Firm Successfully Appeals Food Lion Verdict Against ABC
Bruce Ennis successfully appealed a judgment against client ABC, sued by a grocery store chain after the television network aired an unflattering exposé. The case centered around two reporters who posed as Food Lion employees after receiving a tip about unsanitary food practices. Using cameras hidden in wigs, the reporters videotaped the practices and featured the footage on Primetime Live in 1992. Food Lion sued ABC for fraud, trespassing and breach of loyalty. In 1997, a jury awarded Food Lion $5.5 million, although a district court judge later reduced that to $316,000. On appeal, Bruce argued that Food Lion sought to skirt daunting First Amendment standards to prove defamation by suing ABC not for libel but rather for violations of state law. On this day in 1999, the Fourth Circuit rejected Food Lion’s fraud claim (and the $316,000 in damages tied to it) and upheld the trespass and breach of loyalty claims, but reduced the damages to $3. Sadly, the Food Lion matter would be Bruce’s last major case before he succumbed to cancer.
Firm Publishes Its First LGBT Newsletter
On this day in 2001 – in time for “LGBT History Month” – the first Equal Time-LGBT Community Service newsletter was published. It was the first diversity newsletter the firm produced and is thought to have been the first of its kind anywhere in the legal community. The first issue noted the firm’s involvement in championing LGBT issues, including, among them, filing amicus briefs on behalf of an openly gay Scoutmaster who was expelled from the organization and the effort to topple state-based anti-sodomy laws throughout the nation. Importantly, the newsletter also listed out attorneys and their client work, a practice that continues with today’s publication. To see past editions of Equal Time, click here.
Firm Hosts its First Diversity Dinner
Diversity Dinner guest speaker Ruby Bridges, center, meets the firm's 2013 scholars; from left: Kara Ingelhart, Bide Akande, Kara Trowell and Mikael Rojas.
On this day in 2001, federal District Court Judge George Leighton, the first African-American judge to sit on the Illinois Appellate Court, keynoted the firm’s first Diversity Dinner. Attended by summer associates and attorneys from all offices, the annual dinner celebrates diversity and honors the firm’s diversity scholars. Other luminaries who have addressed the event through the years have included Michele Coleman Mayes, one of America’s top black lawyers and most influential general counsel; Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal’s national marriage director; civil rights icon Ruby Bridges; U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, the first Hispanic federal judge in Illinois and a firm alumnus; and, in 2003, a little-known Illinois state senator, civil rights lawyer and community organizer named Barack Obama. The 2014 speaker was Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, publisher of EBONY and JET magazines. A summer associate noted that the hallmark event “exemplifies what makes Jenner & Block such a special firm.”
Sen. Obama Gives Keynote Address at Diversity Dinner
Illinois Senator Barack Obama delivered the keynote address at the firm’s Diversity Dinner on this day in 2003, five years before voters would give him a job promotion to president of the United States. Senator Obama told about 100 partners, associates and summer associates that “diversity is an engine toward excellence, not an impediment… We grow by learning to look at the world through different lenses.”
Firm Wins Release of One of the Wrongly Accused "Ford Heights Four"
On this day in 1996, Bob Byman and Jim Thompson secured the release of Dennis Williams, one of the “Ford Heights Four” who spent nearly two decades on death row for a rape and murder he did not commit. The following day, police arrested the man prosecutors said should have been charged with the 1978 murders of Lawrence Lionberg and his fiancé, Carol Schmal. As the Chicago Tribune observed, the case against Mr. Williams and the other “Four” involved “poor lawyering, overzealous police and prosecutors, a dishonest witness and a public uproar” over the brutal crime. During Mr. Williams’ second trial in 1987, for instance, his lawyer at the time neglected to follow up on an investigator’s interview with a potential witness who indicated that four other men were involved in the crime. “It was a judgment call not to investigate it, but it was a bad judgment call,” Bob was quoted as saying. The case would become the subject of the book, A Promise of Justice.
