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Mara Verheyden-Hilliard

Co-Founder & Executive Director

Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), where she also directs its project, the Center for Protest Law & Litigation. As a civil rights and constitutional rights litigator, Mara focuses on complex trial and appellate litigation, particularly concentrated in the areas of free speech, assembly, and other protected First Amendment activity and its intersection with Fourth Amendment rights. Her work is grounded in partnership with the activists and communities she serves.

During her more than 25 years of practice, Mara has represented numerous political activists and organizations involved in the environmental, racial, and social justice movements, extending from grassroots community members to well-known personalities and activists.

Litigating constitutional rights cases nationwide, including being certified as lead class counsel, Mara has won landmark changes in law and police practices in the handling of free speech activities, as well as securing tens of millions of dollars in damages for persons and organizations who have suffered deprivation of fundamental rights.

In addition to significant cases in the nation’s capital, Mara has litigated major cases across the country including in New York, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Miami. She is currently part of the legal team bringing constitutional rights litigation in North Dakota to vindicate the rights of water protectors at Standing Rock as well as providing legal support to the Indigenous-led water protectors at Line 3 in Minnesota.

Her transparency work has also exposed federal and local law enforcement surveillance, infiltration, and disruption operations against peaceful protest groups and activists including the abuse of anti-terrorism authority to target progressive organizing in the United States.

Mara also provides technical support and coordination to lawyers and activists around the country challenging denials of access to public space, unconstitutional laws, mass arrests, brutality, and the criminalization of dissent.

Mara received her B.A. from Hampshire College and her J.D. from Columbia University Law School.

Sample Cases Include:

  • Co-lead class counsel on behalf of approximately 700 class members in Becker, et al. v. District of Columbia, et al., Civil Action No. 01-0811, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (mass false arrest, excessive force and other violations by law enforcement in connection with the April 2000 IMF/World Bank protests in Washington, D.C., resulting in $14.5 million in damages and major changes to police practices and policies);
  • Co-lead class counsel on behalf of approximately four hundred class members in Barham, et al. v. Ramsey, et al., Civil Action No. 02-02283, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (false arrest by both local and federal law enforcement in connection with the September 2002 IMF/World Bank protests in Washington, D.C., resulting in $11 million in damages and changes to the laws in D.C. governing police handling of demonstrations). Circuit Opinion: Barham v. Ramsey, 434 F.3d 565 (D.C. Cir. 2006);
  • Mills, et al v District of Columbia, (obtaining unanimous ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit finding Washington, D.C. police’s military-style checkpoint program to be unconstitutional and ultimately forcing rescission of Trinidad checkpoint operation) Circuit Opinion: Mills v. District of Columbia, 571 F.3d 1304 (D.C. Cir. 2009);
  • Tummino v Hamburg, co-counsel (federal litigation that made emergency contraception “Plan B” available over the counter without a prescription.);
  • Geronimo vs. Obama, co-counsel with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, representing a group of 20 lineal descendants of the legendary Apache warrior who unsuccessfully sought to have his remains removed from the military installation where he was buried while held prisoner by the U.S., in order for his family to return his remains to freedom in the Gila Wilderness;
  • Office of Foreign Assets Control v. Voices in the Wilderness, co-counsel in defense of VITW, an organization of conscience targeted by OFAC for delivering medicine to children in Iraq who were dying as a consequence of genocidal sanctions;
  • Bolger, et al. v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 03-906, U.S. District Court for District of Columbia (obtaining settlement in favor of political activists who were targeted and falsely arrest by law enforcement based on political affiliation; obtaining $100,000 sanctions award against the Attorney General’s office for discovery abuse including a cover-up of the FBI interrogation of political activists);
  • A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition v. Norton, Civil Action No. 05-00071, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (successfully enjoining National Park Service’s abuse of permitting system restricting public attendance along Presidential Inaugural Parade route);
  • Ramadan v Bush, co-counsel with former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark in habeas corpus litigation regarding prisoner in custody of U.S. military in Iraq scheduled to be tortured and executed without due process or fair trial;
  • Killmon, et al. v. City of Miami, et al., Civil Action No. 04-20707, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (resolving constitutional claims in connection with police misconduct at the 2003 Free Trade of the Americas Act protests);
  • IAC v. City of Philadelphia, Civil Action 01-2217, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (enjoining Philadelphia’s unlawful protest permitting system and application of youth curfew in the context of free speech activities);
  • National Council of Arab Americans, et al. v. City of New York, et al, Civil Action 04-6602, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, (successfully challenging the City’s efforts to discriminatorily restrict mass assembly in the Great Lawn of Central Park stemming from the Republican National Convention protests of 2004);
  • State v Fonda, Hubbard County, Minnesota (defended Jane Fonda, Taylor Schilling and Catherine Keener against charges in conjunction with their First Amendment expressive opposition to the Line 3 pipeline, resulting in dismissal of all charges).