Jenner & Block Receives Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Award
Jenner & Block was recently selected by the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation as one of only four firms worldwide – and the sole North American firm – to receive the 2017 Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Award. This award is presented annually to honor Lex Mundi member firms that have provided critical pro bono legal services that help strengthen the global rule of law and improve the lives of the world’s poor and disenfranchised.
The award was presented at Lex Mundi’s annual meeting in Prague on April 27, 2017. Partner John H. Mathias, Jr. accepted on behalf of the firm.
In recognizing the winning firms, Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation Managing Director Chloe Holderness said, “The honorees demonstrate how members of the Lex Mundi network are using their pro bono resources of time and expertise to have a tremendous impact on many of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. The recipients also represent how our member firms, as leading law firms in their jurisdictions, have a larger commitment to growing and strengthening the global pro bono culture.”
As an example of Jenner & Block’s exceptional pro bono contributions, Lex Mundi highlighted the firm’s work in support of the African Leadership Academy (ALA). This South African-based foundation was established in 2004 with the philosophy that a new generation of ethical, committed leaders would be the key to Africa’s development. It educates children at a Johannesburg campus and also provides scholarships to some of these children to pursue university degrees in North America.
ALA is undertaking a five-year plan for growth, partly funded by a loan from OPIC (Overseas Private Investment Corporation), a US federal governmental agency that provides loans typically in circumstances where borrowers have limited access to capital in local markets. Partners Neil Cummings and Geoffrey M. Davis and Associate Rafi W. Mottahedeh assisted ALA in connection with obtaining this loan, including providing tax advice on the deal and follow-up work.
The Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation is the nonprofit affiliate of Lex Mundi, the world's leading association of independent law firms. Lex Mundi member law firms are located throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean and North America. Each member firm is selected on the basis of its leadership in its local market. Firms must maintain their level of excellence to retain membership within the Lex Mundi network. Since Jenner & Block became Lex Mundi’s Illinois member law firm in 2013, the firm has handled approximately 15 matters through the Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation. The majority of these have been transactional matters.
State Dismisses All Charges Against Wrongfully Convicted Pro Bono Client Adam Gray
Adam Gray was 14 in 1993 when he was arrested and charged with starting a fatal fire that killed two elderly people in a Chicago apartment. He was convicted and sentenced to mandatory life in prison without parole, under the law in place at the time. The conviction was based primarily on testimony from Chicago Fire and Police Department experts that burn patterns showed an accelerant was used in the fire, as well as a confession he gave after seven hours of interrogation by Chicago police without a parent or guardian present. Despite that confession, Mr. Gray has subsequently maintained his innocence.
An art teacher at Chicago’s juvenile detention center who met Mr. Gray eventually came to believe he was wrongfully convicted. That teacher reached out to Jenner & Block, providing the firm with affidavits and other materials that she had collected; in 2010, the firm took on Mr. Gray’s representation. In the course of litigating his post-conviction petition, the team investigated and presented newly discovered evidence from three well-known fire science experts as well as from lay witnesses. Based on advances in the field of fire science, the experts showed that there was no evidence to believe there was arson at all. Further, physical evidence proved that the central elements of Mr. Gray’s confession could not have been true.
The tenacious arguments made by Jenner & Block Partner Terri L. Mascherin finally persuaded the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to take another look at the case and, in the summer of 2016, the office announced it would join Mr. Gray’s request for a retrial. Unfortunately, in November, the circuit court judge denied the joint request and the firm filed a notice of appeal. After further negotiations with prosecutors, the new Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that the State would agree to voluntarily dismiss the charges against Mr. Gray. The court approved the dismissal on May 3, 2017, and Mr. Gray was released from prison later that day.
In addition to Ms. Mascherin, the team representing Mr. Gray includes Partners Barry Levenstam and Daniel T. Fenske; Associates Brij B. Patnaik and James Dawson; and Paralegal Mary Patston. Serving as co-counsel with Jenner & Block was Exoneration Project Staff Attorney Tara Thompson.
Firm’s Washington, DC Office Recognized as Pro Bono Leader
Jenner & Block’s Washington, DC office was once again recognized for its outstanding leadership in the area of pro bono service. At the 14th annual “40 at 50” Judicial Pro Bono Recognition Breakfast held on April 27, 2017 at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse,the judges of the District of Columbia federal courts honored local law firms in which at least 40 percent of all attorneys dedicated 50 or more hours in 2016 to providing free legal representation to individuals with limited financial resources or to charitable organizations. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the US District Court for the District of Columbia were among those in attendance.
