Firm Once Again Named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List”
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
In its annual list of the “firms that do well by doing good,” The NLJ honors Jenner & Block for several pro bono victories in the past year. In one case, the firm ensured that tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients in Kentucky and Arkansas would not lose health insurance as a result of new restrictions on eligibility and coverage, including work requirements and lock-outs. That team was led by Partner Ian Heath Gershengorn.
“It is extremely rewarding to use our skills to help change the lives of individuals whose voices are not always heard,” as noted in The NLJ’s profile of the firm. “The Medicaid victory, in particular, is one in which tens of thousands of Americans can now continue to have access to health coverage and health care. The decision made clear that the administration cannot simply ignore the devastating real-world consequences of its policies.”
As the co-chairs of our Pro Bono Committee told The NLJ, pro bono is a core value at Jenner & Block. “Representing those without the resources to protect themselves reminds us that the work we do can make all the difference in the world,” said Matthew E. Price, Michael W. Ross, Todd C. Toral, Christian Tuddenhamand Andrew W. Vail.
Team Wins Seventh Circuit Victory for Illinois Prisoner
A firm team representing an Illinois prisoner achieved an important victory in the Seventh Circuit last week when the court reinstated the prisoner’s lawsuit challenging a private healthcare contractor’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs. The court’s opinion paved the way for the prisoner to pursue his constitutional claims against the contractor in federal district court.
Robert Williams brought suit against Wexford Health Sources in 2017, challenging the contractor’s “one good eye” policy, under which it refuses critical eye care to prisoners like Mr. Williams as long as they retain a modicum of visual acuity in one eye. Although healthcare providers inside and outside the prison recommended eye surgery for Mr. Williams, Wexford refused that surgery for several years. At the time he filed suit, Mr. Williams was completely blind in one eye and suffering from a host of conditions in both eyes. The district court held that Mr. Williams’s complaint stated a colorable claim against Wexford for violating his constitutional rights. Yet the district court granted summary judgment in Wexford’s favor, holding that Mr. Williams failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the Illinois Administrative Code.
The Seventh Circuit reversed that decision last week. In a precedential opinion, the court clarified the standards applicable to prisoners like Mr. Williams who used the emergency procedures to seek expedited review of their grievances by prison officials. The court explained that while those emergency procedures were recently amended to require additional steps, those additional steps were not required of Mr. Williams, who submitted his grievances before the amendment. In reaching this result, the court emphasized the importance of transparency and clarity in the grievance process, and criticized the prison authorities for trying to “move the goal posts while [Mr. Williams] was in the middle of his case and suddenly announce that special new requirements applied to him.” The court also questioned Wexford’s “dubious” decision to refuse the surgery that Mr. Williams needed.
Jenner & Block and the Chicago Bar Association Team Up to Provide Pro Bono Services to Healthcare Workers
Recognizing the sacrifices that essential healthcare workers are making on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, Jenner & Block is proud to partner with the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) in its Wills for Healthcare Heroes Program.
The Wills for Healthcare Heroes Program is an extension of the Wills for Heroes program, a national program that the firm has partnered on with the CBA for many years. Through the Wills for Healthcare Heroes Program, the firm will provide free estate planning services to healthcare workers treating in the Chicagoland area, enabling them to prepare simple wills and powers of attorney for themselves, their spouses or partners. The initiative was recently featured on a segment of WGN Midday News
In a press release
about the initiative, Joe Busnengo, who chairs the CBA’s Young Lawyers Section Wills for Heroes Program, said, “The Wills for Heroes Program has always been a way for attorneys to give back to those heroes who put their lives on the line to protect all of us like our veterans and police officers. We are very excited to be expanding this program to help our healthcare heroes, who are shouldering an enormously heavy burden during this pandemic.”
Jenner & Block has a longstanding partnership with the CBA, including in the Wills for Heroes program, and the firm is proud to be pitching in to help with legal assistance for healthcare workers, said Partner Andrew W. Vail
, co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee.
“This crisis demonstrates how healthcare providers put the rest of the community first,” Mr. Vail said. “This is one small way that our law firm, together with the CBA and the legal community, can come together to help provide peace of mind for these heroes, along with the other heroes on the front lines as well as their families.”
To learn more about the program, please click here
Cross-Office Team Advises Lincoln Center in Transition to Virtual Programming
A cross-office team led by Partner Alison I. Stein is providing pro bono counsel to Lincoln Center as the arts organization transitions to virtual programming after “closing its doors” indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Launched in early April, “Lincoln Center At Home” provides a unique way for the organization to virtually distribute extraordinary content and keep its audience and donors engaged. The program includes an education channel for kids and access to both live and archived world-class performances such as a performance of Schubert’s Quintet in C Major. To learn more about Lincoln Center, click here.
In addition to Ms. Stein, the Lincoln Center team includes Partner Steven R. Englund; Associates Camila A. Connolly, Allison N. Douglis, Amy Egerton-Wiley and Emily S. Mannheimer; and Law Clerk Isabel Farhi. The team continues to work hard on the unique rights and other legal issues arising during this unprecedented time.
Central District of California Cites Jenner & Block Amicus Brief in an Order Granting Injunctive Relief to At-Risk ICE Detainees
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.