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.