Firm Team Achieves 11th Circuit Victory in Pro Bono Voting Rights Case
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:
On August 22, a Jenner & Block team won a significant victory when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision entering judgment against the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), in its lawsuit against the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, Dr. Brenda Snipes. The appellate court rejected ACRU’s arguments as contrary to the statutory text of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and discerned “no clear error in the district court’s factual findings.”
In ACRU v. Snipes, ACRU alleged that Snipes failed to make reasonable efforts to conduct voter list maintenance programs, violating Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The ACRU also claimed that Snipes failed to respond sufficiently to written requests for data regarding the offices implementation of programs and activities for ensuring the accuracy of official lists of eligible voters for Broward County, further violating Section 8 of NVRA.
After finding that the ACRU’s notice letter to Snipes was the only correspondence sent and did not disclose potential NVRA violation or probationary time to remedy it, the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed the allegation, sua sponte.
In July 2017, a five-day bench trial proceeded solely on the ACRU’s contention that Snipes failed to make “reasonable effort” to remove ineligible voters by reasons of death or change in address. The court found every piece of evidence offered by ACRU unconvincing, concluding that the organization’s accusations were thoroughly unfounded and held that Broward County’s voter list maintenance program was fully compliant with federal law.
On March 30, 2018, Judge Beth Bloom ruled in favor of Dr. Snipes and SEIU. In doing so, the judge wrote that Dr. Snipes “implemented a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters by reason of death or change of address.” The judge also held that the ACRU failed to prove a violation of Section 8 of the NVRA. “The court recognizes that the NVRA has a nationwide application, and for that reason, it declines to apply a subjective approach that would vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” she wrote. Partner Kali Bracey and Associate Tassity Johnson, joined by former partner Carrie Apfel and former associate Marina Jenkins successfully tried the case.
In March 2019, Partner Jessica Ring Amunson argued the appeal in the 11th Circuit. The appellate court affirmed the district court in full. On appeal, the ACRU argued that the NVRA’s mandate to remove voters ineligible due to relocation or death extended to other categories of potential ineligibility, that the HAVA also broadened the NVRA’s list maintenance obligations, and that National Change of Address procedure outlined in the NVRA for removing relocated voters from the rolls did not create “safe harbor” of reasonable list maintenance. The appellate court found that all three arguments were completely contrary to the language and purpose of the NVRA and HAVA. Moreover, after “thorough review[ ]” of the record, the court “discern[ed] no clear error in the district court’s factual findings.”
In addition to Ms. Amunson, the firm team on appeal included Partner Kali Bracey and Associates Tassity Johnson and Manuel C. Possolo. Paralegal Cheryl Olson and Docketing Assistant Tyler Edwards also assisted at the trial and appellate levels.
Precious Jacobs and Garrett Fitzsimmons Named “Pro Bono Superstars” by The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
Jenner & Block Partner Precious S. Jacobs and Associate Garrett Fitzsimmons will be honored as 2019 “Pro Bono Superstars” by The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE). The award recognizes and celebrates all CAASE pro bono partnerships and the exceptional representation CAASE pro bono lawyers have provided to survivors of sexual exploitation and harm. Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Fitzsimmons are being recognized for their work in successfully resolving a dispute on behalf of a woman who was brought to the United States under false pretenses, exploited and sexually assaulted.
CAASE will present the honorees with the “Pro Bono Superstars” award at a ceremony at the CAASE office on Thursday, September 5.
Jenner & Block Associates Secure Five-Figure Settlement in Civil Rights Case
Three associates based in the firm’s Los Angeles office led a team that obtained a five-figure settlement for a wheelchair-bound prisoner in a civil rights claim against a prison physician.
Associates Wesley M. Griffith, Alexander M. Smith and Effiong K. Dampha led the team, which included support from Partner Kirsten Hicks Spira.
Pro bono client Hilliard Williams filed a Section 1983 lawsuit against a physician at the California Medical Facility, a state prison, for not providing him adequate pain medication following second-degree burns to his face, neck, arm and chest. Despite our client’s repeated statements to the defendant that he was in severe pain, and the conclusion of four other doctors who examined him that day that he was in pain, the defendant did not administer medication or inquire if the client was in pain, in violation of prison policy.
