Firm Successfully Appeals Food Lion Verdict Against ABC
Bruce Ennis successfully appealed a judgment against client ABC, sued by a grocery store chain after the television network aired an unflattering exposé. The case centered around two reporters who posed as Food Lion employees after receiving a tip about unsanitary food practices. Using cameras hidden in wigs, the reporters videotaped the practices and featured the footage on Primetime Live in 1992. Food Lion sued ABC for fraud, trespassing and breach of loyalty. In 1997, a jury awarded Food Lion $5.5 million, although a district court judge later reduced that to $316,000. On appeal, Bruce argued that Food Lion sought to skirt daunting First Amendment standards to prove defamation by suing ABC not for libel but rather for violations of state law. On this day in 1999, the Fourth Circuit rejected Food Lion’s fraud claim (and the $316,000 in damages tied to it) and upheld the trespass and breach of loyalty claims, but reduced the damages to $3. Sadly, the Food Lion matter would be Bruce’s last major case before he succumbed to cancer.
Firm Publishes Its First LGBT Newsletter
On this day in 2001 – in time for “LGBT History Month” – the first Equal Time-LGBT Community Service newsletter was published. It was the first diversity newsletter the firm produced and is thought to have been the first of its kind anywhere in the legal community. The first issue noted the firm’s involvement in championing LGBT issues, including, among them, filing amicus briefs on behalf of an openly gay Scoutmaster who was expelled from the organization and the effort to topple state-based anti-sodomy laws throughout the nation. Importantly, the newsletter also listed out attorneys and their client work, a practice that continues with today’s publication. To see past editions of Equal Time, click here.
Firm Successfully Argues on Behalf of State's Mandatory Seat-Belt Law
Recognizing “Pro Bono Month,” we note Jerry Solovy’s pro bono work in People v. Kohrig. Appointed as a special assistant attorney general, he argued that the state’s then-15-month-old mandatory seat-belt law should be upheld. On this day in 1986, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed, marking the first time that any state supreme court had so ruled. Ruling that the law does not violate the rights of motorists, under either the state or federal Constitutions, the court said that “the state can enact laws aimed at reducing traffic accidents, since such laws are clearly related to the health, welfare and safety of the public. We also believe that the legislature could rationally conclude that unbelted drivers and passengers endanger the safety of others.”
Firm Secures Victory for Class of Tenants in Pro Bono Housing Matter
Capping a five-year legal battle, the Second Circuit on this day in 2013 affirmed a district court’s approval of a landmark settlement agreement between a class of 22,000 tenants and Pinnacle Group, one of New York City’s largest residential landlords that owned scores of rent-controlled apartments. Low-income tenants had accused the company of orchestrating a harassment campaign against them to force them to move out so that new tenants, not under rent control, would move in. The settlement included an independent and streamlined claims administration process; a $2.5 million legal assistance fund established by Pinnacle to assist the tenants in asserting their rights; an injunction wherein Pinnacle agreed to honor best practices enforced by a court-appointed claims administrator; and an audit of new rents, among other things. Fewer than 1 percent of the class members opted out or objected to the settlement, but all five named class representatives did object and voiced their objections to the district court. The district court conducted a fairness hearing, carefully considered all of the objections, and in June 2012, issued a 54-page opinion granting final approval to the settlement. The five named class representatives and three objecting class members then appealed to the Second Circuit, which called the district court’s decision “thorough” and “well-reasoned.” The Second Circuit also noted that the named class representatives were the “more militant members of the class” and pointed out that “the district court thoroughly and carefully reviewed the settlement and concluded that it was a fair and sensible way to resolve these claims.” The team representing the tenants included current attorneys Richard Levy, Ross Bricker, Marisa Perry and Joshua Rubin with assistance from Michael Brody, Matthew Hellman, Paul Smith and Elizabeth Edmonson.
