Firm Named to PILI’s 2017 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is one of 47 law firms and corporations in Illinois named to the Public Interest Law Initiative’s (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. Law firms named to the Roster met at least two of the following criteria: an average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional; a 5 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/or innovative steps to expand the firm’s pro bono program.
“Through the collective efforts of law firms and corporations like yours, more low-income and under-represented individuals across Illinois have access to the justice they deserve,” expressed Michael G. Bergmann, PILI executive director.
Jenner & Block has been on the roster since 2010.
To learn more about Jenner & Block’s pro bono program, visit our pro bono page or read The Heart of the Matter newsletter.
Firm Secures Victory for Brooklyn Tenants Displaced After 2015 Fire
Jenner & Block Associate Carl N. Wedoff and Partner Brian J. Fischer secured a victory on behalf of six Brooklyn residents who were displaced from their homes for years after their landlord refused to repair the damage caused by a February 2015 fire in the building. The tenants, some of whom were undocumented immigrants, were forced to find alternative housing, including homeless shelters. Despite agreeing to repair the building, the landlord, on multiple occasions, failed to meet court-ordered deadlines or offer any explanation as to why he could not complete necessary repairs. In May 2016, the court held the landlord in civil contempt of court for his ongoing failure to return the tenants to their apartments, and in October 2016, the court imposed civil penalties. The case partially settled on May 5, 2017. The resulting settlement includes a schedule of repairs that will hold the landlord accountable as well as $15,000 in compensation for each client. Jenner & Block is co-counsel to Legal Services NYC (LSNYC), the largest civil legal services provider in the United States; South Brooklyn Legal Services served as co-counsel to the tenants. Mr. Wedoff is a member of LSNYC’s Pro Bono Associate Advisory Board.
Firm Team Secures Asylum for Pro Bono Client
On August 7, 2017, Associate Irene Ten Cate, Staff Attorney Danielle Nicholson and Partners Matthew D. Cipolla, Marc Hankin and Matthew E. Price secured asylum for pro bono client Abdul K. in immigration court in Harlingen, Texas. The grant of asylum eventually turned on a legal issue on which no clear precedent exists: whether the statutory firm resettlement bar, which excludes from asylum applicants who found refuge in a third country before arriving in the United States, applies to individuals who face persecution in the country of resettlement.
Abdul had settled in South Africa after escaping clan-based violence in his native country Somalia. He resided in South Africa for more than a decade and was granted a refugee permit, but was forced to flee after being subjected to severe attacks by South Africans who were targeting Somali immigrants. Abdul arrived in the United States in 2015 and was placed in detention. After his individual hearing, the immigration judge denied Abdul’s applications for asylum and withholding of removal and ordered him deported to South Africa or Somalia.
Retained to appeal from this ruling, the firm won a partial reversal from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Specifically, the BIA held that Abdul established that he had been persecuted in Somalia and in South Africa, and remanded the case to the immigration judge for a new hearing on whether Abdul was entitled to withholding of removal. The BIA affirmed, however, the immigration judge’s ruling that Abdul’s stay in South Africa rendered him ineligible for asylum under the firm resettlement bar. The team represented Abdul on remand, and obtained a ruling granting his application for withholding of removal. After one and a half years in detention, Abdul was released.
The firm then filed a petition for review in the Fifth Circuit, seeking reversal of the BIA’s ruling on firm resettlement. In its opening brief, the team argued that the firm resettlement bar does not apply to applicants like Abdul who were persecuted in the country in which they resettled. This is apparent from the plain meaning of the words “firmly resettled” and also flows from the bar’s purpose, which is to discourage “country shopping” by one-time refugees who have found safety in another country. The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic filed an amicus brief arguing that the interpretation advanced by the firm rendered the statutory firm resettlement bar consistent with the Refugee Convention and Protocol.
Instead of filing a responsive brief, the government requested a remand to the BIA and then sought another remand to the immigration court. Eventually, the government agreed to stipulate that Abdul was not firmly resettled in South Africa. The immigration judge accepted the stipulation shortly thereafter and granted Abdul asylum.
