Firm Named to PILI’s 2019 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
Jenner & Block is one of 48 law firms and corporations in Illinois named to the Public Interest Law Initiative’s (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. Launched in 1999, the Pro Bono Initiative Program aims to enhance the scope and quantity of pro bono legal assistance in Illinois for those who lack access to justice. 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.
Firm Team Receives Victory for Obama Presidential Center when Judge Dismisses Lawsuit
On June 11, Judge John Robert Blakey of the Northern District of Illinois dismissed the lawsuit challenging construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), providing a significant victory for the delayed project on Chicago’s south side. In Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District, the plaintiffs alleged that creating the OPC in Jackson Park—and allowing the Obama Foundation to operate the center under an agreement that the Chicago City Council unanimously approved—would violate the Public Trust Doctrine and certain other laws.
Firm Team Partners with the National Immigrant Justice Center to Secure Asylum for Pro Bono Client
However, in his 52-page decision, Judge Blakey wrote, “the OPC does not, as a matter of law, violate the public trust under the level of scrutiny applied to never-submerged lands” and “even under the heightened levels of scrutiny (applied to formerly submerged and submerged lands), the OPC still does not violate the public trust.” As a result, he found that “[t]he facts do not warrant a trial, and construction should commence without delay.”
In November 2018, a firm team including Chair Craig C. Martin, Partner Daniel J. Weiss and Associates Gabriel K. Gillett and Henry C. Thomas filed an amicus brief, pro bono, on behalf of all 11 museums located on Chicago parkland. In support of the now-granted motion for summary judgment, the amici provided the court with historical context about the long tradition of locating museums in Chicago’s public parks and highlighted the potential practical consequences that may result if the OPC was not allowed to open on parkland.
A Jenner & Block team won an important asylum victory for pro bono client Oscar, an effeminate gay man from rural Guatemala who suffered multiple rapes as a teenager before fleeing his country in 2015 in fear of his life. That same year, Discovery Attorney Pedro Fernandez, former partner Reena Bajowala and former associate Ben Halbig partnered with the National Immigrant Justice Center to represent Oscar in his application for asylum while he was still detained. They worked to get Oscar released on bond, prepared his asylum materials and helped him obtain a work permit.
In April 2016, during Oscar’s final merits hearing, the team was unable to finish Oscar’s testimony. The immigration court cut off the testimony, citing time limitations and continued the hearing until a future date. That date was then changed three more times. During this time frame, Partner Megan B. Poetzel and Associates Alexis E. Bates and Sara Kim joined the team. They worked to update Oscar’s materials, prepare his testimony, retain and prepare a country conditions expert report, and prepare expert testimony.
The final merits hearing finally happened on May 9, 2019. Relying almost entirely on the filed submissions, the immigration judge granted Oscar asylum, and the government waived its appeal, making the decision final. Oscar was overjoyed.
Over the past four years, many others have assisted with Oscar’s case, including Partners Rachel S. Morse and Wade A. Thomson, Associate Gabriel K. Gillett, Staff Attorney Leonardo Morales and Paralegal Cat Carraci.
Firm Wins Domestic Violence Restraining Order Appeal on Behalf of Pro Bono Client
On behalf of a pro bono client, a Jenner & Block team obtained a reversal of a trial court’s decision to deny her request for a domestic violence restraining order against her husband.
Firm Represents Filmmaker in Release of Unauthorized Afghanistan War Documentary
Our client, who was born and raised in the Philippines and whose first language was Tagalog, represented herself in the trial court. She told the trial court that her husband had raped her numerous times, was physically and emotionally abusive, and had taken their children to live with a family member without our client’s knowledge or consent. She also told the court that her husband dismantled her car on numerous occasions so she could not leave him, and that he said he could track her whereabouts through her phone.
The trial court excluded a substantial portion of her testimony on two grounds. First, based on the mistaken belief that a number of our client’s allegations were not properly included in the written materials submitted to the court prior to the hearing, thus depriving her husband of the requisite notice to defend against her allegations. And second, on res judicata grounds, based on another hearing for a domestic violence restraining order from 2014 (at which time our client had also represented herself and had been denied the assistance of an interpreter).
Following the firm’s involvement as co-counsel with the Family Violence Appellate Project, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, reversed the trial court’s denial of her request and remanded the matter for a new hearing.
In its May 2019 decision, the appeals court said that the trial court “placed too heavy a burden” on our client and that it was too protective of the husband’s rights at the expense of our client’s right to seek protection under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The appeals court added that the court misread our client’s filings and that she had in fact specifically pled allegations of rape and abuse, with the court’s error being prejudicial to her case.
The appeals court also said that the trial court should have granted our client more leeway on the res judicata issue, given her language barrier and status as a pro per litigant. “As a self-represented domestic violence litigant whose first language is not English, she could not be expected to grasp the full ramifications of the res judicata doctrine,” the justices wrote in their decision. The appeals court held that the elements to apply the res judicata doctrine had not been met, and the doctrine should not have been used to exclude evidence.
Associate Nayiri K. Pilikyan argued the appeal, and Partner Julie A. Shepard and Associate Effiong K. Dampha provided support on the case. Former associates Kate Spelman, Peter Goldschmidt and Elizabeth Capel also worked on the case.
Together with the Knight Foundation of Columbia University, the firm represents Miles Lagoze, a former Marines combat cameraman who directed a documentary film based on footage he captured while deployed in Afghanistan. The firm first became involved in the matter after the Marines Corps initiated an inquiry into the film and indicated that the client could be liable for theft of government property. In addition to advising the client with respect to potential criminal liability, the firm helped negotiate a distribution agreement for the film and crafted communications with members of the press in connection with the film’s release. The film debuted in theatres across the country and on iTunes on March 15, and the Marines Corps has indicated that it does not intend to pursue legal action against the firm’s client. The firm’s efforts on this matter were led by Edeli Rivera, David W. Sussman, Brian J. Fischer and Thomas J. Perrelli.
Firm Achieves Victory in Pro Bono FOIA Case
The firm recently achieved an important Freedom of Information Act victory for our pro bono clients the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and the Protect Democracy Project. In 2017, our clients filed FOIA requests and later sued for records concerning President Trump's now-disbanded Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The government's subsequent document productions were untimely and incomplete, but ultimately revealed that at least two Department of Justice employees, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore and trial attorney Maureen Riordan, had used their personal email accounts to discuss matters related to the Commission’s work. Late last year, our clients moved for partial summary judgment, requesting the Court to direct the defendants to expand their search criteria and search the private emails of government employees. In an opinion issued April 30, 2019, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein granted the motion.
The Court concluded that in light of government employees' widespread use of private email for official business, limiting FOIA to official repositories would be "inconsistent with ‘the citizen's right to be informed about what their government is up to,’ the very purpose of FOIA." Accordingly, the court directed the government to search the private email accounts of Mr. Gore and Ms. Riordan and report on other employees' use of private email to conduct government business. The decision is a significant affirmation of the public's right to access government records, regardless of where and how they are maintained.
The team representing the Brennan Center and Protect Democracy includes Associate Carl N. Wedoff, who argued the motion, Partner Jeremy M. Creelan, Special Counsel David S. Sussman, and Associates Katie Rosoff, Michael J. Wadden and Cayman C. Mitchell.