The American Lawyer Names the Firm its “Pro Bono Champion”
The American Lawyer named the firm its “Pro Bono Champion,” a new award as part of the publication’s newly revamped set of recognitions. The award is “meant to honor the exceptional work that goes on across the entire legal services delivery spectrum and the increasing interconnectedness among members of that community,” according to The American Lawyer. This recognition is in addition to the firm’s number one US pro bono ranking, which The American Lawyer announced in June. Award recipients receive formal recognition at a gala in New York on December 5.
Jenner & Block Secures DC Circuit Victory in Pro Bono Parole Case
On September 4, a Jenner & Block team led by Associate Zachary C. Schauf prevailed in the DC Circuit on behalf of an inmate, Edward Ford, who challenged the US Parole Commission’s unlawful practice of delaying parole hearings for certain inmates convicted of offenses under both the US Code and DC Code. Expressly splitting with the Seventh Circuit, the DC Circuit ordered the commission to hold a new hearing to redress the unlawful delay. Thanks to this ruling, Mr. Ford now has a real chance of obtaining parole during his lifetime.
In 1980, Mr. Ford committed three murders in three months—one in Virginia (yielding a conviction in federal court), one in the District of Columbia (yielding a conviction in DC court), and one in Maryland (yielding a conviction in Maryland court). Because the District of Columbia does not operate its own prisons, DC Code offenders serve their time in federal custody and the US Parole Commission oversees their parole hearings. But DC Code sentences—and inmates’ right to seek parole from them—remain governed by DC law. Under DC law, Mr. Ford became eligible for parole from his DC Code sentence in 2000 and should have received a DC Code parole hearing at that time.
But for inmates like Mr. Ford, who are serving both DC Code and US Code sentences, the commission has promulgated a regulation that delays DC Code parole hearings until the inmates are deemed suitable for parole from their federal sentences. For Mr. Ford, that did not occur until 2005 and, as a result, Mr. Ford’s parole hearing occurred five years later than it should have.
That delay has consequences. The applicable DC Code parole law measures an inmate’s suitability for parole based on a numerical “grid score.” Every time an inmate has a parole hearing, he has the chance to lower his grid score by one—but only one—point by showing rehabilitation. So the earlier and more frequently these hearings are, the better an inmate’s chances are of parole. Delaying these hearings, by contrast, means an inmate’s score is permanently higher.
When the commission denied Mr. Ford’s most recent request for parole in 2012, Ford brought suit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. The district court granted summary judgment to the government. Mr. Ford appealed and the DC Circuit appointed Jenner & Block as amicus curiae to present arguments in Mr. Ford’s favor. Mr. Schauf presented oral argument on April 26, 2018, before Chief Judge Garland and Judges Griffith and Srinivasan.
On September 4, 2018, the DC Circuit unanimously reversed in an opinion written by Judge Srinivasan. The court noted that, 25 years ago, the Seventh Circuit had approved the commission’s approach. But the court explained that it “must give effect to the terms of [the governing statute] as we understand them,” even if it required “reaching a different conclusion.” According to the court, the governing statutes “require the commission to hold an offender’s first DC parole hearing at his DC parole eligibility date.” And in “light of th[e] substantial benefits from holding DC parole hearings as soon as an offender is eligible for DC parole,” the court found it could not “write off the inconsistency between the commission’s regulation and [the statutes] as immaterial.”
The court reversed the grant of summary judgment in the commission’s favor and remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in Mr. Ford’s favor. The court ordered the commission to hold a new hearing for Mr. Ford, applying the proper standards.
Despite his grave crimes, Mr. Ford has worked tirelessly to rehabilitate himself, lowering his grid score at each hearing he has received. And while Mr. Ford is still facing a life sentence in Maryland, the DC Circuit’s decision has given Mr. Ford hope that he may obtain release from prison during his lifetime.
Partners Max Minzner and David W. DeBruin supervised the case, edited the briefs and served as moot court judges, along with Partner Jessica Ring Amunson, Associates Previn Warren, William K. Dreher and Benjamin M. Eidelson, and former associate Kendall Turner. Cheryl Olson provided paralegal assistance and Sheree Anyiam provided secretarial assistance.
