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 is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:
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.
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.
A pro bono client will have an evidentiary hearing on claims that he was not competent to plead guilty to a firearms possession chargeand that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to seek a competency evaluation or hearing before he pled guilty, thanks to a Seventh Circuit decision on August 2, 2017. The client, Denny Anderson, suffered from a host of serious psychiatric disorders, including chronic schizophrenia. He pleaded guilty to a firearms possession charge. The district court accepted the plea and sentenced him despite his psychiatric problems, irregularly administered medical regimen, and unusual behavior in court.
Mr. Anderson moved for federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. s 2255 on the grounds that he was not competent to plead guilty and be sentenced and on the ground that his counsel was ineffective for failing to seek a competency evaluation and hearing. The district denied Mr. Anderson’s claims without an evidentiary hearing. In a published opinion, the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed the district court, ruling in favor of the client, and remanding the case for a hearing on his claims. “Because the district court lacked a full picture of Anderson’s mental health, its finding that Anderson had the capacity to plead guilty rests on a flawed factual foundation that must be explored in a hearing,” Chief Judge Wood wrote in an opinion for the court.
The team representing Mr. Anderson included Partner Barry Levenstam and Associate Joshua M. Parker, who argued the appeal before the Seventh Circuit. Paralegal Mary Frances Patston provided invaluable assistance.
Jenner & Block, as co-counsel with Lambda Legal and the ACLU of North Carolina, on July 21, 2017, filed an amended complaint that challenges North Carolina’s replacement “bathroom bill.” At issue is HB 142, which replaced controversial HB 2 in March. The plaintiffs include a group of LGBT individuals who work at various North Carolina public institutions. The defendants include North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and other state officials. According to the plaintiffs, HB 142 bars the “regulation” of access to restrooms and other facilities in schools and other state or local government buildings in North Carolina, leaving transgender people vulnerable to discrimination and even possible arrest. It also prevents cities from passing any protections against discrimination in private employment or places of public accommodation until 2020.
“By deterring transgender individuals from using restrooms and other single-sex, multiple-user facilities that accord with their gender identity and preventing local governments from extending protections in employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, HB 142 violates the United States Constitution and federal laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex,” the complaint reads.
Jenner & Block Partners David Bitkower and Mary Ellen Callahan, Staff Attorney Danielle J. Nicholson, Associate Sati Harutyunyan and Summer Associate Meenu Krishnan assisted the Tahirih Justice Center (TJC) in ensuring the removal of confidential information about immigrant victims of crime from a publicly-accessible database managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Tahirih Justice Center is a national organization that provides legal services to immigrants and refugee women and girls fleeing violence.
The ICE database, called the Victim Information and Notification Exchange, permitted members of the public to elect to receive notifications about the whereabouts of immigrants in ICE detention. But the database included information about detained immigrants who were themselves victims of crime, including human trafficking and domestic violence. The database thereby risked placing those victims in danger, including from those who had previously victimized them and could now track their physical location. Under federal law, DHS is prohibited from disclosing information about a survivor of violence seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 or the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000.
After multiple requests from TJC to remove the confidential information – and after the information had been publicly available likely for months – ICE promptly resolved the database problem once the firm team took on the matter. There was no litigation involved.