The case settled a week before it was scheduled to go to trial in the Eastern District of California. Although one in ten lawsuits filed in federal court is a Section 1983 claim, these are frequently dismissed early and are known to be difficult cases to advance so close to trial.
The settlement judge overseeing the case thanked the team repeatedly for its dedication to pro bono, which is a core value of the firm, and its willingness to commit extensive resources to the matter.
Firm Secures DC Circuit Decision Overturning Convictions on 6th Amendment Grounds
A Jenner & Block team of Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and Associate James T. Dawson succeeded in persuading the D.C. Circuit to overturn the convictions of pro bono client Pheerayuth Burden and his export business, Wing-On LLC. Mr. Burden was charged with exporting gun parts without a license in violation of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA). At trial, the testimony of a key prosecutorial witness was admitted through videotaped deposition; he was unavailable for questioning becausethe US government had deported him prior to the trial. The firm argued that the admission of the deposition constituted a violation of the 6th Amendment, which guarantees the right of the defendants to confront the witnesses against them at trial. On August 20, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit agreed, ruling that “the district court erred in admitting the deposition testimony” and vacating all charges. The firm also won a second issue related to the jury instructions for a willful violation of the AECA, which criminalizes willful violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).
Jenner & Block Associates Secure Favorable, Rare Outcomes for Two Pro Bono Clients
Through Jenner & Block’s work serving on the Criminal Justice Act panel in the United States District Court for the Southern District New York, a team of associates secured favorable, rare outcomes in two pro bono matters. The first involved a client who was charged with serious violations stemming from a series of armed robberies. While his involvement in these offenses was minor; however, one of his charges carried a seven-year mandatory minimum sentence due to the use of a gun during the robberies. Led by Associates Edelí Rivera and Jessica A. Martinez, with supervision from Partner Katya Jestin, the team negotiated an agreement with the government that allowed the client to plead to a lesser charge. And even though he still faced 41 to 51 months’ imprisonment under the lesser charge to which he pled, the client was sentenced to only 16 months in jail, 14 of which he had already served. After the proceedings concluded, Edelí’s effective oral advocacy earned high praise from presiding Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr.
The second pro bono matter involved a client being investigated for embezzlement from a labor union. For almost two years, Associate Ali M. Arain led the case, supervised by Partner Anthony S. Barkow and assisted by Associates Lori B. Day and Jacob Lincoln Tracer and law clerk Andrew D. Whinery. The team persuaded the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to give our client a rare deferred prosecution agreement, providing that if our client pays back the money at issue, he would not be prosecuted and will have no criminal record. The client repeatedly thanked Ali and the team, stating that they had “saved his life,” “gave him his humanity” and “treated him with dignity and respect.”
Judge Grants Motion to Suppress Evidence and Dismisses Case Against Pro Bono Client
A firm team successfully proved that Chicago police had no reason to arrest our pro bono client on charges of carrying a gun without a concealed carry permit. In granting the firm’s motion to suppress evidence, Judge Steven Watkins stated that the stop and arrest of the firm’s client were improper.
At issue was the gun that the client was carrying when police stopped him as he walked home in his Chicago neighborhood. The client legally purchased the gun, and he had a valid Firearm Owners Identification card, but he did not yet have a conceal carry permit. The arresting officers claimed that the client was looking into a window of a commercial business, and once stopped, one officer claimed he saw a “bulge” protruding from the client’s waistband, giving him probable cause to search.
However, the team developed a creative defense strategy for the evidentiary hearing in Cook County Criminal Court. The client was put on the stand wearing exactly the same hooded sweatshirt and winter jacket he was wearing the night of the search. The team put a replica gun in the client’s waistband, illustrating that the officer could not have seen any “bulge.” The client and the officers were also questioned about the client looking into the window. The judge found the stop, and therefore the arrest, to be improper.
The firm team included Partners Andrew F. Merrick and Sarah F. Weiss and Associate Miriam J. Wayne.