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.
Firm Assists in Historic "Conspiracy 7" Trial
This case received wide news and public attention. It arose out of the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago in August 1968. The defendants were a group of men, most quite young, who led or were involved in protests in Grant Park and nearby areas against the United States involvement in armed conflict in Vietnam and other alleged government civil rights violations: Rennie Davis, David Dellinger, John Froines, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale and Lee Weiner. Days of confrontations between police and protesters ensued. The United States attorney in Chicago, Thomas Foran, obtained an indictment against eight defendants, charging them with a conspiracy to incite riots, and other related offenses.
Read More Mr.Seale, the sole African-American defendant, was represented by Charles Geary, a well-known criminal defense lawyer from San Francisco, California. The lead lawyers for the other seven defendants were William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization based in New York City. The trial judge was Julius Hoffman.
Jenner Serves as Special Counsel to Warren Commission
Shortly before the trial was to begin, Mr. Geary was hospitalized for an operation and hence unable to appear for the trial on the day scheduled. A motion was made to either postpone the trial until he recovered or sever Mr. Seale. Both motions were denied. Instead, Judge Hoffman found that four out-of-state lawyers – Michael Kennedy, Gerald Lefcourt, Dennis Roberts, and Michael Tigar - had entered appearances on Mr. Seale’s behalf, but had not presented a motion to ask permission to withdraw their appearances, nor had they come to court at the outset of the trial. Each of these lawyers had signed pretrial motions and briefs on Mr. Seale’s behalf, along with Mr. Geary, concerning substantive and procedural legal matters. Judge Hoffman ruled that they were in contempt of court for failing to appear when the trial began on this day in 1969; he ordered them to appear before him for sentencing on Friday, September 26, 1969; and he issued bench warrants directing U. S. marshals to arrest the lawyers and bring them in custody to Chicago. Two of the lawyers traveled to Chicago on their own, and two were brought in custody by marshals and placed in the federal building lockup.
Partner Thomas P. Sullivan – who previously had extensive contacts with CCR lawyers in the Dr. Jeremiah Stamler/House Un-American Activities matter – was asked to represent the lawyers on a pro bono basis when they appeared before Judge Hoffman. This was the first of a number of occasions that Tom became involved in the case, assisted from time to time by partner John C. Tucker.
When Tom, John and two lawyers of the lawyers appeared before Judge Hoffman on Friday, September 26, 1969, Tom explained that Mr. Geary had been retained as Mr. Seale’s trial lawyer, that the four lawyers had assisted only on several pretrial motions and were not prepared to defend Mr. Seale. After a brief hearing, Judge Hoffman adjourned the matter until Monday morning and directed the marshals to take the lawyers into custody over the weekend. Tom requested that they be released to his custody, with his assurance that they would return on Monday as directed. Judge Hoffman said, “I do not release alleged contemnors” or words to that effect, and entered his chambers. The marshals took the lawyers to the lockup in the federal building, where they joined the two who had been brought in custody. (These events are discussed in John Schultz’ book, The Chicago Conspiracy Trial, pages 43-47. He quotes Tom as saying, as he rushed from the courtroom to try to reach a judge of the Court of Appeals to order the layers released, “You’ve heard of nothing new under the sun; well, there it is.”)
Tom telephoned Mr. Foran and asked that the lawyers be kept in the federal lockup, and not sent to the Cook County jail, until he contacted a Circuit judge to seek an order permitting the lawyers to remain free over the weekend; Mr. Foran agreed. Tom telephoned Circuit Judge Walter Cummings, who was attending a dinner party, explained the situation, and requested entry of a release order for all four lawyers, with his assurance that they would appear as directed. Judge Cummings entered the order, and the lawyers were freed.
The four lawyers appeared in court with Tom on Monday, September 29. Meanwhile, as the New York Times reported, “over the weekend lawyers from throughout the country began pouring into the city to demonstrate against the judge’s actions. This morning, lawyers from New York, San Francisco, Washington, Boston and other cities, as well as a delegation representing 13 faculty members at the Harvard Law School, were in and around the building.”
After discussion, in what appeared a thinly disguised effort to extricate himself from the situation he had gotten himself into, Judge Hoffman stated, “Since their clients [the eight defendants] have said in open court that they give them leave to withdraw, the contempt proceedings will be vacated.” This led to further acrimonious exchanges among Messrs. Kunstler, Weinglass, several defendants, the prosecutors and the judge. The vigorous objections of both Messrs. Seale and Kunstler were unavailing. Tom and the four lawyers left the courtroom.
The trial proceeded with Mr. Seale not having a lawyer he accepted to act on his behalf. Thus ended the firm’s first involvement in the case.