Firm Scores Supreme Court Victory for Gay Rights in Lawrence v. Texas
To recognize “Gay Pride Month,” we highlight one case that many recognize as among the most important civil rights matters for the lesbian, gay and transgender community in a generation. In Lawrence v. Texas, Partner Paul Smith, working with the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, challenged the state of Texas’ anti-sodomy laws. When the Supreme Court struck down the statute on this day in 2003, it effectively invalidated anti-sodomy laws throughout the nation. Two gay men arrested after police walked in on them having sex "are entitled to respect for their private lives," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. "The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
Supreme Court's Ruling in Landmark Affirmative Action Case Relies on Firm's Amicus Brief
On this day in 2003, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program, expressly relying on an amicus brief prepared by the firm on behalf of 65 major companies. “These corporations are participating in this case because they believe it is essential to their success to be able to hire individuals of all backgrounds who have been educated in a diverse environment,” said Partner David DeBruin, who filed the brief. The brief argued that it is essential for companies to recruit individuals who were trained and educated in a diverse environment that encompasses a broad range of people, backgrounds, cultures and ideas. For today’s students to realize their potential as corporate and community leaders of the next half century, they must, according to the brief, “be educated in an environment where they are exposed to diverse people, ideas, perspectives and interactions.”
Firm Guides Archibald Candy Company's Bankruptcy and Sale
A team of bankruptcy lawyers led the post-bankruptcy sale of Chicago-based Archibald Candy Corporation, which included, among its assets, the Fannie May and Fanny Farmer brands of chocolates, recipes and 31 company-owned retail stores. Archibald had filed for bankruptcy in January 2004. In April 2004, Utah-based Alpine Confections Inc. completed the purchase of the brands and other assets for $38.9 million. The sale was selected as the “Transaction of the Year” by the Chicago chapter of the Turnaround Management Association. And the firm’s Bankruptcy, Workout and Corporate Reorganization Practice was honored by M&A Advisor Magazine for leading the “U.S. Middle Market Deal of the Year.”
Firm Makes Successful Argument in Supreme Court's First Foray into Internet First Amendment Issues
In recognition of “National Library Week,” we recall Bruce Ennis’ successful challenge of the Federal Communications Decency Act on behalf of the American Library Association and other clients before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Act made it a crime to provide “indecent” material to minors over what was then a fairly new medium: the Internet. In March 1997, the Court heard arguments in Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union – a case the Washington Post called the Court’s “first venture into cyberspace.” Bruce argued that the Act infringed on the First Amendment rights of adults across the country. Readily available software blockers would be far more effective than the government in protecting children from adult material, he said. As for the Act’s impact on the First Amendment, he wrote in a brief that "it is hard to imagine a criminal standard that provides less guidance, or to conceive of a speech prohibition that would have a broader chilling effect.” On June 26, 1997, the Court ruled that free speech protections apply just as much to the fast-growing digital universe as to books and newspapers. The Act, wrote Justice John Paul Stevens, "threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community."
Firm Helps Louisiana's Only Land-Based Casino Emerge from Bankruptcy
The firm played a key role in placing Louisiana’s only land-based casino on solid ground. The history of the casino dates back to the 1990s, when several developers – Harrah’s, now part of our firm’s client Caesar’s; a prominent real estate developer; and a group of Louisiana investors– conceived of the facility near the foot of Canal Street in New Orleans. They formed a joint venture, and Harrah’s Jazz Casino opened as a temporary facility in May 1995. Unfortunately, luck was not with the casino, and by that November, it filed for bankruptcy – its first. As a debtor in bankruptcy, Harrah’s Jazz was represented by a Jenner & Block team that included Dan Murray, Ron Peterson, Larry Wolfson and Tim Chorvat. The casino subsequently emerged from a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding and reopened on October 28, 1999 under the name of Jazz Casino Co. According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, it lost $130 million in its first year of operation and fell short in its obligations to pay creditors. It filed for bankruptcy again, with a team including Dan, Vince Lazar and Tom Monson representing the debtors. In March 2001, the Louisiana legislature met in special session and agreed to give the casino a number of concessions, among them, cutting its minimum tax liability from $100 million a year to $50 million the first year and $60 million thereafter. On this day in 2001, the bankruptcy court in New Orleans confirmed the casino’s plan of reorganization, and the state gambling board officially approved its new contract with the casino as it emerged from its secondbankruptcy. Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, as it is now called, has remained open ever since – save for a brief period following Hurricane Katrina when the facility served as a command center for the federal government’s rescue operations in New Orleans.
