Deborah J. La Fetra

Senior Attorney Sacramento

Debbie grew up in an economically striving lower-middleclass family. Watching and learning from her exceptionally hard-working father, Debbie grew to appreciate the bounty of political and economic freedom that can move a person up the ladder of success. After in-depth study of the politics and philosophy of the American Founding at Claremont McKenna College (B.A. cum laude 1987) and further study of constitutional law at the University of Southern California (J.D. 1990), Debbie found her perfect vocational home at PLF, where she has litigated for the entirety of her 30+ year career 

She litigates in several of PLF’s subject areas, with special emphasis on free speech and property rights cases. She was on the litigation team for PLF’s Supreme Court victory in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky  (striking down a law prohibiting “political” apparel in polling places) and serves on several litigation teams with pending petitions for writs of certiorari. She also frequently files amicus briefs in the Supreme Court, in cases such as Janus v. AFSCME Local 31 (free speech rights for public employees) and Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski  (civil rights litigation and nominal damages). Debbie enjoys mentoring less experienced attorneys and law clerks in the course of her practice. 

In conjunction with litigation, Debbie publishes articles in both the mainstream and scholarly press, including Miranda for Janus: The Government’s Obligation to Ensure Informed Waiver of Constitutional Rights, 55 Loyola L.A. L. Rev. (Spring, 2022) (forthcoming) Amicus briefs: A primer on a vital legal tool for protecting individual liberty, Daily Journal, Two Court Cases Prove Why Free Speech Protections Still Matter at Polling Places, End discrimination against corporate speech, Medical Marijuana and the Limits of the Compassionate Use Act: Ross v. Ragingwire Telecommunications, 12 Chapman L. Rev. 71 (2008), Kick It Up a Notch: First Amendment Protection for Commercial Speech, 54 Case Western Res. L. Rev. 1205 (2004), and Freedom, Responsibility and Risk: Fundamental Premises of Tort Reform, 36 Ind. L. Rev. 645 (2003). She is licensed to practice in California, Arizona, various federal district and circuit courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Debbie is PLF’s original telecommuter. She was an early adopter who started working from home in 1993using DOS and a 48,800bps dial-up modem. Since then, she has furthered the cause of liberty and constitutional government while, alongside her husband, raising and homeschooling two children, both of whom are now graduated with the freedom to pursue their own dreams 

foreclosure Barnette v. HBI, LLC

Taking tax-foreclosed property requires proper notice

In 2002, Walter Barnette was working in the Omaha suburb of Bellevue when he spotted an acre of land in a growing neighborhood. Though he lives across the nearby border with Iowa, he bought the property with the intent of one day building a home. Walter fell on hard times, however, and failed to pay his 2010 and 2011 property taxes—$986.50—to S ...

Constitutional Rights of public workers Jackson v. Napolitano

California law keeps workers ignorant of their constitutional rights

Last year, the Supreme Court emphasized in Janus v. AFSCME that public employees have a First Amendment right to refuse to pay a union, and “must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them.” Before the state can authorize a union to deduct dues payments from employee paychecks, workers must give their clear permissio ...

Ostrewich v. Trautman

Your shirt or your vote: Fighting to protect free speech at the ballot box

When Jillian Ostrewich entered her Houston, Texas, polling place in 2018, she expected the only decisions she’d face would be on the ballot. Instead, an election judge gave her an ultimatum: turn her shirt inside out or forfeit her vote. Jillian has asked a federal judge to overturn Texas’ election apparel law because the First Amendmen ...

Rentberry v. City of Seattle

Seattle’s unconstitutional rent-bidding law blocks innovation, free speech

Rentberry is a small San Francisco-based start-up that connects landlords and renters through a website that uses innovative technology to allow users to bid for rental housing. The company hoped to expand its service to Seattle, but, in 2018, the city council adopted a one-year moratorium on rent-bidding websites over unfounded fears that such sit ...

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky

Victory for Free Speech! U.S. Supreme Court ruling protects political self-expression

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a polling-place dress code in Minnesota, upholding free speech rights across the nation and protecting the right of Americans to peacefully express their political views at the polls. PLF represented Minnesota voters, including Andy Cilek, who showed up at his polling place wearing a t-shirt that read “Don& ...

Kunath v. City of Seattle

Seattle imposes arbitrary and unconstitutional tax on achievement

The Washington State Constitution prohibits the government from levying an income tax on targeted segments of the population; any income tax must be uniformly applied to all citizens. Nonetheless, Seattle enacted an income tax targeting those making in excess of $250,000 per year with a 2.25% tax rate, setting a 0% rate for everyone else. Promoted ...

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April 28, 2021

National Review: Free speech in battle with snitch culture before the courts

As a high-school sophomore, B. L. was upset when she failed to make the varsity cheerleading team. At the mall with a friend that weekend, she vented her frustrations by posting a picture to Snapchat in which she raised her middle finger accompanied by the caption, "F*** school f*** softball f*** cheer f*** everything." One ...

March 12, 2021

You shouldn’t need to be rich to defend your civil rights in court

Editor’s note: In March 2021, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Uzuegbunam to allow nominal damages for past completed constitutional injuries. This decision will ensure access to the court (regardless of someone’s wealth) to more people who’ve had their rights violated by the government. *** If the government ...

March 05, 2021

Daily Journal: One step closer to professional freedom

Mandatory bars associations, also called integrated or unified bars, combine government agency regulations with trade association-style politicking. Assuming that mandatory bar associations were best suited to handling admission, education, and regulation of attorneys, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Lathrop v. Donohue (1961) that states did not i ...

March 05, 2021

Labor unions shouldn’t get a special pass to trespass on private property

Which of these things is not like the others? The bullhorn-wielding Black Lives Matter (BLM) activist at Starbucks. Students staging a sit-in at a private college to protest administration salaries and student debt. Animal welfare activists trespassing on agricultural production properties to gather evidence of animal mistreatment. Environmentalist ...

March 01, 2021

Daily Journal: Lease of a lifetime! Can property owners ever challenge San Francisco’s gift to tenants?

Why do people buy retirement homes? To live in them! (It wasn't a trick question.) San Francisco lost sight of that simple truth when it decided that condo conversions presented an opportunity to require property owners to offer their tenants a lifetime lease. Ohio residents Peyman Pakdel and his wife, Sima Chegini, bought a charming ...

November 13, 2020

Jurist: The Supreme Court and the importance of nominal damages

When attorneys file legal complaints in court, they generally request specific relief for the plaintiff, such as a declaration that government action was unconstitutional, or an injunction, or compensatory damages. Then, just in case they forgot something, they add a catch-all request asking for "any such additional relief as would be just and prop ...