Court Reverses Murder Conviction for Pro Bono Client
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers led by Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes obtained the appellate reversal of a Kane County murder conviction based on what the court said was inadmissible expert testimony from a well-known former FBI profiler and television commentator. The firm represented Shadwick King pro bonoin the appeal of his murder conviction in the death of his wife, Kate.
On August 21, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the State should not have been allowed to use the expert testimony of Mark Safarik, who has appeared on numerous television shows, including Forensic Files, to establish that Kate King had been killed in the first place – a key disputed issue at Mr. King’s 2015 trial.
Kate King was found dead on a set of railroad tracks near the couple’s Geneva, Illinois, home in July 2014. Investigators suspected Mr. King of being involved in her death, and the evidence against him at his March 2015 trial was heavily circumstantial. The forensic pathologist for the defense testified that Mrs. King likely had died of heart failure. The State’s medical examiner, after at first leaving the autopsy report blank for “manner of death” and telling the lead detective at the autopsy that Mrs. King’s cause of death would be listed as undetermined, testified at trial that she was manually strangled.
The Appellate Court ruled that the State “broke the tie” with the profiler, Mr. Safarik, who was not qualified to give medical testimony yet testified that her cause of death was manual strangulation. The court also held that the trial court erred in allowing Mr. Safarik to testify to his opinion that the crime scene was “staged” by someone who wanted to distance himself from the crime scene and Mrs. King to throw off law enforcement. Mr. Safarik’s “staging” testimony, the court ruled, strayed into impermissible “profiling” testimony that “indirectly, but pointedly” identified Mr. King as the killer, “because, under the circumstances, no one else fit that profile.” The Appellate Court remanded the case to the Kane County Circuit Court for retrial. Prosecutors have said they will ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision.
Mr. Fuentes briefed and argued the case in this complex appeal, and with him on the brief were Partner Clifford W. Berlow and former associate Philip Kovoor.
Lawyers and Staff Honored at Annual Pro Bono Awards Celebration
On July 18, the firm hosted its annual Pro Bono Awards Celebration, honoring the firm's long-standing commitment to pro bono work and those who performed and supported pro bono service in exceptional ways. Partners David W. DeBruin and Sarah F. Weiss received the "Albert E. Jenner Pro Bono Award (AEJ Award)" – an award recognizing firm lawyers for their pro bono work. Paralegal Daniel Garcia and Legal Assistant Nora Peralta received the inaugural "Jenner & Block Award for Excellence in Pro Bono or Public Service" – an award recognizing professional staff who support the firm's pro bono and community service efforts.
Jenner & Block Team Defends Pro Bono Client from Murder Charge
"It [Our pro bono work] changes people's lives and in some cases it saves people's lives; people who need but would not have access to legal services if not for the lawyers at Jenner & Block…and many others in the firm who share that same commitment," said Pro Bono Committee Co-Chair Andrew J. Thomas.
The honorees were presented with their respective award by their nominating lawyer. They also gave remarks after receiving their honor.
Ms. Peralta: "I'm going to leave you with a new word to add to your vocabulary: volunesia. It's that moment when you forget that you are volunteering to change lives because doing so is changing yours."
Mr. Garcia: "There's a commitment to the work that we do and this kind of event really recognizes the firmwide efforts to advocate for people and pursue justice. I think it's remarkable."
Mr. DeBruin: "For me, the greatest return from pro bono cases has been working with individuals and finding that when you listen to them, when you respect them as people and when you fight for them, what a difference that makes to that person."
Ms Weiss: "One reason I do this work is that it is truly one of my greatest privileges as a lawyer to try to help the people and families who are most impacted by our criminal justice system."
Jenner & Block Partner Rick Richmond, co-founder and managing partner of the Los Angeles office, led a trial team that obtained an involuntary manslaughter verdict for a pro bono client against whom prosecutors sought a first-degree murder charge.
The firm represented Dietrich Canterberry, who faced the charge after an altercation outside a Hollywood nightclub resulted in a fatality in October 2016.
