. It’s something that she lives by and seems to encapsulate the criminal justice reform movement, “each of us is worth more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done.” I think that in the majority of cases, that mantra holds true.

If you want to learn more about Californians for Safety and Justice, feel free to check out their website You can also Like Californians for Safety and Justice on Facebook follow them on Twitter @safeandjust.

Using Amicus Curiae Briefs to Influence Judicial Decisions

I sat down with Brian Landsberg – Professor of Law at McGeorge School of Law – recently to talk about the work of an organization that he is a member of. That organization is the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights, of which, Professor Landsberg is a member of the Board of Trustees and the Chair of the Amicus Section. We talked about the history of the 50+ year old organization and how their work has evolved over that time.

The Lawyers’ Committee was founded by leaders of the American Bar Association in 1963 after meeting with President Kennedy, who was concerned that there were now lawyers representing civil rights demonstrators in the Deep South. At the urging of the President, those leaders formed the Lawyers’ Committee to, basically, provide pro bono representation for African Americans in South during that time.

Members of the American Bar Association meeting with President John F. Kennedy

The work of the Lawyers’ Committee has since evolved to cover voter protection activities, equal education, fair employment, fair housing, and racial justice in the criminal justice system. The Amicus Committee, which Prof. Landsberg chairs, advances the Lawyers’ Committee’s interests through the filing of Amicus briefs with the United States Supreme Court. The cases that they file on aren’t necessarily all race discrimination cases, but include sex discrimination and religious discrimination as well.

 By: John Sims

A few days after my post about California’s decades-long leadership on efforts to curb air pollution from vehicles, The Sacramento Bee ran an opinion piece on the topic, written by Robert F. Sawyer and Jananne Sharpless, former chairpersons of the California Air Resources Board.  In “Let California lead on clean cars,” the authors describe and argue against a proposal pending before Congress to create a single national standard for vehicle emissions and fuel economy.  Their conclusion is that California “cannot afford to let Washington undermine California’s authority and our states’ rights to protect our communities’ health and our economy.”

My earlier post also provided a link to the December 11 argument in the Ninth Circuit case in which the federal government seeks mandamus to stop the district court in Oregon from going ahead with a February trial on climate change.  It turned out that the linked video portrayed the last appearance on the bench by Judge Alex Kozinski, who retired December 18 after more than 30 years on the Ninth Circuit, after having been charged with sexual harassment.  On December 21, the court assigned Judge Michelle Friedland of California to replace Judge Kozinski on the mandamus case.  There is no way to know yet whether the new composition of the panel will substantially delay the resolution of the mandamus matter.




Recent action at the state, federal, and private corporate levels provides a window into the many ways to attack the problem of nondisclosure agreements in sexual harassment settlements.

Bar Nondisclosure Agreements in Settlements

A decade ago, the California Legislature changed the law to bar nondisclosure agreements in settlements of certain serious sexual abuse claims. The Legislature expanded it in 2016 to cover other types of claims with the passage of AB 1682. Now, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) has announced her plan to introduce a bill to ban nondisclosure provisions in settlements of a broader list of sexual assault and harassment claims when the Legislature reconvenes in January. A similar bill is pending in the New York Legislature.

Remove Tax Deductibility of Payments if the Settlement Includes an NDA

In Congress’s new tax plan, there is a provision that takes away the business tax deduction for sexual harassment settlements that contain nondisclosure agreements. In the New York Times, University of Chicago Law School Professor Daniel Hemel called it “a nudge, not a hammer,” because most businesses will likely forego the deduction when forced to a choice.  It is also important to note that while the new provision impacts businesses, it does not affect government entities, such as the California Legislature.

Bar Mandatory Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Claims

Employers’ use of mandatory arbitration provisions has mushroomed over the last decade.  Now, over half the non-union U.S. employees are subject to such clauses.  In a series of cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld employers’ rights to impose arbitration requirements, finding that federal law forbids states to limit them.  Given these holdings, a change in the law at the federal level is required to restrict employers’ use of arbitration provisions to keep women claiming sexual harassment out of court.

Now, California Senator Kamala Harris is one of several sponsors of a bipartisan bill the federal level that aims to end sexual harassment secrecy another way – by forbidding terms of employment contracts that require confidential arbitration, rather than an open lawsuit, for sexual harassment claims. The bill is co-authored by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D – Ill.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D – N.Y.). According to Marina Fang’s reporting, the “Senate bill is also backed by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R – S.C.), Lisa Murkowski (R – Alaska)” and the “House version has support from Reps. Walter Jones (R – N.C.), Elise Stefanik (R – N.Y.), and Pramila Jayapal (D Wash).”

Private Action Instead of Legal Change

And a change in the law is not always necessary to address a problem like secret settlements, if powerful corporations decide, or can be nudged, to change on their own.  Microsoft recently announced that it will no longer force women alleging sexual harassment into mandatory arbitration.

With California’s newly legalized  recreational marijuana industry set to begin January 1 and projected to generate $7 billion annually by 2020, devising a banking system for all that money is a priority.  The problem is that banks, which are regulated by the federal government, won’t touch it for fear of being prosecuted criminally.

Last month, James Rufus Koren of the Los Angeles Times reported on ideas from California Treasurer John Chiang’s task force formed to study the issue.  These included a state-owned bank to handle the money, creation of “a multistate group to lobby Congress to ease federal regulations on cannabis,” and state-hired “armored car services to pick up tax payments from businesses.”

Earlier this week, Patrick McGreevy – also of the Los Angeles Times – reports that another potential solution to the federal/state law dilemma, this time out of the governor’s office, is a private collaboration of banks and credit unions working with a central “correspondent bank.” The plan is to meet federal banking regulators’ concerns in a way that protects the financial institutions from punishment.  Whether they feel comfortable enough to sign on remains to be seen.

And as my colleague, Professor Mike Vitiello, pointed out in an earlier blog post, even though marijuana will be legal in California, “use or possession of the drug in any form and in any amount remains illegal under federal law, regardless of state law.”  This reality shadows all efforts to identify “safe” banking practices that meet the needs of the producers and retailers, while also assuaging the concerns of the financial institutions considering diving into this newly legalized industry in California.