At the outset of the trial, during jury selection and the first several weeks of testimony, Mr. Seale continued to object to being put on trial without the lawyer of his choice, or alternatively that he be permitted to represent himself. Judge Hoffman denied both requests. To save the issue for appeal, Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass declined to act for Mr. Seale. When Mr. Seale persisted in his objections, and engaged in outbursts in the jury’s presence, Judge Hoffman admonished him, and then ordered him bound and gagged, and eventually removed from the courtroom. After six weeks of trial, Judge Hoffman declared a mistrial as to Mr. Seale, and sentenced him to four years in prison for contempt of court. Seale appealed, and was not incarcerated.
The trial proceedings against the remaining seven defendants lasted five months, amid heated exchanges, acting out by the defendants, and insulting comments directed at the judge by the defendants, and at the defendants and their lawyers by the judge and prosecutors.
In February 1970, the jury acquitted Messrs. Froines and Weiner and convicted the other five of non-conspiracy charges. Two days later, Judge Hoffman imposed sentences of varying terms of imprisonment on the counts of conviction and imposed jail sentences for contempt of court on all seven defendants, plus Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass, ranging from two months and 18 days for Mr. Weiner to four years and 13 days for Mr. Kunstler. He refused to set appeal bonds for the five convicted defendants, and they were taken to jail. Tom was asked to assist in obtaining an appeal bond from the Seventh Circuit. He conferred with the five defendants and Mr. Kunstler at the jail, helped draft a motion to the Court of Appeals for an appeal bond, which was granted, and personally posted cash that had been raised to secure their release pending the appeals.
Tom and John assisted the CCR lawyers in writing the briefs in support of the appeals from the contempt findings and sentences and from the convictions of the five defendants.
Prior to oral argument on the appeals, the Court of Appeals directed Judge Hoffman to hold a hearing and send the record to the Court, regarding alleged contacts during jury deliberations among the jurors, Judge Hoffman and several U.S. marshals. Together with Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass, and other lawyers from CCR, particularly Helene Schwartz – who took the lead in writing the portions of the defense briefs about the contacts – Tom assisted in cross examining the jurors and marshals in the hearing before Judge Hoffman, which consumed several days. (These proceedings are recounted in Mr. Schultz’ book, pages 346-54, and in Ms. Schwartz’ book Lawyering, pages 130-66.)
In May 1972, the Court of Appeals reversed all of the contempt convictions and remanded for hearings before a judge other than Judge Hoffman. United States v. Seale, 461 F.2d 345, 351-52; In re Dellinger, 461 F.2d 389, 392-97 (1972).
In November 1972, the Court of Appeals reversed the criminal convictions of the five defendants and remanded for a new trial, “if the government elects so to proceed.” The reversal was based on a number of grounds, including contacts between the marshals and the jurors which were disclosed during the hearing ordered by the Court of Appeals. The opinion demonstrated in scathing detail how both Judge Hoffman and the prosecutors had demeaned the defendants and their lawyers in the jurors’ presence. United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340 (1972). The government eventually dismissed the indictment against the five defendants and Mr. Seale.
Pursuant to the Court of Appeals orders, a federal District Court Judge from Maine held new hearings with regard to the contempt citations against all eight defendants, and Messrs. Kunstler and Weinglass. Tom was asked to testify to the contretemps concerning Bobby Seale’s lawyer, and Judge Hoffman’s treatment of the four out of state lawyers. The defense theory was that Judge Hoffman’s conduct was so outrageous that it triggered reactions from the defendants and their lawyers that justified, or at least explained, why they reacted so forcefully to Judge Hoffman’s continued demeaning conduct during the trial. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge upheld several contempt charges, but declined to impose sentences or fines.
The Conspiracy 7 case was thus finally concluded, with no convictions and no penalties imposed for the contempt charges that were upheld.
1. State v. Jerry Rubin.
Tom represented Jerry Rubin pro bono in a state court charge of mob action, to which Mr. Rubin pled guilty, and served a short jail sentence.
2. City v. Peter Weiss, et al.
Tom and partner Russell J. Hoover represented a lawyer from New York, pro bono, who was one of the 13 defendants in a state court charge of disorderly conduct involving a march on August 29, 1968, during the Democratic convention, of supporters of Eugene McCarthy for the vice-presidential nomination. After a bench trial that lasted three weeks, the defendants were found guilty and fined from $250 to $400 each. A direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was taken. Tom and Russ, together with Arthur Kinoy of CCR, prepared the briefs for Mr. Weiss, and Tom argued the case in Springfield. The Supreme Court affirmed. City v. Weiss, et al, 51 IL 2d 310, 281 N.E.2d 310 (1972).
