Jenner & Block Associates Secure Five-Figure Settlement in Civil Rights Case
Our Pro Bono Commitment
Three associates based in the firm’s Los Angeles office led a team that obtained a five-figure settlement for a wheelchair-bound prisoner in a civil rights claim against a prison physician.
Associates Wesley M. Griffith, Alexander M. Smith and Effiong K. Dampha led the team, which included support from Partner Kirsten Hicks Spira.
Our pro bono client filed a Section 1983 lawsuit against a physician at the California Medical Facility, a state prison, for not providing him adequate pain medication following second-degree burns to his face, neck, arm and chest. Despite our client’s repeated statements to the defendant that he was in severe pain, and the conclusion of four other doctors who examined him that day that he was in pain, the defendant did not administer medication or inquire if the client was in pain, in violation of prison policy.
The case settled a week before it was scheduled to go to trial in the Eastern District of California. Although one in ten lawsuits filed in federal court is a Section 1983 claim, these are frequently dismissed early and are known to be difficult cases to advance so close to trial.
The settlement judge overseeing the case thanked the team repeatedly for its dedication to pro bono, which is a core value of the firm, and its willingness to commit extensive resources to the matter.
Firm Secures DC Circuit Decision Overturning Convictions on 6th Amendment Grounds
A Jenner & Block team of Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and Associate James T. Dawson succeeded in persuading the D.C. Circuit to overturn the convictions of pro bono client Pheerayuth Burden and his export business, Wing-On LLC. Mr. Burden was charged with exporting gun parts without a license in violation of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). At trial, the testimony of a key prosecutorial witness was admitted through videotaped deposition; he was unavailable for questioning becausethe US government had deported him prior to the trial. The firm argued that the admission of the deposition constituted a violation of the 6th Amendment, which guarantees the right of the defendants to confront the witnesses against them at trial. On August 20, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit agreed, ruling that “the district court erred in admitting the deposition testimony” and vacating all charges. The firm also won a second issue related to the jury instructions for a willful violation of the AECA, which criminalizes willful violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
Jenner & Block Associates Secure Favorable, Rare Outcomes for Two Pro Bono Clients
Through Jenner & Block’s work serving on the Criminal Justice Act panel in the United States District Court for the Southern District New York, a team of associates secured favorable, rare outcomes in two pro bono matters. The first involved a client who was charged with serious violations stemming from a series of armed robberies. While his involvement in these offenses was minor; however, one of his charges carried a seven-year mandatory minimum sentence due to the use of a gun during the robberies. Led by Associates Edelí Rivera and Jessica A. Martinez, with supervision from Partner Katya Jestin, the team negotiated an agreement with the government that allowed the client to plead to a lesser charge. And even though he still faced 41 to 51 months’ imprisonment under the lesser charge to which he pled, the client was sentenced to only 16 months in jail, 14 of which he had already served. After the proceedings concluded, Edelí’s effective oral advocacy earned high praise from presiding Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr.
The second pro bono matter involved a client being investigated for embezzlement from a labor union. For almost two years, Associate Ali M. Arain led the case, supervised by Partner Anthony S. Barkow and assisted by Associates Lori B. Day and Jacob Lincoln Tracer and law clerk Andrew D. Whinery. The team persuaded the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to give our client a rare deferred prosecution agreement, providing that if our client pays back the money at issue, he would not be prosecuted and will have no criminal record. The client repeatedly thanked Ali and the team, stating that they had “saved his life,” “gave him his humanity” and “treated him with dignity and respect.”
Working with Non-Profit Partner to Secure a Favorable Settlement for Trafficking Survivor
Our client is a native of Mexico and the mother of three children. Nearly seven years ago, she left her abusive partner and began looking for work to support herself and her family. She was introduced to a man whom a relative thought could help her secure immigration papers to work for him in the United States. She would work as a nanny and maid for the man and his family in the United States. Excited for the opportunity, our client agreed.
