Jenner & Block

The Heart of the Matter Blog

January 17, 2019 Patrick Pursley Acquitted after 25 Years Based on Precedent-Setting New Ballistics Evidence

A Jenner & Block team secured a significant victory on behalf of pro bono client Patrick Pursley.  On January 16, 2019, Mr. Pursley was found not guilty of the 1993 first-degree murder of Andy Ascher in a retrial before Illinois Circuit Judge Joseph McGraw. 

Mr. Pursley was originally convicted in a 1994 jury trial in which the state relied heavily on the testimony of a state ballistics examiner that a firearm attributed to Mr. Pursley fired the bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene.  Although Mr. Pursley maintained his innocence and sought post-conviction ballistics testing, Illinois law did not provide for this type of testing at the time, and his request was denied.  However, Mr. Pursley persisted.  While in prison, Mr. Pursley wrote an article stating that the law should keep up with technology and allow for ballistics testing in post-conviction settings just as it did at the time with DNA.   After lobbying efforts on Pursley’s behalf, the Illinois legislature amended the law in 2007 to provide for post-conviction ballistics testing. 

In October 2008, at the request of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, the firm agreed to assist Mr. Pursley in his effort to get the state of Illinois to retest the ballistics evidence.   On January 26, 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court, reversing a decision by the lower court,  granted his request, making People v. Pursley the first case in the country to allow a prisoner new ballistics testing under a Post-Conviction Testing Act.

The firm then submitted the ballistics evidence to two preeminent and independent ballistics specialists who examined the evidence using new technology and concluded that Mr. Pursley’s firearm did not fire either of the bullets or either of the cartridge cases found at the crime scene.   In December 2016, Judge McGraw of the Winnebago (IL) County Circuit Court held a three-day evidentiary hearing on this evidence, and on March 3, 2017 he vacated Pursley’s conviction and awarded him a new trial.   At that time, Mr. Pursley was released on bond after spending more than 23 years in prison.

The state then appealed Judge McGraw’s decision, to no avail.

On January 10, Mr. Pursley’s retrial began in Winnebago County, with closing arguments heard on January 15.  On January 16, Judge McGraw announced his decision to acquit Mr. Pursley, stating that the “evidence in 1993 was scant by today’s standards, and when you start with scant evidence you’re not in a good position to reevaluate it years later.”  He further commented that the defense’s ballistics experts demonstrated conclusively that the cartridge cases were not fired from the gun attributed to Mr. Pursley.

For more than a decade, a diverse team of lawyers has been dedicated to overturning this wrongful conviction.   Partners Robert R. Stauffer and Andrew W. Vail and Associates Kevin J. Murphy and Monika N. Kothari led significant aspects of the case. .  Associate Sara Kim and paralegals Eric Herling and Nick Perrone provided invaluable assistance before and during trial.   Firmwide, more than 60 professionals – from lawyers to paralegals to library services – contributed 9,478 hours to this case over more than a decade. 

The case generated significant media attention throughout the years.  Various news outlets such as NBC and the Associated Press have reported on the retrial and various pre-trial proceedings.  In the past, both The National Law Journal and Law360 pointed to the case when awarding the firm with pro bono recognition.

CATEGORIES: Litigation, Pro Bono

PEOPLE: Andrew W. Vail, Robert R. Stauffer, Kevin J. Murphy, Monika N. Kothari, Sara Kim

January 7, 2019 Firm Wins Victory Before the Fourth Circuit in First Amendment Case about Use of Social Media By Public Officials

The firm secured a victory in a pro bono matter that focused on whether the First Amendment applies to a government official’s Facebook page.  At issue in Davison v. Randall was a trial court’s decision regarding whether Phyllis Randall, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, violated the First Amendment rights of resident Brian Davison when she banned him from the “Chair Phyllis J. Randall” Facebook page she administered.  The trial court ruled that Ms. Randall had unconstitutionally barred Mr. Davison from her Facebook page based on Mr. Davison’s viewpoint, and Ms. Randall appealed.

Partner Jessica Ring Amunson and Associate Tali R. Leinwand represented the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, which argued on behalf of Mr. Davison.

