Illinois Senator Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the firm’s Diversity Dinner on this day in 2003, five years before voters would give him a job promotion to president of the United States. Senator Obama told about 100 partners, associates and summer associates that “diversity is an engine toward excellence, not an impediment… We grow by learning to look at the world through different lenses.”
“The law comes first with him” is how an associate described Albert Jenner in a New York Times profile. The Times’ “Man in the News” feature appeared in January 1974, when Bert was selected to serve as counsel to the Republican minority on the House Judiciary Committee investigating whether to impeach President Nixon over Watergate. Seven months later, Bert had lost favor with the Republicans due to what they considered his “pro-impeachment” stance. On this day in 1974, they voted to “sidetrack” him, replacing him with Sam Garrison. An analysis of the move in The Washington Post explained that “backroom strategists” had waited for the “best time” to oust Bert – and that time came after he was quoted in a Texas newspaper calling for Nixon’s impeachment. According to the Post, the Texas newspaper clipping was posted on the wall of the Republican cloakroom and Illinois Rep. Robert McClory “took the lead in lining up the votes to shove Jenner aside.” The Post’s analysis also observed that Nixon’s strategy had been “to obstruct impeachment and, after it could no longer be delayed, to portray it as a Democratic vendetta against him. Now, with Garrison stepping forth and leading the political revival, the President’s supporters are trying to whip up partisan feelings and make a vote against impeachment a Republican loyalty test.” As it turned out, Nixon resigned 24 days later, just as Bert had previously recommended.
As part of the firm’s centennial year, Jenner & Block hosted a celebration on Wednesday, June 25, at its Chicago office. More than 650 people attended the reception atop the 45th floor at 353 N. Clark St., greeting friends and colleagues in the legal community while mingling amidst scores of exhibits that commemorated the firm’s century of service.
The exhibits across 10 conference rooms included tributes to name partners Albert E. Jenner and Samuel W. Block; causes the firm has championed; clients and key matters; diversity and inclusion; government investigations and commissions; international work; name partners throughout firm history; pro bono and community service; and public service and service to the bar.
Posters depicted the firm’s defense of utility magnate Samuel Insull in the mid-1930s; Albert Jenner’s appointment as counsel for the Warren Commission and the House Judiciary Committee’s inquiry into the impeachment of President Richard Nixon; the firm’s representation of MCI in its historic antitrust suit against AT&T; Paul Smith’s winning Supreme Court oral argument in the landmark gay civil rights case Lawrence v. Texas; Tony Valukas’ appointment as examiner in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy; the firm’s work on the General Motors IPO; and many other matters. In all, the exhibits showcased nearly 230 artifacts – awards, documents, photos – and 18 posters and one interactive “autograph board” on which attorneys listed their pro bono cases through the years.
In addition to approximately 120 Jenner & Block alumni, guests included 61 judges and government representatives, and representatives from 159 companies, 19 nonprofits and 13 universities. Legal Bisnow provided a pictorial essay on the event in its article, “Which Firm Just Celebrated Its Centennial?” In addition, Chicago Bar Association President Dan Cotter attended the reception and wrote about it in his President’s blog. Each of the firm’s four offices – Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC – is taking part in the 100-year tribute celebration.
On this day in 1996, Bob Byman and Jim Thompson secured the release of Dennis Williams, one of the “Ford Heights Four” who spent nearly two decades on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. The following day, police arrested the man prosecutors said should have been charged with the 1978 murders of Lawrence Lionberg and his fiancé, Carol Schmal. As the Chicago Tribune observed, the case against Mr. Williams and the other “Four” involved “poor lawyering, overzealous police and prosecutors, a dishonest witness and a public uproar” over the brutal crime. During Mr. Williams’ second trial in 1987, for instance, his lawyer at the time neglected to follow up on an investigator’s interview with a potential witness who indicated that four other men were involved in the crime. “It was a judgment call not to investigate it, but it was a bad judgment call,” Bob was quoted as saying. The case would become the subject of the book, A Promise of Justice.
After Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III recruited Tom Sullivan to serve as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. On this day in 1977, the U.S. Senate confirmed Tom’s appointment. Tom was ready to move into public service, although he knew at the outset that he would limit his tenure to four years. During that time, he investigated fair-housing violations and discrimination cases in schools and challenged police hiring practices. He also started the undercover Operation Greylord probe of corruption in the Cook County judiciary, a long-running investigation that would continue under his predecessors, including current firm Chairman Tony Valukas while he served in the same role from 1985-1989. When Tom left the office to return to the firm in 1981, the Chicago Tribune celebrated his “exemplary record.”
