Illinois Governor Grants Clemency Petition for Pro Bono Client Charles Harris, Commuting Life Sentence to Time Served
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
This week, Governor Pritzker granted the clemency petition of longtime firm pro bono client Charles Harris, commuting his lifesentence to time served and ordering his release from Pontiac Correctional Center. Mr. Harris was sentenced to life in prison under the Illinois Habitual Criminal Act in 1988 for committing three armed robberies, even though two of the robberies occurred when Mr. Harris was a juvenile, no one was injured during any of the robberies, and a total of only $235 was taken during the course of all three robberies combined.
The team was led by Partner Thomas P. Sullivan and included Associates John J. Frawley and Bethany H. Felder. Together, the team drafted a Petition for Executive Clemency in which they argued that Mr. Harris’ life sentence constituted a gross miscarriage of justice given the nature of the crimes, the mitigating factors that led to those crimes, and the astounding personal reforms Mr. Harris made while incarcerated. Additionally, the team collaborated with Mr. Harris’ family and friends to obtain letters in support of the petition. The team also coached Mr. Harris for his interview with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
Mr. Harris’ release will end a total of 40 years spent in prison. Mr. Harris had previously submitted three petitions for executive clemency, all of which were denied. Mr. Harris looks forward to reuniting with his family upon release and spending time in his community educating young people about the criminal justice system.
First Circuit Revives Suit that Challenges the EPA’s Plan to Limit Academic Scientists on Advisory Boards
Jenner & Block won a significant First Circuit appeal on behalf of pro bono clients, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Dr. Elizabeth Anne Sheppard, a public health professor. At issue is a directive from then-EPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt dating to October 2017. In that directive, Mr. Pruitt planned to exclude anyone who had received EPA grants to fund their research from serving on any of the 23 EPA scientific advisory boards. Filed in January 2018, the lawsuit argues that “the effect of the ban, which has no precedent and no counterpart at any other federal agency or department, is to single out academic scientists and experts by excluding them from serving EPA in the public interest.”
On March 23, the First Circuit ruled that the lawsuit, Union of Concerned Scientists and Elizabeth Anne Sheppard v. US EPA et al., may proceed. The court reversed the lower court’s judgment dismissing the case as unreviewable and sent the case back to the lower court for further consideration of the claims. The unanimous three-judge panel said that the directive effectively "purged" 8,000 otherwise-qualified scientists from the rolls.
Partner Lindsay C. Harrison leads the team. The First Circuit appeal was argued by Partner Zachary C. Schauf, with assistance from Associates Samuel C. Birnbaum and Julian Ginos and Paralegal Cheryl Olson. “This case is an important victory for scientific integrity,” Ms. Harrison said in a statement.
Jenner & Block Associates Secure Release of Client Detained by ICE at Privately Run Prison
A team of Los Angeles Jenner & Block associates secured the release of a pro bono client who had been detained by ICE at a privately run, for-profit detention facility.
The client is a Cameroonian national who was repeatedly tortured by his government for his involvement with a peaceful political organization. In 2019, fearing further torture and possible execution by the Cameroonian government, the client fled to the United States to seek asylum and/or protection under the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Upon entry into the United States, the client declared himself to immigration authorities and was sent to a remote desert detention facility, where he had not received a hearing in over six months.
Working in conjunction with the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Associates Wesley M. Griffith, Sati Harutyunyan and Kristen Green secured the client’s release from detention pending a final ruling on his asylum and Convention Against Torture claims. They were supervised and supported by Partner Todd C. Toral. The team also included legal assistants Christal Oropeza and Elizabeth Visick.
Pro bono service is a core value of Jenner & Block. Jenner & Block lawyers provided over 85,000 hours of pro bono services in 2019.
Washington Post Article Highlights Firm’s Pro Bono Representation of Birmingham’s “Fifth Girl”
Titled “Birmingham’s ‘Fifth Girl’,” the article chronicles the life of Sarah Collins Rudolph, whose sister and three other young black girls were killed on September 15, 1963, when a bomb ripped through the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Twelve years old at the time, Ms. Rudolph became known as the “Fifth Girl,” a hate crime survivor who lived for decades in anonymity before sharing her story publicly at age 49. Former partner Tom Bolling became involved after hearing her speak. Now, a team led by Partner Ishan K. Bhabha is championing efforts that could include an apology and restitution without a lawsuit. “It’s hard to think of a more compelling story,” Mr. Bhabha told The Post. Other team members include Partner Alison I. Stein and Associate Caroline C. Cease.
Patrick Pursley, Wrongly Accused and Convicted, Reflects on His Acquittal after Spending 25 Years in Prison
On January 16, 2019, an Illinois judge acquitted pro bono client Patrick Pursley of first-degree murder.
In this video, Mr. Pursley and his Jenner & Block lawyers reflect on the decades-long fight to prove his innocence.
Read more about the case in The Heart of the Matter .
Firm Publishes The Heart of the Matter Pro Bono Report
A wrongfully accused man is acquitted. An imprisoned terminally ill man receives an $11 million jury verdict. From veterans to human trafficking victims, from the Modern Classroom Project to the YWCA, Jenner & Block is pleased to tell these stories and more in our annual report on pro bono and community service. The Heart of the Matter, published in time for Valentine’s Day, is a multi-media website that demonstrates how we have changed the lives of the clients and organizations we are privileged to represent. For more information about the firm's pro bono program, please also visit The Heart of the Matter blog.