Partner Dan Murray was serving as secretary to the board of directors of Chicago Pacific Corporation when, on this day in 1985, the company made a tender offer to acquire “any and all” shares outstanding of Hoover Co., the vacuum-cleaner manufacturer, for $40 a share cash. By November of that year, Chicago Pacific completed the $519.5 million acquisition of Hoover. “Chicago Pacific emerged last year from the reorganization of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Co. with no operating businesses, nearly $300 million in cash from the liquidation of most of its rail lines and on the hunt for acquisitions,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
The firm represented William Witherspoon in a case that would have major implications for how juries are selected in capital cases throughout the nation. In 1960, Witherspoon was sentenced to death by a jury. The jury was selected in a process that permitted the prosecution an unlimited number of challenges for cause with respect to any potential juror who expressed qualms about the death penalty. As a result, the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was composed only of persons who had no qualms about capital punishment. Jenner & Block represented Mr. Witherspoon on a pro bono basis in a post-conviction review that challenged the constitutionality of this process. The Illinois Supreme Court denied post-conviction relief. In an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, a team led by Albert Jenner, with Tom Sullivan, Jerry Solovy and John Tucker, secured a reversal of Witherspoon’s death sentence. On this day in 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion holding that the method of selection of the jury that sentenced Witherspoon to death was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned: “A jury that must choose between life imprisonment and capital punishment can do little more – and must do nothing less – than express the conscience of the community on the ultimate question of life or death. Yet, in a nation less than half of whose people believe in the death penalty, a jury composed exclusively of such people cannot speak for the community.” The Court added: “To execute this death sentence would deprive [Witherspoon] of his life without the due process of the law.” As a result of the Witherspoon decision, more than 350 inmates on death row around the nation had their death sentences lifted.
Witherspoon was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment. He became a model prisoner. When he became eligible for possible parole, Jerry Solovy, with assistance from associates Mike Seng and Dan Murray, mounted a concerted effort over a number of years to secure Witherspoon’s parole. His parole application enjoyed the support of all of the prison wardens under whom he served and of all of the guards in Old Joliet Prison. The Parole Board ultimately granted him parole. Witherspoon devoted the remainder of his life working at a half-way house in Detroit, helping inmates coming out of prison in their adjustment and re-entry into society.
On this day in 1988, Dan Murray was appointed to serve as trustee in the bankruptcy of Chicago Missouri & Western Railway Company following the death of the first trustee, former Illinois Governor Richard B. Ogilvie. As trustee, Dan supervised operations of the railroad, skillfully preserving passenger rail service. In 2011, Dan received the W. Graham Claytor Award For Distinguished Service To Passenger Rail Transportation for his outstanding work as trustee.
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.
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.
On this day in 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of our client Henry Crown, the largest bond holder in the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Co., in Railway Labor Executives' Assn. v. Gibbons. The case arose out of the railroad’s bankruptcy reorganization, which commenced on March 17, 1975. In 1980 -- three days before the bankruptcy court would order the railroad abandoned, with no obligation on the part of the railroad to pay employee labor protection out of its assets -- Congress passed special legislation called the Rock Island Railroad Transition and Employee Assistance Act (RITA), which required the railroad to pay employee benefits of up to $75 million, to the detriment of its secured bond holders, including Col. Crown. In oral argument before the Supreme Court, Dan Murray argued that RITA represented an uncompensated taking of private property and an unconstitutional non-uniform law in bankruptcy. The Supreme Court declared RITA “repugnant to … the Bankruptcy Clause of the Constitution” because it was a non-uniform bankruptcy law. In its unanimous opinion authored by then-Justice William Rehnquist, the Court called RITA “nothing more than a private bill such as those Congress frequently enacts under its authority to spend money.”