Representing the Entertainment Merchants Association, a team including Paul Smith and Matthew Hellman convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a California law restricting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors on the grounds that the law ran afoul of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and expression. After the firm’s victory in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association on this day in 2011, Paul was quoted saying he felt as though he was on the “front lines of the digital war” and noted that the case and others like it would help to write the basic foundation of laws in the future.
To recognize “Gay Pride Month,” we highlight one case that many recognize as among the most important civil rights matters for the lesbian, gay and transgender community in a generation. In Lawrence v. Texas, Partner Paul Smith, working with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, challenged the state of Texas’ anti-sodomy laws. When the Supreme Court struck down the statute on this day in 2003, it effectively invalidated anti-sodomy laws throughout the nation. Two gay men arrested after police walked in on them having sex "are entitled to respect for their private lives," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
On this day in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program, expressly relying on an amicus brief prepared by the firm on behalf of 65 major companies. “These corporations are participating in this case because they believe it is essential to their success to be able to hire individuals of all backgrounds who have been educated in a diverse environment,” said Partner David W. DeBruin, who filed the brief. The brief argued that it is essential for companies to recruit individuals who were trained and educated in a diverse environment that encompasses a broad range of people, backgrounds, cultures and ideas. For today’s students to realize their potential as corporate and community leaders of the next half century, they must, according to the brief, “be educated in an environment where they are exposed to diverse people, ideas, perspectives and interactions.”
The storied “David-and-Goliath” battle between MCI and AT&T literally changed the way we communicate. In the early 1970s, MCI had one microwave system in the Midwest while AT&T was the nation’s “Ma Bell,” the sole provider of telephone service across the country. At issue was a 1971 order by the Federal Communications Commission that opened the way for companies like MCI to launch competitive long-distance service with the Bell System nationwide. AT&T responded by directing its local Bell companies around the country to deny MCI access to local switching systems needed to reach its customers. After nearly going out of business In 1974, MCI sued and complained to the U.S. Department of Justice about these anticompetitive tactics. In turn, the Justice Department brought suit to break up AT&T.
On this day in 1980, a federal court ordered AT&T to pay MCI $1.8 billion after a jury found that Bell had violated federal antitrust laws in denying service to MCI. “The award was stunning to AT&T both monetarily and psychologically,” the New York Times reported, “because the MCI victory could generate other actions against the communications giant.” Because of the victory, it became inevitable that the government would proceed to trial in its divestiture case.
The award would later be reduced after appeal, but the impact of the case could not be overstated. On January 8, 1982, AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice announced that AT&T would split up its $136.8 billion domain. AT&T and DOJ representatives said the move -- with AT&T relinquishing 22 operating regional subsidiaries -- would lead to increased competition for telephone service and equipment and eventually lower long-distance rates. The move revolutionized the telephone and computer industries.
By the early 1980s, MCI, based in Washington, DC, invited Jenner & Block to establish a presence in the Capital. And in 1982, when the firm opened its Washington, DC office, MCI was its anchor client.
On this day in 2011, former partner Don Verrilli was sworn in as the solicitor general of the United States. Don was nominated by President Barack Obama in January 2011 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on a 72-16 vote. While at Jenner & Block, Don focused his practice on telecommunications law, copyright law, and First Amendment law. He was the chair of the Telecommunications Practice and co-chair of the Appellate and Supreme Court Practice.
The firm represented William Witherspoon in a case that would have major implications for how juries are selected in capital cases throughout the nation. In 1960, Witherspoon was sentenced to death by a jury. The jury was selected in a process that permitted the prosecution an unlimited number of challenges for cause with respect to any potential juror who expressed qualms about the death penalty. As a result, the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was composed only of persons who had no qualms about capital punishment. Jenner & Block represented Mr. Witherspoon on a pro bono basis in a post-conviction review that challenged the constitutionality of this process. The Illinois Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief. In an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a team led by Bert Jenner, with Tom Sullivan, Jerry Solovy and John Tucker, secured a reversal of Witherspoon’s death sentence. On this day in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion holding that the method of selection of the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned: “A jury that must choose between life imprisonment and capital punishment can do little more – and must do nothing less – than express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death. Yet, in a nation less than half of whose people believe in the death penalty, a jury composed exclusively of such people cannot speak for the community.” The Court added: “To execute this death sentence would deprive [Witherspoon] of his life without the due process of the law.” As a result of the Witherspoon decision, more than 350 inmates on death row around the nation had their death sentences lifted.
