Pro Bono Win for Jenner & Block’s LA Office: Breaking Ground on Homes for the Homeless
After a hard-fought mediation, Partners Michael McNamara and G. Thomas Stromberg recently secured an agreement to allow pro bono client Colden (aka FlyawayHomes) to move forward in building homes for the homeless. This particular permanent supportive housing (PSH) project is unique: it repurposes shipping containers from the Port of Los Angeles to manufacture modular housing units, which drastically reduces the time and cost of completion compared to traditional construction.
“It’s cheaper for shipping companies to leave them here then to ship them back…Therefore, you have all these one-time-use containers that are essentially brand new,” Kevin Hirai, chief operating officer of FlyawayHomes, said in a video feature about the project. In addition, the PSH is 100 percent privately funded and does not use taxpayer money for development, which amounts to about $3 million to build the three-story, 33-person capacity structure. “It’s a beautiful model, if you think about it,” Mr. Hirai added. “You can invest money, make a modest return and house our most vulnerable neighbors.”
It took months of difficult negotiations for the parties to enter into an agreement to move forward with building the homes. Lawry J. Meister, president of FlyawayHomes, thanked Mr. McNamara and Mr. Stromberg for their efforts: “We truly never would have reached an agreement if it weren’t for your diplomacy, determination and dedication to getting it done.”
Jenner & Block Honored with ACLU Award for Pro Bono Work
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California recognized lawyers from Jenner & Block’s Los Angeles office today with its Homeless Rights Advocacy Award. The organization presented the honor at its annual luncheon in recognition of the firm’s work in obtaining a favorable settlement for pro bono clients in a class action lawsuit challenging a Southern California city’s discriminatory housing ordinances.
Serving as co-counsel with the ACLU, the firm represented the Victor Valley Family Resource Center (VVFRC), which provides transitional housing to individuals recently released from incarceration, and also represented individual tenants and landlords who acted as class representatives.
Beginning in 2016, the City of Hesperia, in California’s high desert, began issuing regular citations to VVFRC for violating a city ordinance—which hadn’t been enforced in years—barring two or more unrelated individuals on probation from living together. The City also began pressuring VVFRC’s landlords to evict the organization, relying on a new ordinance requiring landlords to evict upon notice any tenant engaged in unspecified criminal activity, regardless of whether an arrest was made or citation issued.
In response, the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action lawsuit in the Central District of California against the City and the San Bernardino County Sheriff, alleging that the two ordinances were unconstitutional in that they violated state and federal equal-protection and due-process rights. Jenner & Block joined the case as co-counsel shortly after.
In the spring of 2017, Hesperia’s city council repealed one of the ordinances. Later that year, the city council adopted significant revisions to the other ordinance, many of which were drafted by Associate Christopher S. Lindsay and our ACLU co-counsel.
As part of a settlement agreement finalized in April 2018, Hesperia also agreed to pay a substantial award to make VVFRC and our other clients whole for the costs they incurred due to the city’s enforcement of the two ordinances, rescind any outstanding fines or citations, and release liens imposed against their properties. It also agreed to pay attorneys’ fees.
In addition to Mr. Lindsay, Associate Andrew G. Sullivan helped lead the firm team, with support from Partner A.J. Thomas and former associate Kate Spelman. Many other associates made valuable contributions, including Brian Adesman, Ben J. Brysacz, Sean D. Nelson and Daixi Xu; summer associate Anna Lyons; and former associate Calvin Mohammadi. Paralegals Alonso Ponce, Diana Vuong and Julian Valenzuela, and legal assistants Jennifer Rodriguez, Laura Saltzman and Kat White, supported the team.
Firm Receives Pro Bono Award from Catholic Immigration Legal Network
Jenner & Block has received the annual pro bono award from Catholic Immigration Legal Network, Inc. (CLINIC) for the firm’s commitment in representing immigrants in removal proceedings. CLINIC’s Board of Immigration Appeals Pro Bono Project identifies potentially meritorious administrative appeals by unrepresented noncitizens in detention and refers those cases to pro bono counsel. The firm has successfully handled a number of cases referred by CLINIC in recent years, including not only appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals, but also petitions for review by the circuit courts and representation in the immigration court following a successful appeal. Within the last 18 months, the firm:
Successfully obtained asylum and withholding of removal for a Somali man who moved to South Africa and faced persecution there as a Somali migrant. His claims were initially denied by the immigration judge. We appealed to the BIA, which remanded for further consideration of the withholding of removal claim, but affirmed the denial of asylum on the ground that our client was firmly settled in South Africa. After obtaining withholding on remand, we then appealed the denial of asylum to the Fifth Circuit. The government agreed to a voluntary remand, and we prevailed on remand. The team was led by staff attorney Danielle J. Nicholson and former associate Irene Ten Cate, together with Partners Matthew D. Cipolla, Marc B. Hankin and Matthew E. Price.