Following a three-week trial in Los Angeles, the judge overseeing the case instructed the jury to consider charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, or involuntary manslaughter and not the first-degree murder charge initially sought. On June 26, the jury acquitted Mr. Canterberry of the two more serious charges. Sentencing is scheduled for later this year.
The trial team included Associates Nayiri K. Pilikyan, Alice S. Kim and Sarah L. Norman, and paralegal Chris Ward.
The case received significant media coverage. In December 2017, the Daily Journal profiled Mr. Richmond, noting that this was his first time defending criminal charges.
The publication also covered opening and closing arguments, reporting on Mr. Richmond’s statements to the jury that Mr. Canterberry was “a brave man who attempted to help a friend by jumping into a brawl” and who acted in self-defense when he collided with another man running directly at him. The Daily Journal also reported that a second defendant, now facing a separate murder trial for his role in the fight, then stomped on the head of the man, who later died.
A separate article about the verdict quoted Mr. Richmond on the differences between trying a criminal case and his primary practice handling large and complex commercial disputes.
“I have a new appreciation for lawyers and judges who devote their careers to criminal cases,” Mr. Richmond said. “Although we’ve handled trials with hundreds of millions of dollars in play, the stakes feel different when you are entrusted to hold someone’s fate in your hands.”
US Supreme Court to Hear Pro Bono Client’s Dispute over Social Security Benefits
The Court recently granted the firm’s petition for certiorari in Biestek v. Berryhill. The firm represents petitioner Michael Biestek, who applied for Social Security benefits because of a disabling, physical impairment. During a hearing before an administrative law judge, a vocational expert testified that jobs were available to Mr. Biestek despite his disability. But the vocational expert, citing the “confidentiality” of her files, would not produce the data and analyses underlying her conclusions. The administrative law judge refused to require the expert to produce this information and then denied Mr. Biestek the disability benefits. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the administrative law judge but noted that there is a divide between the Seventh Circuit and other circuits on the issue.
“This case presents the question whether the Social Security Administration may permissibly deny benefits based on only a vocational expert’s testimony that ‘other work’ exists, when the vocational expert refuses to disclose the data underlying that testimony. There is a well-established, and entrenched, conflict among the circuits on this question, and this case presents the ideal vehicle for this Court to resolve the issue,” according to the petition.
Partner Ishan K. Bhabha leads the team representing Mr. Biestek. Associates Lauren J. Hartz and Natacha Y. Lam are also on the team.
Firm Team Partners with McDonalds to Secure Asylum for Pro Bono Client
Partner Wade A. Thomson led a firm team that secured asylum for a pro bono client who was arrested, detained and tortured by members of the federal police force in Congo at the Direction Générale de Surveillance du Territoire (DGST) three times between May 2013 and June 2014. Our client held a leadership position in a teachers union that planned and coordinated nationwide teachers’ strikes in 2013. Our client refused government bribes to frustrate the strikes and instead published a newspaper article that was critical of the government and supportive of the strike. Because of these acts, our client was accused of being a member of an opposition political party and was brutally tortured and threatened with death by Congolese forces.
In 2015, in-house counsel at McDonalds Corporation reached out to Wade to take the case. In October 2017, the team appeared with our client at the Chicago Asylum Office and represented him in his asylum interview. On June 29, 2018, he was granted asylum. This victory comes through the collaborative efforts of the firm and McDonalds. Other members of the firm team included former associates Yasmine Kurukgy and Ashley Waddell Tingstad, Case Assistant Jocelyn C. Carreon-Crawford and Legal Secretary Brenda Carey.
Firm Ranks No. 1 in Pro Bono for Ninth Time in American Lawyer’s Annual Survey
Once again, The American Lawyer has recognized Jenner & Block as the No. 1 law firm in the United States for pro bono service. This marks the ninth time the firm has achieved the top spot in the annual survey of pro bono commitment among Big Law firms. The firm is also recognized among the top 10 law firms on this year’s international ranking.
