Belinda Escobosa Helzer, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC, fights for Quan Am Temple. Hey, where's her award?
Belinda Escobosa Helzer, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC, fights for Quan Am Temple. Hey, where's her award?
Courtesy ACLU/SC

ACLU Lawyer Honors: So LA. Who Needs 'Em? Oh, Wait ...

Normally, we'd blow off the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California's 15th annual Law Luncheon on June 19.

It's on a Friday, which is when we normally catch up on our soaps. It's in Los Angeles, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, which we haven't stepped foot in since getting kicked out of our wedding reception. And the big honorees are legendary black lawyer Leo Branton, Jr. (receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award), civil rights lawyer Thomas Saenz (Social Justice Award) and a bunch of other lawyer honorees who have done such great things as lose the recent Prop. 8 case before the California Supreme Court.

Hey, way to go, guys. Here's your trophy!

Then there's the keynote speaker: Jim Newton, editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times and author of Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made. Oh, trust me, he knows what he did. Bitch.

Okay, to be honest, it's not so much these people and what they did and did not do as it is the whole thing just screams, well, "LA," something we are not wont to do these days unless it involves Kobe* taking the rock to the hole.

But then it turns out these bleeding-heart sharks are also bestowing the Religious Liberty Award to Keli N. Osaki, Yi-Chin Ho, Cristin Zeisler, Sean Matsler, Roger A. Grable, Susan K. Hori and Lauren Tang of Manatt Phelps & Phillips, LLP, and K. Luan Tran of Lee Tran & Liang. Why? Because they joined the ACLU/SC in winning the right for a Buddhist congregation in Garden Grove to have its plans for a new temple approved by the city.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2006, stemmed from Quan Am Buddhist Temple attempting to rezone its property at Chapman Avenue and Nutwood Street from "office or professional" to "residential." The temple, which claimed previous city officials had assured them approval would be a snap, wanted to expand into land it purchased occupied by a two-story, 13,000-square-foot office building.

However, the Garden Grove City Council and Planning Commission denied the requests out of concern the project would eat up needed office space in town. Because the temple lacked permits, all services and activities there ceased until the ACLU stepped in and, with the help fo the legal eagles now being honored, got a temporary injunction from a federal judge allowing limited services. A trial on the matter was scheduled to begin last month, but the two sides settled the case in September 2008, with the city allowing the expansion to proceed as long as city codes and planning rules were followed.

Okay, so now we care about the luncheon.

*of Newport Coast


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