Jenner Serves as Special Counsel to Warren Commission
By the early 1960s, name Partner Albert Jenner had made a name for himself on the national stage. Among other accomplishments, he had served, at age 42, as the youngest president of the Illinois State Bar Association and later served as the eighth president of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also a member of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, and, in 1962, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that he was “so pleased” with Bert’s work on the Committee that he reappointed him to a four-year term. The following year, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, new President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to “satisfy itself that the truth is known as far as it can be discovered, and to report its findings and conclusions to [President Johnson], to the American people, and to the world.” Chief Justice Warren, the Commission’s chairman, sought Bert’s assistance, appointing him as senior counsel. Bert’s role was to investigate the life and pursuits of the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald; his chapter was called "Oswald's Background, History, Acquaintances and Motives." Presented to President Johnson on this day in 1964, the Warren Commission’s 889-page report determined that Oswald acted alone when he shot President Kennedy from the Texas Book Depository and that nightclub owner Jack Ruby acted alone when he shot Oswald two days later. Bert told a reporter: “It’s a truly great report, it’s accurate as hell, and we worked like dogs to produce it.”
Firm Assists in Historic "Conspiracy 7" Trial
This case received wide news and public attention. It arose out of the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in August 1968. The defendants were a group of men, most quite young, who led or were involved in protests in Grant Park and nearby areas against the United States involvement in armed conflict in Vietnam and other alleged government civil rights violations: Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale and Lee Weiner. Days of confrontations between police and protesters ensued. The United States attorney in Chicago, Thomas Foran, obtained an indictment against eight defendants, charging them with a conspiracy to incite riots, and other related offenses.
Read More Mr.Seale, the sole African-American defendant, was represented by Charles Geary, a well-known criminal defense lawyer from San Francisco, California. The lead lawyers for the other seven defendants were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization based in New York City. The trial judge was Julius Hoffman.
Lehman Brothers Files for Bankruptcy; Firm Chairman Later Appointed Examiner to Investigate
Shortly before the trial was to begin, Mr. Geary was hospitalized for an operation and hence unable to appear for the trial on the day scheduled. A motion was made to either postpone the trial until he recovered or sever Mr. Seale. Both motions were denied. Instead, Judge Hoffman found that four out-of-state lawyers – Michael Kennedy, Gerald Lefcourt, Dennis Roberts, and Michael Tigar - had entered appearances on Mr. Seale’s behalf, but had not presented a motion to ask permission to withdraw their appearances, nor had they come to court at the outset of the trial. Each of these lawyers had signed pretrial motions and briefs on Mr. Seale’s behalf, along with Mr. Geary, concerning substantive and procedural legal matters. Judge Hoffman ruled that they were in contempt of court for failing to appear when the trial began on this day in 1969; he ordered them to appear before him for sentencing on Friday, September 26, 1969; and he issued bench warrants directing U. S. marshals to arrest the lawyers and bring them in custody to Chicago. Two of the lawyers traveled to Chicago on their own, and two were brought in custody by marshals and placed in the federal building lockup.
Partner Thomas P. Sullivan – who previously had extensive contacts with CCR lawyers in the Dr. Jeremiah Stamler/House Un-American Activities matter – was asked to represent the lawyers on a pro bono basis when they appeared before Judge Hoffman. This was the first of a number of occasions that Tom became involved in the case, assisted from time to time by partner John C. Tucker.
When Tom, John and two lawyers of the lawyers appeared before Judge Hoffman on Friday, September 26, 1969, Tom explained that Mr. Geary had been retained as Mr. Seale’s trial lawyer, that the four lawyers had assisted only on several pretrial motions and were not prepared to defend Mr. Seale. After a brief hearing, Judge Hoffman adjourned the matter until Monday morning and directed the marshals to take the lawyers into custody over the weekend. Tom requested that they be released to his custody, with his assurance that they would return on Monday as directed. Judge Hoffman said, “I do not release alleged contemnors” or words to that effect, and entered his chambers. The marshals took the lawyers to the lockup in the federal building, where they joined the two who had been brought in custody. (These events are discussed in John Schultz’ book, The Chicago Conspiracy Trial, pages 43-47. He quotes Tom as saying, as he rushed from the courtroom to try to reach a judge of the Court of Appeals to order the layers released, “You’ve heard of nothing new under the sun; well, there it is.”)