Witherspoon was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. He became a model prisoner. When he became eligible for possible parole, Jerry Solovy, with assistance from associates Mike Seng and Dan Murray, mounted a concerted effort over a number of years to secure Witherspoon’s parole. His parole application enjoyed the support of all of the prison wardens under whom he served and of all of the guards in Old Joliet Prison. The Parole Board ultimately granted him parole. Witherspoon devoted the remainder of his life working at a half-way house in Detroit, helping inmates coming out of prison in their adjustment and re-entry into society.
Newman, Poppenhusen, Stern & Johnston was primarily a transactional firm in the 1920s, when name partner Jacob Newman represented the Maple Flooring Manufacturers Association, a trade association based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Members would share weekly statistics showing charges that had been made for the various grades of lumber during the previous week, monthly statements of lumber on hand and other statistical data. In the mid-1920s, the U.S. government complained that those activities, among others, violated the Sherman Act. Newman gave the matter to Edward Johnston, the firm’s principal litigator. Johnston took depositions of lumber dealers throughout the country that dealt with the Association to show that “they had not been faced with any monopolistic price situations,” he wrote in his memoirs. The Association, Johnston added, did not list current prices or advise members of changes in prices but disclosed only past transactions. “We contended this was permissible economic information.” On this day in 1925, the Supreme Court agreed in a landmark decision and early appellate victory for the firm. “The natural effect of the acquisition of wider and more scientific knowledge of business conditions on the minds of the individuals engaged in commerce and its consequent effect in stabilizing production and price can hardly be deemed a restraint of commerce or, if so, it cannot, we think, be said to be an unreasonable restraint, or in any respect, unlawful,” the majority opinion read
On this day in 1984, the court gave final approval to a settlement between firm client UV Industries and Reliance Electric, a subsidiary of Exxon Corporation, ending nearly four years of litigation and relying on an “army” of firm talent. In 1979, Reliance purchased Federal Pacific Electric Company from UV. But around the same time, the Consumer Product Safety Commission investigated the circuit breakers that Federal Pacific manufactured, and Reliance complained that the circuit breakers were faulty and prone to cause fires. In 1980, Reliance sued the liquidating trustees of UV Industries for $345 million in damages or for rescission relating to its purchase of Federal Pacific. The UV Trust retained Jerry Solovy, who soon deployed what he referred to as his “UV Army,” consisting of more than 20 lawyers and numerous paralegals, most of whom spent the majority of their time working on the case for the next two to three years. The lawsuit came after the UV Trust had distributed more than $600 million to unit holders and held up UV’s distribution of another $400 million. Under the settlement, UV refunded Reliance $41,850,000 of the purchase price of Federal Pacific, enabling the UV Trust to distribute its remaining funds.
On this day in 1988, Dan Murray was appointed to serve as trustee in the bankruptcy of Chicago Missouri & Western Railway Company following the death of the first trustee, former Illinois Governor Richard B. Ogilvie. As trustee, Dan supervised operations of the railroad, skillfully preserving passenger rail service. In 2011, Dan received the W. Graham Claytor Award For Distinguished Service To Passenger Rail Transportation for his outstanding work as trustee.
On this day in 2013, the firm won a high-stakes bench trial for firm client Chesapeake Energy Corporation in a declaratory judgment action against Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, which served as trustee for a $1.3 billion bond offering. The complex civil case unfolded at hyper-speed, as a mere six weeks passed from the time the complaint was filed until the start of the trial. Chesapeake sued BNY Mellon to challenge BNY Mellon’s determination that Chesapeake missed a contractual deadline to issue a notice exercising its right to redeem the $1.3 billion in notes at par. Chesapeake wanted to redeem the notes at par so that it could refinance the $1.3 billion in debt and save approximately $100 million in interest expense. The firm initiated the action in the SDNY on March 8, 2013, to obtain a declaration that a notice issued by March 15, 2013 was “timely and effective” to effect a redemption at par. The Court held that the contract in question was "clear and unambiguous" in giving Chesapeake the right to issue a notice to redeem at par up until March 15. The Court also held that even if the contract was not clear and unambiguous, extrinsic evidence demonstrated that the drafters intended for Chesapeake to have the right to give notice until March 15. The team included Partners Richard F. Ziegler, Stephen L. Ascher, Anthony S. Barkow, Tobias L. Knapp and Michael W. Ross; Associates Anne Cortina Perry, Ali M. Arain and Prashant Yerramalli; and about 20 other lawyers who were engaged on the matter night and day.
