On January 31, 2018, a federal jury returned a verdict in favor of William Cordoba in a prison civil rights case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Cordoba was the victim of a series of coerced sexual acts taking place in San Quentin State Prison. Keker, Van Nest & Peters associates Ben Rothstein and Julia Allen represented Mr. Cordoba through trial as pro bono counsel, with the supervision of partner Dan Purcell.
In 2010, Mr. Cordoba worked as an inmate clerk for the defendant in this case, a prison staff member named Silvia Pulido, and shared a private office space with her in a secluded area of San Quentin. In that office, Ms. Pulido assaulted Mr. Cordoba and eventually coerced him into a months-long series of sex acts by providing him quid pro quo special treatment, promising him that she would hire an attorney to help him get out of jail, and relying on her implicit power over him as both his boss and a prison staff member. Eventually, Mr. Cordoba tried to withdraw, at which point Ms. Pulido retaliated against him by bringing false disciplinary charges, as a result of which Mr. Cordoba was sent to “administrative segregation” (solitary confinement) for nine months.
Mr. Cordoba filed his lawsuit pro se in 2012, bringing a claim for violation of his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. Four years later, Keker, Van Nest & Peters was appointed his pro bono counsel and took the case through discovery and a six-day federal jury trial. On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, the jury returned a verdict finding Silvia Pulido liable, and awarding our Mr. Cordoba $15,414 in compensatory damages and $50,000 in punitive damages. Rarely do inmate plaintiffs even get to trial on civil-rights cases like this, and rarer still do juries not only find in an inmate plaintiff’s favor but award significant punitive damages.
“The defense’s strategy focused on attacking Mr. Cordoba’s credibility, but there was too much circumstantial evidence showing a pattern of abuse for this strategy to be effective,” said Ms. Allen. Mr. Rothstein added: “We’re grateful to Mr. Cordoba for having the opportunity to represent him, and to Keker, Van Nest & Peters for providing us the opportunity to take on this pro bono representation and achieve justice for our client.”
Mr. Cordoba is represented by Daniel Purcell, Ben Rothstein, and Julia Allen at Keker, Van Nest & Peters. The case is Cordoba v. Pulido, No. 12-cv-04857 (N.D. Cal.).