Tom telephoned Mr. Foran and asked that the lawyers be kept in the federal lockup, and not sent to the Cook County jail, until he contacted a Circuit judge to seek an order permitting the lawyers to remain free over the weekend; Mr. Foran agreed. Tom telephoned Circuit Judge Walter Cummings, who was attending a dinner party, explained the situation, and requested entry of a release order for all four lawyers, with his assurance that they would appear as directed. Judge Cummings entered the order, and the lawyers were freed.
The four lawyers appeared in court with Tom on Monday, September 29. Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported, “over the weekend lawyers from throughout the country began pouring into the city to demonstrate against the judge’s actions. This morning, lawyers from New York, San Francisco, Washington, Boston and other cities, as well as a delegation representing 13 faculty members at the Harvard Law School, were in and around the building.”
After discussion, in what appeared a thinly disguised effort to extricate himself from the situation he had gotten himself into, Judge Hoffman stated, “Since their clients [the eight defendants] have said in open court that they give them leave to withdraw, the contempt proceedings will be vacated.” This led to further acrimonious exchanges among Messrs. Kunstler, Weinglass, several defendants, the prosecutors and the judge. The vigorous objections of both Messrs. Seale and Kunstler were unavailing. Tom and the four lawyers left the courtroom.
The trial proceeded with Mr. Seale not having a lawyer he accepted to act on his behalf. Thus ended the firm’s first involvement in the case.
At the outset of the trial, during jury selection and the first several weeks of testimony, Mr. Seale continued to object to being put on trial without the lawyer of his choice, or alternatively that he be permitted to represent himself. Judge Hoffman denied both requests. To save the issue for appeal, Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass declined to act for Mr. Seale. When Mr. Seale persisted in his objections, and engaged in outbursts in the jury’s presence, Judge Hoffman admonished him, and then ordered him bound and gagged, and eventually removed from the courtroom. After six weeks of trial, Judge Hoffman declared a mistrial as to Mr. Seale, and sentenced him to four years in prison for contempt of court. Seale appealed, and was not incarcerated.
The trial proceedings against the remaining seven defendants lasted five months, amid heated exchanges, acting out by the defendants, and insulting comments directed at the judge by the defendants, and at the defendants and their lawyers by the judge and prosecutors.
In February 1970, the jury acquitted Messrs. Froines and Weiner and convicted the other five of non-conspiracy charges. Two days later, Judge Hoffman imposed sentences of varying terms of imprisonment on the counts of conviction and imposed jail sentences for contempt of court on all seven defendants, plus Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass, ranging from two months and 18 days for Mr. Weiner to four years and 13 days for Mr. Kunstler. He refused to set appeal bonds for the five convicted defendants, and they were taken to jail. Tom was asked to assist in obtaining an appeal bond from the Seventh Circuit. He conferred with the five defendants and Mr. Kunstler at the jail, helped draft a motion to the Court of Appeals for an appeal bond, which was granted, and personally posted cash that had been raised to secure their release pending the appeals.
Tom and John assisted the CCR lawyers in writing the briefs in support of the appeals from the contempt findings and sentences and from the convictions of the five defendants.
Prior to oral argument on the appeals, the Court of Appeals directed Judge Hoffman to hold a hearing and send the record to the Court, regarding alleged contacts during jury deliberations among the jurors, Judge Hoffman and several U.S. marshals. Together with Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass, and other lawyers from CCR, particularly Helene Schwartz – who took the lead in writing the portions of the defense briefs about the contacts – Tom assisted in cross examining the jurors and marshals in the hearing before Judge Hoffman, which consumed several days. (These proceedings are recounted in Mr. Schultz’ book, pages 346-54, and in Ms. Schwartz’ book Lawyering, pages 130-66.)