Today is Law Day, celebrating the rule of law and its significance to society. In recognition of the day, we highlight Don Verrilli's successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Wiggins v. Smith in March 2003. Pro bono client Kevin Wiggins had been found guilty of capital murder after a bench trial in 1989; a jury sentenced him to death. But the two public defenders did not thoroughly investigate Wiggins’ background and, therefore, Don argued, failed to tell the jury of “powerful mitigating evidence” that could have spared him that fate. In its June 2003 ruling, the Court held that the performance of Wiggins’ attorneys at sentencing violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel. The case reaffirmed the importance of the right to counsel in capital cases and helped to establish meaningful standards for defense counsel’s performance. Wiggins was resentenced to life in prison and ultimately sent to a state facility for mental health treatment and rehabilitation.
A team of bankruptcy lawyers led the post-bankruptcy sale of Chicago-based Archibald Candy Corporation, which included, among its assets, the Fannie May and Fanny Farmer brands of chocolates, recipes and 31 company-owned retail stores. Archibald had filed for bankruptcy in January 2004. In April 2004, Utah-based Alpine Confections Inc. completed the purchase of the brands and other assets for $38.9 million. The sale was selected as the “Transaction of the Year” by the Chicago chapter of the Turnaround Management Association. And the firm’s Bankruptcy, Workout and Corporate Reorganization Practice was honored by M&A Advisor Magazine for leading the “U.S. Middle Market Deal of the Year.”
On this day in 1976, John Tucker argued Elrod v. Burns before the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involved the City of Chicago’s time-honored party patronage system that typically governed how non-civil service positions were staffed. In this case, the new Democratic sheriff had been discharging employees who were “sponsored” by appointees of the previous Republican sheriff. On June 28, 1976, the Court struck down the patronage system, ruling that the First Amendment protects state and local government employees from being fired for partisan political reasons. While dissenters complained that the 5-to-3 vote dismantled a “practice as old as the Republic,” Justice William J. Brennan wrote for the majority that “the process functions as well without the practice, perhaps even better.” The Washington Post noted the significance of the ruling, observing that “the decision struck directly at the political machine of Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, but it is expected to safeguard the jobs of thousands of public employees across the nation.”
In recognition of “National Library Week,” we recall Bruce Ennis’ successful challenge of the Federal Communications Decency Act on behalf of the American Library Association and other clients before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Act made it a crime to provide “indecent” material to minors over what was then a fairly new medium: the Internet. In March 1997, the Court heard arguments in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union – a case the Washington Post called the Court’s “first venture into cyberspace.” Bruce argued that the Act infringed on the First Amendment rights of adults across the country. Readily available software blockers would be far more effective than the government in protecting children from adult material, he said. As for the Act’s impact on the First Amendment, he wrote in a brief that "it is hard to imagine a criminal standard that provides less guidance, or to conceive of a speech prohibition that would have a broader chilling effect.” On June 26, 1997, the Court ruled that free speech protections apply just as much to the fast-growing digital universe as to books and newspapers. The Act, wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community."
Jenner & Block opened its 11,000-square-foot Los Angeles office on this day in 2009. Launched by two lateral hires from Kirkland & Ellis, Rick Richmond and Brent Caslin, the new office in the landmark U.S. Bank Tower has since grown to 33 attorneys. At the time, the Los Angeles Daily Journal quoted firm leadership saying that the recession then gripping the country would not derail plans for its West Coast expansion -- a long-term goal prompted by client needs. Rick, the office’s managing partner, recalled that his interest in Jenner & Block dated back to when he clerked at the Seventh Circuit in 1987 and saw then-partner Barry Sullivan in practice. “I had an epiphany. I said, ‘Wow, that’s how lawyers make their argument.’ I was totally transfixed,” he said at the time. Today, the office includes several federal appellate law clerks, a former White House associate counsel, a former Justice Department counsel and award-winning lawyers in their areas of focus. With their location on the Pacific Rim, attorneys in the Los Angeles office represent clients from Asia in U.S. legal matters and manage international arbitration proceedings around the Asia-Pacific region.
