Firm's Pro Bono Client Is Released after Serving 19 Years
A team working with attorneys from Northwestern University Law School’s Bluhm Legal Clinic Center on Wrongful Convictions and Stanford Law School Professor Lawrence Marshall represented Juan Rivera in appealing his third conviction of the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl, Holly Staker. Jenner & Block, along with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, represented Mr. Rivera in his third trial. At trial, the defense team proved that DNA evidence excluded Mr. Rivera as the rapist and killer. Despite that evidence, a jury found him guilty and the court sentenced him to natural life in prison without parole. On this day in 2011, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District reversed Rivera’s conviction, finding insufficient evidence to support his conviction in light of the DNA evidence excluding him as the perpetrator. According to the Court’s 24-page ruling, the conviction was "unjustified and cannot stand." In its opinion, the court said it sympathized with the Staker family but also concluded that “Mr. Rivera, too, has suffered the nightmare of wrongful incarceration.” Mr. Rivera was released after serving 19 years in prison. In a statement at the time, the firm said it donated more than 12,000 hours of legal work on the trial and appeal and called the ruling a "tremendous victory for Mr. Rivera and a great day for justice in the State of Illinois." The Jenner & Block team on Mr. Rivera’s defense included current Partners Thomas Sullivan, Terri Mascherin and Andrew Vail, with assistance from Associate Daniel Fenske and former Associate Sarah Terman. In 2014, authorities announced that DNA evidence from the case matched a potential suspect in a separate murder.
Firm Opens New York Office
On this day in 2005, Jenner & Block opened its New York office. At the time, then-Managing Partner Gregory Gallopoulos said, “We intend to build an even stronger [transactional] practice in New York, the international capital of commerce, finance and industry, while continuing to give our clients here the full benefit of our renowned litigation and transactional practices.” In 2005, the office was home to a core group of about nine partners, including current Partners Paul Jock, Toby Knapp, Richard Levy and Gianni Servodidio. Today, the office at 919 Third Avenue is home to nearly 60 attorneys.
Floyd Thompson Joins Firm after Loss at the Polls
Election Day 1928 was a loss for Floyd E. Thompson, who had resigned from the Illinois Supreme Court to run for governor of Illinois on the Democratic ticket. By the end of the day, “The Judge” carried 42.6 percent of the popular vote compared to Republican Louis Lincoln Emmerson’s 56.7 percent. He rebounded from that defeat by joining the Chicago law firm of Newman, Poppenhusen, Stern & Johnston. In 1929, the firm took Thompson’s name, becoming Poppenhusen, Johnston, Thompson & Cole. “The Judge” would take on many high-profile cases for the firm, such as successfully defending Chicago utility magnate Samuel Insull on mail fraud and antitrust charges and Floyd Cerf, the broker who handled stocks for revolutionary car manufacturer Preston Tucker. The firm would become Jenner & Block in 1969.
Byman Successfully Represents David Dowaliby in High-Profile Case
“Call Bob Byman,” Cindi Dowaliby, played by actress Shannen Doherty, tells her husband, David. In this scene from the 1996 TV movie Gone in the Night, Cindi talks to her husband in prison, where he’s being held after his conviction on charges of killing their young daughter. She urges him to get Bob to handle the appeal. The movie was based on the award-winning book about the high-profile Dowaliby case. In 1988, 7-year-old Jaclyn Dowaliby was kidnapped from her Chicago-area home in the middle of the night. Cindi and David were eventually charged with the girl’s murder. Cindi would be acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence, but David was convicted. David did indeed “hire” Bob Byman, and on this day in 1991, Bob and his pro bono team won a reversal of David’s conviction. The Illinois Appellate Court ruled that prosecutors failed to prove that no one else killed Jaclyn and that the evidence against him was not sufficient. "I'm ecstatic," Bob told the Chicago Tribune. "This shows the system works."
