Team Leads Pro Bono Effort to Form Blessons
Jenner & Block Partner Olga A. Loy and Associate Rafi W. Mottahedeh provided the legal counsel and support to found and launch Blessons, a not-for profit organization that provides mentorship and educational workshops for women in need. Blessons also offers scholarships to disadvantaged, low-income womenand first-generation immigrants who have had their higher education interrupted due tosignificant life challenges. Please click here to learn more about Blessons.
Ms. Loy focuses her practice on all aspects of tax planning, private equity, regulatory and compliance work, merger and acquisitions and fund formation matters.
Mr. Mottahedeh focuses his practice on a broad range of federal and international tax planning and tax controversy matters.
US Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in High-Profile Dispute about IRS Tax Obstruction Statute
Jenner & Block Partner Matthew S. Hellman argued before the US Supreme Court on December 6, 2017, in the high-profile case Marinello v. United States.
According to an article in The National Law Journal (subscription required), Mr. Hellman told the justices that the firm’s client, Carlo Marinello, “was not charged with or convicted of felony tax evasion, and he does not challenge his misdemeanor convictions…But he does challenge his felony obstruction conviction under §7212(a), which was premised on his failure to maintain records and other acts and omissions not taken in the context of any IRS proceeding or investigation.”
In a related article (subscription required), Mr. Hellman told Bloomberg Law that, “when the number of potential obstructive acts is basically unlimited, like paying in cash or not consulting an accountant, and the only question is whether you did it to make the IRS's job harder, they could pick their defendant.”
The firm represents Mr. Marinello on a pro bono basis. He is challenging a Second Circuit decision upholding his felony conviction for obstructing an IRS investigation. The government reads the statute to criminalize any “corrupt” act that ultimately hinders the administration of the tax code. The firm argues that the obstruction statute should be interpreted like other obstruction statutes—to apply when the defendant intends to hinder an IRS proceeding that he or she knows about.
“In the absence of a government action there is no line. It's hard to say I can obstruct if I throw away receipts or pay in cash, even if I think that might lessen the likelihood of an audit or likelihood of having to pay if I am audited if there's an ongoing government action,” said Partner Geoffrey M. Davis in Bloomberg Law.
The case was also covered in an additional article by The National Law Journal.
In addition to Mr. Hellman and Mr. Davis, others on the team include Partner David Bitkower and Associates Corinne M. Smith and Michael E. Stewart. The firm was assisted by the Jenner & Block University of Chicago Law School Supreme Court and Appellate Clinic.
Chicago Foundation for Women Recognizes Associate Leah Casto for Working to Grant Asylum for Eritrean Refugee
Jenner & Block Associate Leah K Casto was recently featured during the Chicago Foundation for Women’s 2017 Annual Report Luncheon, highlighting the foundation’s collaborative efforts to successfully help tens of thousands of individuals impacted by issues such as economic security, health and freedom from violence. The event celebrated notable victories, including Ms. Casto’s work in granting asylum for a detained Eritrean refugee.
Shortly after the executive order was signed banning travel to and from majority-Muslim countries, the National Immigrant Justice Center contacted Jenner & Block for pro bono representation of a detained group of Eritrean women seeking asylum in the United States.
As a granddaughter of immigrants, Ms. Casto was compelled and eager to help those in need -- in particular, a 23-year-old Eritrean refugee who, if deported, would be vulnerable to serious danger, imprisonment and possibly death. However, thanks to Ms. Casto’s hard work and dedication, she was granted asylum.
In recognition of her efforts, the Chicago Foundation for Women featured Ms. Casto in its 2017 Annual Report video, including an in-depth article about her experiences during the case.
“The relief and happiness I felt when the judge finally said, ‘I am granting you asylum; you’ll be released tomorrow’ cannot match any experience that I’ve had in my life,” Ms. Casto said.
With asylum secured, the Eritrean refugee is currently acclimating to life in the States and, with the assistance of the Chicago Foundation for Women, will receive the help and care needed to prosper and thrive during her time here.
Firm’s Amicus Brief Challenges Constitutionality of Georgia’s Bail Practice
On November 20, 2017, Jenner & Block filed an amicus brief in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the American Bar Association (ABA) in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the City of Calhoun, Georgia’s practice of detaining defendants prior to trial pursuant to a preset money-bail schedule that exclusively relies on the offense charged to assess the bail amount due, without an initial determination of an individual defendant’s ability to pay.
