Court Reverses Murder Conviction for Pro Bono Client
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers led by Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes obtained the appellate reversal of a Kane County murder conviction based on what the court said was inadmissible expert testimony from a well-known former FBI profiler and television commentator. The firm represented Shadwick King pro bono in the appeal of his murder conviction in the death of his wife, Kate.
On August 21, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the State should not have been allowed to use the expert testimony of Mark Safarik, who has appeared on numerous television shows, including Forensic Files, to establish that Kate King had been killed in the first place – a key disputed issue at Mr. King’s 2015 trial.
Kate King was found dead on a set of railroad tracks near the couple’s Geneva, Illinois, home in July 2014. Investigators suspected Mr. King of being involved in her death, and the evidence against him at his March 2015 trial was heavily circumstantial. The forensic pathologist for the defense testified that Mrs. King likely had died of heart failure. The State’s medical examiner, after at first leaving the autopsy report blank for “manner of death” and telling the lead detective at the autopsy that Mrs. King’s cause of death would be listed as undetermined, testified at trial that she was manually strangled.
The Appellate Court ruled that the State “broke the tie” with the profiler, Mr. Safarik, who was not qualified to give medical testimony yet testified that her cause of death was manual strangulation. The court also held that the trial court erred in allowing Mr. Safarik to testify to his opinion that the crime scene was “staged” by someone who wanted to distance himself from the crime scene and Mrs. King to throw off law enforcement. Mr. Safarik’s “staging” testimony, the court ruled, strayed into impermissible “profiling” testimony that “indirectly, but pointedly” identified Mr. King as the killer, “because, under the circumstances, no one else fit that profile.” The Appellate Court remanded the case to the Kane County Circuit Court for retrial. Prosecutors have said they will ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision.
Mr. Fuentes briefed and argued the case in this complex appeal, and with him on the brief were Partner Clifford W. Berlow and former associate Philip Kovoor.
Lawyers and Staff Honored at Annual Pro Bono Awards Celebration
On July 18, the firm hosted its annual Pro Bono Awards Celebration, honoring the firm's long-standing commitment to pro bono work and those who performed and supported pro bono service in exceptional ways. Partners David W. DeBruin and Sarah F. Weiss received the "Albert E. Jenner Pro Bono Award (AEJ Award)" – an award recognizing firm lawyers for their pro bono work. Paralegal Daniel Garcia and Legal Assistant Nora Peralta received the inaugural "Jenner & Block Award for Excellence in Pro Bono or Public Service" – an award recognizing professional staff who support the firm's pro bono and community service efforts.
Jenner & Block Team Defends Pro Bono Client from Murder Charge
"It [Our pro bono work] changes people's lives and in some cases it saves people's lives; people who need but would not have access to legal services if not for the lawyers at Jenner & Block…and many others in the firm who share that same commitment," said Pro Bono Committee Co-Chair Andrew J. Thomas.
The honorees were presented with their respective award by their nominating lawyer. They also gave remarks after receiving their honor.
Ms. Peralta: "I'm going to leave you with a new word to add to your vocabulary: volunesia. It's that moment when you forget that you are volunteering to change lives because doing so is changing yours."
Mr. Garcia: "There's a commitment to the work that we do and this kind of event really recognizes the firmwide efforts to advocate for people and pursue justice. I think it's remarkable."
Mr. DeBruin: "For me, the greatest return from pro bono cases has been working with individuals and finding that when you listen to them, when you respect them as people and when you fight for them, what a difference that makes to that person."
Ms Weiss: "One reason I do this work is that it is truly one of my greatest privileges as a lawyer to try to help the people and families who are most impacted by our criminal justice system."
Jenner & Block Partner Rick Richmond, co-founder and managing partner of the Los Angeles office, led a trial team that obtained an involuntary manslaughter verdict for a pro bono client against whom prosecutors sought a first-degree murder charge.
The firm represented Dietrich Canterberry, who faced the charge after an altercation outside a Hollywood nightclub resulted in a fatality in October 2016.
Following a three-week trial in Los Angeles, the judge overseeing the case instructed the jury to consider charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter and not the first-degree murder charge initially sought. On June 26, the jury acquitted Mr. Canterberry of the two more serious charges. Sentencing is scheduled for later this year.
The trial team included Associates Nayiri K. Pilikyan, Alice S. Kim and Sarah L. Norman, and paralegal Chris Ward.
