Pro bono and the willingness to give back to our communities is embraced by all, from the most senior partners to the most junior associates and our support team. New York lawyers dedicate a significant number of hours to representing pro bono clients – be they asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, indigent criminal defendants, death row inmates, nonprofits needing advice on corporate matters, among others.
Recent pro bono matters include:
- Successfully representing a proposed nationwide class of Vietnam War veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who challenged their less-than-honorable discharges from the military. In addition to securing discharge upgrades for the named plaintiffs, this representation also prompted the Secretary of Defense to issue new guidance to the administrative boards hearing discharge upgrade requests to consider PTSD diagnoses for veterans – a result that should help thousands of veterans.
- A New York partner leading Governor Cuomo’s efforts to reform the New York State juvenile justice system as co-chair of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety & Justice. As part of its mandate, the Governor asked the commission to weigh how best to "raise the age" of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. Through a labor-intensive and wide-ranging process, he gained unanimous commission support for a comprehensive set of reforms that will, when enacted, transform New York State’s juvenile justice system. As a first step, the governor responded by announcing that he would act by executive order to remove juvenile detainees from state prisons.
- A multidisciplinary team of Jenner & Block lawyers, led by a New York partner, representing the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in Rwanda, home to 500 orphaned and otherwise vulnerable Rwandan youth, in an unprecedented project. It involved leasing approximately 20 acres of its 144-acre campus to Gigawatt Global. The lease was signed in January 2014; construction began in February, and the facility began functioning in September, producing 8.5 megawatts of electricity, approximately 8 to 10 percent of all grid-connected electricity in Rwanda.
- Achieving an important victory in our pro bono representation of the family of the late graffiti artist Jason Wulf. Following his sudden death, others in the graffiti community took advantage of resulting media attention and began selling copies of his graffiti tags and other artwork to make money, without the permission of the Wulf family. This was particularly upsetting for the family, who did not even have enough money to purchase a headstone for Jason. In April 2015, the firm obtained copyright registrations of several of his works. Having this protection has given the family piece of mind, as well as great pride around Wulf’s legacy.
- Several New York attorneys have handled numerous cases over the last few years for unaccompanied immigrant youth facing the threat of removal from the United States. These cases have included claims for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”) and claims for asylum, and the firm has been successful in obtaining both. In one recent matter, the firm successfully obtained asylum for two young boys from Honduras who fled their home country following the severe violence they suffered at the hands of a family member. In support of the asylum application, the team secured and submitted detailed expert reports from a clinical psychologist who diagnosed the two boys with post-traumatic stress disorder. The team also obtained and submitted a report from an in-country expert on Honduran country conditions, who opined about government inaction in the face of pervasive child abuse in that country. Our lawyers also recently filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of several education organizations that oppose a challenge to the Department of Homeland Security’s policy to grant “deferred action” to immigrant children and parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
- Winning reversal of client’s conviction for violation of various environmental laws based on improper exclusion of evidence and prosecutorial misconduct at trial. In May 2014, a unanimous panel of the Second Circuit took the highly unusual step of vacating a jury’s conviction of our client and two co-appellants, adopting point-for-point the firm’s arguments that the trial was so “infected” with prosecutorial misconduct that, combined with an erroneous evidentiary ruling by the district court, our client was denied her right to a fair trial.
- New York lawyers have represented Guantanamo Bay detainees, prepared amicus briefs to the US Supreme Court on various issues and represented indigent death row inmates and immigrants seeking political asylum in the United States. One New York partner serves on the Criminal Justice Act panel for the federal court in the Eastern District of New York and is assigned to represent several indigent criminal defendants in that court each year.
- As class counsel, we achieved a significant settlement of a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of more than 20,000 tenants living in rent-regulated apartments in New York City against the Pinnacle Group, one of New York’s largest residential landlords. In an action filed in 2007 in the Southern District of New York, our clients alleged that Pinnacle engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to harass and intimidate its tenants and evade New York’s rent regulation laws, to drive tenants out of rent-regulated apartments. Our lawyers beat back the landlord’s vigorous litigation tactics, first persuading the District Court to reject the landlord’s motion to dismiss our client’s RICO claims, and then sustaining class certification. The settlement establishes a claims process with no aggregate cap on the defendant’s overall liability for damages, nor on its liability for damages to any one individual class member.