Judge Garland expressed his gratitude to the legal community for fighting for access to justice in the District. “The need is high. You fill that gap,” Garland said, also telling the assembled lawyers that their work tells people that they matter. “Clients get validation that their legal problems are important,” he stated.
Beyond achieving the “40 at 50” benchmark, Jenner & Block was noted as one of a select group of three firms where more than 65 percent of all attorneys contributed at least 50 hours of pro bono service in 2016.
The DC Circuit Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services sponsors this annual event to promote the goal that each lawyer in the District contribute at least 50 pro bono hours per year. The Judicial Conference has recognized the firm every year since the “40 at 50” list’s inception.
To read the Judicial Conference’s press release, please click here.
Jenner & Block Named to National Law Journal “Pro Bono Hot List”
For the fourth consecutive year, Jenner & Block has been named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List,” as one of only 12 law firms across the United States selected for this recognition.
A feature article published by theNLJ spotlights the excellent results firm teams achieved in six pro bono cases won in the US Supreme Court in 2015-2016, as well as the significant transactional work done by a multi-disciplinary, cross-office team for the Young Center, a nonprofit that represents unaccompanied immigrant children.
The article also notes that more than 75,000 pro bono hours were contributed by firm lawyers in 2016 alone, representing an average of 138 hours per lawyer. Nearly 94 percent of lawyers performed 20 hours or more of pro bono – an all-time firm record.
Pro Bono Client Released From Prison Pending Appeal and Retrial
On April 27, pro bono client Patrick Pursley was released from prison on bond after being incarcerated for more than 23 years on a murder conviction that was recently thrown out.
Earlier this year, lawyers from Jenner & Block won Mr. Pursley a new trial based on new ballistics evidence establishing that a gun recovered from his residence did not—contrary to evidence presented at his 1994 trial—fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Joseph McGraw further ruled that new testimony and conclusions by the State of Illinois’ own examiners, who refuted Illinois State Police testimony presented at Mr. Pursley’s initial trial, entitled Mr. Pursley to a new trial. The State is appealing Judge McGraw’s decision.
The firm’s lawyers appeared before Judge McGraw on April 13 and argued that, given the likelihood Mr. Pursley would be acquitted of the charges against him at a retrial, he should be granted a low monetary bond pending the appeal. The judge set a bond of $50,000 for Mr. Pursley, a fraction of the $500,000 to $1 million bond sought by the State. The judge’s decision required Mr. Pursley to post bail of $5,000, which he did with the help of friends and family. The Rockford Register Star published a story Mr. Pursley’s release, in which he said that the Jenner & Block team and other lawyers representing him were “doggedly determined and excellent.”
Jenner & Block, along with Steven A. Drizin of the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions, has represented Mr. Pursley since 2008, winning on appeal a reversal that he was entitled to new ballistics testing under the Illinois Post Conviction Act. You can read more about that work in The National Law Journal article titled, “This Win Required a Trip to the Legislature.”
The Jenner & Block team representing Mr. Pursley includes Partners Andrew W. Vail and Robert R. Stauffer and Associates Kevin J. Murphy and Monika N. Kothari.
Jenner & Block Wins Low Monetary Bond for Client Whose Conviction Was Vacated
A Jenner & Block team recently won another pro bono victory on behalf of Patrick Pursley, who has served more than 23 years in prison on a murder conviction that was recently thrown out.
The firm’s lawyers appeared before 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Joseph McGraw on April 13 and argued that, given the likelihood Mr. Pursley would be acquitted of the charges against him at a retrial, he should be granted a low monetary bond. Judge McGraw set a bond of $50,000 for Mr. Pursley, a fraction of the $500,000 to $1 million bond sought by the State of Illinois. The judge’s decision means that Mr. Pursley will need to post $5,000 to be released from prison awaiting his new trial—an amount he will likely be able to assemble with the help of friends and family.
Earlier this year, lawyers from Jenner & Block won Mr. Pursley a new trial based on new ballistics evidence establishing that a gun recovered from his residence did not—contrary to evidence presented at his 1994 trial—fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. The judge further ruled that new testimony and conclusions by the State’s own examiners, which refuted Illinois State Police testimony presented at the 1994 trial, entitled Mr. Pursley to a new trial. The State is appealing Judge McGraw’s decision.
The firm, in connection with Steve Drizin of the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions, has represented Mr. Pursley since 2008. The Jenner & Block team representing Mr. Pursley includes Partners Andrew W. Vail and Robert R. Stauffer and Associates Kevin J. Murphy and Monika N. Kothari.