Firm Secures Victory for Class of Tenants in Pro Bono Housing Matter
Capping a five-year legal battle, the Second Circuit on this day in 2013 affirmed a district court’s approval of a landmark settlement agreement between a class of 22,000 tenants and Pinnacle Group, one of New York City’s largest residential landlords that owned scores of rent-controlled apartments. Low-income tenants had accused the company of orchestrating a harassment campaign against them to force them to move out so that new tenants, not under rent control, would move in. The settlement included an independent and streamlined claims administration process; a $2.5 million legal assistance fund established by Pinnacle to assist the tenants in asserting their rights; an injunction wherein Pinnacle agreed to honor best practices enforced by a court-appointed claims administrator; and an audit of new rents, among other things. Fewer than 1 percent of the class members opted out or objected to the settlement, but all five named class representatives did object and voiced their objections to the district court. The district court conducted a fairness hearing, carefully considered all of the objections, and in June 2012, issued a 54-page opinion granting final approval to the settlement. The five named class representatives and three objecting class members then appealed to the Second Circuit, which called the district court’s decision “thorough” and “well-reasoned.” The Second Circuit also noted that the named class representatives were the “more militant members of the class” and pointed out that “the district court thoroughly and carefully reviewed the settlement and concluded that it was a fair and sensible way to resolve these claims.” The team representing the tenants included current attorneys Richard Levy, Ross Bricker, Marisa Perry and Joshua Rubin with assistance from Michael Brody, Matthew Hellman, Paul Smith and Elizabeth Edmonson.
Lehman Brothers Files for Bankruptcy; Firm Chairman Later Appointed Examiner to Investigate
On this day in 2008, the fourth largest investment bank in the country filed for bankruptcy protection. The collapse of 158-year-old Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, was one event that precipitated the late-2000s global financial crisis. At the time, it was the largest failure of an investment bank in 18 years. “Throughout the day, employees carrying tote bags, suitcases and boxes packed with contents of desks and offices streamed out of Lehman's Times Square-area headquarters,” wrote the Chicago Tribune. In January 2009, the court appointed firm Chairman Tony Valukas as examiner, charged with investigating why Lehman had failed. Later that year, Chicago Lawyer magazine named Tony “Person of the Year,” in part because of his work on Lehman. In 2010, Tony presented his 2,200-page report, coined the “Valukas Report” and applauded for its clarity and usefulness in determining what brought about Lehman’s demise.
Firm Wins $101 Jury Verdict for Ventas
On this day in 2009, a jury awarded $101 million to client Ventas, a leading healthcare real estate investment trust. Following a three-week trial in Kentucky, the verdict was awarded as compensatory damages against competitor HCP for tortious interference with business expectation arising out of Ventas’ acquisition of the Sunrise Senior Living REIT in 2007. HCP had topped Ventas' initial bid for Sunrise, which prompted Ventas to increase its offer by about $101 million. Ventas ultimately acquired Sunrise for about $2 billion and later sued HCP, arguing that it had interfered with Ventas' purchase agreement by making misleading public statements relating to the bid. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit not only affirmed the verdict but also remanded the case to the trial court to allow Ventas to pursue punitive damages. “The record is replete with evidence of intentional misrepresentations, deceit, and/or concealment of material facts by HCP,” the opinion read. For his work on the appeal, David Bradford was named American Lawyer’s “Litigator of the Week” in May 2011. In addition to David, the team resenting Ventas included current Partners Michael L. Cebula, Terri L. Mascherin, Paul M. Smith, Daniel J. Weiss and Bradley M. Yusim and Associates Anthony B. Borich, Rachel S. Morse and Shaun M. Van Horn.
Firm Successfully Defends American Academy of Pediatrics in Case Focusing on Polio Vaccine
Don Harris successfully defended the American Academy of Pediatrics in a case that focused on the Academy’s recommended polio vaccine. At issue were two types of vaccines: the popular Salk vaccine, which was a “killed” vaccine, and the Sabin vaccine, which was a “live” vaccine and therefore had a “herd” immunity effect. Because of the Sabin vaccine’s “herd” effect, the Academy recommended its use over the Salk vaccine. But when a Michigan child contracted polio after using the Sabin vaccine, the family sued the Academy, charging that its recommendation resulted in the child getting polio. On this day in 1983, Don prevailed, despite the celebrity adverse expert testimony of Dr. Jonas Salk, the famed inventor of the vaccine that bears his name. The case showed that the Academy – and not supporters or detractors of any particular vaccine – should guide public health policy.