The ranking, in The American Lawyer’s annual survey, is based on 2017 hours, which totaled more than 90,700. As The American Lawyer points out, the firm averaged 168 pro bono hours per lawyer. On the international front, Jenner & Block is ranked seventh.
Partner Andrew W. Vail, co-chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, observes in the profile that the firm has an “extremely broad and deep” commitment to pro bono work and puts considerable effort into identifying pro bono work for litigators and transactional lawyers. In 2017, the firm increased its commitment to pro bono on asylum cases and also represented three people who were wrongfully convicted. All three of the convictions were vacated.
Jenner & Block was also named No. 1 in 2017, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 1999. The firm has placed among the leading 10 pro bono programs nationwide every year since the survey began in 1990.
US Supreme Court Cites Firm’s Amicus Brief in Immigration Ruling
In Pereira v. Sessions, the US Supreme Court rejected efforts by the Department of Justice to use procedural shortcuts to eliminate protections for people who have lived for decades in the United States. In its 8-1 ruling on June 21, 2018, the Court cited part of an amicus brief authored by a firm team on behalf of the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).
Pereira concerns the case of petitioner Wescley Fonseca Pereira, a native of Brazil who faced removal after living in the United States since 2000. A critical form of relief available to Mr. Pereira, and other immigrants like him, is “cancellation of removal,” which allows immigration judges to decline to order the removal of a noncitizen who meets stringent requirements—meaning that he or she has lived in the country for at least 10 years, has no criminal record, has “good moral character,” and shows “exception and extremely unusual hardship” to a US citizen family member.
At issue was how to calculate the 10 years. The statute stops this 10-year clock when the government serves a “notice to appear,” which the statute defines as a written notice satisfying particular requirements—including that it must include the “time and place” at which removal proceedings will be held. Despite the statute’s text, however, the government claimed that—as a matter of administrative convenience—it could omit the “time and place” but still treat the notice as stopping the 10-year residency clock.
Several courts of appeals had deferred to the DOJ. But the Supreme Court rejected the DOJ’s approach and held that the clock stops only upon the service of a notice including the time and place of the remove hearing. In rejecting the DOJ’s argument that including the hearing’s time and place would be infeasible, the Court cited the firm’s amicus brief, which showed that the government had previously used a system that allowed automatic scheduling of hearings. Relying on the firm’s brief, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the Court, explained that “[g]iven today’s advanced software capabilities, it is hard to imagine why DHS and immigration courts could not work together to schedule hearings before sending notices to appear.” As a result of the Court’s ruling, thousands of immigrants are now eligible to seek cancellation of removal.
The team writing the brief included Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and Associates Zachary C. Schauf and Jonathan A. Langlinais.
Pro Bono Win for Jenner & Block’s LA Office: Breaking Ground on Homes for the Homeless
After a hard-fought mediation, Partners Michael McNamara and G. Thomas Stromberg recently secured an agreement to allow pro bono client Colden (aka FlyawayHomes) to move forward in building homes for the homeless. This particular permanent supportive housing (PSH) project is unique: it repurposes shipping containers from the Port of Los Angeles to manufacture modular housing units, which drastically reduces the time and cost of completion compared to traditional construction.
“It’s cheaper for shipping companies to leave them here then to ship them back…Therefore, you have all these one-time-use containers that are essentially brand new,” Kevin Hirai, chief operating officer of FlyawayHomes, said in a video feature about the project. In addition, the PSH is 100 percent privately funded and does not use taxpayer money for development, which amounts to about $3 million to build the three-story, 33-person capacity structure. “It’s a beautiful model, if you think about it,” Mr. Hirai added. “You can invest money, make a modest return and house our most vulnerable neighbors.”
It took months of difficult negotiations for the parties to enter into an agreement to move forward with building the homes. Lawry J. Meister, president of FlyawayHomes, thanked Mr. McNamara and Mr. Stromberg for their efforts: “We truly never would have reached an agreement if it weren’t for your diplomacy, determination and dedication to getting it done.”