The case received significant media coverage. In December 2017, the Daily Journal profiled Mr. Richmond, noting that this was his first time defending criminal charges.
The publication also covered opening and closing arguments, reporting on Mr. Richmond’s statements to the jury that Mr. Canterberry was “a brave man who attempted to help a friend by jumping into a brawl” and who acted in self-defense when he collided with another man running directly at him. The Daily Journal also reported that a second defendant, now facing a separate murder trial for his role in the fight, then stomped on the head of the man, who later died.
A separate article about the verdict quoted Mr. Richmond on the differences between trying a criminal case and his primary practice handling large and complex commercial disputes.
“I have a new appreciation for lawyers and judges who devote their careers to criminal cases,” Mr. Richmond said. “Although we’ve handled trials with hundreds of millions of dollars in play, the stakes feel different when you are entrusted to hold someone’s fate in your hands.”
US Supreme Court to Hear Pro Bono Client’s Dispute over Social Security Benefits
The Court recently granted the firm’s petition for certiorari in Biestek v. Berryhill. The firm represents petitioner Michael Biestek, who applied for Social Security benefits because of a disabling, physical impairment. During a hearing before an administrative law judge, a vocational expert testified that jobs were available to Mr. Biestek despite his disability. But the vocational expert, citing the “confidentiality” of her files, would not produce the data and analyses underlying her conclusions. The administrative law judge refused to require the expert to produce this information and then denied Mr. Biestek the disability benefits. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the administrative law judge but noted that there is a divide between the Seventh Circuit and other circuits on the issue.
“This case presents the question whether the Social Security Administration may permissibly deny benefits based on only a vocational expert’s testimony that ‘other work’ exists, when the vocational expert refuses to disclose the data underlying that testimony. There is a well-established, and entrenched, conflict among the circuits on this question, and this case presents the ideal vehicle for this Court to resolve the issue,” according to the petition.
Partner Ishan K. Bhabha leads the team representing Mr. Biestek. Associates Lauren J. Hartz and Natacha Y. Lam are also on the team.
Firm Team Partners with McDonalds to Secure Asylum for Pro Bono Client
Partner Wade A. Thomson led a firm team that secured asylum for a pro bono client who was arrested, detained and tortured by members of the federal police force in Congo at the Direction Générale de Surveillance du Territoire (DGST) three times between May 2013 and June 2014. Our client held a leadership position in a teachers union that planned and coordinated nationwide teachers’ strikes in 2013. Our client refused government bribes to frustrate the strikes and instead published a newspaper article that was critical of the government and supportive of the strike. Because of these acts, our client was accused of being a member of an opposition political party and was brutally tortured and threatened with death by Congolese forces.
In 2015, in-house counsel at McDonalds Corporation reached out to Wade to take the case. In October 2017, the team appeared with our client at the Chicago Asylum Office and represented him in his asylum interview. On June 29, 2018, he was granted asylum. This victory comes through the collaborative efforts of the firm and McDonalds. Other members of the firm team included former associates Yasmine Kurukgy and Ashley Waddell Tingstad, Case Assistant Jocelyn C. Carreon-Crawford and Legal Secretary Brenda Carey.
Firm Ranks No. 1 in Pro Bono for Ninth Time in American Lawyer’s Annual Survey
Once again, The American Lawyer has recognized Jenner & Block as the No. 1 law firm in the United States for pro bono service. This marks the ninth time the firm has achieved the top spot in the annual survey of pro bono commitment among Big Law firms. The firm is also recognized among the top 10 law firms on this year’s international ranking.
The ranking, in The American Lawyer’s annual survey, is based on 2017 hours, which totaled more than 90,700. As The American Lawyer points out, the firm averaged 168 pro bono hours per lawyer. On the international front, Jenner & Block is ranked seventh.
Partner Andrew W. Vail, co-chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, observes in the profile that the firm has an “extremely broad and deep” commitment to pro bono work and puts considerable effort into identifying pro bono work for litigators and transactional lawyers. In 2017, the firm increased its commitment to pro bono on asylum cases and also represented three people who were wrongfully convicted. All three of the convictions were vacated.
Jenner & Block was also named No. 1 in 2017, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 1999. The firm has placed among the leading 10 pro bono programs nationwide every year since the survey began in 1990.