Our Pro Bono Commitment
An article in Rochelle’s Daily Wire features Jenner & Block’s pro bono efforts to assist a “hapless debtor” who endured a trial, two appeals and a remand proceeding to discharge $112,000 in student loans. Thanks to Partner Catherine L. Steege and Special Counsel Carl N. Wedoff, along with firm alum and retired bankruptcy judge Eugene Wedoff, the debtor is on the brink of discharging her loans. “Without pro bono counsel, this debtor never would have discharged her student loans... This writer submits that something is wrong with a system that requires a debtor to go through so much for so long and with no chance of success were it not for the generosity of distinguished lawyers from the top ranks of the bankruptcy bar,” reads the article.
Jenner & Block has teams of lawyers assisting individuals and organizations navigate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. One team is helping NGOs navigate US sanctions laws so they can continue to work in Afghanistan, while another team is helping at-risk individuals leave the country. This work is part of the firm’s pro bono program.
Helping NGOs Provide Assistance in Afghanistan
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August, we provided guidance to non-governmental organizations about how US sanctions could affect their ability to work in Afghanistan under the Taliban, which the US government has designated as a terrorist group. We helped the NGOs identify which of their humanitarian assistance programs were not prohibited by counterterrorism laws, allowing those programs to continue, and also identify other programs for which additional US government guidance or authorization was necessary.
The firm’s efforts also included conducting outreach to the US government on behalf of various organizations, helping to explain how the situation in Afghanistan affected their employees, their operations, and the programs they implement. Among other outreach, the team drafted and submitted requests for authorization to carry out programming in Taliban-controlled areas.
On September 24, the US Department of the Treasury issued two general licenses to support the continued flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support basic human needs there. As a result, NGOs can now carry out their work to help the people of Afghanistan without running afoul of US sanctions laws. Jenner & Block will continue working with organizations there and elsewhere to help provide lifesaving assistance consistent with US sanctions requirements.
The team is led by Partner Rachel K. Alpert and includes Associates Umer M. Chaudhry and Garrett J. Salzman. An article published by Ms. Alpert in Just Security proposes solutions to some of the challenges that the NGO sector faces in situations like Afghanistan.
Helping At-Risk Individuals Emigrate from Afghanistan
After the fall of Kabul, it was widely reported in the news (and confirmed by sources on the ground) that the Taliban had been delivering death threats to those seen as enemies or traitors to its regime. In these final chaotic days of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan a vast swathe of society – many of whom had spent years supporting Western state and civil society building endeavors - were suddenly trapped. Owing to the swift advance of the Taliban, these at-risk individuals were unable to flee the country. The international response to the growing refugee crisis has been disjointed and inadequate.
In response to this humanitarian crisis, we currently have nearly 50 lawyers, led by Partners Debbie L. Berman, Ishan K. Bhabha, Paul Feldberg, and Michael W. Ross and Of Counsel Richard J. Gray, from offices on both sides of the Atlantic working collaboratively to help those in mortal danger emigrate from Afghanistan and third-party countries. The firm’s efforts have taken the form of providing legal assistance, and where necessary engaging in lobbying efforts, to help identify US and UK entry requirements. We are also leveraging our international contacts to identify lawyers in Canada and Australia who are willing to undertake similar work in their respective jurisdictions.
At present, the firm is working to help 30 at-risk individuals, as well as their family members, who are seeking to leave Afghanistan. The list includes several academics, a female high-ranking former judge, a senior female police officer, a pregnant journalist,an interpreter, a government contractor employee and numerous other members of civil society. All these individuals are at-risk from violent reprisals at the hands of the Taliban, on the basis of their gender, education, or perceived support for the international intervention in Afghanistan.
A Jenner & Block team has filed an amicus brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the US Supreme Court case considering a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The brief urges the Supreme Court to affirm a lower court’s decision and strike down the law.
The brief was written pro bono on behalf of reproductive justice advocates and organizers. It focuses on the impact that Mississippi’s law would have on people of color as well as disabled, low-income, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ people living in Mississippi and Louisiana.
“Amici have a unique window into the challenges people face when seeking to access abortion, and the additional barriers Mississippi’s 15-week ban will impose on marginalized people. They write to highlight the devastating consequences that will ensue if this Court eliminates the right to abortion,” reads the brief.
