John L. Burris | Founder & Lead Attorney

John L. Burris

Burris Nisenbaum Curry & Lacy | Partner

John L. Burris is an Oakland civil rights attorney specializing in police misconduct. He has represented over a thousand victims of such misconduct over the last 40 plus years including many death cases.

His work has resulted in reforms or new policies in the area of canine use, the use of deadly force, the use of hog tying and pepper spray, proper police treatment of the mentally impaired, public strip searching and tasers. In 2003, as co-counsel with Jim Chanin, Attorney Burris settled a class action suit against the Oakland Police Department. During the case, referred to as the “Riders” they represented 119 plaintiffs. Aside from the 11 million settlement, part of the case settlement resulted in a court ordered monitor to facilitate specific reforms concerning racial profiling, use of deadly force, and disparate officer discipline within the Department.

He successfully represented over 20 South Asian women who were sexually assaulted by an on-duty police officer resulting in the officer’s criminal prosecution and series of departmental reforms to track officers’ whereabouts when on duty. He settled a jay walking case that resulted in many procedural justice reforms. In a public strip search cases he was co-counsel representing 40 African American men who were subject to public strip-searching. The case settled for $4 million plus. He has had other cases involving wrongful deaths related to police shooting of unarmed black men. Most recently in 2020 he and co-counsel settled a wrongful death case for $5.7 million on behalf of the family of a man was pursued by officers for a bicycle riding violation. Later in 20/21 he settled 5 cases for over 4 million dollars where young men were killed while in custody or unarmed. He received a jury award of 11 plus million dollars in a case where a young Vietnam man was shot in the back by a San Jose officer. He also received a jury award of $5.9 million for a man who had a gun and who was shot in the back as he tried to surrender. Also, in late 2021 and 2022, he settled two cases for $4.9 and $4.5 million respectfully where the same officer shot and killed two mentally impaired young men. That officer received a sentence of 6 years in state prison for unlawfully discharging his firearm multiple times into a moving car.

Attorney Burris has represented many high-profile clients during the course of his career including the Rodney King civil case, with a jury verdict of $3.8 million, Oscar Grant’s family settlement of $2.8 million (Fruitvale Station movie), the late rapper Tupac Shakur in his police brutality case, actor Delroy Lindo, NBA players Gary Payton and Jason Kidd, NFL player Keyshawn Johnson and a number of public officials and employees including the former police chief of San Francisco. Some of his most emotional and tragic criminal defense cases have involved the youngest person (6 years old) prosecuted for attempted murder, a female college student accused of neonaticide and the “cocaine mom” charged with murder of her newborn twins who died as she binged on cocaine.

Attorney Burris is a frequent speaker, panelist and lecturer on police and criminal justice issues. He is the author of Blue vs. Black: Let’s End the Conflict Between Cops and Minorities. Down through the years he has provided legal analysis for a number of national and local news media including MSNBC, CNN, and FOX News. For years he regularly hosted a weekly radio program on KDIA, entitled Legally Speaking.

He is married to retired law Professor Cheryl Amana Burris, North Carolina Central School Law, they have a blended family of 9 adult children, 20 plus grands and 5 plus great grands.

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P: 510-839-5200 Northern California Office