Jenner & Block Honored with ACLU Award for Pro Bono Work
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California recognized lawyers from Jenner & Block’s Los Angeles office today with its Homeless Rights Advocacy Award. The organization presented the honor at its annual luncheon in recognition of the firm’s work in obtaining a favorable settlement for pro bono clients in a class action lawsuit challenging a Southern California city’s discriminatory housing ordinances.
Serving as co-counsel with the ACLU, the firm represented the Victor Valley Family Resource Center (VVFRC), which provides transitional housing to individuals recently released from incarceration, and also represented individual tenants and landlords who acted as class representatives.
Beginning in 2016, the City of Hesperia, in California’s high desert, began issuing regular citations to VVFRC for violating a city ordinance—which hadn’t been enforced in years—barring two or more unrelated individuals on probation from living together. The City also began pressuring VVFRC’s landlords to evict the organization, relying on a new ordinance requiring landlords to evict upon notice any tenant engaged in unspecified criminal activity, regardless of whether an arrest was made or citation issued.
In response, the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action lawsuit in the Central District of California against the City and the San Bernardino County Sheriff, alleging that the two ordinances were unconstitutional in that they violated state and federal equal-protection and due-process rights. Jenner & Block joined the case as co-counsel shortly after.
In the spring of 2017, Hesperia’s city council repealed one of the ordinances. Later that year, the city council adopted significant revisions to the other ordinance, many of which were drafted by Associate Christopher S. Lindsay and our ACLU co-counsel.
As part of a settlement agreement finalized in April 2018, Hesperia also agreed to pay a substantial award to make VVFRC and our other clients whole for the costs they incurred due to the city’s enforcement of the two ordinances, rescind any outstanding fines or citations, and release liens imposed against their properties. It also agreed to pay attorneys’ fees.
In addition to Mr. Lindsay, Associate Andrew G. Sullivan helped lead the firm team, with support from Partner A.J. Thomas and former associate Kate Spelman. Many other associates made valuable contributions, including Brian Adesman, Ben J. Brysacz, Sean D. Nelson and Daixi Xu; summer associate Anna Lyons; and former associate Calvin Mohammadi. Paralegals Alonso Ponce, Diana Vuong and Julian Valenzuela, and legal assistants Jennifer Rodriguez, Laura Saltzman and Kat White, supported the team.
Firm Receives Pro Bono Award from Catholic Legal Immigration Network
Jenner & Block has received the annual pro bono award from Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) for the firm’s commitment in representing immigrants in removal proceedings. CLINIC’s Board of Immigration Appeals Pro Bono Project identifies potentially meritorious administrative appeals by unrepresented noncitizens in detention and refers those cases to pro bono counsel. The firm has successfully handled a number of cases referred by CLINIC in recent years, including not only appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals, but also petitions for review by the circuit courts and representation in the immigration court following a successful appeal.
Within the last 18 months, the firm:
Appellate Court Affirms Firm Team’s Win of a New Trial for Patrick Pursley
Successfully obtained asylum and withholding of removal for a Somali man who moved to South Africa and faced persecution there as a Somali migrant. His claims were initially denied by the immigration judge. We appealed to the BIA, which remanded for further consideration of the withholding of removal claim, but affirmed the denial of asylum on the ground that our client was firmly settled in South Africa. After obtaining withholding on remand, we then appealed the denial of asylum to the Fifth Circuit. The government agreed to a voluntary remand, and we prevailed on remand. The team was led by staff attorney Danielle J. Nicholson and former associate Irene Ten Cate, together with Partners Matthew D. Cipolla, Marc B. Hankin and Matthew E. Price.
Successfully obtained asylum for a Bangladeshi man who was a member of an opposition political party in Bangladesh, some members of whom had resorted to violence. The immigration judge denied asylum on the ground that our client was a member of a terrorist organization on account of those individuals’ conduct, even though our client did not know them or assist or approve of their actions in any way. We successfully appealed to the BIA, which held that the bar for terrorist activity did not apply. The team included Associate Benjamin M. Eidelson and Partner Matthew E. Price, with assistance from Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson.
