John Burris is a prominent California-based attorney associated with his work in many cases involving police brutality and discrimination against African-Americans. One of his earliest prominent cases involved the defense of rapper Tupac Shakur, who was arrested by police on jaywalking charges. Shakur alleged that the arresting officers in Oakland had beat him and filed a 1991 lawsuit seeking $10 million damages. John Burris successfully obtained a $42,000 settlement.
In 1992, John Burris became involved in the case of Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles Police Department officers in 1991 caused riots. King had initially hired Steven Lerman after his beating, but dispensed with his services in October 1992 in favor of retaining Milton Grimes. Grimes had John Burris and fellow attorney Federico Sayre assist him in preparation of the case. Grimes, John Burris and Sayre were dismissed in August of 1994.
In 1996, Rodney King filed suit against John Burris, Lerman and Sayre. The suit alleged that John Burris and other attorneys had fraudulently charged him for work done on the suit, thereby lessening the size of settlement through fraud. His lawsuit was rejected in appeals court, which concluded that the one year statute of limitations had elapsed by the time King took this legal action.
In 1998, John Burris acted as defense attorney for professional basketball player Latrell Sprewell, who had been charged with reckless driving for forcing another driver off the road before hitting another car, injuring two people. Though he could have been sentenced to six months in prison, a plea bargain was arranged of three months of home detention in addition to two years of probation and a small fine.
From 2000 to 2003, John Burris was a leading counselor representing 119 plaintiffs in a federal district lawsuit filed against the city of Oakland. The
combined civil rights lawsuits concerned four Oakland police officers who were alleged to have committed a number of offenses, including beating prisoners, unlawful detentions, and planting evidence. In 2003, the city of Oakland agreed to a settlement totaling $10.9 million to be divided among the 119 plaintiffs.
In 2009, John Burris acted as leading co-counsel representing the relatives of Oscar Grant, who was shot to death by Bay Area police on New Year's Day. In the incident, Grant had been restrained and was lying on the ground, waiting to be handcuffed, when he was allegedly shot once in the back by officer Johannes Mehserle. As a result, the Bay Area Rapid Transit authority agreed to pay a settlement totaling roughly $5.1 million, including interest accrued.
In addition to his high-profile successes, John Burris has occasionally been the subject of legal action. In 1996, his license to practice in California was suspended for 30 days due to misleading solicitations he had sent to those who had survived natural disasters. John Burris disclaimed responsibility, saying it was done by employees without his knowledge.