April has been dubbed “First Amendment Awareness Month” by some universities; in recognition, we recall Jerry Solovy’s successful argument before the Supreme Court in Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp. Jerry defended Youngs Drug Products Corp, which in the early 1980s wanted to send unsolicited advertisements for contraceptive devices through the U.S. mail. Unfortunately for Youngs, its plan ran afoul of the 1865 Comstock Act, a federal law that made it a crime to sell or distribute materials that could be used for contraception or abortion or to send materials or information about such materials through the mail. Calling the Act “antediluvian,” Jerry argued that it was an unconstitutional restriction of commercial speech. In June 1983, the Court ruled that the government’s interest in purging mailboxes of contraceptive advertisements was outweighed by the harm that results from denying mailbox owners the right to receive truthful information on birth control.
On this day in 2005, in perhaps the most watched commercial case of the Supreme Court’s term, then-partner Don Verrilli argued on behalf of client MGM and other studio and content owners in MGM Studios v. Grokster, a case that would establish whether file-sharing services such as Grokster could be held liable for infringement for enabling customers to download music and movies protected by federal copyright laws. Lower courts held that because Grokster could point to legal uses of its software, such as distributing works in the public domain, it could not be held liable. But Don told the justices that these file-sharing companies could show only "minuscule" legitimate uses of their products – and should not "get a perpetual free pass" simply because they could speculate on ways a customer might use their services legitimately. In June, the Court agreed, ruling that Grokster could be held liable for inducing copyright infringement. In November, the company announced that it would no longer offer its peer-to-peer file-sharing service.
The firm played a key role in placing Louisiana’s only land-based casino on solid ground. The history of the casino dates back to the 1990s, when several developers – Harrah’s, now part of our firm’s client Caesar’s; a prominent real estate developer; and a group of Louisiana investors– conceived of the facility near the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans. They formed a joint venture, and Harrah’s Jazz Casino opened as a temporary facility in May 1995. Unfortunately, luck was not with the casino, and by that November, it filed for bankruptcy – its first. As a debtor in bankruptcy, Harrah’s Jazz was represented by a Jenner & Block team that included Dan Murray, Ron Peterson, Larry Wolfson and Tim Chorvat. The casino subsequently emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding and reopened on October 28, 1999 under the name of Jazz Casino Co. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, it lost $130 million in its first year of operation and fell short in its obligations to pay creditors. It filed for bankruptcy again, with a team including Dan, Vince Lazar and Tom Monson representing the debtors. In March 2001, the Louisiana legislature met in special session and agreed to give the casino a number of concessions, among them, cutting its minimum tax liability from $100 million a year to $50 million the first year and $60 million thereafter. On this day in 2001, the bankruptcy court in New Orleans confirmed the casino’s plan of reorganization, and the state gambling board officially approved its new contract with the casino as it emerged from its secondbankruptcy. Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, as it is now called, has remained open ever since – save for a brief period following Hurricane Katrina when the facility served as a command center for the federal government’s rescue operations in New Orleans.
On this day in 1998, David Savner, partner and former chair of the Corporate Department, was appointed chief legal officer for the firm’s long-time client General Dynamics. At GD, David led an 80-attorney legal team in the company’s acquisitions of more than 50 businesses worldwide with an estimated value, during his tenure, of more than $20 billion. In 2010, David returned to the firm, where he serves in the Corporate, Corporate Transactions for Government Contractors and Securities Practices.
Bert Jenner successfully represented the Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the United States and America in a dispute between the Diocese and a defrocked bishop. The matter dated back to 1964, when the Mother Church, based in Yugoslavia, defrocked Bishop Dionisije Milivojevich, based in Libertyville. Bishop Dionisije sued, seeking to have the courts declare him the “true diocesan bishop” of the undivided diocese. The Illinois Supreme Court sided with the bishop, determining that the Mother Church had violated its own procedures and internal regulations in defrocking him. On this day in 1976, Bert argued on behalf of the Diocese before the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 21, 1976, the firm secured its victory for the Diocese when the Supreme Court reversed the Illinois Supreme Court, holding that its ruling violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. “For where resolution of the disputes cannot be made without extensive inquiry by civil courts into religious law and polity,” the majority opinion read, “the First and Fourteenth Amendments mandate that civil courts shall not disturb the decisions of the highest ecclesiastical tribunal within a church of hierarchical polity, but must accept such decisions as binding on them, in their application to the religious issues of doctrine or polity before them.”