Mr. Davison had used his personal Facebook page to post comments on Ms. Randall’s Facebook page that criticized the Loudoun Board and Ms. Randall for actions taken in their official capacities.  Ms. Randall subsequently deleted Mr. Davison’s posts and banned Mr. Davison’s account from her Facebook page.  In November 2016, Mr. Davison filed a complaint against Ms. Randall and the Loudoun board, alleging that Ms. Randall’s decision to ban Mr. Davison for expressing critical speech amounted to “viewpoint discrimination.”  Following a one-day bench trial, the trial court ruled that Ms. Randall had unconstitutionally barred Mr. Davison from her Facebook page based on Mr. Davison’s viewpoint, and Ms. Randall appealed. 

On January 7, 2019, the Fourth Circuit held that the Chair’s Facebook page “bear[s] the hallmarks of a legal forum.”  “In sum,” wrote Judge James A. Wynn, “the interactive component of the Chair’s Facebook page constituted a public forum, and Randall engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when she banned Davison’s [private page] from that forum.”

The Fourth Circuit’s decision marks the first time an appellate court has addressed the applicability of the First Amendment to social media accounts run by government officials.  In May 2018, a federal trial court in New York held that President Trump’s blocking of critics on his Twitter page violates the First Amendment.  That case, in which the firm serves as co-counsel with the Knight Institute, is currently pending before the Second Circuit.

CATEGORIES: First Amendment

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson, Tali R. Leinwand

December 31, 2018 Seventh Circuit Unanimously Rules Pro Bono Client is Entitled to Evidentiary Hearing

A Jenner & Block team secured a significant win from the Seventh Circuit on behalf of pro bono client Anthony Lee, who has been incarcerated since 1995.  On December 21, a panel of judges unanimously ruled Mr. Lee was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel based on his trial counsel’s failure to investigate and call five witnesses at trial.

In 1996, Mr. Lee was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping and sentenced to 100 years in prison.  The trial had no physical evidence or eyewitness testimonies other than testimony from Mr. Lee and his accuser, L.M.  Prior to Mr. Lee’s trial, five potential witnesses submitted affidavits to Mr. Lee’s trial counsel that corroborated Mr. Lee’s testimony and contradicted his accuser’s.  However, trial counsel did not call any of the five witnesses to testify at trial and never contacted them. 

In 1998, Mr. Lee began pursuing a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel in state court.  Although Mr. Lee pleaded a prima facie claim under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), the state courts rejected his claim without ever granting him an evidentiary hearing on the merits.  The state courts reasoned that Mr. Lee suffered no prejudice from trial counsel’s apparent failure to investigate the witnesses because the affidavits did not necessarily demonstrate that the witnesses would have made a difference at trial.

Jenner & Block began representing Mr. Lee in 2013.  In 2017, the firm filed a federal habeas petition in the Northern District of Illinois.  Although stating that it was a “close call” and “perhaps not the result this Court would reach on a blank slate,” the federal court held that the state courts did not unreasonably apply Strickland, and therefore dismissal was required.  The firm filed an appeal to the Seventh Circuit.

On October 22, 2018, Jenner & Block Associate Abraham M. Salander argued the appeal before a panel of judges.  Judge Easterbrook led the court’s questioning and focused on whether Mr. Lee’s requests for an evidentiary hearing in state court were sufficiently detailed to entitle him to a hearing in federal court under the federal habeas statute.  After oral argument, the court ordered the parties to submit copies of Mr. Lee’s requests for an evidentiary hearing in state court along with the state courts’ rulings on those requests.  Jenner & Block submitted a brief supported by 37 documents demonstrating that Mr. Lee’s requests were sufficient under federal law.

On December 21, the Seventh Circuit unanimously ruled Mr. Lee was entitled to an evidentiary hearing because, if the witnesses were called to testify, it was “unlikely” they “would have parroted their affidavits and refused to say another word.”  The court specifically praised the firm’s “enthusiasm” and collection of relevant information in response to the court’s post-argument order.

The firm team was led by Partners Bradley M. Yusim and Barry Levenstam, who, along with Paralegal Mary Frances Patston, were on the case since the beginning of the firm’s representation.

Partners Michael T. Brody, Anton R. Valukas, Randall E. Mehrberg and Megan B. Poetzel assisted with oral argument preparation.  Partner Jessica Ring Amunson and Associate William L. Von Hoene worked on the case at earlier stages.