In Walker v. City of Calhoun, GA, the plaintiff, a mentally disabled individual, was arrested for a misdemeanor and detained for 11 days due to his inability to afford a standard $160 cash bond to secure his release. A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction ordering the municipal defendant to “implement post-arrest procedures that comply with the Constitution.” While further proceedings were pending, the City of Calhoun issued a new Standing Bail Order governing pre-trial detention of arrestees. The plaintiff again challenged the constitutionality of the new Standing Bail Order, and the federal district court found that the Standing Bail Order “still violates the Constitution insofar as it permits individuals who have sufficient resources to post a bond (or to have one posted for them) to be released immediately, while individuals who do not have those resources must wait forty-eight hours for a hearing.” The federal district court issued a second preliminary injunction prohibiting the City of Calhoun from detaining indigent misdemeanor arrestees who are otherwise eligible for release but are unable to pay money bail because of their poverty, and directing the city to provide indigent arrestees with an individualized hearing assessing their inability to pay within 24 hours of their arrest. The City of Calhoun appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
The brief in support of the plaintiff-appellee argues that money-bail systems that fail to adequately consider a defendant’s ability to pay violate the ABA’s Criminal Justice Standards and that jailing otherwise release-eligible defendants solely because they cannot buy their freedom is unconstitutional. It explains that, after studying the issue over many decades, the ABA has concluded that money-bail systems harm criminal defendants, do not serve the fair and proper administration of justice and do not advance public safety or the interests of justice. The brief also explains that a consensus has developed that money-bail schemes are unfair and do not work. It urges the Eleventh Circuit to affirm the decision of the district court.
The Jenner & Block team includes Partner Elizabeth A. Edmondson and Associates Jessica M. Ly and Jonathan M. Diaz, borrowing substantially from and building upon an amicus brief submitted to the Fifth Circuit on behalf of the ABA by Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and former Associates Peter A. Goldschmidt and Grace C. Signorelli-Cassady in O’Donnell v. Harris County and McGruder et. al. v. Harris County.
Team Argues for Release of Documents Related to Travel Ban
Jenner & Block Partner Kelly M. Morrison and Associate Joshua M. Parker are mentioned in a Law360 article about their lawsuit on behalf of the public interest group Muslim Advocates. Titled “Judge Frustrated with DHS Response to Travel Ban FOIA,” the article explains that the group seeks information under FOIA related to allegedly discriminatory policies targeting Muslims for searches following the Trump administration’s immigration ban. At a recent status conference, Judge Chutkan of the District Court for the District of Columbia deemed the government’s lack of responsiveness to Muslim Advocates’ request “unacceptable.” Mr. Parker is quoted arguing that Muslim Advocates seeks far less than the government’s claim of some 70,000 pages of potentially responsive documents. He also is quoted saying that Muslim Advocates has agreed to limit the search parameters, but the government continues to insist that it faces an undue burden without substantiation. The team is representing Muslim Advocates on a pro bono basis.
Partner Andrew Vail Discusses Pro Bono Opportunities for Corporate Clients
This Bloomberg BNA article explores how corporate legal departments are increasingly turning to law firms to establish and grow their pro bono programs. Jenner & Block has created a menu of pro bono opportunities for in-house lawyers so clients can identify the best fit, including cases by subject matter, type of legal work and the duration of a case, Mr. Vail says.
Associate Daniel Epstein Discusses Importance of Pro Bono Work
Jenner & Block Associate Daniel A. Epstein is interviewed at length in an article for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which ensures human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Mr. Epstein recently joined a team defending a group of women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Michigan. Asked why he does pro bono work, Mr. Epstein responds: “There are people who are lost in a system that I can navigate. I feel duty-bound to help them. I think justice demands high quality legal defense, regardless of ability to pay. And, happily, my firm feels the same way.”
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin Features Firm’s Pro Bono Work Leading to Change in State Law
The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin featured Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes’ pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town that led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018.
The new law will amend an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting.
In a Q&A with the publication, Mr. Fuentes said “there was a First Amendment issue that needed to be vindicated” and that the residents “were very concerned about their First Amendment rights.”
“The changes that we helped propose became law,” said Mr. Fuentes. “And, really, to see our pro bono litigation efforts result in some positive law reform to protect First Amendment rights is very gratifying.”
Jenner & Block Pro Bono Representation Inspires New Law Protecting Free Speech in Zoning Matters
The firm’s pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018. The new law will protect all Illinois residents from being sued for voicing their opinions at zoning board meetings.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 731 in August. The bill amends an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting. The amendment provides that the “parties of record” who must be named as defendants in these zoning lawsuits include only the zoning board and applicants before the board – and not members of the public who attended a board meeting and took the microphone.