The first official meeting of the firm’s Women’s Forum was held on this day in 2002. Its stated mission was to “foster opportunities for professional, social and personal growth for our women attorneys, communicate the firm’s strong commitment to the success of its women attorneys and enhance the visibility and recognition of Jenner & Block’s leadership in support of women in the legal profession.” Susan Levy was the first official chair, and its first steering committee consisted of Susan, Debbie Berman, Lynn Grayson, Linda Listrom, Lorie Masters and Barb Steiner. The Women's Forum is a formalized effort of what pioneering partner Joan Hall had begun years before, and it continues today.
On this day in 1995, Bankruptcy Judge John Squires granted a judgment in favor of firm client Northwest Airlines in a bankruptcy lawsuit brought by the trustee of Midway Airlines. Midway had entered bankruptcy in 1991. Northwest expressed interest in buying the airline, but when Northwest later broke off discussions, Midway sued Northwest for more than $100 million. Northwest was represented by David Sanders, Richard Franch, Dan Murray, Larry Schaner, Randy Mehrberg, Bob Markowski, and Jim McKenna, among others.
On this day in 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of our client Henry Crown, the largest bond holder in the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Co., in Railway Labor Executives' Assn. v. Gibbons. The case arose out of the railroad’s bankruptcy reorganization, which commenced on March 17, 1975. In 1980 -- three days before the bankruptcy court would order the railroad abandoned, with no obligation on the part of the railroad to pay employee labor protection out of its assets -- Congress passed special legislation called the Rock Island Railroad Transition and Employee Assistance Act (RITA), which required the railroad to pay employee benefits of up to $75 million, to the detriment of its secured bond holders, including Col. Crown. In oral argument before the Supreme Court, Dan Murray argued that RITA represented an uncompensated taking of private property and an unconstitutional non-uniform law in bankruptcy. The Supreme Court declared RITA “repugnant to … the Bankruptcy Clause of the Constitution” because it was a non-uniform bankruptcy law. In its unanimous opinion authored by then-Justice William Rehnquist, the Court called RITA “nothing more than a private bill such as those Congress frequently enacts under its authority to spend money.”
The firm successfully defended national trucking company CRST Van Expedited, Inc., in a landmark harassment matter brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC sued in 2007, claiming that the company intentionally tolerated a practice and pattern of sexual harassment of its women drivers. CRST argued that the EEOC failed to show evidence of its claims. An Iowa federal trial court dismissed 268 of the 270 claims; on this day in 2012, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed all but two of the individual claims. According to a Law360 account of the dismissal, the majority ruling of the Eighth Circuit “held that the EEOC had not tried to ascertain the size of its putative class of employees, and that as a result it had not tried to investigate the claims of the 67 women during its investigation of the sexual harassment charge — brought by a single CRST employee — that led to the litigation.” Two years later, the victory was capped when a judge awarded CRST $4.6 million in attorneys fees, believed to be the largest of its kind in an EEOC case. John Mathias led the team that included Carla Rozycki, James Malysiak, Sally Sears Coder, Richard Campbell, Emma Sullivan, Ashley Schumacher and Christine Bowman.
On this day in 2013, the Seventh Circuit took the unusual step of ordering pro bono client Nicole Harris released on bond from prison, setting the stage for what ultimately became a successful effort by the firm and Northwestern University Law School’s Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions to exonerate her. "I just feel overwhelmed with joy," she told reporters covering the high-profile case. Ms. Harris had been convicted in 2005 of murdering her 4-year-old son and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The firm and the CWC became involved after trial, appealing the case through state and federal courts and losing at each turn until October 2012, when the Seventh Circuit held that the trial judge had excluded the testimony of Ms. Harris’ surviving son, 5 years old at the time, that he had seen his younger sibling strangle himself with the elastic from a bed sheet when their mother was not in the room. With her conviction reversed, the team asked the Seventh Circuit to order Mrs. Harris released on bond pending further proceedings. “We are grateful to have achieved this result for Ms. Harris,” said Bob Stauffer, who led the firm’s team. “It is very unusual for a federal appellate court to find it necessary to order a state prisoner released pending further proceedings; that the Seventh Circuit did so here suggests that it believes not only that her conviction was unconstitutional, but that it agrees with us that Ms. Harris is actually innocent.” On June 17, Ms. Harris’ freedom was secured when the state announced it would not retry her. Other members of the firm’s team included current attorneys Matt Hellman, Kara Kapp, Andrew Kennedy and Elin Park.
