The firm’s Chicago office handles pro bono matters across a broad range of legal areas, from indigent criminal defense and housing to civil rights, environmental issues, asylum and many more. Our commitment to leveling the playing field for those who cannot afford to pay for legal assistance is well known throughout the city and the state of Illinois. Reflecting this, a Chicago partner was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court to serve as the inaugural chair of the Commission on Access to Justice, a significant and innovative 11-member statewide group created by the court in 2012 to promote, facilitate and enhance equal justice for all, especially the poor and vulnerable.
Examples of recent pro bono work by Chicago lawyers include:
- Winning an extraordinary victory for a young woman who had been found guilty of murder in the strangulation death of her four-year-old son and sentenced to 30 years in prison, based largely on her confession, only the end of which was video-recorded after a grueling 27-hour police interrogation. The firm became involved at the case’s sentencing stage and litigated it for seven years at every level of both the state and federal judicial systems – until the conviction was vacated, the Cook County State’s Attorney agreed not to retry our client and, ultimately, the Cook County Circuit Court issued a certificate of innocence exonerating her of the crime.
- Fighting for more than eight years on behalf of a class of 22,000 tenants of one of New York City’s largest residential landlords. The company was accused of orchestrating a campaign of harassment against the low-income tenants to force them to move so that new tenants not under rent control could move in. Ultimately, the pro bono effort ended with a significant settlement for the tenants.
- Achieving a positive result for thousands of Illinois families by persuading the Illinois Supreme Court to declare an overly broad Department of Children & Family Services regulation void ab initio, and then settling a subsequent class action to halt DCFS from continuing to use the regulation despite the court’s ruling. The settlement expunged findings against thousands of Illinois parents wrongly indicated of “environment injurious” under the void “Allegation 60” and requires DCFS to implement new procedures in accordance with the revised rule.
- Winning a unanimous decision in the US Supreme Court in favor of aChapter 7 bankruptcy debtor claimingthat California’s homestead exemption protected $75,000 of his $363,348 home from collection by the bankruptcy trustee to pay legal fees stemming from a false lien the debtor had filed against theproperty to prevent its seizure by creditors.The firm teamconvinced the Court to rule that the bankruptcy court exceeded its authority when it ordered the funds be made available to pay the trustee’s attorney fees. Bloomberg News described the matter as potentially the most significant bankruptcy case of the Court’s October 2013 term.
- Settling the 42 USC Section 1983 claims of a prison inmate who contracted a severe case of MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) while incarcerated; an inmate whose treatment for a broken hand was delayed for weeks, resulting in permanent damage; and an inmate who was harassed and beaten by correctional officers.
- Securing executive clemency from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn for two clients. Johnnie Lee Savory, represented by the firm since 2001, was pardoned from his conviction of a 1977 double murder. Mr. Savory was paroled in 2006; the pardon followed the governor’s commutation of Mr. Savory’s sentence in 2011, resulting from a petition for executive clemency originally filed by the firm in 2003. Client Willie Johnson’s 30-month prison sentence was commuted to time served, following a controversial perjury prosecution based on conflicting statements Mr. Johnson made as a witness in a 1994 murder trial and later in a post-conviction hearing in 2011.
- Winning grants of asylum for a Guatemalan woman (after a 14-year representation) whose husband was thought to have been killed for his political views and a Togolese manseeking political asylum. A firm team also represented 10 Central American women and children asylum-seekersdetained at a controversial facility in Artesia, New Mexico, and subject to expedited removal; after suit was filed, our clients were given asylum hearings and released on bond and the facility was closed.
- Pioneering a challenge asserting racial inequity in the State of Illinois’ educational funding scheme. If the firm’s legal theory proves successful, the case will alter school funding and improve educational opportunity for thousands of students throughout Illinois.
- Devoting more than 5,000 hours to the ongoing representation of the only defendant under an active federal death sentence for a crime committed in Illinois.
- Providing transactional pro bono assistance to 501(c)(3) organizations in the areas of tax, real estate, estates and trusts, and organizational documents, among others. Recently, the firm’s legal advice and counsel assisted in: the construction of the Jesse White Community Center and Field House, which is now serving as a home base for the internationally known Jesse White Tumblers and housing athletic and other after-school programs for the surrounding near-north side neighborhood; construction of a new domestic violence shelter on Chicago’s southwest side, the city’s first expansion of domestic violence shelters in more than a decade; and construction of a community center/familyplex for underserved youth and families on Chicago’s west side.
In addition, in the tradition of name partner Albert E. Jenner, Jr., Chicago office lawyers are leaders in service to the organized bar – on the local, state and national levels – and to community organizations, actively participating on numerous boards, committees and commissions. Chicago partners have served as presidents of the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the Chicago Council of Lawyers, and a partner is currently the president of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association.