Our Pro Bono Commitment
Yemeni client Adel Ghanem presented evidence that “overwhelmingly demonstrates” his prior persecution on account of his political opinion, and that if he were returned to Yemen he would likely be tortured, a Third Circuit panel said in September.
In the opinion, the court vacated a Board of Immigration Appeals' decision that denied Mr. Ghanem’s request for protection from deportation, saying the board “ignore[d] overwhelming evidence" that he had been persecuted and would likely be tortured for his political beliefs if returned to Yemen.
Jenner & Block secured a deferred prosecution agreement for pro bono client Pheerayuth Burden, who had been convicted of violating the Arms Export Control Act by sending gun parts to Thailand without a license. At trial, the main testimony against Mr. Burden came in by deposition because the cooperating witness was unavailable to testify live. The firm took the case on appeal to the DC Circuit, arguing that the introduction of the deposition evidence violated Mr. Burden’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him; we argued that the witness’s unavailability could not excuse the violation because the government itself procured that unavailability by deporting the cooperating witness before trial without making any plans to bring him back. The DC Circuit agreed and vacated Mr. Burden’s conviction, remanding for a new trial.
On remand, the firm team successfully negotiated a deferred prosecution agreement that will allow Mr. Burden to be free from burdensome pretrial release conditions and will ultimately allow for dismissal of the charges with prejudice.
On November 18, Jenner & Block will receive the Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award from the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing for the firm’s work supporting LCBH and the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance. The KRCO was passed after the 2008 financial crisis to encourage foreclosing banks and other financial institutions to keep tenants in properties on which they foreclose rather than evicting tenants and leaving properties vacant. The ordinance encourages this by requiring a $10,600 relocation fee, if the bank or financial institution elects to evict certain qualified tenants and does not let them continue to rent in the property.
LCBH is the only non-profit legal aid organization in the Chicago area that focuses solely on low- and moderate-income renters in the private housing market. The firm and LCBH have worked closely over the past several years to defend the ordinance against various attacks by defendants in cases by tenants alleging violations of the KCRO.
“Our work with LCBH has really made a difference for Chicago renters who live in foreclosed properties,” said Partner Christopher Tompkins, who is on the LCBH board and will be receiving the award on behalf of Jenner & Block. “Our long-standing collaboration with LCBH has empowered truly disadvantaged renters by preventing wrongful evictions and fighting sub-standard living conditions over the years. We have also helped a number of tenants recover under the KRCO in our efforts to ensure all of our neighbors can have a safe and decent place to live.”
“Jenner & Block’s pro bono services will have a lasting impact on our agency and Chicago renters for years to come,” said LCBH Executive Director Mark Swartz. “The KCRO will continue to give special protections and rights to renters living in foreclosed properties, and we thank Jenner & Block for being our partner.”
LCBH’s annual “Bringing Justice Home” event will take place from 6:00 to 9:00 pm Central at Revolution Brewing Brewer’s Lounge in Chicago. To learn more and register to attend, please click here.
Associates Wesley M. Griffith, Elizabeth Avunjian, and Effiong K. Dampha led a team that obtained a favorable settlement on the eve of trial in a Section 1983 civil rights case. The civil rights action arose from our client reporting several prison guards for misconduct. Our client alleged that in retaliation for his report, the guards took him to an isolated area of the prison that was closed for construction and beat him until he lost consciousness.
The client, who had limited education and financial means, was originally proceeding without counsel and having difficulty making his case in the face of the guards’ denial of any wrongdoing. The Jenner team was able to secure evidence from the prison confirming that our client was taken to an outside hospital by ambulance for treatment shortly after the attack and that the area under construction had no security cameras or other safeguards to prevent abuse of prisoners by staff. Based on this evidence, the action was favorably settled.
An article in Rochelle’s Daily Wire features Jenner & Block’s pro bono efforts to assist a “hapless debtor” who endured a trial, two appeals and a remand proceeding to discharge $112,000 in student loans. Thanks to Partner Catherine L. Steege and Special Counsel Carl N. Wedoff, along with firm alum and retired bankruptcy judge Eugene Wedoff, the debtor is on the brink of discharging her loans. “Without pro bono counsel, this debtor never would have discharged her student loans... This writer submits that something is wrong with a system that requires a debtor to go through so much for so long and with no chance of success were it not for the generosity of distinguished lawyers from the top ranks of the bankruptcy bar,” reads the article.
Jenner & Block has teams of lawyers assisting individuals and organizations navigate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. One team is helping NGOs navigate US sanctions laws so they can continue to work in Afghanistan, while another team is helping at-risk individuals leave the country. This work is part of the firm’s pro bono program.
Helping NGOs Provide Assistance in Afghanistan
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August, we provided guidance to non-governmental organizations about how US sanctions could affect their ability to work in Afghanistan under the Taliban, which the US government has designated as a terrorist group. We helped the NGOs identify which of their humanitarian assistance programs were not prohibited by counterterrorism laws, allowing those programs to continue, and also identify other programs for which additional US government guidance or authorization was necessary.
The firm’s efforts also included conducting outreach to the US government on behalf of various organizations, helping to explain how the situation in Afghanistan affected their employees, their operations, and the programs they implement. Among other outreach, the team drafted and submitted requests for authorization to carry out programming in Taliban-controlled areas.
On September 24, the US Department of the Treasury issued two general licenses to support the continued flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support basic human needs there. As a result, NGOs can now carry out their work to help the people of Afghanistan without running afoul of US sanctions laws. Jenner & Block will continue working with organizations there and elsewhere to help provide lifesaving assistance consistent with US sanctions requirements.
The team is led by Partner Rachel K. Alpert and includes Associates Umer M. Chaudhry and Garrett J. Salzman. An article published by Ms. Alpert in Just Security proposes solutions to some of the challenges that the NGO sector faces in situations like Afghanistan.
Helping At-Risk Individuals Emigrate from Afghanistan
After the fall of Kabul, it was widely reported in the news (and confirmed by sources on the ground) that the Taliban had been delivering death threats to those seen as enemies or traitors to its regime. In these final chaotic days of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan a vast swathe of society – many of whom had spent years supporting Western state and civil society building endeavors - were suddenly trapped. Owing to the swift advance of the Taliban, these at-risk individuals were unable to flee the country. The international response to the growing refugee crisis has been disjointed and inadequate.
In response to this humanitarian crisis, we currently have nearly 50 lawyers, led by Partners Debbie L. Berman, Ishan K. Bhabha, Paul Feldberg, and Michael W. Ross and Of Counsel Richard J. Gray, from offices on both sides of the Atlantic working collaboratively to help those in mortal danger emigrate from Afghanistan and third-party countries. The firm’s efforts have taken the form of providing legal assistance, and where necessary engaging in lobbying efforts, to help identify US and UK entry requirements. We are also leveraging our international contacts to identify lawyers in Canada and Australia who are willing to undertake similar work in their respective jurisdictions.
At present, the firm is working to help 30 at-risk individuals, as well as their family members, who are seeking to leave Afghanistan. The list includes several academics, a female high-ranking former judge, a senior female police officer, a pregnant journalist,an interpreter, a government contractor employee and numerous other members of civil society. All these individuals are at-risk from violent reprisals at the hands of the Taliban, on the basis of their gender, education, or perceived support for the international intervention in Afghanistan.