Our Pro Bono Commitment
The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois and the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association awarded several of our lawyers with the 2021 Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service for “providing outstanding pro bono and public interest representation in civil and criminal matters before the district court.” The award recipients were recognized for successfully completing three different cases:
- In Conley v. US we represented Mr. Conley, who was convicted of conspiring to rob a fake drug stash house even though he was not a target of the prosecution, in a federal habeas challenge in the district court and on appeal. The team also presented a petition for compassionate release, which the court granted, ordering his immediate release from prison. The award recipients included Jenner & Block Partner Mike Brody; Associates Eric Fleddermann and Theo Lesczynski; and former associate Leigh Jahnig.
- In USA v. Rollins, we represented Mr. Rollins, who was convicted for a string of three robberies within a week’s time, in a reduction of a de facto life sentence. Partners Andrew Vail and Monica Pinciak, and Associate Josh Levin successfully argued for a reduction in sentence of 106.5 years to 28 years and one day. The judge wrote in his opinion that “a de facto life sentence far exceeds appropriate punishment.”
- Paralegal Cheryl Kras, and former colleagues US Magistrate Judge Gabriel A. Fuentes, Christine Bowman, and Hon. Judge Brewer (ret.) also received the award for their work in Traharne, et al v. Illinois DCFS, et al., which was litigated and settled while Judge Fuentes and Ms. Bowman were with the firm. Judge Summers was the mediator on the matter.
The Pro Bono Institute (PBI) will honor Jenner & Block with its Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO) Partner Award for the collaborative efforts with McDonald’s Corporation and the National Immigration Justice Center (NIJC) in achieving asylum for several pro bono clients.
For several years, volunteers from the legal department of McDonald’s have partnered with Jenner & Block and Goldberg Kohn Ltd. on approximately 20 cases referred by NIJC, working collaboratively to represent immigrants applying for asylum.
By working together, the in-house and law firm lawyers and staff share resources and divide responsibilities, such as interviewing and developing rapport with clients who have been through harrowing situations; drafting the client’s affidavits and briefs; reviewing medical, news, and police reports; gathering personal statements from the client’s relatives; meeting with expert witnesses; and preparing for immigration court hearings. The partnership has obtained asylum for numerous individuals who are fleeing persecution and violence in their home countries, and seeking to create a new life for themselves and their families in the United States.
Partner Wade A. Thomson leads the collaborative efforts of this important partnership. Other firm lawyers and staff involved throughout the collaboration include Partners Jennifer S. Amerkhail, Mark Davis, Terri L. Mascherin, Mike McNamara, Andrew F. Merrick, Megan B. Poetzel, Gay Sigel, Howard J. Symons, and Shaun M. Van Horn; Associates Umer M. Chaudhry, Brian B. Druchniak, Brenna J. Field, Maria del Carmen González, Meg Hlousek, Sam Jahangir, Ari Kanavy, Elpitha B. Lambros, Lindsey A. Lusk, Philip B. Sailer, and Hope H. Tone-Keefe; Attorneys Jennifer Beach, Edmundo Cuevas, Pedro Fernandez, and Anthony Nguyen; and several professional staff members including Terri Busch, Zulaikha Master, Fallon McDowell, Tricia Peavler, Margaret Petit, Paul Ramonas, and James Walsh.
Mr. Thomson and the legal teams will be recognized for the CPBO Pro Bono Partner Award on October 14 at 6:30pm ET during PBI’s Annual Awards Gala.
Along with Legal Service NYC as co-counsel, Jenner & Block secured a settlement with the New York City Housing Authority, requiring the public housing agency to reform its rent adjustment system to prevent wrongful evictions and benefiting more than 400,000 NYCHA residents.
