Firm Wins Victory For Pro Bono Client In New York Court of Appeals
Our Pro Bono Commitment
The Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and ordered a new trial for firm client, David Lang, finding that the trial court had improperly substituted a juror mid-trial. Mr.Lang, now 78 years old, was convicted in 2012 of second-degree murder in the shooting death of his brother on the farm where they lived together in upstate New York. As a result of that conviction, Lang was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.
The firm appealed first to the New York Intermediate Appellate Court, which affirmed the conviction. The firm then petitioned the New York Court of Appeals to hear the case, and the Court of Appeals agreed to do so. Review by the Court of Appeals review is extremely rare—the court took only 34 cases out of about 2,500 criminal applications in 2019.
At issue in the appeal was the court’s substitution, on the ninth day of the trial, of a sitting juror with an alternate juror. On the morning of that ninth day of trial, the trial judge announced that he had been told by a court official that a juror couldn’t be there because a family member had a medical appointment in Rochester, which was several hours away by car. The court, when ordering the juror substitution, provided inaccurate (and limited) reasoning as to why it believed the juror might have suddenly become unavailable, and never actually made an inquiry into whether the juror was unavailable or likely to appear within a reasonable amount of time.
The Court of Appeals found that the trial court failed to conduct the requisite “reasonably thorough inquiry” before substituting jurors. “Not only did the court provide only limited – and inaccurate – reasons to support a finding of unavailability, there is nothing on the record reflecting that it made any inquiry into Juror Number 9’s whereabouts or likelihood of appearing prior to ordering the substitution of Juror Number 9 with Alternate Number 1,” reads the opinion.
The court reversed Lang’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial.
Partner Matthew S. Hellman argued before the Court of Appeals. Associate Caroline C. Cease was also on the team. They were supported by Legal Assistant Beth Gulden, Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson, Associate Manager of Docketing Services Tyler Edwards and Manager of Docketing Services Na’eem Conway. Partners Jessica Ring Amunson and Zachary C. Schauf and Law Clerk Rachel Wilf-Townsend mooted the team. Associate Samuel C. Birnbaum and former associate Marguerite Moeller assisted with the Third Department appeal, and the original team on the long-running case included former partner Peter Pope.
Jenner & Block Named to PILI’s 2020 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is one of 47 law firms and corporations named to the Public Interest Law Initiatives (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. The roster honors organizations that have made significant commitments and contributions to pro bono throughout the state of Illinois by helping individuals, families and communities who are in need receive legal services. Law firms named to the roster must demonstrate a commitment to their pro bono programs and must meet at least two of the following qualifications: an average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional; a five percent increase in Illinois office(s) pro bono hours from the previous year; pro bono participation by 60 percent or more of the firm’s Illinois lawyers; participation in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Law Firm Leadership Circle or one of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee Pro Bono Pledges; and adoption of innovative steps to expand the firm’s pro bono program.
Jenner & Block has been on the roster since 2010.
Jenner & Block Associates Join Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Associates Advisory Board
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) has voted Jenner & Block lawyers Wesley M. Griffith and Alice S. Kim to its Associates Advisory Board.
LAFLA is a nonprofit legal assistance organization that protects and advances the rights of some of the Los Angeles area’s most underserved populations by providing free, high-quality legal services to more than 100,000 people living in poverty each year. Its Associates Advisory Board is an association of like-minded professionals dedicated to supporting LAFLA’s mission by providing pro bono service, fundraising and raising awareness of LAFLA’s work in the greater Los Angeles community. The board provides leadership, professional networking, and pro bono and social opportunities for its board members.
The firm’s Los Angeles office frequently partners with LAFLA on the foundation’s cases and initiatives. Mr. Griffith and Ms. Kim are currently working with LAFLA on COVID-19-prompted legal aid clinics involving housing, homelessness, eviction defense, domestic violence and other areas of need during the pandemic. Earlier this year, the LA office hosted a LAFLA training for associates on defending against wrongful evictions. Partner Carissa Coze serves on the organization's board of directors.
Outside of their involvement with LAFLA, Mr. Griffith and Ms. Kim maintain active pro bono practices.
Mr. Griffith recently led a team that secured the release of a pro bono client who had been detained by ICE at a privately run, for-profit detention facility, and led another team that obtained a five-figure settlement for a wheelchair-bound prisoner in a civil rights claim against a prison physician. Ms. Kim was part of a team that obtained an acquittal of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter charges against a pro bono client. She also served on a firm team that obtained a significant win in the DC Circuit for two civilian lawyers who resigned from serving as counsel to the alleged mastermind of the attack on the United States Navy destroyer USS Cole who is facing a military trial at Guantánamo Bay. The civilian lawyers resigned on ethical grounds after discovering various government intrusions into the attorney-client privilege, including finding surveillance equipment in a client meeting room. Ms. Kim is currently working to secure a federal prisoner’s compassionate release.
Firm Files Amicus Brief for more than 50 Organizations Committed to Gender Justice
On May 7, Jenner & Block Partner Devi M. Rao and Associate Emily S. Mannheimer filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the New York Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center and 49 additional organizations committed to gender justice.
The case, Francis v. Kings Park Manor, involves whether or not a housing provider is obligated under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to address tenant-on-tenant harassment if the provider had known about discriminatory conduct and had the power to correct it. A Second Circuit panel held that an African-American tenant plausibly alleged that his landlord had discriminated against him under the FHA by failing to address severe race-based harassment by another tenant.
The brief addressed the consequences that the Second Circuit’s decision will have for tenants’ housing protections; particularly, for women facing sexual harassment. Citing testimonies of women involved in sexual harassment cases, the brief observed that this widespread problem jeopardizes individuals’ access to a safe and stable home. The brief noted how intersecting forms of harassment, which are “based on multiple aspects of a person’s identity, such as race, national origin, religion and disability” pose significant concerns for women tenants, who have often indicated that “they wereharassed precisely because of their race and stereotypes about women of color.” It also explained that housing providers are empowered to take reasonable steps to address tenant-on-tenant harassment in accordance with the FHA and the First Amendment.
The Francis case is currently before the Second Circuit en banc. The court will hear oral arguments in September 2020.
Associate Hope Tone Honored with NIJC’s “Rising Star” Award
The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is recognizing Jenner & Block Associate Hope H. Tone with its “Rising Star” award. The award celebrates Ms. Tone’s generosity in providing high-quality pro bono services to clients with complex immigration cases. Ms. Tone will be honored at the 21st Annual Human Rights Awards on June 2, 2020. NIJC hosts the awards each year to honor individuals who have made outstanding achievements to promote, protect and advance human rights throughout the world.
Firm Once Again Named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List”
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.