Our Pro Bono Commitment
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.
On June 16, Public Interest Law Initiative will recognize Jenner & Block on its 2021 Pro Bono Recognition Roster. PILI’s Roster celebrates law firms and corporations that have made significant commitments and contributions to pro bono throughout Illinois. Jenner & Block has been named to the Roster since its inception in 2010.
To be eligible for the Roster, law firms must meet at least two of the following criteria:
- An average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional in Illinois per year.
- A 5% increase in Illinois office(s) pro bono hours from the previous year.
- 60% or more of the firm’s Illinois lawyers participate in pro bono work.
- Participation in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Law Firm Leadership Circle or signing one of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee Pro Bono Pledges.
- Adoption of innovative steps to involve more Illinois office(s) legal department staff in pro bono work or to expand the law firm’s pro bono program.
The June 16 Virtual Annual Pro Bono Reception starts at 12 pm Central and will feature a pro bono tour of Illinois. It is free to attend but guests should register in advance.
A Jenner & Block team helped secure an order from the Federal Communications Commission lowering the rates that incarcerated persons and their families pay for phone calls.
On May 20, 2021, the Commission adopted an order lowering the interim rate caps on interstate inmate calling services to $0.12 per minute for all prisons and $0.14 for jails with average daily populations of 1,000 or more. The order also establishes caps on international calling services rates for the first time at all prison and jail facilities.
The team represented the Wright Petitioners, named after the late Martha Wright, who had struggled to pay for phone calls from her incarcerated grandson and later pushed for changes to the rules surrounding rates. The petitioners were among several advocacy groups and civil rights organizations that urged the Commission to lower the calling rates.
“The Wright Petitioners applaud the leadership of Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the Federal Communications Commission for taking this important incremental step toward providing much-needed relief for incarcerated people and their families from unreasonably high calling rates and fees, including capping international rates for the first time,” said Rebekah P. Goodheart, co-chair of the firm’s Communications, Internet, and Technology Practice who led the team representing the Wright Petitioners. “Studies consistently show that keeping in contact while incarcerated reduces recidivism. We look forward to working with the Commission on further reforms to bring additional relief to incarcerated persons and their loved ones.”
On May 6, our client Kenneth “Ken” Smith was released from state prison after serving 19 years for a murder and robbery that he did not commit.
The firm first took Ken’s case in 2006 after a state appeals court reversed and remanded his conviction for murder and 67-year sentence for a new trial. Since that time, various teams led by Partner David Jimenez-Ekman have represented the client through a second trial, a direct appeal, a third trial, another direct appeal, and a federal habeas petition.
Following appeals of his habeas petition, the Seventh Circuit sent an order calling for Ken’s immediate release without conditions at the end of April. This means that he is free from prison and will not be required to report to parole or a probation officer.
“We are grateful that, at long last, the justice system recognizes Ken Smith’s innocence, ending his almost two-decade nightmare,” Mr. Jimenez-Ekman told the Northwest Herald upon our client’s release. “The evidence of Ken’s innocence is overwhelming, and it is a tragedy it took so long for the justice system to acknowledge that. Ken looks forward to the hard and bittersweet task of rebuilding his life.”
The charges against Ken stemmed from a botched armed robbery. In March 2001, the owner of a strip mall burrito shop in McHenry, Illinois, was shot to death after he chased two armed, masked robbers out of his store carrying a knife. The state had no physical evidence linking Ken to the crime. There were no fingerprints from Ken at the scene, no DNA evidence, and no blood that could be linked to him. Instead, Ken was convicted based on a “confession” of an alleged co-conspirator, which was (a) procured after police falsely told him that his friends had already confessed and implicated him, (b) riddled with major inaccuracies that demonstrated he had no knowledge of the crime, and (c) force-fed through leading questions that supplied the only correct information in the entire statement. When the firm first took Ken’s case, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court had reversed and remanded his conviction for a new trial on the basis of a blatant Confrontation Clause violation.