The agreement ensures that thousands of NYCHA tenants will have their rents reduced if their incomes were to decline – a process required by federal law that has become more urgent during the pandemic. The settlement also enhances protections for low-income residents by requiring that NYCHA may not prosecute nonpayment or chronic rent delinquency cases until they first resolve interim rent reduction requests or rent grievances. The settlement comes after a group of twelve families, who have lived in public housing anywhere between five and 50 years, sued NYCHA in federal court alleging illegal rent overcharges above 30% of income and eviction proceedings for unlawful amounts of rent.
NYCHA has agreed to pay tenants close to $190,000 in damages, lawyers’ fees, and rent overcharge claims and has six months to implement changes to its system-wide operations concerning rent readjustments and eviction cases. NYCHA is also subject to monitoring by the federal court for three years.
To learn more about the plaintiffs and the settlement, click here.
In a trailblazing partnership, the firm collaborated with client BMO Harris, United Way of Metro Chicago, and the NIJC to offer first-time DACA application assistance through the Consulate General of Mexico in Chicago. Partner Andrew W. Vail, who serves as general counsel of the UWMC, organized the clinic. In addition to Mr. Vail, the firm team included Partners Angela M. Allen, Nicole A. Allen, Benjamin J. Bradford, Shoba Pillay, Megan B. Poetzel, Michael W. Ross, Erin R. Schrantz and Associate Amit B. Patel. The firm lawyers are partnering with in-house lawyers at BMO to create teams for each client.
On July 15, the firm submitted an amicus brief, pro bono, on behalf of 16 iconic Chicagoland museums and cultural institutions that oppose efforts to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
The plaintiffs inProtect Our Parks, Inc., et. al. v. Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, et. al., No. 21-cv-2006 (N.D. Ill.) sought a preliminary injunction to stop the center. The brief argues that the court should deny that request. On August 5, Judge John Robert Blakey issued a one-page opinion denying the request, writing that the plaintiffs “have not met the standard for injunctive relief on their federal claims.”
“The Chicagoland Museums believe the Obama Presidential Center will be a cultural and economic treasure for Chicago that will benefit the public by bringing new amenities and positive development to the surrounding community, boosting the local economy, and serving as a magnet for visitors to the City and the region. It will serve as an enduring and powerful symbol of the promise of America and the American Dream. In other words, the public interest strongly favors allowing construction to move forward without any further delays,” the brief reads.
The brief highlights the area’s long and rich history of featuring these world-class institutions: “Museums provide major educational and economic benefits and advance the public’s interest in knowledge and understanding. The Chicagoland Museums offer benefits to the public, the City, and the Chicago Park District—and offer benefits to each other when they are clustered together. Each museum is truly a treasure and Chicagoland, its residents, and visitors are fortunate to have them.”
The Chicagoland museums and cultural institutions that joined the brief include the following: Adler Planetarium, The Art Institute of Chicago, Bronzeville Children’s Museum, Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Chicago Architecture Center, Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History, Field Museum of Natural History, Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park Foundation, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science and Industry, National Museum of Mexican Art, The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, and Shedd Aquarium.
This is the third brief the firm submitted in support of the Obama Presidential Center. In 2018, the firm submitted a brief in the district court on behalf of 11 museums in Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District, and submitted a brief in the Seventh Circuit when the plaintiffs appealed their loss. WTTW reported on the latest brief.
Jenner & Block today gave the annual Albert E. Jenner Pro Bono Award to Partner David J. Bradford for a lifetime of pro bono service and for his leadership in a voting rights case in the 2020 presidential election. The firm also gave the Albert E. Jenner Pro Bono Award to a Jenner & Block team that challenged three Wisconsin laws imposing severe restrictions on abortion access at a trial last year. The firm gave the annual Jenner & Block Award for Excellence in Pro Bono or Public Service to Paralegal Mary Frances Patston for her long service to the firm’s pro bono work.