CATEGORIES: Litigation, Pro Bono, Seventh Circuit

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson, Michael T. Brody, Anton R. Valukas, Barry Levenstam, Megan B. Poetzel, Abraham Michael Salander, William L. Von Hoene (Von), Randall E. Mehrberg

December 4, 2018 Partner Bradford Lyerla Discusses Significance of William J. Hibbler Memorial Pro Se Assistance Program

Jenner & Block Partner Bradford P. Lyerla is quoted in The Circuit Rider regarding his involvement with the William J. Hibbler Memorial Pro Se Assistance Program.  The program provides a free help desk for pro se parties in federal civil cases.  Most often, the desk’s visitors are plaintiffs in civil rights and employment cases. Volunteer lawyers act as a resource to help analyze claims, draft pleadings, review documents and understand rulings.  “Gratitude and service to others are keys to happiness,” Mr. Lyerla tells The Circuit Rider, the journal of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association.  “I think the main kick that I get out of Hibbler is that I feel like I am helping real people with real problems.  I also like the fact that Hibbler work is under the radar. At my firm, we do a lot of high profile pro bono, and I have done that myself.  But Hibbler has no glory attached to it, and at this stage of my life, I prefer personal and low-key pro bono service.”  To learn more about the program, contact the Legal Assistance Foundation at 312 229-6060 or visit the LAF online.

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Bradford P. Lyerla

November 28, 2018 Firm Files Amicus Brief Supporting Chicago Museums in Obama Presidential Center Dispute

Jenner & Block filed an amicus brief, pro bono, on behalf of all 11 museums located on Chicago parkland.  In Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District, the plaintiffs allege that creating the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park—and allowing the Obama Foundation to operate the Center under an agreement that the Chicago City Council unanimously approved—would violate the Public Trust Doctrine and certain other laws.   The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the Obama Center’s creation and operation is consistent with the Public Trust Doctrine and all other federal and state laws.   The amici supported that motion by offering their unique insight and perspective.  In particular, the museums provided the court with historical context about the long tradition of locating museums in Chicago’s public parks and highlighted the potential practical consequences that may result if the Obama Presidential Center is not allowed to open on parkland.  

“The Park Museums believe the Obama Presidential Center will be a cultural and economic treasure for Chicago that will bring new amenities and positive development to the surrounding community, boost the local economy, and serve as a magnet for visitors the City and the region,” the brief says.  “It will serve as an enduring and powerful symbol of the promise of America and the American Dream.”

Briefing is currently underway in the district court. 

The 11 museums that currently operate on parkland in Chicago include the Adler Planetarium, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago History Museum, DuSable Museum of African American History, The Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Contemporary Art, Museum of Science and Industry, National Museum of Mexican Art, National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, The Chicago Academy of Sciences/Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and John G. Shedd Aquarium. 

The team authoring the brief includes Litigation Department Chair Craig C. Martin, Partner Daniel J. Weiss and Associates Gabriel K. Gillett and Henry C. Thomas.

CATEGORIES: Amicus Brief

PEOPLE: Craig C. Martin, Daniel J. Weiss, Gabriel K. Gillett, Henry C. Thomas

November 16, 2018 Veterans Obtain Class Certification over Discharge Policy

On November 16, the firm won a pro bono victory on behalf of thousands of veterans when a judge certified a nationwide class-action lawsuit against the Navy Discharge Review Board (NDRB) and the US Department of Defense.  The lawsuit challenges the NDRB’s process for granting upgrades when a veteran has been given a “less-than-honorable,” or “bad paper,” discharge.  Acting as co-counsel with Yale Law School’s Legal Services Organization Veterans Clinic, the firm represents veterans who say they were denied the upgrade because they had undiagnosed mental health issues, such as PTSD.  

The newly certified class in Manker v. Spencer will consist of thousands of Marines or sailors who have or would be subjected to unfair procedures in front of the NDRB.  The veterans seek a change in their review process. 

Since 2001, more than 2 million Americans have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and nearly a third of them suffer from PTSD and related mental health conditions, according to a press release issued by Yale about the judge’s decision.  In 2014, the Defense Department ordered the US armed services to consider PTSD as a mitigating factor in the misconduct that causes bad paper discharges. But in 2017, the Navy review board granted upgrades to only 16 percent of applications—far fewer than the approximately 51 percent of upgrades given by Army and Air Force review boards, according to the press release.

Veterans who suffer from mental health conditions were not only denied upgrades to their discharges, but that denial “affected their eligibility for benefits like the GI Bill program, and, ironically, PTSD treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs,” wrote Judge Haight of the Connecticut district court.

The team included Partners Jeremy M. Creelan and Susan J. Kohlmann and Associates Jeremy H. Ershow and Jessica A. Martinez.  In 2015, the New York Law Journal named Mr. Creelan among the “Lawyers Who Lead by Example,” in part because of his work on this case.