Ken’s second trial occurred in 2008, and resulted in a second conviction that was overturned in 2010, when the Illinois Appellate Court held that the trial court had improperly excluded evidence implicating a completely separate group of perpetrators and exonerating Ken.
Indeed, in the years Ken’s case had been pending to that point, compelling evidence emerged showing that the crime was committed by three individuals completely unrelated to our client and his friends. At Ken’s third trial in 2012, the team put on evidence that those other individuals confessed – unprompted – numerous times to friends, family members, and police; they knew details about the crime that had never been made public; and there was physical evidence corroborating those other individuals’ confessions. The other individuals were seen with cuts and scrapes in the days after the crime; they were connected with a gun that matched the characteristics of the bullets recovered from the victim and found at the scene; and they were riding around in a car on the night of the crime that later was found burned in a field with the help of an accelerant. However, the court excluded important evidence implicating the other group, including compelling evidence of their motive to commit the crime, and also limited the defendant’s ability to cross-examine the only eyewitness to the crime. After three days of deliberation, the jury, still only having heard part of the story, convicted Ken again.
After Ken’s direct appeal was denied in January 2015, the firm filed a federal habeas petition for Ken that was assigned to Judge Andrea Wood of the Northern District of Illinois.
In March 2020, Judge Wood granted the habeas petition and vacated Ken’s conviction and sentence, ruling that evidentiary errors violated his constitutional rights. The court found that the Illinois Appellate Court improperly affirmed evidentiary exclusions that violated his right to present a complete defense and his right to engage in effective cross-examination.
The court wrote that “[g]iven the weaknesses of the State’s case,” the evidentiary errors had a “highly significant effect” on the trial result. The court wrote that “the evidence of the [other group’s] involvement is highly compelling if not conclusive,” that the court was “confounded as to how [the] evidence could not give a rational jury reasonable doubt as to [Ken’s] guilt,” and that, “[e]specially in combination with the exceedingly thin evidence supporting [his] convictions, the court is concerned that a miscarriage of justice has occurred here.” The court granted Ken a new trial, which would have been his fourth on the same charges.
Though the court’s habeas decision was a significant victory, the battle to secure Ken’s freedom was far from over. The State appealed Ken’s habeas victory, and Ken cross-appealed, asking for a ruling that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and that he should be released without possibility of retrial. Mr. Jimenez-Ekman and Partner Katharine R. Ciliberti,presented oral argument on the appeal and cross-appeal in November 2020, at which point the panel of Seventh Circuit judges expressed strong skepticism about the constitutionality of the conviction. Chief Judge Diane Wood commented during the argument that “it [was] hard to imagine a case with thinner evidence” than what was presented against Ken.
On April 29, 2021, the Seventh Circuit went even further than the district court, holding that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient to sustain Ken’s conviction. The Seventh Circuit opinion, which reflects a caustic rebuke of the state appellate court’s decision affirming Ken’s third conviction, notes that the evidence implicating the separate group of perpetrators “casts a powerful reasonable doubt on the theory that Smith and Houghtaling were the robbers that night. . . . With such a serious possibility of a third party’s guilt,we are convinced as an objective matter that no rational trier of fact could have found Smith guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Seventh Circuit concluded that “the trial evidence failed to support Smith’s conviction beyond a reasonable doubt and that the Illinois Appellate Court was not just wrong, but unreasonable, in holding otherwise.” The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court, with instructions to grant the petition for a writ of habeas corpus unconditionally, and ordered Ken’s immediate release from state custody—a tremendous victory for our client after nearly two decades of trying to prove his innocence.
On Thursday, May 6, 2021, Ken Smith walked out of Lawrence Correctional Center as a free man. In the days since, he has been spending time with his family and starting the long process of adjusting to life on the outside.
Several media outlets covered Ken’s release, including Law & Crime.
In addition to Mr. Jimenez-Ekman and Ms. Ciliberti, Associate Elena M. Olivieri, and former associate Emma O’Connor. The past trial teams included Partners John R. Storinoand Gregory M. Boyle, and Paralegal Chris Ward.