State Sen. Laura M. Murphy and Reps. Martin J. Moylan and Mike Fortner sponsored the legislation after a builder sued the Park Ridge zoning board and a group of residents who had spoken at public meetings on the builder’s proposal in May and September of 2014. The builder’s lawyers asserted that the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/3-107, required the residents to be named as defendants because the statute’s wording indicated they were among the “parties of record” in the proceeding, and the statute required all parties of record to be sued.
Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes and former associate Daniel Truesdell stepped in to represent 11 Park Ridge residents named as defendants, including Park Ridge Ald. Frank Wsol. After the builder refused to dismiss the residents voluntarily, the firm filed a motion to dismiss on their behalf, arguing that Section 3-107 did not require the residents to be sued, and that if it were construed to do so, it violated the residents’ constitutional rights by punishing them for speaking. While the motion was pending, the builder eventually dismissed the residents.
Mr. Fuentes later worked with Mr. Wsol and fellow Park Ridge Ald. Marty Maloney to draft language for a proposed amendment to Section 3-107, and the aldermen brought the language to their state legislators for inclusion in what became Senate Bill 731, enacted this summer.
Firm Named to PILI’s 2017 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is one of 47 law firms and corporations in Illinois named to the Public Interest Law Initiative’s (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. Law firms named to the Roster met at least two of the following criteria: an average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional; a 5 percent increase in Illinois office(s) pro bono hours from the previous year; pro bono participation by 60 percent or more of the firm’s Illinois lawyers; participation in The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Law Firm Leadership Circle or one of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee Pro Bono Pledges; and/or innovative steps to expand the firm’s pro bono program.
“Through the collective efforts of law firms and corporations like yours, more low-income and under-represented individuals across Illinois have access to the justice they deserve,” expressed Michael G. Bergmann, PILI executive director.
Jenner & Block has been on the roster since 2010.
To learn more about Jenner & Block’s pro bono program, visit our pro bono page or read The Heart of the Matter newsletter.
Firm Secures Victory for Brooklyn Tenants Displaced After 2015 Fire
Jenner & Block Associate Carl N. Wedoff and Partner Brian J. Fischer secured a victory on behalf of six Brooklyn residents who were displaced from their homes for years after their landlord refused to repair the damage caused by a February 2015 fire in the building. The tenants, some of whom were undocumented immigrants, were forced to find alternative housing, including homeless shelters. Despite agreeing to repair the building, the landlord, on multiple occasions, failed to meet court-ordered deadlines or offer any explanation as to why he could not complete necessary repairs. In May 2016, the court held the landlord in civil contempt of court for his ongoing failure to return the tenants to their apartments, and in October 2016, the court imposed civil penalties. The case partially settled on May 5, 2017. The resulting settlement includes a schedule of repairs that will hold the landlord accountable as well as $15,000 in compensation for each client. Jenner & Block is co-counsel to Legal Services NYC (LSNYC), the largest civil legal services provider in the United States; South Brooklyn Legal Services served as co-counsel to the tenants. Mr. Wedoff is a member of LSNYC’s Pro Bono Associate Advisory Board.
Firm Team Secures Asylum for Pro Bono Client
On August 7, 2017, Associate Irene Ten Cate, Staff Attorney Danielle Nicholson and Partners Matthew D. Cipolla, Marc Hankin and Matthew E. Price secured asylum for pro bono client Abdul K. in immigration court in Harlingen, Texas. The grant of asylum eventually turned on a legal issue on which no clear precedent exists: whether the statutory firm resettlement bar, which excludes from asylum applicants who found refuge in a third country before arriving in the United States, applies to individuals who face persecution in the country of resettlement.
Abdul had settled in South Africa after escaping clan-based violence in his native country Somalia. He resided in South Africa for more than a decade and was granted a refugee permit, but was forced to flee after being subjected to severe attacks by South Africans who were targeting Somali immigrants. Abdul arrived in the United States in 2015 and was placed in detention. After his individual hearing, the immigration judge denied Abdul’s applications for asylum and withholding of removal and ordered him deported to South Africa or Somalia.
Retained to appeal from this ruling, the firm won a partial reversal from the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Specifically, the BIA held that Abdul established that he had been persecuted in Somalia and in South Africa, and remanded the case to the immigration judge for a new hearing on whether Abdul was entitled to withholding of removal. The BIA affirmed, however, the immigration judge’s ruling that Abdul’s stay in South Africa rendered him ineligible for asylum under the firm resettlement bar. The team represented Abdul on remand, and obtained a ruling granting his application for withholding of removal. After one and a half years in detention, Abdul was released.