Firm Represents Cities Initiative in Challenge to Diversion of Lake Michigan Water
Jenner & Block is representing, pro bono, the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (Cities Initiative) in its challenge to a decision by the Great Lakes—St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Council (Compact Council) allowing the City of Waukesha, Wisconsin to divert water from Lake Michigan. The Waukesha diversion is the first-ever approval of a diversion of Great Lakes water to a community outside the Great Lakes basin. The case has far-reaching implications for both the region and water law.
The Cities Initiative is a binational coalition of more than 120 cities whose mayors and local officials are working to protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. In August 2016, on behalf of the Cities Initiative, the Jenner & Block team submitted a request for a hearing before the Compact Council for reconsideration of the diversion and submitted a 64-page written statement detailing the legal and technical reasons reconsideration was appropriate. On March 20, 2017, after additional extensive briefing, the Compact Council held a hearing and allowed oral argument by the Cities Initiative and the City of Waukesha. Partner Jill M. Hutchison argued on behalf of the Cities Initiative. The Compact Council took the matter under advisement at the close of arguments, and a written decision in expected to be issued in early May.
Multiple outlets have reported on the hearing including Milwaukee Public Radio, NPR and Great Lakes Now.
In addition to Ms. Hutchison, the Jenner & Block team representing the Cities Initiative includes Partners E. Lynn Grayson, Steven M. Siros and Allison A. Torrence; Of Counsel Stephen H. Armstrong and Anne (Andi) Samuels Kenney; and Associates Laura C. Bishop, Alexander J. Bandza and Daniel S. Quarfoot.
The Heart of the Matter 2016 Report
Jenner & Block is pleased to present the firm’s 2016 The Heart of the Matter, which covers pro bono and community service highlights.
The report features some of the ways that our lawyers continue to bring Jenner & Block's high standard of excellence in transactional and litigation services to those most in need in our communities. The firm’s pro bono program reached record numbers in 2016. The sheer volume of hours Jenner & Block provided and the high percentage of our lawyers doing that work reflect the firm’s deep and abiding commitment to pro bono.
But the numbers alone cannot tell the story of the impact of the firm’s work on the lives of our individual clients and their families; the not-for-profit organizations we partner with or represent; the communities we serve; and the development of the law. This publication aims to reflect the breadth of Jenner & Block’s program and highlight a cross-section of the many matters the firm has handled.
To read more and keep abreast of 2017 developments, please continue to visit The Heart of the Matter Blog.
Jenner & Block Team Wins Victory for Pro Bono Client Patrick Pursley
A Jenner & Block team won a recent pro bono victory on behalf of Patrick Pursley, who has been incarcerated for the past 23 years, serving a life sentence for a murder conviction. On March 3, Mr. Pursley was granted a new trial based on ballistics evidence establishing that a gun recovered from his residence did not—contrary to evidence presented at his 1994 trial—fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene.
The firm, along with the Northwestern Center on Wrongful Convictions, has represented Mr. Pursley since 2008, winning on appeal a reversal that he was entitled to new ballistics testing under the Illinois Post Conviction Act. You can read more about that work in The National Law Journal in an article titled, “This Win Required a Trip to the Legislature.” In December of 2016, the firm presented the new ballistics evidence at an evidentiary hearing before Chief Judge Joseph McGraw in Rockford. The hearing was covered by the Rockford Register Star, and the Associated Press also issued a story that was picked up by numerous media outlets.
Judge McGraw ruled that expert testimony presenting the new ballistics evidence is newly discovered evidence entitling Mr. Pursley to a new trial. Judge McGraw further ruled that new testimony and conclusions by the State’s own examiners—which refuted the Illinois State Police testimony presented at the 1994 trial—are newly discovered evidence entitling Mr. Pursley to a new trial. The ruling was covered by local media.
The State plans to appeal Judge McGraw’s decision. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday, April 4, at which the Court will hear Mr. Pursley’s bond motion.
Firm Files Amicus Brief Supporting Transgender High School Boy Seeking to Use Boys’ Restroom
Jenner & Block lawyers submitted an amicus brief in Gloucester County v. G.G., a case that was scheduled to be argued to the US Supreme Court on March 28, 2017. The case was an appeal from a ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit allowing a transgender student who identifies as a boy to use the boys’ restroom in his Virginia high school. On March 6, 2017, the US Supreme Court decided not to hear the case at this time, vacating the Fourth Circuit’s judgment and remanding the case for further proceedings.
