Karen Daniel, director of Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC), discusses the Nicole Harris case on a recent Undisclosed podcast. Working with the CWC, the firm represented Ms. Harris after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her 4-year-old son in 2005. The long-running case spanned more than seven years and involved litigating at every level of the state and federal judicial systems. Ultimately, Ms. Harris was freed from prison and exonerated of the crime. She received a certificate of innocence from the court and was reunited with her surviving son. In 2014, the firm and the CWC received the Seventh Circuit Bar Association’s 2014 Pro Bono and Public Service Award for their work on the case. In the podcast, Ms. Daniel examines Ms. Harris’ false confession, given after she was subjected to police interrogation for more than 25 hours and held by herself in a cell. “To this day, Nicole can’t explain why she confessed. What we’ve learned is that everybody has a breaking point,” Ms. Daniel says. To listen to the podcast, click here. The discussion of Ms. Harris’ case starts at minute18:25.
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
Partner Paul M. Smith notes the firm’s strong history of pro bono work in an article about law firms that are teaming up with advocacy groups to support the LGBT community. Titled “The BigLaw Firms Fighting for Transgender Rights,” the article in Law360 explains that the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund have tapped Jenner & Block to challenge North Carolina’s controversial HB 2, which requires transgender people to use the bathroom that matches their birth certificate in public facilities. The article notes that, in 2003, Mr. Smith won the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case, in which the US Supreme Court declared that sodomy bans were illegal. “The firm culture is very, very pro bono-oriented, civil rights and civil liberties-oriented, but any kind of pro bono,” Mr. Smith says. “This is just one piece of that. It became a big part of our pro bono practice after Lawrence. There were just a lot of people who wanted to work on these issues. One thing leads to another and once you've got a connection with the organization, you know them and they trust you, you get more and more opportunities to do interesting things.”
Pro bono client Adam Gray, sentenced in 1996 to mandatory life without parole after being convicted of setting a fire that killed two people, deserves a new trial, according to prosecutors in State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s Conviction Integrity Unit. Court papers say that dramatic advancements in fire science have “partially invalidated” expert testimony that was crucial to Mr. Gray’s arson and double murder conviction. The team representing Mr. Gray is led by Partner Terri L. Mascherin, who is quoted in a Chicago Tribune article about the case saying that the team is confident Mr. Gray would be acquitted at a retrial. “We believe, based on what today’s science makes clear, that there is no evidence this fire was an arson. We believe if this case is retried, the jury will find Adam Gray not guilty.”
Other members of the team include Partner Daniel T. Fenske and Associate Brij B. Patnaik
Partner Terri L. Mascherin is quoted in a Chicago Tribune article about pro bono client Adam Gray, who in 1996 was sentenced to mandatory life without parole for setting a fire that killed two people. Now, prosecutors say that Mr. Gray deserves a new trial because dramatic advancements in fire science have “partially invalidated” expert testimony that was crucial to Mr. Gray’s arson and double murder conviction. “We believe, based on what today’s science makes clear, that there is no evidence this fire was an arson. We believe if this case is retried, the jury will find Adam Gray not guilty,” Ms. Mascherin says. Other members of the team include Partner Daniel T. Fenske and Associate Brij B. Patnaik
The firm is representing, on a pro bono basis, a Brooklyn neighborhood association that is battling the planned development of two residential towers at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) recently filed suit against the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, other government entities, and the developers of the proposed building. The BHA seeks to have the New York State Supreme Court annul the June 7, 2016, vote to build the towers near the park’s Atlantic Avenue entrance and Pier 6. According to a BHA press release, “The BHA, other community groups, and local elected officials have strongly advocated that this land instead by used as parkland and that the long-promised Atlantic Avenue entrance to the park be created.” Further, the BHA argues that revenue generated by the two towers would exceed the financial needs of the park. Partner Richard F. Ziegler is quoted in an article in Politico saying, “They’re going forward with a project that they admit is far larger than what they need to support the park.” In addition to Politico, several other media outlets have reported on the dispute, including the New York Daily News, Brooklyn Paper, Crain’s New York Business, NY 1 News and The Real Deal. In addition to Mr. Ziegler, others on the team representing the BHA include Partner Elizabeth A. Edmondson; Associates Daniel H. Wolf, David B. Diesenhouse and Kara K. Trowell; and Summer Associate Melissa Fedornak.
On June 29, 2016, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Obbish granted post-conviction relief to firm client Arturo Reyes, who has been in prison since 2000, convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and home invasion. His conviction was largely based on a statement he signed after two plus days of questioning by four Chicago police detectives. Prior to his trial, Mr. Reyes unsuccessfully moved to suppress his statement on the ground that it was coerced by an abusive detective, in violation of his due process rights. Notably, no physical evidence connected Mr. Reyes to the crimes for which he was convicted – DNA analysis of evidence from the crime scene connect other people to the murders and do not match Mr. Reyes. He has maintained his innocence.
The firm began representing Mr. Reyes in 2006, shortly after the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of his initial post-conviction petition. The firm helped Mr. Reyes amend his petition, which ultimately advanced to a third stage evidentiary hearing on the basis of his claim of newly discovered evidence that the detective who interrogated him had engaged in a pattern and practice of abuse and coercion that was not known to Mr. Reyes or the trial court when Mr. Reyes initially moved to suppress his confession.
At the third stage evidentiary proceedings, Partners Andrew W. Vail and David P. Saunders and Associate Michael T. Werner, with attorneys from Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Conviction led by Karen Daniel, who represent Mr. Reyes’ co-petitioner, Gabriel Solache, presented Mr. Reyes, Mr. Solache and several witnesses who testified to the pattern and practice, among other evidence. The lawyers also cross-examined the State’s witnesses and called the interrogating former detective to the stand. He invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not testify in response to all questions.
Based on the evidence, Judge Obbish determined that Mr. Reyes and Mr. Solache made a substantial showing that they had been denied their constitutional right to due process. He ruled that they are entitled to a new motion to suppress hearing and further found that if the newly discovered evidence had been presented at the suppression hearing, “the outcome of petitioners’ previous motion to suppress likely would have been different.”
The firm team is led by Mr. Vail and includes Mr. Saunders and Mr. Werner, as well as Associate Hillary E. August; Staff Attorney Veronica Maldonado; Paralegal W. Michael Hughes; and Project Assistant Nicholas M. Perrone. Partner David Jiménez-Ekman also contributed to Mr. Reyes’ representation. An article about Mr. Reyes’ case and the winning of a new hearing was published by the Sun-Times.