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Ph: (415) 654-9141

About John Burris
University of California at Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, Berkeley, California
  • J.D. – 1973
U. C. Berkeley Graduate School of Business
  • M.B.A.
Golden Gate University
  • B.S. – 1967
  • Major: Accounting
  • United States Supreme Court
  • Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
  • Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
  • U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Southern, and Eastern Districts of California
  • U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Illinois
  • All California State Courts
  • All Illinois State Courts
  • “Blue vs. Black: Let’s End the Conflict between Cops and Minorities, Saint Martin’s press, 1999;
  • “The Forgotten Victims” (Psychological impact on children whose parent/or close family figure killed by the police), 2013;
  • “Burris Report I and II” (Independent investigation into shooting death of 14 year old African America), 1976.
  • “Prosecuting Police Claims”, San Francisco Trial Lawyer (October 2020);
  • “Prosecuting Police Section 1983 Claims”, Alameda County Bar Association (March 2020);
  • "Police Liability Claims: Understanding the Legal Fundamentals of Police Claims”, National Business Institute (January 2020);
  • “Suppressing Public Protest in America: Do Free Speech and Free Assembly Matter Anymore?” American Bar Association (August 2019);
  • “Policing the Mentally Impaired”, International Congress of Mental Health and Law (Italy, July 2019);
  • “Race Matters: Opening and Closing Arguments”, National Police Accountability Practice (June 2019);
  • Remembering the Port Chicago “Mutiny” and Port Chicago 50, Friends of the Port Chicago National Memorial (February 2019);
  • “African American Athlete-Activists of the 20th Century: The Catalysts of My Awakening as a Civil Rights Advocate”, ACLU Santa Cruz (February 2019); “Racial Bias Obstacles in Selecting and Litigating Police Misconduct Cases” – Alameda County Bar Association (January 2019);
  • “What African American Professional Males Need to Understand if Stopped by a Police Officer” Business Brothers Dinner Group (October 2018);
  • “Selecting and Prosecuting Section 1983 Police Litigation” National Bar Association Annual Conference, (New Orleans, Louisiana, July 2018); “Case Theme, Voir Dire and Opening Statement” National Police Accountability Project (July 2018);
  • “Racial Disparities and Police Practices” Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference (July 2016);
  • “What You Don’t Know, Could Hurt You: American Association of Consumer Attorney, How to Recognize an Actionable Section 1983 Case and Make it Stick”, National Bar Association (July 2016);
  • “Community-Police Relations Panel”, Criminal Justice System Symposium hosted by Santa Clara Law and the Santa Clara Center for Social Justice Center, April 2016);
  • Trial of the Century Debate, Laney College, Oakland, California (October, 2013);
  • Selecting and Prosecuting Police Misconduct Cases, Lorman Police Liability in California, Santa Rosa, CA (September, 2013);
  • “Proving Your Case-Police Misconduct”, Southern University Law School, Baton Rouge, LA (Sept. 2011);
  • “Voir Dire”, National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco, CA, (Sept. 2011);
  • “Symposium: Racial Profiling – “Real or Imaginary” Stanford Black Students, Stanford University (May 2011);
  • "View from the Courtroom”, UC Berkeley School of Law (Nov. 2010).
  • Board of Directors, National Police Accountability Project
  • Member Board of directors, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
  • Member Stigma Phi Pi and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternities
  • Member 100 TOP Black Lawyers
  • Member National Association of 100 Top lawyers
  • Member Million Dollar Advocates
  • Solano Community College, Alumnus of the year, 2022
  • National Bar Association, Legacy Award, 2021
  • California Lawyers Association, Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame, 2020
  • Life Time Achievement award, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Oakland 2020
  • National Bar Association, Hall of Fame, Toronto 2017
  • Charles Houston’s Hall of Fame award Dec. 2015
  • National Bar Association Vince Monroe Townsend Legacy Award, July 2015
  • National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Chapter’s Champion of Justice Award, March 2015
  • John F Kennedy black Law Student Appreciation Award, February 2013
  • Legal Leader San Francisco Top Rated Lawyers of 2013
  • San Francisco Chronicle Profile “Powerhouse Behind Police Reform, September 2012
  • National Bar Association’s Heman Marion Sweatt Award for excellence in the legal profession, March 2011
  • Golden Gate University ‘ Profile in Prominence 2011
  • Solano County’s Council of Negro Women Achievement Award February 2011
  • Solano Community college: Living the Dream Achievement Award, 2011
  • San Francisco Daily Journal’s Top 100 Leading “Lawyers in California, 2009
  • National Bar Associations’ C. Francis Stradford Award: the highest award given by the association for inspiration, and contribution to the legal profession, 2008/2009
  • 100 BLACK MEN OF THE BAY AREA: Life Time Achievement Award December 2008
  • San Francisco and Los Angeles Daily Journal’s 100 Top Lawyers of Spheres of Influence 2005
  • San Francisco Chronicle Magazine profile “Oakland’s Johnnie Cochran, June 2005
  • Charles Houston Bar Association : Clinton W White Advocacy Award, December 2003
Case Results

Reginald Oliver v. City of Oakland

Oakland Police keep fabricating evidence and lying about minorities to arrest and prosecute them for supposed “gang” crimes, in violation of a settlement that prohibits …

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Named plaintiff Reginald Oliver claims the Oakland PD continues violating the Constitution, in defiance of the settlement in Delphine Allen e al. v. City of Oakland, USDC No. C-00-4599 TEH, also known as "The Riders" litigation. Read Full Course
John Burris
Jane Smith v. City of Oakland

Racial profiling of Asian women by police officer resulting in a class action complaint for damages, declaratory and injunctive relief

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Finding evidence about defendant's post-conviction parole violation unfairly prejudicial "since the jury could have construed that parole violation as character evidence in violation of Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)" Read Full Course
Rodney King
Rodney King v. City of Los Angeles

Rodney King has filed a petition for a writ of mandamus seeking to have Judge John G. Davies disqualified from presiding at the trial of …

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Rodney King waited too long to file a malpractice suit against the first of 27 lawyers who represented him in connection with the infamous beating he suffered from Los Angeles police in 1991, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled yesterday. The ruling by Div. Two affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann Kough’s grant of summary judgment to Steven Lerman. King earlier this year dismissed his appeal of Kough’s ruling in favor of two other lawyers sued in the case, Federico Sayre and John Burris. Read Full Course
FEATURED News & Updates

Civil rights lawyer John Burris confronts police narratives

Written by Janie Har, AP researcher Rhonda Shafner also contributed to this report. To read on AP News click here OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Before …

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