Firm Wins Significant DC Circuit Ruling in Guantanamo Defense Lawyers’ Case
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
A firm team obtained a significant win for two civilian lawyers who resigned from serving as counsel to Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammad al-Nashiri, 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 after discovering various intrusions into the attorney-client privilege, including finding surveillance equipment in a client meeting room.
On Tuesday, April 16, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision vacating all rulings from Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, the now-retired military judge overseeing the case, dating back to 2015 in the trial of Mr. Nashiri. Among those rulings were orders preventing the Pentagon-paid civilian defense lawyers, Mary Spears and Rosa Eliades, from resigning.
In October 2017, the chief defense counsel for Military Commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Marine Corps General John Baker, excused Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades as counsel for Mr. Nashiri. Judge Spath disagreed with that decision, eventually confining General Baker to quarters and ordering Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades to continue to serve, threatening them with arrest. Judge Spath eventually abated the case to put it on an indefinite hold.
At issue in the January 2019 arguments before the DC Circuit was General Baker’s authority to dismiss the civilian lawyers. In a related case argued during the same hearing, a defense attorney for Mr. Nashiri urged the DC Circuit to toss all of Judge Spath’s rulings, as the judge was seeking a position with the US Department of Justice as an immigration judge while issuing rulings in the military court case prosecuted by the DOJ.
The Court found that his efforts to be hired by the same agency currently appearing before him in court was “impermissible.”
“Spath’s job application, therefore, cast an intolerable cloud of partiality over his subsequent judicial conduct,” the justices note in the opinion vacating Judge Spath’s orders.
The legal proceedings involving Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades have been complex and involved numerous government branches and court jurisdictions. Please click here for more information about the background of the case.
Partner Todd C. Toral, who led the firm team handling the case, represented Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades in the military proceedings at Guantánamo Bay and in the US Court of Military Commission (CMCR). Partner Matthew S. Hellman argued the case in front of the DC Circuit. The Jenner & Block team includes Partners Brandon D. Fox and Keisha N. Stanford and Associates Alice S. Kim and Eric Lamm. Partners Gabriel A. Fuentes and Luke C. Platzer are also providing support. Partners Adam G. Unikowsky and Ishan K. Bhabha and Associates Lauren J. Hartz, Andrew C. Noll and Tassity Johnson assisted with moot arguments. Cheryl Olson provided paralegal support, Tyler Edwards provided docketing support, and Beth Gulden provided administrative assistance.
Firm Wins Asylum Victory for Client
Jenner & Block Partner D. Joe Smith and Associate Grant B. Schweikert, along with Evelyn Miller, a Senior Vice President at National Geographic Partners (a firm client), won an important asylum victory for their client Victor de Jesus Chavez Cruz, who arrived in the United States in 2014 as a 13-year old unaccompanied minor from San Miguel, El Salvador. The firm was introduced to Victor in the summer of 2017, learning that Victor had fled his hometown due to repeated threats against his life and his family because of Victor’s sexual orientation. This pro bono case was particularly challenging because several months prior to Jenner’s engagement an immigration Judge had issued Victor a removal order due to a prior missed hearing. As a result, the team had to utilize a multi-pronged approach to maximize Victor’s chances of success, first applying for asylum and then immediately seeking a legal determination of special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS). Specifically, the team obtained a professional psychological evaluation for Victor, filed Victor’s asylum application, accompanied Victor through the in-person asylum interview process, obtained the requisite custody and SIJS findings from the DC Family Court, and filed a lengthy and complex motion to reopen Victor’s immigration proceedings despite the removal order. Throughout this process and in the face of constant uncertainty, Victor persevered with a focus on his education and improving his English. Victor graduated high school in January 2019. Victor and the team were preparing for a May 14th Master Calendar Hearing in the Arlington Immigration Court when Victor’s asylum approval arrived. Thanks to this significant team effort, Victor can now focus on his career aspirations—he wants to be a teacher or a nurse—and begin his new life without the constant fear of possible deportation.
Mr. Smith, Mr. Schweikert and Ms. Miller were assisted by the DC office of KIND (Kids in Need of Defense).
A Story of Courage: Asylum for Teacher and Congolese Immigrant Jean B.
Client Jean B., a high school history and geography teacher in the Republic of Congo, was part of the leadership of a teacher’s union in the country. Known for its long history of grievances between the teachers and Congolese government, Mr. B. and several union teachers went on strike in 2013 in an effort to create change. “We were living in a country where teachers were paid poorly and teaching in miserable conditions,” said Mr. B.
After several interrogations, beatings and threats to his life from the Congolese government, Mr. B. fled to the United states. The National Immigrant Justice Center then referred his asylum case to a team including Jenner & Block Partner Wade A. Thomson and Senior Counsel at McDonald’s Corporation Pauline Levy for pro bono legal services.
Learn more about Mr. B’s courageous story in the video below and in our 2018 Heart of the Matter Pro Bono Report.
Pro Bono Stories: Jean B. from Jenner & Block LLP on Vimeo.
Partnering with the UK’s Centrepoint Charity
Creating an effective pro bono partnership requires a broad commitment to supporting an organization on many levels. But this is the goal of Jenner & Block’s London office in its new partnership with Centrepoint, the United Kingdom’s leading youth homelessness charity. “This is a unique opportunity for everyone in our growing office to be part of something that makes a difference in the lives of many people,” said Partner Christine Braamskamp, who is a co-chair of the firm’s Investigations, Compliance and Defense Practice.
Ms. Braamskamp and Partner Christian Tuddenham, a co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee, are in the early stages of providing pro bono governance and risk management advice to Centrepoint’s board of trustees.
Hear more about the partnership and the London office’s growing pro bono program from Mr. Tuddenham and Centrepoint’s Relationship Director Orla Constant in this video.
Asylum for Children in Need
Every year, minors in need of protection and support seek asylum in the United States. In this video, Partner Michael W. Ross discusses one of his pro bono clients who came to the United States as a minor after fleeing an unsafe living situation in Ecuador.
The Heart of the Matter 2018 Report
Interested in learning more about Jenner & Block’s pro bono advocacy? Visit Jenner & Block’s annual pro bono report, The Heart of the Matter.
Jenner & Block is pleased to present The Heart of the Matter, our annual report that covers highlights of our pro bono and community service of 2018.
Through feature articles and videos, this multi-media report demonstrates how Jenner & Block has changed the lives of the clients and organizations we are privileged to represent.
To stay informed about new pro bono developments in 2019, please also visit The Heart of the Matter blog.