Central District of California Cites Jenner & Block Amicus Brief in an Order Granting Injunctive Relief to At-Risk ICE Detainees
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
On April 20, 2020, the Honorable Jesus G. Bernal of the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted a preliminary injunction to a nationwide class of persons detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The injunction requires that ICE do more to protect detainees from the risks of COVID-19, including by freeing many of those who face the greatest risk of serious harm due to their preexisting medical conditions. The court’s decision cited and drew from a brief filed by Jenner & Block Partners Clifford W. Berlow, Michele L. Slachetka and Christopher J. Rillo and Associate Faaris (Fares) Akremi on behalf of 16 public health experts as amici curiae in support of the class plaintiffs.
The court summarized that “[t]he central question presented” by the detainee plaintiffs’ motion for injunctive relief “is whether the conditions in which [ICE] detainees are held during the pandemic likely violate the Constitution, and if so, what measures can and should be taken to ensure constitutionally permissible conditions of detention.” Fraihat v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, EDCV 19-1546 JGB (SHKx), slip op. at 1-2 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 20, 2020). In its decision, the court observed that the class plaintiffs were supported by the firm’s clients as amici curiae: 16 professors at American medical schools located across the nation, virtually all of whom are practicing emergency room and intensive care unit physicians. In their brief, the amici had taken the position that ICE’s lackluster infection-control guidance was inadequate to stop the highly contagious, life-threatening disease and contextualized the extreme risk faced by vulnerable people detained in close quarters with no meaningful opportunity to socially distance or practice the protective measures necessary to prevent illness. Further, they had maintained that the risk of an outbreak at an ICE detention facility was not just to the detainees, but instead to all those in neighboring communities whose access to medical care would be jeopardized if local hospitals become overrun with detainees infected with COVID-19.
Embracing these points and the underlying medical and scientific evidence, the court provisionally certified an injunctive class comprising “[a]ll people who are detained in ICE custody” and who suffer from at least one condition or disability—defined broadly in the court’s order—that “plac[es] them at heightened risk of severe illness and death upon contracting the COVID-19 virus.” id. at 21-22 & nn. 20, 21. The court then concluded that “[p]laintiffs have established they will suffer the irreparable harm of increased likelihood of severe illness and death if a preliminary injunction is not entered,” id. at 36, and that the public’s interest tips sharply in detainees’ favor—in large part because, as amici had explained, ICE’s “failure to protect the most vulnerable detainees could quickly overwhelm local hospitals with insufficient ICU” capacities, id. at 37.
The injunctive relief is broad. ICE is required to, nationwide: (1) identify all detainees with any of a broad range of “risk factors” that render them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19; (2) make timely, individualized custody determinations for those detainees, including consideration of whether each detainee herself is willing and able to be released from custody; and (3) issue a performance standard clearly defining “the minimum acceptable detention conditions” for at-risk detainees. id. at 38.
Pro Bono Client Roberto Lazcano Reunited with Family after 24 Years Apart
On April 3, after 20 years of clemency, sentencing credit, and post-conviction petitions, client Roberto Lazcano was released from custody and returned home to his family.
Roberto received a 55-year sentence in 1996 following his conviction as an accomplice to first-degree murder. Roberto was 15 years old at the time of the offense. Following his family’s relocation from Mexico, Roberto was pulled into a gang. At the time of the offense, Roberto and fellow gang member Mario Ramos spotted a car full of boys they believed to be rival gang members. Roberto, on a bike, took Mario towards the car, and Mario shot the driver, Andrew Young. At trial, Roberto was represented by a lawyer later disbarred for incompetence, illegal conduct amounting to fraud, and abusing drugs during the time he represented Roberto. Following Roberto’s sentencing, Mario pleaded guilty and received a 40-year sentence. Mario was released from prison in 2016.
Roberto underwent a remarkable transformation while incarcerated. He had dropped out of school at 14, but in prison, he prioritized education and helping others. He earned a GED and a bachelor’s degree and served as a tutor. Accepting responsibility for his role in the crime and the harm he caused, he sought and received forgiveness from the parents of the victim.
Jenner & Block took Roberto’s case in 2000, after hearing his story from his parents and mentor, Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures, and his colleague Alexandra Garrison. Over the years, the firm filed three clemency petitions for Roberto. Associate Elin I. Park
, former partner Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno, and former associate Nick Kurk drafted the first petition. Partner Caroline L. Meneau
and former partner Elizabeth Coleman drafted the subsequent petitions with assistance from Staff Attorney Anna W. Margasinska
, paralegal Mary Patston, and former associate Shy Jackson.
Between clemency petitions, Caroline and Elizabeth successfully filed a motion that advanced Roberto’s out-date by helping him get credit he was entitled to for his time in juvenile custody. Partner Clifford W. Berlow
, Caroline, Associate Joshua M. Levin
, and Elizabeth also worked on a successful legislative effort to provide further sentencing credit for education for numerous Illinois prisoners.
Roberto’s third clemency petition was filed in 2019. It stressed Roberto’s transformation, incompetent prior representation, and juxtaposed the length of Roberto’s sentence with that of the shooter, Mario, who had already been released on time served. Caroline presented the petition before the panel. She was joined by the victim’s father, Mr. Young, who explained that he forgave Roberto and asked the panel for his release. The State’s Attorney’s Office did not oppose the petition, and remarked that Roberto’s was the unique case fulfilling penological justifications prior to release.