By the early 1960s, name Partner Albert Jenner had made a name for himself on the national stage. Among other accomplishments, he had served, at age 42, as the youngest president of the Illinois State Bar Association and later served as the eighth president of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers. He was also a member of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, and, in 1962, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that he was “so pleased” with Bert’s work on the Committee that he reappointed him to a four-year term. The following year, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, new President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to “satisfy itself that the truth is known as far as it can be discovered, and to report its findings and conclusions to [President Johnson], to the American people, and to the world.” Chief Justice Warren, the Commission’s chairman, sought Bert’s assistance, appointing him as senior counsel. Bert’s role was to investigate the life and pursuits of the assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald; his chapter was called "Oswald's Background, History, Acquaintances and Motives." Presented to President Johnson on this day in 1964, the Warren Commission’s 889-page report determined that Oswald acted alone when he shot President Kennedy from the Texas Book Depository and that nightclub owner Jack Ruby acted alone when he shot Oswald two days later. Bert told a reporter: “It’s a truly great report, it’s accurate as hell, and we worked like dogs to produce it.”
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 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.”
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.
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.”
Albert Jenner Serves as Counsel to Minority on Committee Investigating Whether to Impeach Nixon
“The law comes first with him” is how an associate described Albert Jenner in a New York Times profile. The Times’ “Man in the News” feature appeared in January 1974, when Bert was selected to serve as counsel to the Republican minority on the House Judiciary Committee investigating whether to impeach President Nixon over Watergate. Seven months later, Bert had lost favor with the Republicans due to what they considered his “pro-impeachment” stance. On this day in 1974, they voted to “sidetrack” him, replacing him with Sam Garrison. An analysis of the move in The Washington Post explained that “backroom strategists” had waited for the “best time” to oust Bert – and that time came after he was quoted in a Texas newspaper calling for Nixon’s impeachment. According to the Post, the Texas newspaper clipping was posted on the wall of the Republican cloakroom and Illinois Rep. Robert McClory “took the lead in lining up the votes to shove Jenner aside.” The Post’s analysis also observed that Nixon’s strategy had been “to obstruct impeachment and, after it could no longer be delayed, to portray it as a Democratic vendetta against him. Now, with Garrison stepping forth and leading the political revival, the President’s supporters are trying to whip up partisan feelings and make a vote against impeachment a Republican loyalty test.” As it turned out, Nixon resigned 24 days later, just as Bert had previously recommended.
Firm’s Chicago Office Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary
As part of the firm’s centennial year, Jenner & Block hosted a celebration on Wednesday, June 25, at its Chicago office. More than 650 people attended the reception atop the 45th floor at 353 N. Clark St., greeting friends and colleagues in the legal community while mingling amidst scores of exhibits that commemorated the firm’s century of service.
The exhibits across 10 conference rooms included tributes to name partners Albert Jenner and Samuel Block; causes the firm has championed; clients and key matters; diversity and inclusion; government investigations and commissions; international work; name partners throughout firm history; pro bono and community service; and public service and service to the bar.
Posters depicted the firm’s defense of utility magnate Samuel Insull in the mid-1930s; Bert Jenner’s appointment as counsel for the Warren Commission and the House Judiciary Committee’s inquiry into the impeachment of President Richard Nixon; the firm’s representation of MCI in its historic antitrust suit against AT&T; Paul Smith’s winning Supreme Court oral argument in the landmark gay civil rights case Lawrence v. Texas; Tony Valukas’ appointment as examiner in the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy; the firm’s work on the General Motors IPO; and many other matters. In all, the exhibits showcased nearly 230 artifacts – awards, documents, photos – and 18 posters and one interactive “autograph board” on which attorneys listed their pro bono cases through the years.
In addition to approximately 120 Jenner & Block alumni, guests included 61 judges and government representatives, and representatives from 159 companies, 19 nonprofits and 13 universities. Legal Bisnow provided a pictorial essay on the event in its article “Which Firm Just Celebrated Its Centennial?” In addition, Chicago Bar Association President Dan Cotter attended the reception and wrote about it in his President’s blog. Each of the firm’s four offices – Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, DC – is taking part in the 100-year tribute celebration.
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.
Senate Confirms Tom Sullivan's appointment as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois
After Jimmy Carter was elected president in 1976, U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III recruited Tom Sullivan to serve as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. On this day in 1977, the U.S. Senate confirmed Tom’s appointment. Tom was ready to move into public service, although he knew at the outset that he would limit his tenure to four years. During that time, he investigated fair-housing violations and discrimination cases in schools and challenged police hiring practices. He also started the undercover Operation Greylord probe of corruption in the Cook County judiciary, a long-running investigation that would continue under his predecessors, including current firm Chairman Tony Valukas while he served in the same role from 1985-1989. When Tom left the office to return to the firm in 1981, the Chicago Tribune celebrated his “exemplary record.”
Firm Convinces Supreme Court to Strike Down California's Law Restricting Violent Video Game Sales
Representing the Entertainment Merchants Association, a team including Paul Smith and Matthew Hellman convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a California law restricting the sale or rental of violent video games to minors on the grounds that the law ran afoul of the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech and expression. After the firm’s victory in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association on this day in 2011, Paul was quoted saying he felt as though he was on the “front lines of the digital war” and noted that the case and others like it would help to write the basic foundation of laws in the future.
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."