Team Helps Pro Bono Client Secure Compassionate Release from Prison in the Wake of COVID-19 Threat
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
In 2012, our client was sentenced to 252 months in prison for a non-violent drug offense, a sentence that was 12 months longer than the minimum sentence. He has been an inmate at FCI Oakdale in Louisiana, despite being tried in the Northern District of Illinois and residing in Illinois. Oakdale has experienced a severe outbreak of COVID-19 and has a staggering 18.5% confirmed infection rate. This percentage is about 22 times worse than the United States overall. Furthermore, Oakdale has faced heavy scrutiny (including media attention) for its wardens’ negligent handling of the pandemic and endangering inmates. Our client has three of the most common COVID-19 comorbidities, making him highly susceptible to severe illness if he were to contract the virus. Out of fear for his life, he filed a pro se petition with Judge Lefkow for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).
On June 18, Judge Lefkow appointed Partner Paul B. Rietema to assist our client with his petition. Associate Maliha Ikram quickly worked to gather necessary information to support the petition. Maliha spoke to our client on June 19to glean information on his friends, family and community members. Maliha contacted dozens of these individuals over the course of 10 days. On July 1, Paul and Maliha were able to make an evidentiary submission that included 22 letters and affidavits in support of our client’s release.
On July 7, our client’s motion was granted and his sentence was reduced to time served. He has been ordered to be released from custody at Oakdale as soon as practicable. His term of supervised release will commence immediately upon his release, with his first six months to be served in home confinement. Though our client’s prison sentence would have otherwise run until 2028, the court released him to home confinement with the remainder of his term to be served on supervised release.
In granting his motion, the court noted that our client does not pose “a danger to individual or community safety” and, while incarcerated, has shown remorse for past conduct, earned his GED, and enrolled in several self-bettering courses. To have kept him imprisoned at Oakdale would have been to put him at “extraordinary risk” for his life.
The team was assisted by Legal Assistant Mirella Marquez, Manager of Docketing Services Na’eem Conway, and Docket Assistant Dylan Doppelt, who were instrumental in compiling and filing documents on our compressed timeline.
The American Lawyer’s Annual Survey Ranks the Firm No. 1 in Pro Bono for the Fourth Consecutive Year
Once again, The American Lawyer has recognized Jenner & Block as the No. 1 law firm in the United States for pro bono service. This marks the fourth consecutive year – and the 10th time in 13 years – that the firm has achieved the top spot in the annual survey of pro bono commitment among AmLaw 200 firms.
The American Lawyer’s annual survey ranking is based on 2019 hours, which totaled more than 85,700. Firm lawyers contributed, on average, more than 175 hours of pro bono work during the year, and 100 percent of US-based lawyers performed more than 20 hours. In international pro bono work, the firm secured third place for the second year in a row.
Jenner & Blockhas a deep and historic commitment to pro bono and public service. Partners Thomas P. Sullivan, Prentice H. Marshall and Jerold S. Solovy launched the firm's formal pro bono program in the 1950s when, as active members of the Chicago Bar Association’s Defense of Prisoners Committee, they not only represented indigent criminal defendants, but also began recruiting dozens of other Jenner & Block lawyers to the same service. The firm's name partners, Albert E. Jenner, Jr. and Samuel W. Block, worked on many pro bono cases involving civil and constitutional rights and were widely recognized for their contributions to public service.
The firm was named No. 1 in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 1999.
Firm Joins New Alliance Aimed at Dismantling System Racism in the Law and Government
Jenner & Block was among more than 125 law firms nationwide to join the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), which formed late last month.
LFAA is a coalition that will work with other organizations that are uniting to identify and dismantle systemic racism in the law and in government institutions. LFAA will facilitate large-scale pro bono projects that address systemic racism, with priority areas determined by affected communities, community organizers, policy experts and legal aid partners.
“Recent events have affirmed and highlighted the need for law firms to do more to identify and dismantle structural or systemic racism in the law and in government institutions,” reads LFAA’s charter. “Lawyers have a responsibility to use their knowledge and position to increase access to justice and to ensure a fair and equitable legal system. Lawyers and law firms are uniquely positioned to analyze and to advocate to change laws, policies and institutional structures that encourage, perpetuate or allow racial injustice.”
Participant firms commit to leverage resources of the private bar to amplify the voices of communities and individuals oppressed by racism; better use the law as a vehicle for change to benefit communities of color; and promote racial equity in the law and in government institutions.
LFAA will mark its official launch with a virtual summit this summer. Facilitated by experts in racial justice and systemic project design, the summit will include discussions among law firm leaders, diversity and inclusion professionals and pro bono professionals on developing LFAA's strategic focus and to plan a broad summit for the fall.
