California Lawyer selected 56 attorneys around the state to receive the 16th annual California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year Awards. The awards recognize 26 accomplishments which had a significant impact in 2011. In the area of pro bono, Keker & Van Nest Partners Dan Purcell and Eric MacMichael have been selected for dedicating approximately 1,000 hours to freeing Caramad Conley, who served 18 years for a double-murder conviction that a judge ruled was obtained through perjured testimony.
Mr. Purcell's involvement with Mr. Conley's case begins with his work on John Tennison's case in 2001. Mr. Purcell was on the trial team that pursued Mr. Tennison’s civil rights claim against the City and County of San Francisco and the police and prosecutor responsible for Mr. Tennison’s wrongful conviction. After unearthing exculpatory evidence hidden by the police, which proved Mr. Tennison’s innocence, Mr. Purcell and the Keker & Van Nest team won an order reversing Mr. Tennison’s conviction, after which he was set free. Keker & Van Nest then settled the civil rights case for $4.6 million. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, it was the largest amount the city has ever paid to a wrongly convicted person.
One of the issues in Mr. Tennison's civil rights case was undisclosed payments to witnesses, so Mr. Purcell asked for discovery of instances where the investigating cops, Earl Sanders (later the SFPD chief) and Napoleon Hendrix, had paid testifying witnesses. Among the documents Mr. Purcell received was a collection of receipts showing payments from Mr. Sanders to Mr. Polk in the Caramad Conley case. Later, when the Innocence Project approached Keker & Van Nest about representing Mr. Conley, Mr. Purcell remembered the name. He called his trial counsel who confirmed that Polk was the essential witness in the case and that, despite trial counsel's suspicions and repeated discovery requests, the DA had never produced evidence that the police had paid Polk. Mr. Purcell immediately went to court on Mr. Conley's behalf to modify the Tennison protective order so he could use the Polk documents in a habeas petition.
Mr. Purcell was not only the impetus for Mr. Conley's case, when he somehow recalled the name of a witness whose name he had seen only in passing in discovery in a different case years earlier, but along with Eric MacMichael, was Mr. Conley's voice for five years. As the facts of this case developed over the years, Mr. Purcell and Mr. MacMichael consistently told Mr. Conley's story in the most convincing light and developed the factual record in a way that made it impossible for the court not to conclude that Mr. Conley had suffered a severe injustice. Mr. Purcell and Mr. MacMichael's tremendous abilities as lawyers and advocates persuaded the judge to overturn the conviction. Prosecutors admitted they did not have enough evidence to retry the case and moved to dismiss the prosecution. Mr. Purcell greeted Mr. Conley as he took his first steps as a free man after serving 18 years in custody.
Dan Purcell has extensive experience in complex civil and criminal litigation, with a particular focus representing companies and individuals accused of professional misconduct, fraud, or racketeering. He has successfully represented companies—large and small—and individuals in RICO, legal malpractice, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, trade secret, trademark, antitrust, and civil rights cases. He has also successfully represented numerous pro bono clients in matters ranging from habeas corpus petitions to Clean Water Act suits.
Eric MacMichael represents businesses and individuals in white collar criminal matters, and complex civil litigation. Mr. MacMichael has represented large corporations, and executives of publicly traded companies in federal courts and before the Securities and Exchange Commission. His recent cases include representing a prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalist accused of securities fraud, an executive accused of criminal stock options backdating, as well as individuals accused of insider trading and tax crimes.