Our Pro Bono Commitment
On October 22, a Jenner & Block team partnered with The Legal Aid Society to file a lawsuit pro bono in New York State Supreme Court on behalf of the Coalition for the Homeless and single adult New Yorkers who are experiencing homelessness. The lawsuit is against the City of New York, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Homeless Services for failing to take appropriate action to provide safe shelter for single adults that protects them from aerosol transmission of COVID-19. A press release published by the Legal Aid Society notes that despite the large amount of vacant hotel rooms, and federal funding explicitly available for the purpose of housing adult homeless individuals, the City has taken only half-measures to protect this vulnerable group. The lawsuit seeks to require that the City offer a single-occupancy hotel room to single adult homeless New Yorkers for the duration of the pandemic, among other forms of relief.
The lawsuit was brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Due Process Clause of the United States and New York State Constitutions, the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York State Social Services Law and its implementing regulations, and the New York City Human Rights Law.
“To fight the coronavirus effectively, all New Yorkers – including those in need of shelter – need the ability to remain socially distanced,” Ms. Smalls said in the press release, “The City has an obligation under the New York State Constitution to provide safe shelter to our most vulnerable New Yorkers. We intend to ensure they fulfill it.”
Jenner & Block’s long-standing commitment to public service is a vital part of our culture and who we are as lawyers and people. As displayed in our annual pro bono report, The Heart of the Matter, we embrace our responsibility to serve individuals and organizations who would otherwise not have access to justice or legal services. Since we began tracking our pro bono hours nearly three decades ago, Jenner & Block has provided more than 1.6 million hours of pro bono service. We are ready to further our commitment.
Today, we reaffirm our role as an international leader in pro bono through a five-year commitment (2021 – 2025) to provide $250 million in free legal services to those in need of access to justice.
We make this clear commitment today because the need for pro bono representation in the pursuit of social, racial, and economic justice is greater now than ever before.
Our law firm’s passion for service began with the work of Albert E. Jenner, Jr. and Samuel W. Block, and has grown in its reach. 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.
Recognized by The American Lawyer as the top pro bono firm in the United States for the past four years and 10 of the past 13 years, and as one of the top pro bono firms internationally only five years after opening our first international office, Jenner & Block is expanding its commitment to equality, fairness, and justice. We will continue to 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. Together, we will make a difference.
On September 28, US District Judge Sue Myerscough issued a 55-page order affirming a jury verdict in excess of $8 million for firm pro bono client William Kent Dean against Wexford HealthSources, Inc. The order, which denied the defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial, includes approximately $700,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. In her ruling, Judge Myerscough noted, “This case was about a kind of deliberate indifference that is more subtle and insidious than the kind of deliberate indifference that screams out with obvious, easy-to-find evidence. The skill, resources, and tenacity of Plaintiff’s attorneys are the reason Plaintiff was able to uncover and prove deliberate indifference.”
“We are pleased with Judge Myerscough’s order, which sends a strong message about the systemic deficiencies in medical care involved in this case. Most importantly, we are hopeful that Mr. Dean and his family will now promptly receive the resources necessary to support his care,” said Jenner & Block Partner Joel T. Pelz, who leads the matter for the firm.
In December 2019, a unanimous jury in Springfield, IL returned a more than $11 million verdict for Mr. Dean, who was incarcerated at the time. The jury found that Wexford and several of its employees violated Mr. Dean’s federal civil rights (8th Amendment, deliberate indifference) and committed both institutional negligence and medical malpractice under Illinois law. The result concluded a seven-day trial before US District Judge Sue Myerscough in the Central District of Illinois. Mr. Dean secured early release from prison in January.
Hehas stage-4 metastatic kidney cancer, which is terminal. While imprisoned in the Taylorville Correctional Center in central Illinois, he began showing obvious signs of serious illness, including gross hematuria, or visible blood in his urine, in late 2015. Despite his alarming symptoms, Mr. Dean did not receive proper diagnostic testing for four months and did not receive surgery for seven months. Jenner & Block was appointed as his pro bono counsel in 2017.
In her decision to set punitive damages at $7 million, Judge Myerscough wrote: “This amount recognizes the reprehensibility of Wexford’s conduct and the harm Plaintiff suffered,should be sufficient to deter future similar conduct, and also stays within the bounds of due process, in the court’s judgment.”
Paralegal Kevin O. Garcia assisted Mr. Pelz in the matter.