Many firm alumni remain connected to the firm through in-house positions for clients and colleagues. Bill Von Hoene worked at Jenner & Block for nearly 20 years, from 1983 to 2002, focusing on complex civil and white-collar criminal litigation and serving on the Management, Pro Bono and Diversity Committees. In 2002, Bill joined Exelon as deputy general counsel. He held a variety of positions before being named Exelon’s senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer two years ago this month. In that role, Bill oversees corporate development, corporate strategy, legal, regulatory, government affairs, investments and communications for the major energy provider.
In honor of “Black History Month,” we look back at the Contract Buyers League (CBL) cases of the late 1960s and 1970s. It was a time when racial segregation still marred one foundation of the American Dream for hundreds of Chicago African-American families: buying a home.
Read More It is impossible fairly to summarize in a few paragraphs the extensive litigation, in both federal and state courts, spanning more than 15 years, involving hundreds of African-American home owners who were our clients. They purchased homes on the west and south sides of Chicago after the end of World War II. On the west side, the sellers engaged in blockbusting-panic tactics, purchasing from frightened white owners with predictions that black buyers were moving into their neighborhoods. The houses were then sold at highly inflated prices to unsophisticated black families. Owing to racial prejudice, the buyers were unable to obtain regular mortgage financing, because Chicago-area banks were unwilling to make mortgage loans to African-Americans, and the federal supervisory agencies were not authorized to take corrective action. As a result, the buyers were required to make significant down payments and sign contracts that extended for many years. The terms of the contracts provided that if the buyers missed a single payment, the sellers were entitled to declare the contracts terminated, retain all previous payments, and repossess the homes. The same situation existed on the south side, except that the homes were newly built, but were sold at similarly inflated prices on land contracts with the same harsh forfeiture provisions.
We filed two cases in the federal District Court in Chicago, one for the west side buyers, and the other for the south side buyers. We also brought suit against the federal lending agencies, alleging illegal racial discrimination in refusing to provide mortgage financing. We litigated the cases in the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
To prepare the cases for trial, we held countless weekly meetings at churches located on the west and south sides. The lawyers from Jenner & Block included Tom Sullivan, John Tucker (deceased), Dick Franch, John Stifler (deceased), Carol Thigpen (deceased), Jeff Colman, and many others, including paralegals who served without fee. We were assisted by several Jesuit seminarians, including Jack Macnamara, the instigator of the CBL movement, and the young lady who later became his wife, Peggy. We were assisted by two of the finest lawyers in Chicago, William R. (Bob) Ming (deceased) and Thomas J. Boodell, Jr.
When we were unable to settle the cases or obtain a trial, the clients staged what became known as “the hold outs” — they refused to make their monthly payments, thus risking being foreclosed and evicted. Wide publicity followed. We sought relief from evictions from both the Illinois Supreme Court and then Mayor Richard J. Daley. Many of the evictions were halted, and settlements obtained. Eventually, we renegotiated contracts for over 450 families, which yielded a savings to the buyers of at least $7 million, or more than $30 million in today’s dollars.
The CBL cases resulted in two jury trials and a bench trial in the federal court. The publicity engendered by these cases, including that related to the holdouts, contributed to the end of exploitive contract sales, the availability of mortgage financing for African-American home buyers, and significant restrictions on racial profiling in the housing market.
The CBL cases have been the subject of numerous news and magazine articles, several books, and have been the subject of master and doctoral theses. We made lifelong friends of many of the client members of the Contract Buyers League.
Apart from the savings obtained by our CBL clients, the publicity engendered by the CBL cases were a major influence in bringing about a number of major reforms:
• Changes to the Illinois Forcible Entry and Detainer Act(the eviction law), to allow buyers to raise defenses for non-payment, and to remove the requirement that they post an appeal bond of one year’s payment.
• Passage of an Illinois statute requiring contracts to be treated like mortgages.
• Passage of the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, which forced banks to disclose where they made their loans, thereby making it possible to prove that banks were racially discriminating in their lending policies.
• Passage of the federal Community Reinvestment Act, which by the early 1990s was responsible for the reinvestment of $18 billion dollars in more than 70 U.S. cities.