The firm then filed a petition for review in the Fifth Circuit, seeking reversal of the BIA’s ruling on firm resettlement. In its opening brief, the team argued that the firm resettlement bar does not apply to applicants like Abdul who were persecuted in the country in which they resettled. This is apparent from the plain meaning of the words “firmly resettled” and also flows from the bar’s purpose, which is to discourage “country shopping” by one-time refugees who have found safety in another country. The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic filed an amicus brief arguing that the interpretation advanced by the firm rendered the statutory firm resettlement bar consistent with the Refugee Convention and Protocol.
Instead of filing a responsive brief, the government requested a remand to the BIA and then sought another remand to the immigration court. Eventually, the government agreed to stipulate that Abdul was not firmly resettled in South Africa. The immigration judge accepted the stipulation shortly thereafter and granted Abdul asylum.
Since his release from detention a little over a year ago, Abdul has begun to make a life for himself in the United States. He found a job, signed a lease on an apartment and enrolled in community college. The asylum status, which offers greater security than withholding of removal and provides a path to permanent residency and citizenship, gives him tremendous peace of mind.
Jenner & Block Lawyers Win Asylum for Eritrean Woman
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers recently won a grant of asylum for a pro bono client who was forced to flee Eritrea because of persecution by its military regime. Born in Ethiopia to an Eritrean family, the client and her family were deported to Eritrea when a border war broke out between the countries in the late 1990s. But because they had lived in Ethiopia, the Eritrean military regime viewed them with hostility and suspicion. The regime killed our client’s father and when her two brothers raised questions about his death, they were arrested in the middle of the night. She has not seen them since and suspects they are dead.
The military also harassed our client, including making many attempts to conscript her into military service, where sexual abuse of young women is rampant. She ultimately fled to a monastery that helped smuggle her into Sudan. From there, she went to Brazil, eventually arriving in the United States.
Because our client left Eritrea without any identification documents or other paperwork and was no longer in contact with any witnesses who could identify her, questioning by the court and opposing counsel focused on whether she was actually from Eritrea or from a less oppressive country such as Ethiopia. An expert witness on Eritrean country conditions convinced the judge that she was from Eritrea, and a forensic medical expert testified to her physical and psychological trauma.
After weighing the evidence presented by Partner Casey T. Grabenstein and Associates Leah K. Casto and Henry H. Cornillie, the Immigration Court judge handed down his decision immediately upon the conclusion of the case, and the government waived any appeal rights.
Firm Team Wins Disability Benefits, Including 11 Years of Back Benefits, for Client
Jenner & Block recently won a victory in a denial of Social Security benefits case when, in a rare move, Judge Thomas Durkin of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois remanded the case to the Social Security Administration for the sole purpose of calculating and awarding benefits to the firm’s pro bono client, retroactive to 2005. Partner Craig C. Martin accepted the court appointment by Judge Durkin to represent the client in her appeal of the denial of disability and SSI (supplemental security income) benefits. Mr. Martin and Associate Elin I. Park moved for summary judgment and persuasively argued that based on the record below, which included extensive detail about the client’s medical history as well as testimony of a vocational expert, she was entitled to benefits and further proceedings were unnecessary. In a rare win of its kind, the court reversed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, who had twice denied the claims, and found the client incapable of working and entitled to benefits.
Team Wins Seventh Circuit Appeal for Defendant who Struggled with Mental Health Issues
A pro bono client will have an evidentiary hearing on claims that he was not competent to plead guilty to a firearms possession chargeand that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to seek a competency evaluation or hearing before he pled guilty, thanks to a Seventh Circuit decision on August 2, 2017. The client, Denny Anderson, suffered from a host of serious psychiatric disorders, including chronic schizophrenia. He pleaded guilty to a firearms possession charge. The district court accepted the plea and sentenced him despite his psychiatric problems, irregularly administered medical regimen, and unusual behavior in court.
Mr. Anderson moved for federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. s 2255 on the grounds that he was not competent to plead guilty and be sentenced and on the ground that his counsel was ineffective for failing to seek a competency evaluation and hearing. The district denied Mr. Anderson’s claims without an evidentiary hearing. In a published opinion, the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed the district court, ruling in favor of the client, and remanding the case for a hearing on his claims. “Because the district court lacked a full picture of Anderson’s mental health, its finding that Anderson had the capacity to plead guilty rests on a flawed factual foundation that must be explored in a hearing,” Chief Judge Wood wrote in an opinion for the court.
The team representing Mr. Anderson included Partner Barry Levenstam and Associate Joshua M. Parker, who argued the appeal before the Seventh Circuit. Paralegal Mary Frances Patston provided invaluable assistance.