The brief, in support of the respondent G.G., was filed on behalf of 20 leading medical and mental health organizations representing hundreds of thousands of physicians and mental health professionals, tens of thousands of medical students, over one hundred thousand physician assistants and millions of nurses. Citing the medical consensus regarding transgender individuals and generally accepted treatment protocols for gender dysphoria, a condition that affects many transgender individuals, the brief argues that access to single-sex facilities corresponding to one’s gender identity is a critical aspect of treatment of the condition. By contrast, the brief asserts, excluding transgender individuals from facilities consistent with their gender identity undermines their treatment, exposes them to stigma and discrimination as well as potential harassment, harms their physical health and impairs their social development, contributing to poorer health outcomes throughout life.
Partner Scott B. Wilkens led the firm’s team in drafting the brief, assisted by Partner Erica Ross and Associates Nicholas W. Tarasen and Ben J. Brysacz. Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson also made valuable contributions.
In August 2016, the firm won a preliminary injunction preventing the University of North Carolina from enforcing North Carolina’s House Bill 2 against three transgender plaintiffs. House Bill 2 effectively prohibits transgender North Carolinians from using restrooms or other facilities consistent with their gender identity in public buildings. Further trial court proceedings in that case have been stayed pending a decision in the Gloucester County case. Mr. Wilkens also leads the team in the House Bill 2 case, assisted by Partner Luke C. Platzer and Associates Mark P. Gaber, Lorenzo G. Di Silvio, Thomas D. Garza, Mr. Tarasen and Mr. Brysacz.
Firm Achieves Settlement in Long-running Chicago Urban League School Funding Suit
On February 22, 2017, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) unanimously voted to settle a Chicago Urban League lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding system on the basis that it disparately impacts low-income and minority students. Jenner & Block has served as pro bono counsel to the Urban League throughout the litigation, which began in 2008.
In 2009, the lawsuit survived a key legal hurdle when a Cook County judge denied, in part, the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs had stated a valid claim under the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. It was the first school funding case that had been able to advance past the initial claims. ISBE agreed to settle the case against the backdrop of the plaintiffs’ pending motion for summary judgment.
The settlement will end the Board of Education’s “proration” practice for decreasing funding, which was an across-the-board method of cutting funding to districts when there is insufficient money available for the state to meet its required payments. The lawsuit alleged that this practice disparately impacted school districts with a majority of black and Hispanic students. The settlement will require that, in the event of a funding shortfall, state aid will be distributed based on student and district need.
The case was filed by a team led by former partner Lisa T. Scruggs, who has continued to lead the case in recent years as co-counsel with firm Partners Robert L. Graham and David J. Bradford. Partner Gail H. Morse was also a member of the team working on this matter. Of Counsel Benjamin K. Miller also made valuable contributions to the case, as did Associates Kathryn Hunt Muse, Ramon Villalpando, Briana Sprick Schuster and Reena Sikdar. Paralegals Jessica Merkouris and Mary Patston also assisted. Other team members through the years included former partner Sandi Toll; former associates Herbert C. Brown, Brian L. Dougherty, Grace S. Ho, Stephanie Jean-Jacques, Shannon J. Jones, Katherine Neville, Kyle A. Palazzolo and Elie Zenner; former litigation counsel Shyni R. Varghese; and former paralegal Gabriella Guajardo.
News of the settlement was reported by many media outlets including US News, the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ News.
Partner Leah Tulin Represents Congressman in Student Art Dispute
Jenner & Block Partner Leah J. Tulin is working on a pro bono basis in the First Amendment case of a former high school student whose award-winning painting was removed from public display in the US Capitol after it became the subject of a negative media campaign. Ms. Tulin is representing the artist, David Pulphus, and Rep. William Lacy Clay of Missouri, who each year sponsors a student artist from his district as part of the annual Congressional Art Competition. For the 2016 competition, Mr. Clay sponsored a painting by Mr. Pulphus called “Untitled #1,” which depicts a scene from Ferguson, MO, with police officers and protestors represented as animals. After being on public display in the Cannon Tunnel in the US Capitol Complex for nearly seven months, the Architect of the Capitol ordered the painting removed in response to pressure from a number of conservative media outlets and a group of lawmakers.
In a lawsuit filed in federal district court on February 21, 2017, Ms. Tulin and the team allege that the painting’s removal violated the First Amendment free speech rights of Mr. Pulphus and Mr. Clay. It is a basic and fundamental principle that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting or prohibiting speech just because it disagrees with a speaker’s viewpoint, according to the complaint. The suit names the Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers as the defendant.
Joining Ms. Tulin on the team are Associates Tassity Johnson and Sati Harutyunyan.
News of the federal lawsuit was reported by media outlets including the St. Louis Post Dispatch, The Hill and The Washington Post.
