Justice & Diversity Center Helps Nonprofit Give Thousands of Californians a Second Chance

After 28 years in prison, Joel was now on the dean’s list at the local community college and owned a small antiques business with his wife, Brenda. This success story nearly ended, though, when Joel was threatened with more jail time due to an obscure law he unwittingly violated by visiting the Folsom State Prison Museum with Brenda.

“I was facing prison again for anywhere from a year to the rest of my life,” Joel explained. “While I waited in a jail cell without an attorney, Brenda called everyone she knew for help.” Luckily, friends connected her with Root & Rebound, a nonprofit that was able to get the charges dropped.

Root and Rebound Staff

Root and Rebound staff: Back row, from left: Sonja Tonnesen, Carmen Garcia, Laura Merchant, Abbe Anderson and Katherine Katcher
Front row, from left: Lizzy Gilbert, Aiasha Khalid, Emily Juneau and Deric Washington

Founded only four years ago in 2013, Root & Rebound serves as a unique centralized hub of legal resources for those navigating the reentry process. Assisting clients with public benefits, parole and probation, and re-entry legal questions, Root & Rebound has already served over 36,000 people.

Founder Katherine Katcher had experience, passion, and ideas about how to help people like Joel. Turning her drive and vision into a fully-functional 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization was another matter entirely, though. “When we were first starting out, looking at the legal steps needed to incorporate as a nonprofit, we very quickly realized it would be extremely challenging, if not impossible for us to do it alone,” Katherine said, “and even harder to raise the funds necessary to pay attorneys’ fees.”

Thankfully, a friend suggested that Katherine look into the Community Organization Representation Project (CORP), a project of the Justice & Diversity Center (JDC) that provides free business law services to nonprofits serving low-income and under-served communities. Soon, volunteer attorneys from Cooper, White & Cooper  were reviewing and negotiating Root & Rebound’s fiscal sponsorship agreement, while volunteer lawyers from Latham & Watkins updated the organization’s incorporation documents and advised on corporate governance issues.

“Without the help and assistance of CORP, we would never have been connected to so many high caliber, dedicated attorneys …. [W]e were delighted to find the Justice & Diversity Center early on in our journey without having to turn to corporate attorneys first, so we could start our work off in the right way[:] with high quality, accessible, and tailored pro bono support,” Katherine said.

Subsequently, as Root & Rebound grew, CORP also found volunteer attorneys to review a commercial lease for the organization; advise on its employment policies; and review an independent contractor agreement, among other matters. “This support has made a critical difference in strengthening the operations and governance of Root & Rebound as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, as well as giving the board and senior leadership team reassurances that the organization is receiving high caliber expert advice when making key decisions that affect the health and growth of the organization, now and in future.”

Katherine says that partnering with CORP has allowed Root & Rebound “to spend more time focusing on and allocating resources to program development, fundraising and financial and in-kind support from donors and individuals, as well as investing in and building capacity of staff and leadership.” While stories like Joel’s represent real accomplishments, 50,000 more people are released from California prisons and jails each year and face significant barriers to reentry. Thanks in part to CORP, Root & Rebound will continue to fill the justice gap for even more Californians seeking a second chance.

If your nonprofit is interested in CORP’s legal services, or you’re a transactional attorney interested in volunteering, please email Wint Huskey at whuskey@sfbar.org or visit www.sfbar.org/corp.

Learn more about Root & Rebound’s assistance for those in reentry.