Southern California Constitutional Litigation Attorneys

Experienced Trial & Appellate Lawyers Serving Southern California

In 2003, attorneys with LiMandri & Jonna LLP led the firm into its first foray with pro bono constitutional and religious liberty litigation. That year, the firm filed an amicus curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court regarding whether including the clause “Under God” in the pledge of allegiance violated the First Amendment.

Since that time LiMandri & Jonna LLP has developed a nationally renowned constitutional, religious liberty, and free speech practice. LiMandri & Jonna LLP’s cases have been highlighted in Politico, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, the Los Angeles Times, National Review, the Washington Times, the San Diego Union Tribune, and even Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Some of LiMandri & Jonna LLP’s cases have included:

  • Free Exercise of Religion challenges to governmental mandates that employers provide their employees with health insurance that covers contraception and elective abortion
  • Establishment of Religion / Separation of Church and State challenges to improper religious instruction in public schools and to governmental condemnation of religious beliefs
  • Free Speech / Academic Freedom challenges to censuring or censoring of professors and administrators
  • Free Speech / Free Exercise of Religion challenges relating to wedding professionals’ right to opt out of a same-sex wedding, and relating to government employees’ right to opt out of attending political events
  • Free Speech / Free Press challenges to statutes criminalizing the recording of matters of public interest
  • Free Exercise of Religion challenges by nonprofits seeking equal access to governmental licenses and benefits
  • Church Autonomy / Entanglement Doctrine challenges to efforts to punish a church’s disciplining of a cleric, and to efforts to criminalize the seal of the confessional
  • Amicus curiae briefs on behalf of individuals such as Prof. Robert T. George [Latta v. Otter], Ryan T. Anderson, and State Legislators [Baker v. Edwards], and organizations such as the Catholic Medical Association, Catholic Answers, the Catholic League, and the Missouri Baptist Convention [Aloha Bed & Breakfast].

LiMandri & Jonna LLP has represented Christian churches and nonprofits, Catholic Dioceses and nonprofits, investigative journalists, renowned professors and scholars, pastors, priests, bishops and monks, and private individuals. As part of its constitutional law practice, LiMandri & Jonna LLP has successfully taken cases all the way from lengthy, month-long trials to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When able, LiMandri & Jonna LLP has also sometimes offered pro bono representation. To facilitate this, LiMandri & Jonna LLP has partnered with various nonprofits over the years. Currently, the firm serves as Special Counsel to the Thomas More Society, based in Chicago, IL. Attorneys with LiMandri & Jonna LLP previously handled many of these cases for the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, based in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. LiMandri & Jonna LLP has also partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom and the Thomas More Law Center.

Below is a selection of our most notable cases.

Current Notable Cases:

  • South Bay Pentecostal Church:

LiMandri & Jonna LLP was retained by South Bay Pentecostal Church, a member of the United Pentecostal Church International and located in the South Bay region of San Diego County, California. South Bay Pentecostal Church sought to challenge Governor Newsom’s early May 2020 decision to permit numerous industries to reopen, but exclude places of worship. On Friday, May 22, 2020, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s refusal to enjoin Governor Newsom’s discriminatory treatment of churches, and the next day, Saturday, May 23, 2020, South Bay filed an emergency application for a writ of injunction with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two days later, Monday, May 25, 2020, Governor Newsom amended his orders, permitting churches to open at 25% occupancy, or 100-persons, whichever was lesser. The next Friday, May 29, 2020, on a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to grant further relief. Later in the year, Governor Newsom closed churches again, but on a 6-3 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with South Bay that the closure order was unconstitutional.

In addition to South Bay Pentecostal Church, LiMandri & Jonna LLP has represented Grace Community Church based in Los Angeles County, California, and Father Trevor Burfitt, SSPX, who oversees five churches in Southern California. For Grace Community Church, LiMandri & Jonna LLP obtained the first court order statewide limiting California’s restrictions on churches, when the firm blocked the County of Los Angeles’s attempt to have a California Superior Court order Grace Community Church to close its doors. The County of Los Angeles later rescinded its church closure order after determining internally that it was unconstitutional.

For Father Trevor Burfitt, after one of his churches was issued an administrative citation for letting a few people pray by themselves in the church, LiMandri & Jonna LLP obtained a court order enjoining Governor Newsom, four counties, and two cities from enforcing their orders closing Father Burfitt’s churches.