Firm’s Pro Bono Client Featured in Four-Part Sun Times Series
Jesse Webster, the firm’s pro bono client who was granted executive clemency after serving 20 years of a life sentence on charges related to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, is the subject of a four-part series by Chicago Sun Times columnist Mary Mitchell. The series chronicles Mr. Webster’s run-in with the law at age 26 and how he had been in prison for 14 years and lost several appeals when he “crossed paths” with Partner Jessica Ring Amunson. A federal appeals court appointed the firm in 2009 to represent Webster in his last, and final, appeal. Ms. Amunson is photographed and quoted throughout the series, telling Ms. Mitchell that, “I was honest about how much odds were against” clemency. “But I decided to take on his clemency case because I could not understand why someone like Jesse would be spending the rest of his life in jail for a non-violent drug offense. It just made no sense to me that our criminal justice system would work that way.”
On March 30, 2016, President Obama granted executive clemency to Mr. Webster and 60 other individuals “serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” according to the White House. The series tells of Mr. Webster’s work to re-integrate himself in society since his release, including getting a job at Catholic Charities. It also describes Mr. Webster’s first face-to-face meeting with Ms. Amunson, in October at a restaurant in downtown Chicago. “It wasn’t like I was meeting her for the first time,” Mr. Webster says. “I felt like I knew her.” Ms. Amunson is quoted saying, “It was a pretty amazing thing to be a part of helping someone spend the rest of their life with their family, rather than spending the rest of their life in prison.”
In addition to Ms. Amunson, Partner Barry Levenstam and Associate Caroline DeCell worked on the case. The team’s efforts included petitioning Capitol Hill and sharing Mr. Webster’s story with major media outlets such as the New York Times. Ms. Mitchell also wrote several columns about Mr. Webster in the past and published Mr. Webster’s open letter to youth. “It took a lot of caring people to get Webster back home safely,” the series concludes. “Without them, he would still be wasting away behind bars.”
Firm Files Amicus Brief in High-Profile Suit Regarding Detainees’ Right to Sue Officials
An amicus brief filed on behalf of a number of immigrant rights groups argues that the US Supreme Court should permit immigrants detained in the wake of 9/11 the right to sue top officials for civil rights violations. In 2015, the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the detainees, but last October, the Court agreed to take on three petitions in the consolidated case: one from ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft and ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller; one from ex-Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar; and one from Dennis Hasty and James Sherman, respectively the former warden and associate warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where the detainees were held. The firm’s brief is among at least 10 amicus briefs filed in support of detainees.
The brief argues that the detainees can sue the federal officials under the Bivens doctrine. That doctrine stems from the 1971 Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents decision in which the Supreme Court held that plaintiffs can sue individual federal officials for monetary damages when no other remedy is available to protect a constitutional right.
Denying a Bivens remedy, the brief says, “would effectively immunize tens of thousands of federal officers, and large swaths of federal law enforcement activity, from damages, no matter how egregious the officers’ conduct.” The brief continues, it “would effectively immunize federal officers from damages liability even for torture, so long as the torture arises in a context involving national security or noncitizens. This Court should reject that extreme position and affirm the critical importance of a Bivens remedy in deterring unconstitutional conduct and enforcing constitutional rights.”
News of the amicus brief was reported in Law360.
The brief was written by Partner Matthew E. Price and Associates Marina K. Jenkins, Tassity S. Johnson and Michael E. Stewart.
Financial Times Recognizes Firm for Innovation in Social Responsibility
Jenner & Block has been recognized by the Financial Times (FT) in its North America Innovative Lawyers 2016 Report, which highlights the firm's pro bono work in a landmark US Supreme Court case.
The firm was designated as a “Standout” – FT’s highest rating – and ranked #2 overall among all law firms in the “Social Responsibility–Pro Bono Cases” category for an important win in the representation of Gregory Welch. Mr. Welch was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 15years’ imprisonment based on the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act—a statutory provision that the Supreme Court subsequently struck down because it was so vague that it violated the Constitutional right to due process. In Welch v. United States, fifth-year Associate Amir H. Ali argued to the Supreme Court that its decision striking down the residual clause must be applied retroactively to people like Mr. Welch, whose conviction and sentence had already become final. The Court agreed in a 7-1 vote. In announcing the recognition, FT noted that the firm “proved that thousands of inmates were serving unconstitutional sentences and achieved a rare Supreme Court ruling” in favor of those inmates.
In addition to Mr. Ali, the firm’s team included Partners Lindsay C. Harrison and Matthew E. Price, Associates R. Trent McCotter and Joshua M. Parker, former Law Clerk Adrienne L. Benson, Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson, Docketing Assistant Tyler J. Edwards, Legal Assistant Mary “Beth” E. Gulden and Legal Secretary Curlene B. Wellington.