In May 1972, the Court of Appeals reversed all of the contempt convictions and remanded for hearings before a judge other than Judge Hoffman. United States v. Seale, 461 F.2d 345, 351-52; In re Dellinger, 461 F.2d 389, 392-97 (1972).
In November 1972, the Court of Appeals reversed the criminal convictions of the five defendants and remanded for a new trial, “if the government elects so to proceed.” The reversal was based on a number of grounds, including contacts between the marshals and the jurors which were disclosed during the hearing ordered by the Court of Appeals. The opinion demonstrated in scathing detail how both Judge Hoffman and the prosecutors had demeaned the defendants and their lawyers in the jurors’ presence. United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340 (1972). The government eventually dismissed the indictment against the five defendants and Mr. Seale.
Pursuant to the Court of Appeals orders, a federal District Court Judge from Maine held new hearings with regard to the contempt citations against all eight defendants, and Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass. Tom was asked to testify to the contretemps concerning Bobby Seale’s lawyer, and Judge Hoffman’s treatment of the four out of state lawyers. The defense theory was that Judge Hoffman’s conduct was so outrageous that it triggered reactions from the defendants and their lawyers that justified, or at least explained, why they reacted so forcefully to Judge Hoffman’s continued demeaning conduct during the trial. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge upheld several contempt charges, but declined to impose sentences or fines.
The Conspiracy 7 case was thus finally concluded, with no convictions and no penalties imposed for the contempt charges that were upheld.
1. State v. Jerry Rubin.
Tom represented Jerry Rubin pro bono in a state court charge of mob action, to which Mr. Rubin pled guilty, and served a short jail sentence.
2. City v. Peter Weiss, et al.
Tom and partner Russell J. Hoover represented a lawyer from New York, pro bono, who was one of the 13 defendants in a state court charge of disorderly conduct involving a march on August 29, 1968, during the Democratic convention, of supporters of Eugene McCarthy for the vice-presidential nomination. After a bench trial that lasted three weeks, the defendants were found guilty and fined from $250 to $400 each. A direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was taken. Tom and Russ, together with Arthur Kinoy of CCR, prepared the briefs for Mr. Weiss, and Tom argued the case in Springfield. The Supreme Court affirmed. City v. Weiss, et al, 51 IL 2d 310, 281 N.E.2d 310 (1972).
On this day in 2008, the fourth largest investment bank in the country filed for bankruptcy protection. The collapse of 158-year-old Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, was one event that precipitated the late-2000s global financial crisis. At the time, it was the largest failure of an investment bank in 18 years. “Throughout the day, employees carrying tote bags, suitcases and boxes packed with contents of desks and offices streamed out of Lehman's Times Square-area headquarters,” wrote the Chicago Tribune. In January 2009, the court appointed firm Chairman Tony Valukas as examiner, charged with investigating why Lehman had failed. Later that year, Chicago Lawyer magazine named Tony “Person of the Year,” in part because of his work on Lehman. In 2010, Tony presented his 2,200-page report, coined the “Valukas Report” and applauded for its clarity and usefulness in determining what brought about Lehman’s demise.
Firm Hosts its First Diversity Dinner
Diversity Dinner guest speaker Ruby Bridges, center, meets the firm's 2013 scholars; from left: Kara Ingelhart, Bide Akande, Kara Trowell and Mikael Rojas.
On this day in 2001, federal District Court Judge George Leighton, the first African-American judge to sit on the Illinois Appellate Court, keynoted the firm’s first Diversity Dinner. Attended by summer associates and attorneys from all offices, the annual dinner celebrates diversity and honors the firm’s diversity scholars. Other luminaries who have addressed the event through the years have included Michele Coleman Mayes, one of America’s top black lawyers and most influential general counsel; Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s national marriage director; civil rights icon Ruby Bridges; U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, the first Hispanic federal judge in Illinois and a firm alumnus; and, in 2003, a little-known Illinois state senator, civil rights lawyer and community organizer named Barack Obama. The 2014 speaker was Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of EBONY and JET magazines. A summer associate noted that the hallmark event “exemplifies what makes Jenner & Block such a special firm.”