  • David Daleiden

In early 2013, David Daleiden left his job with an investigative journalism nonprofit to start his own nonprofit, and begin its first investigative journalism study: an in-depth, 30-month long investigation into illegal practices in the fetal tissue procurement industry. In July 2015, after coordinating with law enforcement and various congressional leaders, David began releasing the results of his investigative journalism study, including hundreds of pages of documents, and undercover footage corroborating his conversations with various illegal or unethical actors in the fetal tissue procurement industry.

David’s exposé quickly led to congressional investigations, undertaken by both the U.S. House and Senate, which agreed with David’s conclusion of rampant criminal activity, and made numerous criminal referrals. The exposé also resulted in Texas’s decision to find that Planned Parenthood is not a qualified medical provider, and refuse it entrance to Texas’s Medicaid program. That decision was ultimately affirmed by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals citing En Banc. The Arizona Attorney General and District Attorney of Orange County, CA also brought successful prosecutions against various actors.

David’s exposé also led to massive lawsuits. David has been sued in four civil lawsuits, running the gamut from alleging improprieties in his undercover journalism techniques, to seeking to block his public records requests. Only one of those suits has been brought to a successful resolution; the other three remain pending in the trial or appellate courts. David is also the subject of a criminal prosecution brought by the California Attorney General, alleging violations of California’s surreptitious recording statute. After the California Attorney General admitted in a legal brief that the impetus of the prosecution was the content of David’s speech, he brought a federal civil rights action seeking to enjoin the prosecution. David has also brought two defamation lawsuits against Planned Parenthood itself or its doctors for alleging that the undercover footage that he published was doctored or fraudulent.

  • Tastries Bakery

Beginning in the summer of 2016, Cathy Miller—the owner-operator of Tastries Bakery in Bakersfield, CA—entered into a relationship with a rival baker to refer to that baker orders for wedding cakes to be used in same-sex marriage ceremonies. Due to Cathy’s devout Christian faith, she could not design and create such wedding cakes herself, but believed she should still connect couples seeking such wedding cakes to another baker who could make them.

In August 2017, a lesbian couple seeking a wedding cake for their wedding reception (the ceremony had occurred a year earlier), came into Tastries Bakery seeking a wedding cake. When Cathy offered to connect them with the rival bakery, they stormed out, refusing to accept any accommodation. In December 2017, a California governmental agency brought a lawsuit against Cathy and Tastries, seeking a court order preventing them from selling any wedding cakes unless they agreed to sell wedding cakes for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In February 2018, LiMandri & Jonna LLP successfully blocked California’s attempt to obtain a preliminary injunction. This was the first ruling nationwide to recognize that federal constitutional jurisprudence concerning what types of activity constitute protected speech clearly encompasses the designing and creation of wedding cakes. In May of that year, LiMandri & Jonna LLP obtained a Judgment in Cathy’s favor, but California was able to keep the case alive through procedural tactics. LiMandri & Jonna LLP is confident that the courts will ultimately find that Cathy’s referral practice is the constitutionally appropriate way to protect the rights of both devout Christians and members of the LGBT community.

Prior Notable Wins:

  • Soledad War Memorial

In 2004, Mr. LiMandri joined the longest running religious liberty fight to date—the defense of the Mt. Soledad War Memorial. The litigation began in May 1989, when a disgruntled individual sued the City of San Diego arguing that maintenance of a large cross in the middle of the memorial violated constitutional separation of powers principles. In December 1991, a federal district court judge ordered that the presence of the cross violated the California Constitution and ordered its removal from public property within three months. In February 1992, the City of San Diego complied with the court order by selling the land immediately beneath the cross to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association. A few months later, in June 1992, San Diego voters overwhelmingly ratified the sale. In the meantime, the City of San Diego also appealed the order to the Ninth Circuit, which in March 1993 affirmed the district court.

Not content with the result, the plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the district court’s order. In September 1997, the district court judge ordered that the sale of the land to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association itself had violated the California Constitution, but did not clearly explain how to cure the violation. In 1998, the City of San Diego sold more of the land surrounding the Mt. Soledad War Memorial to the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association. In February 2000, the district court accepted the sale as constitutional, and this was affirmed by a three-judge Ninth Circuit panel in August 2001. However, in June 2002, the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc ruled in a 7-4 opinion that the second sale of land also violated the California Constitution.