The firm represents Sarah Collins Rudolph, who at age 12 was the victim of a 1963 church bombing that left her partially blinded. Carried out by the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham killed Ms. Collins Rudolph’s older sister and three other girls.
Earlier this month, the team sent a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, calling for an official apology from the State of Alabama to Ms. Collins Rudolph and seeking compensation for the decades of physical and emotional pain she has endured.
On September 30, Gov. Ivey responded. “Moreover, there should be no question that Ms. Collins Rudolph and the families of those who perished – including Ms. Collins Rudolph’s sister, Addie Mae, as well as Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carole Denise McNair – suffered an egregious injustice that has yielded untold pain and suffering over the ensuing decades. For that, they most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology – an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” reads the letter.
In the letter, the governor also suggests opening a dialogue with the firm team regarding the sought-after compensation.
“We are gratified by Governor Ivey’s unequivocal acknowledgment of the egregious injustice that Ms. Collins Rudolph suffered, and by the Governor’s apology for the State’s racist and segregationist rhetoric and policies that led to Ms. Collins Rudolph’s injuries. We look forward to engaging in discussions in the near future with the Governor about compensation, which Ms. Collins Rudolph justly deserves after the loss of her beloved sister and for the pain, suffering and lifetime of missed opportunities resulting from the bombing,” said Partners Ishan K. Bhabha and Alison I. Stein in a statement. Associate Caroline C. Cease is also on the team.
The team’s initial letter was reported by multiple news outlets, and Governor Ivey’s response was reported by media including the Associated Press, Washington Post, NBC News, Montgomery Advertiser, WBRC Fox Birmingham, CBS 42 Birmingham, and AL.com.
The firm counseled Purple Asparagus as it explored a strategic alliance that would strengthen the delivery of its programming. Purple Asparagus educates children, families, and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Its flagship program, “Delicious Nutritious Adventures,” brings healthy foods to life for elementary school children in Chicagoland schools.
The matter began at the top of the year as a proposed merger with a local non-profit, but uncertainties caused by COVID-19 led to negotiations ending. Purple Asparagus and the firm team shifted focus to finding another home for the programming and ultimately entered into an agreement with another Chicago-based non-profit that will strengthen the delivery of all Purple Asparagus programs.
On September 21, 2020, Partner Gregory M. Boyle was selected as second vice president of the Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) Board of Directors. After serving as a vice president for two years, Mr. Boyle will become CBF president in 2022. Comprised of diverse lawyers and judges, CBF officers and board of directors develop plans to carry out its mission: “to improve access to justice for people in need and make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone.”
As the charitable arm of the Chicago Bar Association (CBA), the CBF brings the Chicago legal community together to improve access to justice for people in need and make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone. The Foundation addresses large systemic issues, such as the sharp increase of unrepresented people in the courts. Through community leadership, the CBF develops new solutions for providing access to justice, including advocating within the courts and at all levels of government for laws and policies that make the justice system more fair and accessible.
In addition, Through its annual Investing in Justice Campaign, the CBF raises millions of dollars to support legal aid organizations and programs throughout Chicago. Since its inception in 2007, the Campaign has raised more than $18.5 million to fund legal services for low- and middle-income people in need.
Another CBF initiative is the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP), which is a small-business incubator that helps lawyers start practices serving low- and middle-income Chicagoans. The JEP has helped several lawyers build sustainable practices, serving more than 4,000 clients and securing more than $4 million in revenue over the past year. As a JEP board member for many years, Partner Terri L. Mascherin currently serves as chair of its Advisory Board.
In addition to Ms. Mascherin, Mr. Boyle joins a long tradition of Jenner & Block lawyers who have been involved with the Foundation and who have held CBF leadership positions. The late Floyd E. Thompson, who was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, CBA president, and a former Jenner & Block partner, made the initial gift to establish the CBF in 1948. Partner Jeffrey D. Colman served as CBF president, in addition to long service as a board member. Partner Terry J. Truax was also a longstanding board member. Partner Jason M. Bradford currently serves as vice president of its Young Professionals Board. Since 2005, Partner Howard S. Suskin has served as a member of the CBF’s Cy Pres Committee.
Jenner & Block lawyers have also been recognized by the CBF for contributions to the profession, including Partner Andrew F. Merrick, who received the Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award in 2016. Mr. Weigle was a Jenner & Block partner in the 1970s and 80s.