Successfully obtained asylum for a Bangladeshi man who was a member of an opposition political party in Bangladesh, some members of whom had resorted to violence. The immigration judge denied asylum on the ground that our client was a member of a terrorist organization on account of those individuals’ conduct, even though our client did not know them or assist or approve of their actions in any way. We successfully appealed to the BIA, which held that the bar for terrorist activity did not apply. The team included Associate Benjamin M. Eidelson and Partner Matthew E. Price, with assistance from Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson.
Successfully obtained asylum for a Venezuelan political activist who was persecuted on account of his political activities. The immigration judge initially denied his claim on the ground that he had not established a link between the harm he suffered, which included his wife’s assassination, and his political activities. We successfully appealed to the BIA and continued the representation on remand. The team included Associate Michelle R. Singer and Partner Matthew E. Price, with translation support from Associate Manuel C. Possolo and assistance from former paralegal Casey Yi.
Successfully obtained asylum pending background checks for a Honduran man who fled gang violence after the assassination of multiple family members in retaliation for a brother’s employment with an anti-gang police unit. Our representation began with a successful appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, and we continued representation on remand. The team included Associate Samuel C. Birnbaum and Partner Matthew E. Price, with translation support from Associate Manuel C. Possolo and assistance from Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson.
Currently represents an Iraqi man who resided in Brazil prior to coming to the United States. The immigration judge denied asylum on the ground that he was firmly resettled in Brazil. The appeal to the BIA is pending. The team consists of Associate Kara K. Trowell and Partner Matthew E. Price, along with former associate Irene Ten Cate.
Appellate Court Affirms Firm Team’s Win of a New Trial for Patrick Pursley
A Jenner & Block team won another significant victory on behalf of pro bono client Patrick Pursley, who served 23 years in prison on wrongful charges of murder. On May 3, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court affirmed 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Joseph McGraw’s decision last year to vacate Mr. Pursley’s conviction and award him a new trial. The State had appealed Judge McGraw’s decision. This week’s ruling was based on new ballistics evidence establishing that the gun recovered from Mr. Pursley’s residence did not – contrary to the Illinois State Police testimony presented at his trial – fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. Associate Kevin J. Murphy argued Mr. Pursley’s case before the appellate court. “The appellate court got it right,” Mr. Murphy said in a Rockford Register-Star article on the case. “Patrick has presented new and powerful evidence of his innocence.”
Other members of the Mr. Pursley’s team include Partners Andrew W. Vail and Robert R. Stauffer and Associate Monika N. Kothari. In addition, Partners Anton R. Valukas, Michael J. Nelson and Clifford W. Berlow, along with Associate Matthew T. Gordon, assisted with briefing and preparation for oral argument.
Jenner & Block Named to National Law Journal “Pro Bono Hot List”
For the fifth consecutive year, Jenner & Block has been named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List,” as one of only seven law firms across the United States selected for this recognition. “Pro bono and the work we do provides representation to those who otherwise would not be in a position to protect or defend or pursue their rights,” said Partner Andrew W. Vail, co-chair of Jenner & Block’s Pro Bono Committee.
A feature article published by The National Law Journal spotlights the firm’s significant work on a voting rights and gerrymandering case (Gill v. Whitford), in which the firm partnered with the Campaign Legal Center in its work on the case. “Jenner & Block is the best. Their lawyers on voting rights cases are incredibly dedicated to obtaining a just result,” said Gerry Herbert, the senior director of voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center.”
The profile also highlights Partner Adam G. Unikowsky’ s “Hat Trick for Pro Bono at Scotus.” Last term, Mr. Unikowsky argued three cases before the US Supreme Court within the span of four weeks and achieved unanimous wins in all three. “The cases are a point of pride because they demonstrate the firm’s deep commitment to pro bono litigation and its ability to achieve significant victories at the Supreme Court for individuals most I need of experienced counsel,” Mr. Unikowsky said.
Firm’s DC Office Recognized for Commitment to Pro Bono
At the 15th annual “40 at 50 Judicial Pro Bono Recognition Breakfast,” Jenner & Block was singled out as one of only two firms in the District of Columbia Circuit to have more than 70 percent of its lawyers contribute 50 hours or more to pro bono service last year. Held on April 24, 2018, the breakfast was sponsored by the DC Circuit Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. The committee honors DC law firms at which at least 40 percent of all lawyers contribute 50 hours or more to individuals with limited financial resources or to charitable organizations. In total, 37 firms were recognized, a record number and a significant increase from the first breakfast in 2002 when only seven firms qualified. Jenner & Block was one of only four firms with more than 60 percent of its lawyers devoting 50 hours or more. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland, Chief Judge Beryl Howell and other federal judges attended the breakfast.