Jenner & Block Receives Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Award
Jenner & Block was recently selected by the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation as one of only four firms worldwide – and the sole North American firm – to receive the 2017 Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Award. This award is presented annually to honor Lex Mundi member firms that have provided critical pro bono legal services that help strengthen the global rule of law and improve the lives of the world’s poor and disenfranchised.
The award was presented at Lex Mundi’s annual meeting in Prague on April 27, 2017. Partner John H. Mathias, Jr. accepted on behalf of the firm.
In recognizing the winning firms, Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Managing Director Chloe Holderness said, “The honorees demonstrate how members of the Lex Mundi network are using their pro bono resources of time and expertise to have a tremendous impact on many of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. The recipients also represent how our member firms, as leading law firms in their jurisdictions, have a larger commitment to growing and strengthening the global pro bono culture.”
As an example of Jenner & Block’s exceptional pro bono contributions, Lex Mundi highlighted the firm’s work in support of the African Leadership Academy (ALA). This South African-based foundation was established in 2004 with the philosophy that a new generation of ethical, committed leaders would be the key to Africa’s development. It educates children at a Johannesburg campus and also provides scholarships to some of these children to pursue university degrees in North America.
ALA is undertaking a five-year plan for growth, partly funded by a loan from OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation), a US federal governmental agency that provides loans typically in circumstances where borrowers have limited access to capital in local markets. Partners Neil Cummings and Geoffrey M. Davis and Associate Rafi W. Mottahedeh assisted ALA in connection with obtaining this loan, including providing tax advice on the deal and follow-up work.
The Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation is the nonprofit affiliate of Lex Mundi, the world's leading association of independent law firms. Lex Mundi member law firms are located throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean and North America. Each member firm is selected on the basis of its leadership in its local market. Firms must maintain their level of excellence to retain membership within the Lex Mundi network. Since Jenner & Block became Lex Mundi’s Illinois member law firm in 2013, the firm has handled approximately 15 matters through the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation. The majority of these have been transactional matters.
State Dismisses All Charges Against Wrongfully Convicted Pro Bono Client Adam Gray
Adam Gray was 14 in 1993 when he was arrested and charged with starting a fatal fire that killed two elderly people in a Chicago apartment. He was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole, under the law in place at the time. The conviction was based primarily on testimony from Chicago Fire and Police Department experts that burn patterns showed an accelerant was used in the fire, as well as a confession he gave after seven hours of interrogation by Chicago police without a parent or guardian present. Despite that confession, Mr. Gray has subsequently maintained his innocence.
An art teacher at Chicago’s juvenile detention center who met Mr. Gray eventually came to believe he was wrongfully convicted. That teacher reached out to Jenner & Block, providing the firm with affidavits and other materials that she had collected; in 2010, the firm took on Mr. Gray’s representation. In the course of litigating his post-conviction petition, the team investigated and presented newly discovered evidence from three well-known fire science experts as well as from lay witnesses. Based on advances in the field of fire science, the experts showed that there was no evidence to believe there was arson at all. Further, physical evidence proved that the central elements of Mr. Gray’s confession could not have been true.
The tenacious arguments made by Jenner & Block Partner Terri L. Mascherin finally persuaded the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to take another look at the case and, in the summer of 2016, the office announced it would join Mr. Gray’s request for a retrial. Unfortunately, in November, the circuit court judge denied the joint request and the firm filed a notice of appeal. After further negotiations with prosecutors, the new Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that the State would agree to voluntarily dismiss the charges against Mr. Gray. The court approved the dismissal on May 3, 2017, and Mr. Gray was released from prison later that day.
In addition to Ms. Mascherin, the team representing Mr. Gray includes Partners Barry Levenstam and Daniel T. Fenske; Associates Brij B. Patnaik and James Dawson; and Paralegal Mary Patston. Serving as co-counsel with Jenner & Block was Exoneration Project Staff Attorney Tara Thompson.
Jenner & Block Named to National Law Journal “Pro Bono Hot List”
For the fourth consecutive year, Jenner & Block has been named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List,” as one of only 12 law firms across the United States selected for this recognition.
A feature article published by theNLJ spotlights the excellent results firm teams achieved in six pro bono cases won in the US Supreme Court in 2015-2016, as well as the significant transactional work done by a multi-disciplinary, cross-office team for the Young Center, a nonprofit that represents unaccompanied immigrant children.
The article also notes that more than 75,000 pro bono hours were contributed by firm lawyers in 2016 alone, representing an average of 138 hours per lawyer. Nearly 94 percent of lawyers performed 20 hours or more of pro bono – an all-time firm record.