David Savner Builds on Firm's Long Relationship with General Dynamics
On this day in 1998, David Savner, partner and former chair of the Corporate Department, was appointed chief legal officer for the firm’s long-time client General Dynamics. At GD, David led an 80-attorney legal team in the company’s acquisitions of more than 50 businesses worldwide with an estimated value, during his tenure, of more than $20 billion. In 2010, David returned to the firm, where he serves in the Corporate, Corporate Transactions for Government Contractors and Securities Practices.
First Women’s Forum Formalizes Long-time Efforts Helping Women Lawyers Develop their Careers
The first official meeting of the firm’s Women’s Forum was held on this day in 2002. Its stated mission was to “foster opportunities for professional, social and personal growth for our women attorneys, communicate the firm’s strong commitment to the success of its women attorneys and enhance the visibility and recognition of Jenner & Block’s leadership in support of women in the legal profession.” Susan Levy was the first official chair, and its first steering committee consisted of Susan, Debbie Berman, Lynn Grayson, Linda Listrom, Lorie Masters and Barb Steiner. The Women's Forum is a formalized effort of what pioneering partner Joan Hall had begun years before, and it continues today.
Judge Allows Northwest Airline's Departure from Midwest Deal
On this day in 1995, Bankruptcy Judge John Squires granted a judgment in favor of firm client Northwest Airlines in a bankruptcy lawsuit brought by the trustee of Midway Airlines. Midway had entered bankruptcy in 1991. Northwest expressed interest in buying the airline, but when Northwest later broke off discussions, Midway sued Northwest for more than $100 million. Northwest was represented by David Sanders, Richard Franch, Dan Murray, Larry Schaner, Randy Mehrberg, Bob Markowski, and Jim McKenna, among others.
Bill Von Hoene Joins Exelon
Many firm alumni remain connected to the firm through in-house positions for clients and colleagues. Bill Von Hoene worked at Jenner & Block for nearly 20 years, from 1983 to 2002, focusing on complex civil and white-collar criminal litigation and serving on the Management, Pro Bono and Diversity Committees. In 2002, Bill joined Exelon as deputy general counsel. He held a variety of positions before being named Exelon’s senior executive vice president and chief strategy officer two years ago this month. In that role, Bill oversees corporate development, corporate strategy, legal, regulatory, government affairs, investments and communications for the major energy provider.
Firm Wins U.S. Supreme Court Victory for Client NextWave
On this day in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of firm client NextWave in FCC v. NextWave Personal Communications Inc., returning billions of dollars worth of wireless phone spectrum licenses. The FCC had attempted to repossess the licenses after NextWave failed to make installment payments while reorganizing under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. The agency argued that the licenses were automatically cancelled when the company missed its first payment-deadline and denied NextWave’s petition for reconsideration of the cancellation. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that the cancellation violated 11 USC section 525(a), which provides that a "governmental unit may not...revoke...a license...to...a debtor...solely because such...debtor...has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in the case.” The Supreme Court upheld the appellate court ruling 8-1. Former partner Don Verrilli, later appointed U.S. solicitor general, argued the case in the Supreme Court. Former partners Ian Gershengorn (now principal deputy solicitor general in the U.S. Department of Justice) and Bill Hohengarten were also on the team.