Successfully obtained asylum for a Venezuelan political activist who was persecuted on account of his political activities. The immigration judge initially denied his claim on the ground that he had not established a link between the harm he suffered, which included his wife’s assassination, and his political activities. We successfully appealed to the BIA and continued the representation on remand. The team included Associate Michelle R. Singer and Partner Matthew E. Price, with translation support from Associate Manuel C. Possolo and assistance from former paralegal Casey Yi.
Successfully obtained asylum pending background checks for a Honduran man who fled gang violence after the assassination of multiple family members in retaliation for a brother’s employment with an anti-gang police unit. Our representation began with a successful appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, and we continued representation on remand. The team included Associate Samuel C. Birnbaum and Partner Matthew E. Price, with translation support from Associate Manuel C. Possolo and assistance from Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson.
Currently represents an Iraqi man who resided in Brazil prior to coming to the United States. The immigration judge denied asylum on the ground that he was firmly resettled in Brazil. The appeal to the BIA is pending. The team consists of Associate Kara K. Trowell and Partner Matthew E. Price, along with former associate Irene Ten Cate.
A Jenner & Block team won another significant victory on behalf of pro bono client Patrick Pursley, who served 23 years in prison on wrongful charges of murder. On May 3, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court affirmed 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Joseph McGraw’s decision last year to vacate Mr. Pursley’s conviction and award him a new trial. The State had appealed Judge McGraw’s decision. This week’s ruling was based on new ballistics evidence establishing that the gun recovered from Mr. Pursley’s residence did not – contrary to the Illinois State Police testimony presented at his trial – fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. Associate Kevin J. Murphy argued Mr. Pursley’s case before the appellate court. “The appellate court got it right,” Mr. Murphy said in a Rockford Register-Star article on the case. “Patrick has presented new and powerful evidence of his innocence.”
Other members of the Mr. Pursley’s team include Partners Andrew W. Vail and Robert R. Stauffer and Associate Monika N. Kothari. In addition, Partners Anton R. Valukas, Michael J. Nelson and Clifford W. Berlow, along with Associate Matthew T. Gordon, assisted with briefing and preparation for oral argument.
Jenner & Block Named to National Law Journal “Pro Bono Hot List”
For the fifth consecutive year, Jenner & Block has been named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List,” as one of only seven law firms across the United States selected for this recognition. “Pro bono and the work we do provides representation to those who otherwise would not be in a position to protect or defend or pursue their rights,” said Partner Andrew W. Vail, co-chair of Jenner & Block’s Pro Bono Committee.
A feature article published by The National Law Journal spotlights the firm’s significant work on a voting rights and gerrymandering case (Gill v. Whitford), in which the firm partnered with the Campaign Legal Center in its work on the case. “Jenner & Block is the best. Their lawyers on voting rights cases are incredibly dedicated to obtaining a just result,” said Gerry Herbert, the senior director of voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center.
The profile also highlights Partner Adam G. Unikowsky’ s “Hat Trick for Pro Bono at Scotus.” Last term, Mr. Unikowsky argued three cases before the US Supreme Court within the span of four weeks and achieved unanimous wins in all three. “The cases are a point of pride because they demonstrate the firm’s deep commitment to pro bono litigation and its ability to achieve significant victories at the Supreme Court for individuals most I need of experienced counsel,” Mr. Unikowsky said.
Firm’s DC Office Recognized for Commitment to Pro Bono
At the 15th annual “40 at 50 Judicial Pro Bono Recognition Breakfast,” Jenner & Block was singled out as one of only two firms in the District of Columbia Circuit to have more than 70 percent of its lawyers contribute 50 hours or more to pro bono service last year. Held on April 24, 2018, the breakfast was sponsored by the DC Circuit Judicial Conference Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. The committee honors DC law firms at which at least 40 percent of all lawyers contribute 50 hours or more to individuals with limited financial resources or to charitable organizations. In total, 37 firms were recognized, a record number and a significant increase from the first breakfast in 2002 when only seven firms qualified. Jenner & Block was one of only four firms with more than 60 percent of its lawyers devoting 50 hours or more. Chief Judge Merrick B. Garland, Chief Judge Beryl Howell and other federal judges attended the breakfast.