DC lawyers devote significant efforts to pro bono matters across a wide range of issues ranging from basic legal-aid type landlord-tenant disputes to some of the most challenging and high-profile cases in the United States. Since 2003, when the DC Circuit Judicial Conference instituted the “40 at 50” Judicial Pro Bono Recognition Program, the office has consistently been recognized as a leading DC law firm for pro bono service, with at least 40 percent of its lawyers dedicating 50 or more hours to pro bono every year. In 2014 and 2015, Jenner & Block was one of only two DC law firms where 65 percent or more of their lawyers contributed at least 50 hours of pro bono service during the immediately prior years.
While the office’s pro bono work covers a multitude of subject areas, much attention is concentrated on issues involving human trafficking, asylum and immigration and death penalty. In 2014, efforts to end the scourge of human trafficking, largely led by DC lawyers, persuaded The National Law Journal to name Jenner & Block to its 2014 Pro Bono Hot List. In one example of our precedent-setting advocacy in this arena, we filed a RICO complaint in a trafficking case, claiming a family of five was an enterprise that trafficked the firm’s client into 19 years of forced labor in the United States. The RICO counts survived three motions to dismiss, prompting AmLaw Litigation Daily to write, “We’ve seen some creative uses of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, but never in a human trafficking case. The pro bono case that Jenner & Block . . . filed . . . is a first for us.” The firm then obtained a seven-figure settlement for the plaintiff, including a six-figure cash award from the defendants’ three homeowners’ insurance companies. This was the first case in public record in which insurance companies paid out substantial damages in a human trafficking suit.
Other recently concluded pro bono matters include:
- Helping win important victories in the nationwide effort to legalize same-sex marriage. With Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia, we represented same-sex couples challenging bans on gay marriage in Virginia and West Virginia and were victorious when a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Virginia district court ruling striking down the commonwealth’s ban on gay marriage. The federal court in West Virginia, also in the Fourth Circuit, was then bound by precedent. In 2015, when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the United States, the Court’s historic opinion cited and agreed with an amicus brief filed by Jenner & Block on behalf of the American Psychological Association and other groups.
- Successfully appealing the death sentence of an intellectually disabled plaintiff. The client was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in Louisiana state court in 1995, seven years before the US Supreme Court’s decision in Atkins v. Virginia banned the execution of persons with intellectual disabilities. We convinced the Supreme Court that it was unreasonable for the state court to deny our client an Atkins hearing in light of powerful evidence of his intellectual disability.
- Winning a unanimous decision from the US Supreme Court in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy dispute. When the client filed for bankruptcy, he claimed that California’s homestead exemption protected $75,000 of his $363,348 home from collection by the bankruptcy trustee to pay legal fees stemming from a false lien the clienthad filed against his property to prevent its seizure by creditors. The DC partner who argued the caseconvinced the Court to rule that the bankruptcy court had exceeded its authority when it ordered the funds be made available to pay the attorney fees.
- A partner served as a panelist on the Department of Homeland Security’s independent review of the US Secret Service’s protection of the White House Compound in 2014. The four-person panel performed an in-depth review of the role and effectiveness of the Secret Service, making recommendations based on their findings. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson called the panel’s recommendations “astute, thorough and fair.”
- Challenging US government policies denying a fair hearing process to Central American mother and child asylum-seekers who were detained in a controversial facility in Artesia, New Mexico. As a result of the lawsuit the team filed, as co-counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, the government altered its stance toward the plaintiffs, vacating expedited removal orders, placing each client in regular removal proceedings and, ultimately, closing the Artesia facility.
- Securing a pardon for a client with autism and other significant disabilities who was arrested after refusing to identify himself. The client, not understanding the situation, fought and injured the arresting officer and faced a jury-recommended sentence of more than 10 years. The firm persuaded the court to reduce the sentence, but because of his autism, the client became locked into a cycle of police intervention, assault and re-incarceration, mostly served in solitary confinement. Recognizing that justice in the court system was unlikely because Virginia law does not recognize an autism defense, the team told the client’s story via traditional and social media. After an outpouring of support, in January 2015, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe granted the pardon. The client is now enrolled in a special treatment program in Florida.
- Consulting on recommendations by The Volcker Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker. The report called for reform to the United States’ financial regulatory structure. Additionally, Jenner & Block published a background paper titled “Memorandum Concerning the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission” that provides a comprehensive descriptive account of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and potential approaches to structural reform.
- Representing victims of human trafficking, especially in cases against foreign diplomats. In one noted case, the firm won a $1 million judgment for a client who worked for a member of the Tanzanian embassy for 10 years with no pay and inhumane living conditions. The agreement was the first in which a government paid to settle a trafficking case involving one of its diplomats.