After Mr. LiMandri became involved as counsel for the City of San Diego, in December 2004, the U.S. Congress passed a bill designating the Mt. Soledad War Memorial as a national memorial, such that it could be maintained by the federal government if ownership of the property was transferred to it. At the time, it was believed that transfer of the land to the federal government would cure the constitutional issues because the courts had only ruled that there had been a violation of the California Constitution—not the U.S. Constitution. In July 2005, San Diego voters overwhelmingly voted to donate the land to the federal government. Again discontented with the result, the plaintiffs filed a new lawsuit in California Superior Court, alleging that the transfer of land to the federal government violated the California Constitution, an argument with which the trial court agreed.

In May 2006, the federal district court issued a new order enforcing its prior orders. In that order, the district court specifically ordered that the cross had to be removed, and that for every day it remained, the City of San Diego would face a $5,000 fine. The Ninth Circuit refused to stay the order pending the appeal, but Justice Kennedy granted the City’s request for a stay.

In August 2006, the U.S. Congress passed a new bill, taking possession of the land surrounding the Mt. Soledad War Memorial through eminent domain. That same month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government, alleging that maintaining the Mt. Soledad Cross on federal land violated the U.S. Constitution. Then, in November 2006, the California Fourth Appellate District reversed the trial court, ruling that the July 2005 ballot referendum was permissible under the California Constitution.

In July 2008, the federal judge presiding over the new cases against the U.S. government ruled that the cross could remain. But in January 2011, the Ninth Circuit reversed that order, holding that the presence of a cross on federal land was unconstitutional. In June 2012, Justice Alito dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision to not accept the case for review at that time. In December 2013, the district court ordered the cross removed, in line with the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, but stayed his order pending another appeal. In July 2015, the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association bought the land surrounding the memorial from the U.S. government. In September 2016, the Ninth Circuit dismissed the pending appeal, holding that it was now moot since the land had been transferred from the federal government.

In June 2019, Justice Alito authored the opinion in American Legion v. American Humanist Association. In that opinion, the Supreme Court made clear that the presence of historical crosses on public property was constitutional, and that efforts to scrub all historical references to Christianity from public land would actually constitute unconstitutional hostility to religion. Justice Alito’s opinion makes clear that the cross in the middle of the Mt. Soledad War Memorial was constitutional all along.

An interview with Mr. LiMandri discussing this case is available here.

  • Christian Firefighters

In 2007, four Christian firefighters were ordered over their objection to participate in the San Diego Gay Pride Parade. During the parade they were subjected to obscene gestures and vulgar catcalls. Further, when they would not respond to various sexual overtures, some attendees at the Pride Parade became hostile, and subjected the firefighters to insulting words and gestures.

Following the Pride Parade, the firefighters met with the San Diego Fire Chief—herself a member of the LGBT community—and requested an apology and a change in policy permitting firefighters to abstain from participating in the Pride Parade in the future. The City of San Diego refused these terms, and so Mr. LiMandri brought a lawsuit for freedom of speech violations (i.e., coerced expressive speech) and sexual harassment. Before trial, San Diego relented and changed its policy so that no firefighter would be forced to participate in political events in the future, including the Pride Parade.

However, the case proceeded to trial in September 2008 on the sexual harassment claim, and following a re-trial, the jury found that the firefighters had been subjected to unlawful discrimination. The verdict in their favor was upheld by California’s Fourth Appellate District on October 14, 2010, and by the California Supreme Court on January 26, 2011. An interview with Mr. LiMandri discussing the case is available here.

  • Children of the Immaculate Heart

Children of the Immaculate Heart (“CIH”) is a well-established Catholic nonprofit serving victims of sex-trafficking in San Diego County. Because of their success working with adult women, in 2015 CIH began the process of obtaining a license to operate a home for minor girls who were sex-trafficked, called “the Refuge.” But after four years of government stonewalling and nearly $600,000 in sunk costs, the Refuge sat empty due to state bureaucrats’ insistence of barring a religious organization from having care over minor girls.

The California Department of Social Services, which regulates California’s foster system, refused to license the Refuge because of Children of the Immaculate Heart’s sincere religious beliefs about human sexuality. The Department mandated that CIH allow “transgender” males to live at the home, dispense gender-transition chemicals, and drive girls to get abortions.

In November 2019, after learning about the four years of stonewalling, LiMandri & Jonna LLP brought a civil rights complaint in San Diego Superior Court. Instead of proceeding to substantive briefing or a trial, in March 2020 the parties participated in mediation. Following a confidential settlement, CIH was granted a provisional license permitting it to operate the Refuge. An interview with Mr. Jonna discussing the case is available here.

You can contact us at (858) 759-9930 and speak directly to one of our experienced attorneys.

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