Deborah J. La Fetra

Senior Attorney Sacramento

Debbie grew up in an economically-striving lower-middle class family and was the first to get a college degree. Watching and learning from her exceptionally hard-working father, and with the support of the rest of her family, Debbie pushed herself in school and started working as soon as she was able – she’s been paying taxes since the age of 14. She graduated Claremont McKenna College in 1987 with honors and a double-major of political science and history, with a minor in literature. She graduated from the Law Center at the University of Southern California and continued working through all her years of higher education.

Self-reliant and an advocate for libertarian and conservative principles, Debbie couldn’t believe her good fortune in landing a clerkship with PLF in 1989 and coming aboard as an attorney in 1990. In her more than 25 years with the Foundation, Debbie has litigated in virtually all of its subject areas, with special emphasis on First Amendment litigation and matters that affect free enterprise and economic liberty. An expert in these areas, she has published half a dozen law review articles, including 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 United States Supreme Court.

Debbie is PLF’s original telecommuter. She was an early adopter who started working from her Sunnyvale, California, home in 1993 – using DOS and a 48,800bps modem. Since then, she has furthered the cause of liberty and constitutional government while, alongside her husband, raising and homeschooling two children (the eldest now off to college).

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. Similarly, in 2018, a Dallas-area election judge ordered Tony Ortiz to turn his “MAGA” hat ins ...

Rentberry v. City of Seattle

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

Rentberry is a small San Francisco-based startup that connects landlords and renters through a rent-bidding website. The company hopes to expand its service to Seattle, however city council adopted a one-year moratorium on the service over concerns it might violate existing rental law and might inflate housing costs—despite no evidence that eithe ...

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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October 01, 2020

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

If the government violates your civil rights, should you only be able to defend yourself in court if you can afford a high-priced lawyer (or convince a high-priced lawyer to represent you for free)? Of course not. But an upcoming Supreme Court case called Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski could ultimately open (or close) the courthouse doors ...

October 01, 2019

Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to fund unions’ political speech

In June 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Local 31 that forcing public sector workers to pay union dues in order to keep their jobs violates those workers' First Amendment rights. The government can't force government workers to pay for the unions' activities or speech—a ...

June 10, 2019

The Hill: Public interest litigation is under attack in California

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. the Board of Education, which found racial segregation of schools to be unconstitutional. That famed case, brought by courageous parents in Topeka, Kan., was more than a victory for civil rights: it also illustrates the power of public interest ...

May 28, 2019

Daily Journal: Does California value public interest litigation?

When a school district or a city or a state violates its citizens’ constitutional rights, we applaud when those citizens fight back. But it costs a lot to sue the government. Fortunately, they aren’t alone: Public interest law foundations and attorneys providing pro bono representation exist to help people enforce their rights in court. ...

March 29, 2019

Tell me why?

Everyone has a First Amendment right to remain silent – the government cannot compel speech or association without a person's affirmative consent. In Harris v. Quinn (2014), the Supreme Court held that the Service Employees International Union in Illinois unconstitutionally stole "dues" from Medicaid subsidies paid to more than 30,000 home-based ...

February 22, 2019

Never assume government competence

Last June, the Supreme Court held in Janus v. AFSCME that states could no longer permit public employee unions to garnish non-union employee paychecks to subsidize the union's activities in collective bargaining or anything else, without the employee's affirmative consent. By compelling employees to subsidize speech or associate with an organizatio ...