Firm Wins $101 Jury Verdict for Ventas
On this day in 2009, a jury awarded $101 million to client Ventas, a leading healthcare real estate investment trust. Following a three-week trial in Kentucky, the verdict was awarded as compensatory damages against competitor HCP for tortious interference with business expectation arising out of Ventas’ acquisition of the Sunrise Senior Living REIT in 2007. HCP had topped Ventas' initial bid for Sunrise, which prompted Ventas to increase its offer by about $101 million. Ventas ultimately acquired Sunrise for about $2 billion and later sued HCP, arguing that it had interfered with Ventas' purchase agreement by making misleading public statements relating to the bid. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit not only affirmed the verdict but also remanded the case to the trial court to allow Ventas to pursue punitive damages. “The record is replete with evidence of intentional misrepresentations, deceit, and/or concealment of material facts by HCP,” the opinion read. For his work on the appeal, David Bradford was named American Lawyer’s “Litigator of the Week” in May 2011. In addition to David, the team resenting Ventas included current Partners Michael L. Cebula, Terri L. Mascherin, Paul M. Smith, Daniel J. Weiss and Bradley M. Yusim and Associates Anthony B. Borich, Rachel S. Morse and Shaun M. Van Horn.
Firm Successfully Defends American Academy of Pediatrics in Case Focusing on Polio Vaccine
Don Harris successfully defended the American Academy of Pediatrics in a case that focused on the Academy’s recommended polio vaccine. At issue were two types of vaccines: the popular Salk vaccine, which was a “killed” vaccine, and the Sabin vaccine, which was a “live” vaccine and therefore had a “herd” immunity effect. Because of the Sabin vaccine’s “herd” effect, the Academy recommended its use over the Salk vaccine. But when a Michigan child contracted polio after using the Sabin vaccine, the family sued the Academy, charging that its recommendation resulted in the child getting polio. On this day in 1983, Don prevailed, despite the celebrity adverse expert testimony of Dr. Jonas Salk, the famed inventor of the vaccine that bears his name. The case showed that the Academy – and not supporters or detractors of any particular vaccine – should guide public health policy.
Operation Greylord - Undercover Probe into Corruption - Becomes Public
The undercover Operation Greylord investigation became public on this week in 1983. Tom Sullivan launched the joint investigation with the FBI after he became U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 1977; Chuck Sklarsky was among its architects during his time as an assistant U.S. attorney. Ultimately, the operation led to the conviction of about 90 individuals, including judges, lawyers, deputy sheriffs, police officers and court clerks, on a range of charges including conspiracy and bribery. In an interview with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, Tom recalled facing the difficult decision of whether to use real or fake cases to snare corrupt members of the Cook County judiciary. Although it would have been easier to have undercover FBI agents defend real cases, ethical and liability concerns caused the team to use fake cases. “If we use real cases and [the prosecutor or judge] takes a bribe and a guy is released from a minor crime and then goes out and commits a really horrible crime, I’m going to get blamed for it. So you can’t use real cases; you have to use fake cases. We had these wonderful FBI agents, just marvelous people who came up with this whole scenario of faking the reasons for being arrested,” Tom recalled. The probe continued under Tom’s successors, Dan Webb and then Tony Valukas. The investigation was made public and prosecutions begun during Dan’s tenure; Tony pursued and concluded the operation. When Tony left office in 1989, the Chicago Tribune observed that “corrupt judges, bankers, drug dealers, police officers, lawyers, business executives, aldermen, defense contractors, state legislators, sports agents -- all have been brought to justice by Valukas and his staff during his four years as U.S. attorney in the Chicago region.” In the aftermath of Operation Greylord, Jerry Solovy was appointed to lead a special commission to recommend ways to reform the system. Known as the “Solovy Commission,” the panel proposed the merit selection of judges, among other reforms, and issued several reports addressing disclosure rules regarding the judicial selection process.