Following a change in juvenile sentencing law, Cliff and Associates Sarah A. Youngblood
and Hanna M. Conger
filed a post-conviction petition arguing for a resentencing hearing crediting Roberto with time served. The post-conviction team was aided by the third clemency petition. The State’s Attorney’s Office agreed not to oppose resentencing. Ultimately, the parties brokered a deal reducing Roberto’s sentence to secure his immediate release. In approving the deal, the court credited Mr. Young’s remarkable support of Roberto through his clemency process.
Roberto was released from IDOC custody on March 19. Following his release, he was taken into ICE custody pending deportation to Mexico. Facing concerns regarding potential COVID-19 infection while detained, Cliff, Hanna, and Sarah counseled Roberto through the deportation process with assistance from Partner Michele L. Slachetka
On April 3, Roberto returned to Mexico. He reunited with his parents after 24 years apart. Last week, a team of current and former lawyers held a zoom video conference with Roberto from his family’s home in Mexico. Roberto is looking forward to the future and grateful for all of the firm’s assistance. In addition to the lawyers named above, the team was aided by two dozen additional time keepers, numerous legal assistants, and docketing.
Partner Vince Lazar Co-Leads Group that Proposed Bankruptcy Rules Approved by CFTC
Jenner & Block Partner Vincent E. Lazar served as co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Joint Part 190 Rules Subcommittee, a group of lawyers, market participants and regulators who worked to rewrite the Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulations governing commodity broker bankruptcy cases.
The ABA subcommittee started its work in 2015, formally submitted a new set of proposed rules to the CFTC in 2017, and continued to work with the CFTC thereafter to refine the proposal. On April 14, 2020, the full commission unanimously approved the proposed rules for public comment, with final approval slated for later this summer. Several commissioners and CFTC leadership recognized the pro bono work of the ABA subcommittee at the April 14 public commission meeting.
To learn more, see the CFTC’s press release here.
Illinois Governor Grants Clemency Petition for Pro Bono Client Charles Harris, Commuting Life Sentence to Time Served
This week, Governor Pritzker granted the clemency petition of longtime firm pro bono client Charles Harris, commuting his lifesentence to time served and ordering his release from Pontiac Correctional Center. Mr. Harris was sentenced to life in prison under the Illinois Habitual Criminal Act in 1988 for committing three armed robberies, even though two of the robberies occurred when Mr. Harris was a juvenile, no one was injured during any of the robberies, and a total of only $235 was taken during the course of all three robberies combined.
The team was led by Partner Thomas P. Sullivan and included Associates John J. Frawley and Bethany H. Felder. Together, the team drafted a Petition for Executive Clemency in which they argued that Mr. Harris’ life sentence constituted a gross miscarriage of justice given the nature of the crimes, the mitigating factors that led to those crimes, and the astounding personal reforms Mr. Harris made while incarcerated. Additionally, the team collaborated with Mr. Harris’ family and friends to obtain letters in support of the petition. The team also coached Mr. Harris for his interview with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
Mr. Harris’ release will end a total of 40 years spent in prison. Mr. Harris had previously submitted three petitions for executive clemency, all of which were denied. Mr. Harris looks forward to reuniting with his family upon release and spending time in his community educating young people about the criminal justice system.
First Circuit Revives Suit that Challenges the EPA’s Plan to Limit Academic Scientists on Advisory Boards
Jenner & Block won a significant First Circuit appeal on behalf of pro bono clients, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Dr. Elizabeth Anne Sheppard, a public health professor. At issue is a directive from then-EPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt dating to October 2017. In that directive, Mr. Pruitt planned to exclude anyone who had received EPA grants to fund their research from serving on any of the 23 EPA scientific advisory boards. Filed in January 2018, the lawsuit argues that “the effect of the ban, which has no precedent and no counterpart at any other federal agency or department, is to single out academic scientists and experts by excluding them from serving EPA in the public interest.”
On March 23, the First Circuit ruled that the lawsuit, Union of Concerned Scientists and Elizabeth Anne Sheppard v. US EPA et al., may proceed. The court reversed the lower court’s judgment dismissing the case as unreviewable and sent the case back to the lower court for further consideration of the claims. The unanimous three-judge panel said that the directive effectively "purged" 8,000 otherwise-qualified scientists from the rolls.
Partner Lindsay C. Harrison leads the team. The First Circuit appeal was argued by Partner Zachary C. Schauf, with assistance from Associates Samuel C. Birnbaum and Julian Ginos and Paralegal Cheryl Olson. “This case is an important victory for scientific integrity,” Ms. Harrison said in a statement.
Jenner & Block Associates Secure Release of Client Detained by ICE at Privately Run Prison
A team of Los Angeles Jenner & Block associates secured the release of a pro bono client who had been detained by ICE at a privately run, for-profit detention facility.
The client is a Cameroonian national who was repeatedly tortured by his government for his involvement with a peaceful political organization. In 2019, fearing further torture and possible execution by the Cameroonian government, the client fled to the United States to seek asylum and/or protection under the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Upon entry into the United States, the client declared himself to immigration authorities and was sent to a remote desert detention facility, where he had not received a hearing in over six months.
Working in conjunction with the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Associates Wesley M. Griffith, Sati Harutyunyan and Kristen Green secured the client’s release from detention pending a final ruling on his asylum and Convention Against Torture claims. They were supervised and supported by Partner Todd C. Toral. The team also included legal assistants Christal Oropeza and Elizabeth Visick.
Pro bono service is a core value of Jenner & Block. Jenner & Block lawyers provided over 85,000 hours of pro bono services in 2019.