John T. Philipsborn

Title: Lawyer
Company: Law Offices of John T. Philipsborn
Location: San Francisco, California, United States

John Philipsborn has been recognized by Marquis Who’s Who Top Lawyers for dedication, achievements, and leadership in trial, appellate, criminal and international human rights law.

John Philipsborn was born in France in the aftermath of the Second World War.  Both of his parents served in the military of the United States in Europe during that war, and both also were involved in international relations, which may explain Mr. Philipsborn’s interest in international law and human rights.  John Philipsborn returned to the United States to complete his secondary schooling and became interested in the plight of persons incarcerated in prisons and state hospitals.  This interest was pursued while he was an undergraduate at Bowdoin College when he recruited some fellow undergraduates to participate in a reading and discussion program with persons incarcerated in a local prison.  Thereafter, he served as a VISTA Volunteer working in the prison, parole system, and the state university system in Montana, during which time he helped develop statewide programs to place university students and their ideas into various parts of the Montana corrections system.  Following that service, he earned a Master of Education from Antioch College in 1975, while lecturing in the University of New Hampshire system, as well as at Antioch University’s New England campus.  He also helped develop VISTA programs for legal aid offices in western states and continued to periodically work with incarcerated persons.

Mr. Philipsborn earned his J.D. from the University of California in 1978 and began practicing that same year.  During his law school tenure, he continued to work with incarcerated persons addressing issues including the forced medication of certain prisoners.  After a short stint in private practice, he joined Defenders, Inc., then the largest office defending indigent persons in criminal cases in San Diego, California, rising to become one of the trial team supervisors in that office. He returned to the San Francisco area and joined Garry, Dreyfus, and McTernan, a firm known for its criminal defense and civil rights work.  There, he defended a wide array of clients, including some facing the death penalty, and also began working on international human rights cases, eventually founding his firm in 1987, an endeavor he continues to this day.

Mr. Philipsborn has combined practicing in courts throughout the United States with work overseas, once as a Senior Fulbright Scholar in Pakistan and a second occasion, also as a Fulbright Scholar, at the Center for the Training of the Judiciary in Lisbon, Portugal, thereafter organizing an international conference on the use of juries in criminal cases.  He conducted an observational study of the Nicaraguan court system, and traveled to several South Asian countries including Thailand and Cambodia to help provide training to persons in the legal systems and to serve as an observer of conditions in several refugee camps.  He also served briefly as a consultant to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia during its formative years.  When in the United States, he served on several Task Forces of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; as a board member of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and as the Chair or Co-Chair of CACJ’s Amicus Curiae Committee beginning in 1992.  In that last role, he authored or co-authored more than 150 briefs filed in various reviewing courts, including before the U.S. Supreme Court.  His work figures in more than 100 published opinions and orders.

Mr. Philipsborn has lectured to and written for audiences of lawyers and forensic mental health professionals for many years, contributing sections to several books, practice manuals, and over 90 periodical and journal articles.  In 2016, he earned an MAS in Criminology, Law, and Society from the University of California, Irvine, and has since pursued further studies at several universities.  In 2019, he was named a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Neuroscience and Society.

His work has been recognized through awards from a number of organizations, including the National Association of Criminal Lawyers, CACJ and the Forensic Mental Health Association of California.  He was given one of the first Spirit Awards from the California State Bar/University of California for his contributions to continuing legal education, and in 2016, the University of California awarded him the Rosoff Distinguished Research award for his graduate work.  Throughout his time as a lawyer, he has contributed, yearly, to continuing education programs, particularly in matters involving psychiatry, psychology, and the law.  He has represented the interests of countries, including Mexico and the Philippines, in contested litigations involving human rights issues before courts of the United States.  It continues to be his privilege to provide legal services to disenfranchised persons in various parts of the world.

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