The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association awarded several of our lawyers with the 2021 Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service for “providing outstanding pro bono and public interest representation in civil and criminal matters before the district court.” The award recipients were recognized for successfully completing three different cases:
- In Conley v. US we represented Mr. Conley, who was convicted of conspiring to rob a fake drug stash house even though he was not a target of the prosecution, in a federal habeas challenge in the district court and on appeal. The team also presented a petition for compassionate release, which the court granted, ordering his immediate release from prison. The award recipients included Jenner & Block Partner Mike Brody; Associates Eric Fleddermann and Theo Lesczynski; and former associate Leigh Jahnig.
- In USA v. Rollins, we represented Mr. Rollins, who was convicted for a string of three robberies within a week’s time, in a reduction of a de facto life sentence. Partners Andrew Vail and Monica Pinciak, and Associate Josh Levin successfully argued for a reduction in sentence of 106.5 years to 28 years and one day. The judge wrote in his opinion that “a de facto life sentence far exceeds appropriate punishment.”
- Paralegal Cheryl Kras, and former colleagues US Magistrate Judge Gabriel A. Fuentes, Christine Bowman, and Hon. Judge Brewer (ret.) also received the award for their work in Traharne, et al v. Illinois DCFS, et al., which was litigated and settled while Judge Fuentes and Ms. Bowman were with the firm. Judge Summers was the mediator on the matter.
The Pro Bono Institute (PBI) will honor Jenner & Block with its Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) Partner Award for the collaborative efforts with McDonald’s Corporation and the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) in achieving asylum for several pro bono clients.
For several years, volunteers from the legal department of McDonald’s have partnered with Jenner & Block and Goldberg Kohn Ltd. on approximately 20 cases referred by NIJC, working collaboratively to represent immigrants applying for asylum.
By working together, the in-house and law firm lawyers and staff share resources and divide responsibilities, such as interviewing and developing rapport with clients who have been through harrowing situations; drafting the client’s affidavits and briefs; reviewing medical, news, and police reports; gathering personal statements from the client’s relatives; meeting with expert witnesses; and preparing for immigration court hearings. The partnership has obtained asylum for numerous individuals who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries, and seeking to create a new life for themselves and their families in the United States.
Partner Wade A. Thomson leads the collaborative efforts of this important partnership. Other firm lawyers and staff involved throughout the collaboration include Partners Jennifer S. Amerkhail, Mark Davis, Terri L. Mascherin, Mike McNamara, Andrew F. Merrick, Megan B. Poetzel, Gay Sigel, Howard J. Symons, and Shaun M. Van Horn; Associates Umer M. Chaudhry, Brian B. Druchniak, Brenna J. Field, Maria del Carmen González, Meg Hlousek, Sam Jahangir, Ari Kanavy, Elpitha B. Lambros, Lindsey A. Lusk, Philip B. Sailer, and Hope H. Tone-Keefe; Attorneys Jennifer Beach, Edmundo Cuevas, Pedro Fernandez, and Anthony Nguyen; and several professional staff members including Terri Busch, Zulaikha Master, Fallon McDowell, Tricia Peavler, Margaret Petit, Paul Ramonas, and James Walsh.
Mr. Thomson and the legal teams will be recognized for the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award on October 14 at 6:30pm ET during PBI’s Annual Awards Gala.
Along with Legal Service NYC as co-counsel, Jenner & Block secured a settlement with the New York City Housing Authority, requiring the public housing agency to reform its rent adjustment system to prevent wrongful evictions and benefiting more than 400,000 NYCHA residents.
The agreement ensures that thousands of NYCHA tenants will have their rents reduced if their incomes were to decline – a process required by federal law that has become more urgent during the pandemic. The settlement also enhances protections for low-income residents by requiring that NYCHA may not prosecute nonpayment or chronic rent delinquency cases until they first resolve interim rent reduction requests or rent grievances. The settlement comes after a group of twelve families, who have lived in public housing anywhere between five and 50 years, sued NYCHA in federal court alleging illegal rent overcharges above 30% of income and eviction proceedings for unlawful amounts of rent.
NYCHA has agreed to pay tenants close to $190,000 in damages, lawyers’ fees, and rent overcharge claims and has six months to implement changes to its system-wide operations concerning rent readjustments and eviction cases. NYCHA is also subject to monitoring by the federal court for three years.
To learn more about the plaintiffs and the settlement, click here.