Albert E. Jenner Pro Bono Award – David J. Bradford
David J. Bradford was honored for his pro bono representation of United Healthcare Workers East in a lawsuit against Florida Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over changes to USPS policies last year. The changes would have delayed ballots and disenfranchise Floridians who were voting by mail in larger numbers than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ultimately, Mr. Bradford and his team of Jenner & Block lawyers won a court order requiring postal facilities in the 10 largest counties in Florida to certify that they had processed all ballots by 8 am on Monday, November 2, the day before the election. The team that worked with Mr. Bradford on the USPS case included Partners Jessica Ring Amunson, Daniel J. Weiss, Ashley M. Schumacher, Associates Christopher M. Sheehan, Nayiri Keosseian Pilikyan, Senior Paralegal W. Michael Hughes, and Legal Assistant Fran M. Sattelmayer
Mr. Bradford has been at Jenner & Block since 1978, except for his time as a founding attorney of the MacArthur Justice Center. In addition to the Florida voting rights case, he was honored for a lifetime of service to some of the most important and challenging pro bono cases. Among them, he represented Mr. Rashid Awadh Rashid Al-Uwaidah, a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He has successfully represented several death row prisoners and also worked with national organizations to try to abolish the death penalty. He was among a group of lawyers who helped convince Governor Pat Quinn to end the death penalty in Illinois in 2011.
Albert E. Jenner Pro Bono Award – reproductive rights trial team
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers was honored for its work challenging the constitutionality of three laws passed by the state of Wisconsin that severely restrict women’s rights to safe and legal abortion care. The team was led by Partners Ali M. Arain and Lori B. Day and included Partners Alison I. Stein and Susan J. Kohlmann, Associates Kara V. Brandeisky, Emily S. Mannheimer, Jessica A. Martinez, and Danielle Muniz, and Paralegals Esmeralda Bako and Albert Peterson.
The lawyers filed a complaint against the Attorney General of Wisconsin and other state officials challenging Wisconsin laws restricting who can provide abortion care in a state with a critical shortage of physicians. The plaintiffs included three advanced nurse practitioners directly impacted by the law and the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, as well as Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin itself.
In December 2020, the team conducted a week-long, virtual trial before Judge William M. Conley in the Western District of Wisconsin. The team presented testimony from plaintiffs, the COO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, and multiple expert witnesses in addition to opening statements and closing arguments. The judge’s decision in Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin v. Kaul is pending.
Jenner & Block Award for Excellence - Mary Frances Patston
Paralegal Mary Frances Patston was honored with the Jenner & Block Award for Excellence in Pro Bono or Public Service. This award recognizes staff members who demonstrated an exceptional commitment to providing pro bono service. Ms. Patston initially joined Jenner & Block in 1983, left in 1999, and returned in 2004. She has supported lawyers in a variety of pro bono projects with grace and kindness. She has worked on more than 100 pro bono matters over the years. She has developed knowledge of and facility with the appellate practice, especially with filings before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. From appointment to preparing the record, to cite-checking and finalizing briefs, to preparing for oral argument, Ms. Patston makes sure that everything is done right so that our clients have the best chance of prevailing.
Past recipients of the Albert E. Jenner Award can be found here.
Jenner & Block’s pro bono program was founded in 1954. In addition to high-profile cases at every level of the judicial system, our lawyers provide pro bono representation in a wide range of legal areas. This includes pursuing asylum for those fleeing persecution; fighting injustice in our criminal justice system, governments and society; advising grass roots and non-profit organizations; advocating for veterans; protecting constitutional rights; assisting victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking; and fighting for environmental protection, among so many other issues that impact people and our communities.
In January, the firm launched its pledge to provide $250 million in free legal services to people in need over the next five years.
Jenner & Block has been recognized by The American Lawyer as the top pro bono firm in the United States for the last four years, and 10 of the past 13 years. We partner with dedicated legal aid organizations, law school clinics, in-house legal departments, and others committed to providing access to justice and serving the public good. As advocates for equity, we embrace our responsibility to serve those in need, better our communities, and protect our future.