2012 Jack Green Civil Liberties Award Honoree:
David Grabill has been representing individuals and groups in civil rights cases for 40 years in places like Gary, Indiana; Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Charleston, West Virginia, and Delano and Escondido, California. He’s lived in Santa Rosa since 1981, where he was the directing attorney for the California Rural Legal Assistance until 1995. David served on the Board of the Sonoma County ACLU Chapter and served a term as Co-chair of the Chapter. He and some friends started the Housing Advocacy Group (“HAG”) in 1998 to push or force local governments to approve and support affordable housing. The group’s also had some success in getting local approvals for shelters and transitional housing for the homeless, and permanent supportive housing for persons with disabilities. David’s current focus has been combating housing discrimination in Napa County where almost half of the workforce commutes to work from homes outside the county because there’s so little affordable housing in that county.
He went to law school at the University of Pennsylvania, college at Yale, and graduated
from a Quaker high school Washington DC where he grew up. That school was still segregated in 1960 when he graduated. President’s Obama’s two daughters attend that school today.
David joined 300,000 others in the March on Washington with Martin Luther King in
1963. He worked in Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign out of a storefront in Gary, Indiana. He represented members of the Black Panther Party in Los Angeles in the 1970’s, and worked with the United Farm Workers Union to help farmworkers gain the right to join a union.
A few days after David went to work for California Rural Legal Assistance, the Reagan
Justice Department and Border Patrol conducted massive immigration raids detaining and questioning everyone who appeared to be Latino about their immigration status. In Sonoma County, they targeted Petaluma Poultry, Point St. George Fish Company, Nevi Roses among other workplaces. Those employees who were able to produce documentation were released after a few hours. Others were herded onto busses and taken to Mexico. David worked with Alan Schlosser of the ACLU of Northern California, and other public interest lawyers and obtained an injunction prohibiting the federal government from detaining any individual to investigate her/his immigration status unless they had reasonable grounds to believe the person was not legally in the Country. “The Molders Case” as it was, known, is still good law, although police in Arizona and Alabama apparently don’t agree.
David served on the board of directors of the ACLU of Sonoma County from 1996-
2003, as well as in 2005. He served as Vice-Chair from 1997-1999, and Co-Chair from 1999-2001.
David has four children and three grandchildren. His wife of 30 years, Dorothy Battenfeld, teaches history at Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa and coordinates that school’s International Baccalaureate program. They met in West Virginia where Dorothy was working with a group of women setting up a women’s health clinic and David was working on a case with the ACLU to overturn the state’s prohibition on elective abortions.