Operation Greylord - Undercover Probe into Corruption - Becomes Public
The undercover Operation Greylord investigation became public on this week in 1983. Tom Sullivan launched the joint investigation with the FBI after he became U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 1977; Chuck Sklarsky was among its architects during his time as an assistant U.S. attorney. Ultimately, the operation led to the conviction of about 90 individuals, including judges, lawyers, deputy sheriffs, police officers and court clerks, on a range of charges including conspiracy and bribery. In an interview with the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, Tom recalled facing the difficult decision of whether to use real or fake cases to snare corrupt members of the Cook County judiciary. Although it would have been easier to have undercover FBI agents defend real cases, ethical and liability concerns caused the team to use fake cases. “If we use real cases and [the prosecutor or judge] takes a bribe and a guy is released from a minor crime and then goes out and commits a really horrible crime, I’m going to get blamed for it. So you can’t use real cases; you have to use fake cases. We had these wonderful FBI agents, just marvelous people who came up with this whole scenario of faking the reasons for being arrested,” Tom recalled. The probe continued under Tom’s successors, Dan Webb and then Tony Valukas. The investigation was made public and prosecutions begun during Dan’s tenure; Tony pursued and concluded the operation. When Tony left office in 1989, the Chicago Tribune observed that “corrupt judges, bankers, drug dealers, police officers, lawyers, business executives, aldermen, defense contractors, state legislators, sports agents -- all have been brought to justice by Valukas and his staff during his four years as U.S. attorney in the Chicago region.” In the aftermath of Operation Greylord, Jerry Solovy was appointed to lead a special commission to recommend ways to reform the system. Known as the “Solovy Commission,” the panel proposed the merit selection of judges, among other reforms, and issued several reports addressing disclosure rules regarding the judicial selection process.
Click here to download a copy of The Special Commission on the Administration of Justice in Cook County Report.
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."
Firm's Victory for MCI Changes Telecommunications Nationwide
The storied “David-and-Goliath” battle between MCI and AT&T literally changed the way we communicate. In the early 1970s, MCI had one microwave system in the Midwest while AT&T was the nation’s “Ma Bell,” the sole provider of telephone service across the country. At issue was a 1971 order by the Federal Communications Commission that opened the way for companies like MCI to launch competitive long-distance service with the Bell System nationwide. AT&T responded by directing its local Bell companies around the country to deny MCI access to local switching systems needed to reach its customers. After nearly going out of business In 1974, MCI sued and complained to the U.S. Department of Justice about these anticompetitive tactics. In turn, the Justice Department brought suit to break up AT&T.
On this day in 1980, a federal court ordered AT&T to pay MCI $1.8 billion after a jury found that Bell had violated federal antitrust laws in denying service to MCI. “The award was stunning to AT&T both monetarily and psychologically,” the New York Times reported, “because the MCI victory could generate other actions against the communications giant.” Because of the victory, it became inevitable that the government would proceed to trial in its divestiture case.
The award would later be reduced after appeal, but the impact of the case could not be overstated. On January 8, 1982, AT&T and the U.S. Department of Justice announced that AT&T would split up its $136.8 billion domain. AT&T and DOJ representatives said the move -- with AT&T relinquishing 22 operating regional subsidiaries -- would lead to increased competition for telephone service and equipment and eventually lower long-distance rates. The move revolutionized the telephone and computer industries.
By the early 1980s, MCI, based in Washington, DC, invited Jenner & Block to establish a presence in the Capital. And in 1982, when the firm opened its Washington, DC office, MCI was its anchor client.
Victory in Witherspoon Case Reforms Jury Selection Process in Capital Cases
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.
Please click here to read the opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in Witherspoon. Click here for a recording of Bert's oral argument presented to the Court.
Dan Murray Appointed Trustee of Chicago Missouri & Western Railway
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.
On Law Day: Celebrating Firm's Efforts to Ensure Defendants Have Effective Counsel
Today is Law Day, celebrating the rule of law and its significance to society. In recognition of the day, we highlight Don Verrilli's successful argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in Wiggins v. Smith in March 2003. Pro bono client Kevin Wiggins had been found guilty of capital murder after a bench trial in 1989; a jury sentenced him to death. But the two public defenders did not thoroughly investigate Mr. Wiggins’ background and, therefore, Don argued, failed to tell the jury of “powerful mitigating evidence” that could have spared him that fate. In its June 2003 ruling, the Court held that the performance of Mr. Wiggins’ attorneys at sentencing violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel. The case reaffirmed the importance of the right to counsel in capital cases and helped to establish meaningful standards for defense counsel’s performance. Mr. Wiggins was resentenced to life in prison and ultimately sent to a state facility for mental health treatment and rehabilitation.
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."