“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 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.
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."