But after she came to the United States, the man confiscated her passport, depressed her wages, increased her hours and began verbally abusing and sexually harassing her. One day when the man and our client were alone in the home, he raped her. He then threatened her and demanded her silence.
After the assault, our client fled to another state. Distraught, she conducted research on organizations that could help her. She was eventually referred to the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), which then contacted Jenner & Block. The firm partnered with CAASE and quickly conducted research and began investigating our client’s case. The team drafted a complaint asserting claims for breach of contract, violations of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and violations of the Illinois Gender Violence Act. After sending a draft of the complaint to the man, our team quickly moved to settlement negotiations. The team successfully negotiated a favorable out-of-court settlement that provided our client with the restitution she deserved and peace by avoiding years of litigation.
The firm team included Partner Precious Jacobs and Associate Garrett Fitzsimmons. CAASE honored them as 2019 “Pro Bono Superstars” for their efforts on the matter.
Judge Grants Motion to Suppress Evidence and Dismisses Case Against Pro Bono Client
A firm team successfully proved that Chicago police had no reason to arrest our pro bono client on charges of carrying a gun without a concealed carry permit. In granting the firm’s motion to suppress evidence, Judge Steven Watkins stated that the stop and arrest of the firm’s client were improper.
At issue was the gun that the client was carrying when police stopped him as he walked home in his Chicago neighborhood. The client legally purchased the gun, and he had a valid Firearm Owners Identification card, but he did not yet have a conceal carry permit. The arresting officers claimed that the client was looking into a window of a commercial business, and once stopped, one officer claimed he saw a “bulge” protruding from the client’s waistband, giving him probable cause to search.
However, the team developed a creative defense strategy for the evidentiary hearing in Cook County Criminal Court. The client was put on the stand wearing exactly the same hooded sweatshirt and winter jacket he was wearing the night of the search. The team put a replica gun in the client’s waistband, illustrating that the officer could not have seen any “bulge.” The client and the officers were also questioned about the client looking into the window. The judge found the stop, and therefore the arrest, to be improper.
The firm team included Partners Andrew F. Merrick and Sarah F. Weiss and Associate Miriam J. Wayne.
North Carolina’s “Bathroom Bill” Dispute Ends with Consent Decree Protecting Transgender Individuals
Jenner & Block served as pro bono co-counsel with Lambda Legal and the ACLU of North Carolina in a three-year battle to protect the rights of transgender individuals. On July 23, a federal judge approved a consent decree clarifying that transgender individuals cannot be prohibited from using state-run restrooms and facilities consistent with their gender identity.
The dispute dates back to 2016, when the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2, which required transgender people to use public facilities matching their birth sex. The firm filed a lawsuit against the state and the University of North Carolina, where several of the named plaintiffs worked or attended. The plaintiffs won a partial preliminary injunction blocking HB 2 on Title IX grounds. But in 2017, the General Assembly passed HB 142. Although HB 142 repealed HB 2, it also pre-empted any further “regulation “ of access to restrooms and other facilities by any state agency, local government, school board or other government entity.
The consent decree prohibits the executive branch defendants, including their successors, from interpreting HB 142 to prevent transgender individuals from lawfully using public facilities in accordance with their gender identity and permanently enjoins the executive branch from applying HB 142 to bar, prohibit, block, deter or impede any transgender individuals from using public facilities in accordance with their gender identity.
Associate Andrew C. Noll argued for the plaintiffs in favor of the consent decree at hearings earlier this year. In addition, the team included Partners Devi M. Rao and Emily Chapuis and Associates Caroline C. Cease and Zachary Blau. Partners Ian Heath Gershengorn and Adam G Unikowsky and Associate Lauren J. Hartz helped prepare Mr. Noll for oral argument. Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson and Associate Manager of Docketing Services Tyler Edwards provided critical paralegal and docketing support.
News of the consent decree was reported widely, including in the New York Times and Law360.