Since his release from detention a little over a year ago, Abdul has begun to make a life for himself in the United States. He found a job, signed a lease on an apartment and enrolled in community college. The asylum status, which offers greater security than withholding of removal and provides a path to permanent residency and citizenship, gives him tremendous peace of mind.
Firm Team Wins Disability Benefits, Including 11 Years of Back Benefits, for Client
Jenner & Block recently won a victory in a denial of Social Security benefits case when, in a rare move, Judge Thomas Durkin of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois remanded the case to the Social Security Administration for the sole purpose of calculating and awarding benefits to the firm’s pro bono client, retroactive to 2005. Partner Craig C. Martin accepted the court appointment by Judge Durkin to represent the client in her appeal of the denial of disability and SSI (supplemental security income) benefits. Mr. Martin and Associate Elin I. Park moved for summary judgment and persuasively argued that based on the record below, which included extensive detail about the client’s medical history as well as testimony of a vocational expert, she was entitled to benefits and further proceedings were unnecessary. In a rare win of its kind, the court reversed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, who had twice denied the claims, and found the client incapable of working and entitled to benefits.
Jenner & Block Lawyers Win Asylum for Eritrean Woman
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers recently won a grant of asylum for a pro bono client who was forced to flee Eritrea because of persecution by its military regime. Born in Ethiopia to an Eritrean family, the client and her family were deported to Eritrea when a border war broke out between the countries in the late 1990s. But because they had lived in Ethiopia, the Eritrean military regime viewed them with hostility and suspicion. The regime killed our client’s father and when her two brothers raised questions about his death, they were arrested in the middle of the night. She has not seen them since and suspects they are dead.
The military also harassed our client, including making many attempts to conscript her into military service, where sexual abuse of young women is rampant. She ultimately fled to a monastery that helped smuggle her into Sudan. From there, she went to Brazil, eventually arriving in the United States.
Because our client left Eritrea without any identification documents or other paperwork and was no longer in contact with any witnesses who could identify her, questioning by the court and opposing counsel focused on whether she was actually from Eritrea or from a less oppressive country such as Ethiopia. An expert witness on Eritrean country conditions convinced the judge that she was from Eritrea, and a forensic medical expert testified to her physical and psychological trauma.
After weighing the evidence presented by Partner Casey T. Grabenstein and Associates Leah K. Casto and Henry H. Cornillie, the Immigration Court judge handed down his decision immediately upon the conclusion of the case, and the government waived any appeal rights.
Cities Initiative Settlement Helps Safeguard Valuable Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River Water Resources
Jenner & Block has been representing, pro bono, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (Cities Initiative) in its challenge to a decision by the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council (Compact Council) that allows the city of Waukesha, Wisconsin to divert water from Lake Michigan. The Council’s decision was the first-ever approval of a diversion of Great Lakes water to a community outside the Great Lakes basin. Waukesha lies in a county that straddles the basin.
As part of its challenge, the Cities Initiative sought clarification of the standards used to evaluate the Waukesha diversion application as well as the standards that the Council would use to evaluate future diversion requests. On August 2, 2017, the Cities Initiative announced it was settling its challenge pursuant to an agreement with the Compact Council that calls for a rigorous review of the Council’s process for considering diversions, with extensive stakeholder input in determining formal rules and revised guidelines for the future.
“This agreement will help protect the long-term integrity of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River for future generations,” said Cities Initiative Secretary Régis Labeaume.
John Dickert, Cities Initiative president and CEO, added, “This mutually beneficial settlement agreement has set the foundation for meaningful progress to safeguard our valuable water resources.”
The firm’s team in this matter was led by Partner Jill M. Hutchison, assisted by Partners E. Lynn Grayson, Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence; Of Counsel Stephen H. Armstrong and Anne (Andi) Samuels Kenney; and Associates Alexander J. Bandza and Laura C. Bishop.