Several media outlets, including Law360, covered the judge's decision.

CATEGORIES: veterans

PEOPLE: Susan J. Kohlmann, Jeremy M. Creelan, Jessica A. Martinez, Jeremy H. Ershow

November 14, 2018 In Celebrating Its 225th Year Anniversary, University of North Carolina Notes Alum and Partner Andrew Vail’s Contribution

The university is sharing profiles of some of the many “Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.”  On November 14, the university featured a profile of 1929 graduate Henry Owl, a member of the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians who was the first person of color to be admitted to –– and graduate from –– the university.  At UNC, Mr. Owls’ master’s thesis was titled “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: Before and After the Removal.”  In 1930, Mr. Owl was denied the right on the grounds that Indians were illiterate; he presented his thesis to the county voting registrar.  But he was denied a second time on the grounds that Cherokees were wards of the government and not US citizens, in opposition to a 1924 law.  Owl later testified before Congress, which then passed a law guaranteeing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians citizenship and the right to vote.

The profile of Mr. Owl notes that Jenner & Block Partner Andrew W. Vail, a 1999 UNC graduate who concentrated in American Indian history, established the Henry Owl Scholarship Fund for Undergraduate Students.  The scholarship provides need-based funds to one or more undergraduate majors in the American studies department, with a preference for students in American Indian and indigenous studies.

“My major concentration was in Native American history, so I felt an immediate connection to Owl’s background,” Mr. Vail said in a 2014 interview with the university.  “The distinction of being the first person of color to get a degree from Carolina is extremely significant and something that should be recognized.  Also, Owl’s lifelong dedication to education –– to building a better life for himself, his family and community and those around him –– it all struck a chord in me.”

CATEGORIES: Education

PEOPLE: Andrew W. Vail

November 7, 2018 Settlement Ensures that Medicaid Participants Get Access to Hepatitis Treatment

Jenner & Block represented the Legal Council for Health Justice in its successful effort to end Illinois' policy of rationing Medicaid participants’ coverage of life-saving drugs to cure hepatitis C (HCV).

The deadliest infectious disease in the United States, HCV affects an estimated 3.5 million Americans, including 68,400 Illinoisans.  Previously, individuals enrolled in Medicaid were required to have severe liver damage before receiving coverage for treatment that would cure them of HCV.  Additionally, some Medicaid participants were required to provide proof of sobriety for six months.

In October 2018, Jenner & Block joined the Legal Council for Health Justice and the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School in sending a formal demand letter to Illinois officials on behalf of Medicaid participants. 

On November 7, 2018, the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services announced it would change its policy.  Now, a recognized HCV cure – direct acting antivirals, or DAAs – is accessible to thousands of Illinoisans, many of whom were previously denied treatment until they reached end-stage disease.

Associates D. Matthew Feldhaus, Alexander J. Bandza and Lindsey A. Lusk represented the council, with supervision from Partner Michael T. Brody.

 

CATEGORIES: Illinois

PEOPLE: Michael T. Brody, D. Matthew Feldhaus, Alexander J. Bandza, Lindsey A. Lusk

October 31, 2018 Jenner & Block Partners with Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing, Secures Housing Settlement for Pro Bono Client

Earlier this year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Better Housing (LCBH) contacted Jenner & Block about a complex bankruptcy case.  LCBH represented a Chicago renter whose apartment building, unbeknownst to her, had been sold in foreclosure.  After she was threatened with eviction, LCBH began drafting a complaint against TD REO, the California-based company that purchased the building.  The complaint asserted multiple violations of the Keep Chicago Renting Ordinance, which provides protections and statutory damages for tenants renting foreclosed properties.  But as they prepared the complaint, LCBH discovered that TD REO had filed bankruptcy in California, preventing LCBH from filing its lawsuit in Chicago.

With complexities mounting, LCBH contacted Jenner & Block to combine pro bono efforts.  Led by Partner Todd C. Toral and Associate John D. VanDeventer, with assistance from Partners Landon S. Raiford, Christopher Tompkins, and Associate Michelle Peleg, the team worked across practice groups and offices on the case.  And after tense negotiations with opposing counsel, the team was able to effectively increase TD REO’s initial settlement offer, settling the multi-state bankruptcy matter.

