This Bloomberg BNA article explores how corporate legal departments are increasingly turning to law firms to establish and grow their pro bono programs. Jenner & Block has created a menu of pro bono opportunities for in-house lawyers so clients can identify the best fit, including cases by subject matter, type of legal work and the duration of a case, Mr. Vail says.
Jenner & Block Associate Daniel A. Epstein is interviewed at length in an article for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which ensures human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Mr. Epstein recently joined a team defending a group of women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Michigan. Asked why he does pro bono work, Mr. Epstein responds: “There are people who are lost in a system that I can navigate. I feel duty-bound to help them. I think justice demands high quality legal defense, regardless of ability to pay. And, happily, my firm feels the same way.”
The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin featured Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes’ pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town that led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018.
The new law will amend an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting.
In a Q&A with the publication, Mr. Fuentes said “there was a First Amendment issue that needed to be vindicated” and that the residents “were very concerned about their First Amendment rights.”
“The changes that we helped propose became law,” said Mr. Fuentes. “And, really, to see our pro bono litigation efforts result in some positive law reform to protect First Amendment rights is very gratifying.”
The firm’s pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018. The new law will protect all Illinois residents from being sued for voicing their opinions at zoning board meetings.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 731 in August. The bill amends an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting. The amendment provides that the “parties of record” who must be named as defendants in these zoning lawsuits include only the zoning board and applicants before the board – and not members of the public who attended a board meeting and took the microphone.
State Sen. Laura M. Murphy and Reps. Martin J. Moylan and Mike Fortner sponsored the legislation after a builder sued the Park Ridge zoning board and a group of residents who had spoken at public meetings on the builder’s proposal in May and September of 2014. The builder’s lawyers asserted that the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/3-107, required the residents to be named as defendants because the statute’s wording indicated they were among the “parties of record” in the proceeding, and the statute required all parties of record to be sued.
Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes and former associate Daniel Truesdell stepped in to represent 11 Park Ridge residents named as defendants, including Park Ridge Ald. Frank Wsol. After the builder refused to dismiss the residents voluntarily, the firm filed a motion to dismiss on their behalf, arguing that Section 3-107 did not require the residents to be sued, and that if it were construed to do so, it violated the residents’ constitutional rights by punishing them for speaking. While the motion was pending, the builder eventually dismissed the residents.
Mr. Fuentes later worked with Mr. Wsol and fellow Park Ridge Ald. Marty Maloney to draft language for a proposed amendment to Section 3-107, and the aldermen brought the language to their state legislators for inclusion in what became Senate Bill 731, enacted this summer.
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.
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.