Firm’s Washington, DC Office Recognized as Pro Bono Leader
Jenner & Block’s Washington, DC office was once again recognized for its outstanding leadership in the area of pro bono service. At the 14th annual “40 at 50” Judicial Pro Bono Recognition Breakfast held on April 27, 2017 at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse,the judges of the District of Columbia federal courts honored local law firms in which at least 40 percent of all attorneys dedicated 50 or more hours in 2016 to providing free legal representation to individuals with limited financial resources or to charitable organizations. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the US District Court for the District of Columbia were among those in attendance.
Judge Garland expressed his gratitude to the legal community for fighting for access to justice in the District. “The need is high. You fill that gap,” Garland said, also telling the assembled lawyers that their work tells people that they matter. “Clients get validation that their legal problems are important,” he stated.
Beyond achieving the “40 at 50” benchmark, Jenner & Block was noted as one of a select group of three firms where more than 65 percent of all attorneys contributed at least 50 hours of pro bono service in 2016.
The DC Circuit Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services sponsors this annual event to promote the goal that each lawyer in the District contribute at least 50 pro bono hours per year. The Judicial Conference has recognized the firm every year since the “40 at 50” list’s inception.
To read the Judicial Conference’s press release, please click here.
Pro Bono Client Released From Prison Pending Appeal and Retrial
On April 27, pro bono client Patrick Pursley was released from prison on bond after being incarcerated for more than 23 years on a murder conviction that was recently thrown out.
Earlier this year, lawyers from Jenner & Block won Mr. Pursley a new trial based on new ballistics evidence establishing that a gun recovered from his residence did not—contrary to evidence presented at his 1994 trial—fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Joseph McGraw further ruled that new testimony and conclusions by the State of Illinois’ own examiners, who refuted Illinois State Police testimony presented at Mr. Pursley’s initial trial, entitled Mr. Pursley to a new trial. The State is appealing Judge McGraw’s decision.
The firm’s lawyers appeared before Judge McGraw on April 13 and argued that, given the likelihood Mr. Pursley would be acquitted of the charges against him at a retrial, he should be granted a low monetary bond pending the appeal. The judge set a bond of $50,000 for Mr. Pursley, a fraction of the $500,000 to $1 million bond sought by the State. The judge’s decision required Mr. Pursley to post bail of $5,000, which he did with the help of friends and family. The Rockford Register Star published a story Mr. Pursley’s release, in which he said that the Jenner & Block team and other lawyers representing him were “doggedly determined and excellent.”
Jenner & Block, along with Steven A. Drizin of the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions, has represented Mr. Pursley since 2008, winning on appeal a reversal that he was entitled to new ballistics testing under the Illinois Post Conviction Act. You can read more about that work in The National Law Journal article titled, “This Win Required a Trip to the Legislature.”
The Jenner & Block team representing Mr. Pursley includes Partners Andrew W. Vail and Robert R. Stauffer and Associates Kevin J. Murphy and Monika N. Kothari.
Jenner & Block Wins Low Monetary Bond for Client Whose Conviction Was Vacated
A Jenner & Block team recently won another pro bono victory on behalf of Patrick Pursley, who has served more than 23 years in prison on a murder conviction that was recently thrown out.
The firm’s lawyers appeared before 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Joseph McGraw on April 13 and argued that, given the likelihood Mr. Pursley would be acquitted of the charges against him at a retrial, he should be granted a low monetary bond. Judge McGraw set a bond of $50,000 for Mr. Pursley, a fraction of the $500,000 to $1 million bond sought by the State of Illinois. The judge’s decision means that Mr. Pursley will need to post $5,000 to be released from prison awaiting his new trial—an amount he will likely be able to assemble with the help of friends and family.
Earlier this year, lawyers from Jenner & Block won Mr. Pursley a new trial based on new ballistics evidence establishing that a gun recovered from his residence did not—contrary to evidence presented at his 1994 trial—fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. The judge further ruled that new testimony and conclusions by the State’s own examiners, which refuted Illinois State Police testimony presented at the 1994 trial, entitled Mr. Pursley to a new trial. The State is appealing Judge McGraw’s decision.
The firm, in connection with Steve Drizin of the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions, has represented Mr. Pursley since 2008. The Jenner & Block team representing Mr. Pursley includes Partners Andrew W. Vail and Robert R. Stauffer and Associates Kevin J. Murphy and Monika N. Kothari.