Click here to download a copy of The Special Commission on the Administration of Justice in Cook County Report.
Sen. Obama Gives Keynote Address at Diversity Dinner
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.”
Albert Jenner Serves as Counsel to Minority on Committee Investigating Whether to Impeach Nixon
“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.
Firm’s Chicago Office Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary
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 Jenner and Samuel 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; Bert 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.
Firm Wins Release of One of the Wrongly Accused "Ford Heights Four"
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.
Senate Confirms Tom Sullivan's appointment as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois
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.”
Firm Convinces Supreme Court to Strike Down California's Law Restricting Violent Video Game Sales
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.
Firm Scores Supreme Court Victory for Gay Rights in Lawrence v. Texas
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."
Supreme Court's Ruling in Landmark Affirmative Action Case Relies on Firm's Amicus Brief
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 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.”
Firm's Victory for MCI Changes Telecommunications Nationwide
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.
Former Partner Don Verrilli Sworn In as U.S. Solicitor General
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.
Victory in Witherspoon Case Reforms Jury Selection Process in Capital Cases
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 Albert 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.
Please click here to read the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Witherspoon. Click here for a recording of Bert's oral argument presented to the Court.
Firm Scores Early Appellate Victory in 1925 Maple Flooring Ruling
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 "The Chief" Johnston, the firm’s principal litigator. "The Chief" 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, he 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.
"Army" of Firm Talent Scores Victory for UV Industries in Long-Running Dispute
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.
Dan Murray Appointed Trustee of Chicago Missouri & Western Railway
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.
Firm Wins Bench Trial for Chesapeake
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 Ziegler, Stephen Ascher, Tony Barkow, Toby Knapp and Michael Ross; Associates Anne Cortina Perry and Ali Arain and Prashant Yerramalli; and about 20 other lawyers who were engaged on the matter night and day.
On Law Day: Celebrating Firm's Efforts to Ensure Defendants Have Effective Counsel
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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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. Mr. Wiggins was resentenced to life in prison and ultimately sent to a state facility for mental health treatment and rehabilitation.
Firm Guides Archibald Candy Company's Bankruptcy and Sale
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.”
Firm's Supreme Court Argument Strikes Death Knell for Chicago's Time-Honored Patronage System
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.”
Firm Makes Successful Argument in Supreme Court's First Foray into Internet First Amendment Issues
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."
Firm Expands to the West Coast with Office in Los Angeles
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.
Jerry Solovy Successfully Dismantles "Antediluvian" Law that Flouted the First Amendment
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.
Firm Wins High-Stake Infringement Battle against File-Sharing Service
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.
Firm Helps Louisiana's Only Land-Based Casino Emerge from Bankruptcy
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.
David Savner Builds on Firm's Long Relationship with General Dynamics
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.
Albert Jenner Argues before Supreme Court on Behalf of Serbian Diocese
Albert 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.”
First Women’s Forum Formalizes Long-time Efforts Helping Women Lawyers Develop their Careers
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.
Judge Allows Northwest Airline's Departure from Midwest Deal
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.
Court Strikes Down "Repugnant" Railroad Bankruptcy Law after Firm's Challenge
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.”
Firm Wins Dismissal of Harassment Claims in Landmark Matter
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.
Firm Helps Secure Pro Bono Client’s Release
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.
Bill Von Hoene Joins Exelon
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.
Contract Buyers League
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.
Firm Wins U.S. Supreme Court Victory for Client NextWave
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.
Pro Bono Case Was First in Illinois Granting Post-Convicting Ballistics Testing
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.
Firm Defends Associate of 1950s-era Automaker Preston Tucker
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 Mr. 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,” Floyd 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.
The Stamler Case and the Demise of HUAC
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 Albert 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.
Firm's Role In Capital Punishment
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.
The Beginning: Firm Founded in Chicago
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.