Legal Intake

The ACLU has defended the rights of people across the political spectrum, from police officers and schoolteachers to Rush Limbaugh and Oliver North to John Scopes and communists. The principled stance the ACLU takes on defending the Bill of Rights is neither liberal nor conservative. Learn more about the work of the ACLU of Southern California.

Please read this information carefully to find out the kinds of cases we accept and how to have the ACLU consider your problem.

Securely submit your legal issue to the ACLU.

Our office handles civil liberties and civil rights matters arising in the Southern California region – including San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange counties. We also monitor conditions in the L.A. County jails (but not state prisons or jails in other counties).

If your issue arises elsewhere, find your local affiliate here.

We do not take walk-ins. Please call the Intake Line, use the online form, or write to us.

Write a letter to:

ACLU SoCal Legal Intake
1313 West Eighth St.
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Leave a voice mail message on our Intake Line 213.977.5253 giving your name, daytime telephone number, and a brief description of the issue you wish to discuss. Your call will be returned by one of our volunteer pre-screeners; they are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice to you. Nor can they refer you to individual private attorneys. They can mail you appropriate referrals to other agencies which may be of help, and present certain information on your cases to their supervisor for review.

If we need more information, we will contact you. We will let you know as soon as possible whether or not we can accept your case, although, because of limited resources, there may be a delay in getting back to you. Please be sure to read the information about deadlines.

What does it cost?

Attorneys represent ACLU clients free of charge. Our cases are handled by staff counsel, sometimes working together with attorneys in private practice who volunteer their time for ACLU cases.

What are civil liberties and civil rights?

Civil liberties include freedom of speech, press, religion, and association; due process; equal protection; and privacy. Civil rights include, for example, voting rights; discrimination based on disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or national origin; police reform; and workers’ rights.

How do we choose cases?

The ACLU generally files cases that affect the civil liberties or civil rights of large numbers of people, rather than those involving a dispute between individual parties. The basic questions we ask when reviewing a potential case are:

  • Is this a significant civil liberties or civil rights issue?
  • What effect will this case have on people in addition to our client?
  • Do we have the necessary resources to take this case?

What cases affect others?

Lawsuits can affect a large number of people in two ways. First, we sometimes challenge a policy or practice that directly impacts many people. For instance, if the state cut Medi-Cal funding for abortions from the annual budget, thousands of poor women would be affected. Second, a lawsuit brought on behalf of one person can have a larger impact on others when it establishes or expands legal protections. For example, a lawsuit challenging the denial of health care at a clinic to one HIV+ person, if successful, could set a precedent for thousands of patients in the future.

The ACLU generally does not accept cases in which:

  • A person has been fired from a job without a good reason or just cause;
  • A person is being denied benefits, such as workers’ compensation or unemployment benefits;
  • Criminal cases, or complaints about a person’s attorney in a criminal case. We consider accepting criminal cases only in limited instances, such as, for example, when a person is being prosecuted for engaging in activity protected by the Constitution – such as participating in a political demonstration.

Why does the ACLU turn down cases that fall within the guidelines?

Unfortunately, there are many cases that involve unfairness and injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive thousands of requests for help a year at this office alone. Therefore, we cannot accept each case that may fall within the guidelines discussed above. If we do not accept your case, that does not mean it does not have merit, and you may still want to consider pursuing it with a private attorney or another legal organization.

Can the ACLU advise me about my case?

If we do not accept your case, the ACLU is unable to give you advice about your case, answer questions, or provide other types of assistance – for example, reviewing papers or conducting legal research to assist you. This policy allows us to direct the necessary resources to those cases we do accept.

Deadlines

All legal claims have time deadlines. The deadlines may be different depending on who violated your rights and which rights were violated. For some kinds of violations, you may need to file a claim with a government agency before you can sue, and these agencies have their own time deadlines. If you do not comply with the applicable statute of limitations, you may be legally barred from pursuing your claim in court. Contacting the ACLU to describe your problem does not mean that the ACLU represents you, and will not stop the statute of limitations from running.

The ACLU cannot give you advice about the deadlines that apply to your case. To protect your rights, please consult an attorney promptly to find out what deadline may apply in your case.

Securely submit your legal issue to the ACLU.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights protect people generally from infringement of their rights by the government. It is generally only the government that can deny your constitutional rights.

However, another fundamental principle is that even a democratic majority cannot be permitted to tyrannize the minority and restrict individual rights. The Bill of Rights was specifically adopted to protect fundamental freedoms from the will of the majority.

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