Firm Wins Victory For Pro Bono Client In New York Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and ordered a new trial for firm client, David Lang, finding that the trial court had improperly substituted a juror mid-trial. Mr.Lang, now 78 years old, was convicted in 2012 of second-degree murder in the shooting death of his brother on the farm where they lived together in upstate New York. As a result of that conviction, Lang was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.
The firm appealed first to the New York Intermediate Appellate Court, which affirmed the conviction. The firm then petitioned the New York Court of Appeals to hear the case, and the Court of Appeals agreed to do so. Review by the Court of Appeals review is extremely rare—the court took only 34 cases out of about 2,500 criminal applications in 2019.
At issue in the appeal was the court’s substitution, on the ninth day of the trial, of a sitting juror with an alternate juror. On the morning of that ninth day of trial, the trial judge announced that he had been told by a court official that a juror couldn’t be there because a family member had a medical appointment in Rochester, which was several hours away by car. The court, when ordering the juror substitution, provided inaccurate (and limited) reasoning as to why it believed the juror might have suddenly become unavailable, and never actually made an inquiry into whether the juror was unavailable or likely to appear within a reasonable amount of time.
The Court of Appeals found that the trial court failed to conduct the requisite “reasonably thorough inquiry” before substituting jurors. “Not only did the court provide only limited – and inaccurate – reasons to support a finding of unavailability, there is nothing on the record reflecting that it made any inquiry into Juror Number 9’s whereabouts or likelihood of appearing prior to ordering the substitution of Juror Number 9 with Alternate Number 1,” reads the opinion.
The court reversed Lang’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial.
Partner Matthew S. Hellman argued before the Court of Appeals. Associate Caroline C. Cease was also on the team. They were supported by Legal Assistant Beth Gulden, Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson, Associate Manager of Docketing Services Tyler Edwards and Manager of Docketing Services Na’eem Conway. Partners Jessica Ring Amunson and Zachary C. Schauf and Law Clerk Rachel Wilf-Townsend mooted the team. Associate Samuel C. Birnbaum and former associate Marguerite Moeller assisted with the Third Department appeal, and the original team on the long-running case included former partner Peter Pope.
Jenner & Block Named to PILI’s 2020 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is one of 47 law firms and corporations named to the Public Interest Law Initiatives (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. The roster honors organizations that have made significant commitments and contributions to pro bono throughout the state of Illinois by helping individuals, families and communities who are in need receive legal services. Law firms named to the roster must demonstrate a commitment to their pro bono programs and must meet at least two of the following qualifications: an average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional; a five percent increase in Illinois office(s) pro bono hours from the previous year; pro bono participation by 60 percent or more of the firm’s Illinois lawyers; participation in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Law Firm Leadership Circle or one of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee Pro Bono Pledges; and adoption of innovative steps to expand the firm’s pro bono program.
Jenner & Block has been on the roster since 2010.
Jenner & Block Associates Join Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Associates Advisory Board
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) has voted Jenner & Block lawyers Wesley M. Griffith and Alice S. Kim to its Associates Advisory Board.
LAFLA is a nonprofit legal assistance organization that protects and advances the rights of some of the Los Angeles area’s most underserved populations by providing free, high-quality legal services to more than 100,000 people living in poverty each year. Its Associates Advisory Board is an association of like-minded professionals dedicated to supporting LAFLA’s mission by providing pro bono service, fundraising and raising awareness of LAFLA’s work in the greater Los Angeles community. The board provides leadership, professional networking, and pro bono and social opportunities for its board members.
The firm’s Los Angeles office frequently partners with LAFLA on the foundation’s cases and initiatives. Mr. Griffith and Ms. Kim are currently working with LAFLA on COVID-19-prompted legal aid clinics involving housing, homelessness, eviction defense, domestic violence and other areas of need during the pandemic. Earlier this year, the LA office hosted a LAFLA training for associates on defending against wrongful evictions. Partner Carissa Coze serves on the organization's board of directors.
Outside of their involvement with LAFLA, Mr. Griffith and Ms. Kim maintain active pro bono practices.
Mr. Griffith recently led a team that secured the release of a pro bono client who had been detained by ICE at a privately run, for-profit detention facility, and led another team that obtained a five-figure settlement for a wheelchair-bound prisoner in a civil rights claim against a prison physician. Ms. Kim was part of a team that obtained an acquittal of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter charges against a pro bono client. She also served on a firm team that obtained a significant win in the DC Circuit for two civilian lawyers who resigned from serving as counsel to the alleged mastermind of the attack on the United States Navy destroyer USS Cole who is facing a military trial at Guantánamo Bay. The civilian lawyers resigned on ethical grounds after discovering various government intrusions into the attorney-client privilege, including finding surveillance equipment in a client meeting room. Ms. Kim is currently working to secure a federal prisoner’s compassionate release.