Team Successfully Defends Attempted Murder Suspect
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
On April 27, 2015, after a one-day bench trial in Chicago, a firm team won a “not guilty” verdict for a client who had been charged with attempted murder. Cook County Judge Erica Reddick ruled that it was “well shown” that Kiara Chapman acted in self-defense when she stabbed the alleged victim one time in the chest with a pair of scissors during a fight.
Please click here to read more.
Firm Secures Victories for Pro Bono Clients before the US Supreme Court
In March 2016, fifth-year Associate Amir H. Ali argued before the Court on behalf of pro bono client Gregory Welch. Mr. Welch was convicted and sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)—a catchall provision that courts had relied upon for approximately 30 years to increase a defendant’s sentence for an illegal possession of a firearm from a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment to a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment and up to life imprisonment. Under ACCA, that increase in sentence was mandatory if the defendant had at least three prior convictions for a serious drug offense or a “violent felony,” which included any conduct that presented “a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.” But Mr. Welch’s conviction and sentence became final before the Court’s 2015 ruling in Johnson v. United States, which held that this definition of “violent felony" is unconstitutionally vague. Mr. Ali argued that the Court’s holding in Johnson must be applied retroactively to people like Mr. Welch. In April, the Court agreed. Mr. Ali’s argument can be heard here. A profile of Mr. Ali in Above the Law can be read here.
The victory in Welch v. United States was just one win for pro bono clients before the Court in the past term:
Pro bono client Lawrence Owens was convicted of first-degree murder after a short bench trial in Cook County Criminal Court in 2000 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In the span of less than a year-and-a-half, Jenner & Block lawyers appeared on his behalf in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the US Supreme Court, and the Circuit Court of Cook County, Criminal Division. As a result of the firm’s work, Mr. Owens, who had almost 11 years of a 25-year prison sentence left to serve, was released from prison under an Alford plea agreement to time already served.
Please click here to read more about the Owens' case.
Pro bono client identified as V.L. sought vindication of her parental rights over three children she adopted while in a relationship with the children’s biological mother. The Court held that the adoption of her children must be honored nationwide, restoring her legal bond with her children and ensuring that other same-sex couples would not be stripped of their parental rights.
Please click here to read more about the V.L. case.
Class Action Settlement Helps Thousands of Illinois Families
The firm successfully challenged the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services’ (DCFS) “Allegation #60,” a “catch-all” allegation that was often relied upon to investigate and “indicate” parents and caretakers for neglect, even when there was never an identified likelihood of harm to a child. On January 9, 2015, the Cook County Circuit Court approved and entered a final settlement between the DCFS and plaintiffs represented by Jenner & Block in a class action lawsuit, Ashley M. v. DCFS.
Please click here to read more about “Allegation #60”.
Important Victory for Sister of Famed Graffiti Artist
Pro bono client Christina Wulf sought assistance in obtaining copyright protection for graffiti artwork created by her late brother Jason, who was killed at age 42. In April 2015, with the firm’s help, Ms. Wulf received copyright registrations for three of her brother’s pieces of artwork.
Please click here to read more.
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Partner Wade Thomson Talks Pro Bono
Partner Wade A. Thomson is a litigator who concentrates primarily on complex commercial disputes. He practices in the firm's Chicago office. He has worked on several pro bono asylum cases.
Q: What kind of pro bono work do you do at the firm?
Wade: I have worked on a wide variety of pro bono cases, primarily focusing on asylum and criminal law. One of the greatest attributes of our pro bono program is the breadth of pro bono matters you can choose to work on.
I have worked on over a dozen asylum cases at Jenner & Block, primarily through the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC). Our firm regularly partners with NIJC on asylum matters, and through my work on its cases I have joined NIJC’s Leadership Council. Through asylum cases, I have been able to help many people start new lives in the United States. I have also been able to combine the protection of human rights with my dedication to a free press. Specifically, I have represented four journalists seeking asylum. I have also assisted children from Guatemala who have fled abusive homes, and victims of torture from several countries.
In addition to my asylum work, I have represented several clients in criminal matters, including murder cases. These criminal cases have provided me the opportunity to assist those who could not afford adequate representation, achieve a better understanding of our criminal justice system, work on high-profile matters, and obtain significant litigation experience. I have cross-examined police officers, vetted experts, prepared cases for jury trial, and interviewed numerous witnesses under difficult circumstances.
Q: Describe one or two of the most significant pro bono cases you have worked on while at the firm.
Wade: I represented a Haitian journalist who was repeatedly beaten and received death threats because of his broadcasts. He fled Haiti with his wife who was at the time eight months pregnant. When they arrived in Chicago, the couple was frightened, spoke very little English and had nowhere to stay. Our representation became much more than legal advice. We helped the couple find housing, clothing, and support for their newborn child. After we obtained asylum for the family in the United States, we still had to get their 11-year-old daughter out of Haiti, but this task was complicated by the hurricanes that hit Haiti in 2008. After months of advocating, we got the daughter out of Haiti and accompanied the family to pick her up at O’Hare airport. I am now the godfather to the youngest daughter of this amazing family.
Q: Why is it important to you to do pro bono?
Wade: For me, the duty to perform pro bono stems from the simple realization that I’m in a place to help others, and if the roles were reversed I would want someone in my position to help me. Pro bono makes me a more grounded person, a better lawyer, and has enriched my life in countless ways.
We are taught in law school how important it is to that everyone has adequate legal representation, but not until you are in practice do you understand how significant pro bono representation really is to our legal system.
Q: How has Jenner & Block supported you in your pro bono practice?
Wade: Most significantly, Jenner & Block has provided me, and numerous others, the opportunity to bring in the pro bono matters that are most significant to me. There are no shortage of worthy and interesting pro bono opportunities at Jenner & Block. The ability for young associates to have significant say over what they work on is a key aspect to our pro bono program.
Q: How has pro bono helped you professionally?
Wade: In addition to the many other benefits I have received from pro bono work (e.g., increased awareness, gratitude of clients, professional recognition), it has also helped me become a better lawyer. I have been the lead decision-maker on numerous pro bono matters, was the face of the firm for the clients, opposing counsel, and judges, and developed numerous skills that translate over to my litigation practice. Among other things, I have had substantial roles in drafting, oral arguments, and trials that an associate might not always get in billable matters. Pro bono work provides associates with transferable skills and confidence.
Q: What would you tell others about your experience doing pro bono?
Wade: Many Jenner & Block lawyers are proud to say that some of their most memorable victories in their legal careers were pro bono cases. With all the negative things said about lawyers, pro bono is a reminder of the good lawyers can do.
Pro bono has broadened my horizons in several ways. Through pro bono work, I have met numerous special people from many different walks of life (from children of parents who are incarcerated, to foreign journalists, to prosecutors, to prominent attorneys at other large law firms, to members of Congress), and have done things I never expected. I have lobbied members of Congress in Washington, DC on behalf of pro bono clients, travelled to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to protect clients’ rights, and became the godfather to the child of one of my pro bono clients.