CATEGORIES: housing

PEOPLE: Christopher Tompkins, Landon S. Raiford, John D. VanDeventer, Todd C. Toral, Michelle Peleg

September 26, 2018 California’s Fifth District Court of Appeal Rules in Favor of Pro bono Client, Removing Improperly Imposed Restraining Order

Jenner & Block represented a pro bono client in removing an improperly imposed restraining order against her. Our client, M. C., had presented evidence to a judge in Tulare County Superior Court that her ex-husband had a history of inflicting serious, and in some cases life-threatening, physical abuse on her. The trial court nevertheless granted mutual restraining orders against both M.C. and her ex-husband, based on an April 2017 incident in which M.C. went to her ex-husband’s home to pick up their two minor children. The encounter became violent; M.C.’s ex-husband grabbed her by the neck and tried to drag her around the house, until she bit him and broke free. As she fled the house, she threw a lamp that she had picked up inside at an unoccupied car in the driveway. Finding that both parties “acted primarily as aggressor,” judge imposed mutual restraining orders against both parties. Despite finding that acts of abuse had occurred, the trial court also maintained a joint custody order of the parties’ two children. 

But on September 26, 2018, the Fifth District Court of Appeal lifted the restraining order against M.C. and reversed the joint custody order. In the opinion authored by Justice Jennifer R. S. Detjen, the Court of Appeal noted that M.C. violated no order in going to her ex-husband’s  home and that there was no finding that she placed him in fear or otherwise harassed him.  The Court of Appeal further found that her conduct was a direct response to abuse at the hands of her ex-husband and occurred because she was fleeing the location where that abuse occurred. Additionally, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court had failed to apply the presumption against granting an abuser joint custody of the children as required by law. 

The team representing M.C. included Partner Kirsten Hicks Spira and Associates AnnaMarie A. Van Hoesen, who argued the case in front of the appellate court, and Elizabeth H. Capel.  Our firm was co-counsel with Anya Emerson, Jennafer Dorfman Wagner, Cory D. Hernandez and Erin C. Smith of the Family Violence Appellate Project and Jeneé Barnes of Central California Legal Services.

CATEGORIES: Appellate, Domestic violence

PEOPLE: AnnaMarie A. Van Hoesen, Kirsten Hicks Spira

September 20, 2018 Team's Client Receives Permanent Resident Status

In 2015, former associate Emily Deininger, former partner Jared Manes, and Partners David C. Lachman and Michael W. Ross obtained a grant of asylum for Marcos, a seventeen-year-old Honduran boy who had fled to the United States because he was being persistently abused by his grandmother and the other family members with whom he had been living. Marcos’s case was referred to Jenner by Kids in Need of Defense (“KIND”), a not-for-profit organization that identifies pro bono attorneys for unaccompanied alien children, in October 2014.

Ms. Deininger and Mr. Manes filed an affirmative asylum application on Marcos’s behalf in April 2015, contending that he had been persecuted because he was a member of a “particular social group” of children living in Honduras without the benefit of parental protection, , and that the Honduran government has been systematically unable or unwilling to protect such children from child abuse. Marcos had never met his father, and his mother had moved to the United States when he was only two years old. Marcos is also Garifuna, an indigenous ethnic group, which exposed him to widespread racism and caused him to be ostracized at school.

After submitting Marcos’s asylum application, Ms. Deininger and Mr. Lachman worked to prepare supplemental briefing and demonstrated through three expert reports that Marcos had physical scars consistent with long-term abuse, that he was suffering psychological symptoms of severe emotional and physical abuse, and that the government of Honduras was unable or unwilling to protect children who are without parental protection. Ms. Deininger and Mr. Lachman then represented Marcos at his successful asylum interview with the Newark Asylum Office.

In 2017, Ms.Deininger , Mr. Manes and Associate Melissa T. Fedornak then filed a green card application on Marcos’s behalf. In July 2018, Marcos received legal permanent resident status, making him eligible to naturalize as a US citizen in 2022. Marcos is now living happily with his mother in the Bronx, where he is attending high school and enjoying spending his free time playing soccer with friends.

 

CATEGORIES: Asylum

PEOPLE: Michael W. Ross, David C. Lachman, Melissa T. Fedornak

September 19, 2018 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.

CATEGORIES: American Lawyer, Awards

September 4, 2018 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.

 

CATEGORIES: DC Circuit

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson, David W. DeBruin, Previn Warren, Zachary C. Schauf, Benjamin M. Eidelson, Max Minzner

August 21, 2018 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.

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Gabriel A. Fuentes, Clifford W. Berlow

July 18, 2018 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. 

"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."

CATEGORIES: A Jenner, Awards

PEOPLE: David W. DeBruin, Sarah F. Weiss

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