On this day in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of firm client NextWave in FCC v. NextWave Personal Communications Inc., returning billions of dollars worth of wireless phone spectrum licenses. The FCC had attempted to repossess the licenses after NextWave failed to make installment payments while reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The agency argued that the licenses were automatically cancelled when the company missed its first payment-deadline and denied NextWave’s petition for reconsideration of the cancellation. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the cancellation violated 11 USC section 525(a), which provides that a "governmental unit may not...revoke...a license...to...a debtor...solely because such...debtor...has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in the case.” The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court ruling 8-1. Former partner Don Verrilli, later appointed U.S. solicitor general, argued the case in the Supreme Court. Former partners Ian Gershengorn (now principal deputy solicitor general in the U.S. Department of Justice) and Bill Hohengarten were also on the team.
On January 26, 2011, a team including Robert Stauffer, Andrew Vail and Kyle Palazzolo achieved a groundbreaking result in a pro bono post-conviction case on behalf of client Patrick Pursley. The Pursley case was the first case in Illinois granting a prisoner ballistics testing under the Post-Conviction Testing Act. Mr. Pursley has adamantly maintained his innocence since his conviction for first-degree murder during the course of an attempted robbery in 1993. The decision was featured in the January 2012 Pro Bono Hot List by The National Law Journal.
Name Partner Floyd Thompson defended one of Preston Tucker’s associates in the headline-grabbing case that inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker: A Man and His Dream. Floyd D. Cerf, the underwriter who handled the Tucker Corporation stock offering, stood accused along with Tucker and six other colleagues on charges of mail fraud, conspiracy and violating federal securities laws. The government said the corporation engaged in a large-scale con scheme, bilking the public and prospective dealers out of $28 million without mass producing the car. The defendants argued their honest attempts at producing the “Tucker 48” were hampered by government interference possibly driven by rival automakers. “This [case] is fantastic,” Thompson said in his closing arguments. “The prospectus plainly said Tucker stock was speculative…A couple more months, a couple more million dollars, and they would have had the production line rolling.” When the jury pronounced all the defendants “not guilty” on this day in 1950, it “loosed a tumult of cheering from more than 200 onlookers,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
When the 94th Congress opened on this day in 1975, one of its first moves was to officially abolish the Internal Security Committee, born in 1938 as the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Charged with investigating alleged Communists, HUAC’s influence peaked during the anti-Communist fervor of the Cold War. By the 1960s, Americans had for a generation witnessed the damage the Committee inflicted on innocent lives. In 1965, the firm began representing a prominent Chicago cardiologist whose long fight against the Committee would endure up to its dying days. Rather than bow to the Committee’s subpoena, Dr. Jeremiah Stamler engaged Bert Jenner and the firm to sue the Committee, seeking to have its mandate declared unconstitutional. After eight and a half years of litigation, the government agreed to drop its indictment against Dr. Stamler for contempt of Congress, and the doctor agreed to drop his civil suit against the Committee. By this time, “the Committee, under pressure from impending judicial review, had sharply curtailed its activities and mandate. A year after the Stamler case ended, the House voted to terminate the Committee altogether,” wrote Tom Sullivan, Chet Kamin and Arthur Sussman in a law review article about the matter.
The firm played a significant role in the state of Illinois’ journey toward abolishing capital punishment. On this week in 2003, then-Governor George Ryan issued clemency to approximately 160 inmates on the state’s Death Row, commuting their sentences to life in prison without parole. The unprecedented decision was based in part on the findings of Ryan’s Commission on Capital Punishment, co-chaired by Partner Tom Sullivan. Partners David Bradford and Terri Mascherin were also involved in the issue by representing three Death Row inmates seeking clemency. In 2004, when newly elected Attorney General Lisa Madigan challenged the governor’s power to issue some of those clemency orders, Terri successfully defended the orders in arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court. In 2005, Tom chaired the Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee. The Committee issued its report to the General Assembly on October 28, 2010. In 2008, Tom spoke before the ISBA Board of Governors in support of abolishing the death penalty, a resolution the Board ultimately adopted. On March 9, 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in Illinois, making it the 16th state in the nation without a death penalty.
Newman, Poppenhusen & Stern was born on January 1, 1914. Together, the three name partners – Jacob Newman, Conrad Poppenhusen and Harry Stern – had 75 years of experience. They brought with them three associates. The first offices in the Chamber of Commerce Building at the corner of Washington and LaSalle Streets were “totally inadequate for quarters for our new firm,” recalled one of the early litigators, Edward “The Chief” Johnston. It is doubtful they could foresee 100 years into the future. The firm they started in 1914 would move four times in Chicago, undergo nine name changes and grow into a 450-attorney firm with four offices across the country. Today, in its hundredth year, the firm goes by the name it has had since January 1, 1969: Jenner & Block.