Pro Bono Client Patrick Pursley Receives Certificate of Innocence
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:
Longtime client Patrick Pursley received a certificate of innocence on February 26, 27 years after he was convicted of murder in a Winnebago County jury trial. The state had 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. New evidence, however, showed conclusively that this firearm was not the one used in the crime. For over a decade, a firm team worked on behalf of Mr. Pursley to win a new trial. In January 2019, at the end of that new trial, Judge Joseph G. McGraw acquitted Mr. Pursley.
Learn more about his case in The Heart of the Matter.
Amicus Brief Urges Seventh Circuit to Reverse Lower Court’s Dismissal of Pro Se Litigant’s Case
In Cordell Sanders v. Michael Melvin, et al., the district court dismissed a plaintiff’s entire case as a sanction based on imprecise allegations the plaintiff — who is mentally ill and had been housed in solitary confinement for years—had included in their years-old, pro se complaint, and did so despite that a pending summary judgment motion showed a factual dispute regarding those allegations. This dismissal is now on appeal.
Led by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, amici are five legal professors who are experts on civil rights litigation, civil procedure, federal procedure, and the application of pleading standards to pro se litigants. They urge the Seventh Circuit to reverse the lower court’s decision and remand for further proceedings. They argue that affirming such a dismissal would be contrary to the established principles of leniency afforded pro se and inmate litigants, would violate the well-known rule that sanctions be narrowly-tailored to misconduct, and would contravene the policy favoring resolving cases on their merits, among other things. The legal system, they note, is complex and challenging – “especially for those without legal training.” They argue that the Seventh Circuit has held “that courts have an affirmative obligation to ensure that a pro se litigant’s claims are not dismissed as a result of procedural unfairness.” In this case, they argue, the district court was “particularly harsh and unnecessarily punitive.” Regarding sanctions against the litigant, the brief notes that “less draconian” alternatives are available. And dismissal with prejudice, according to the brief, is the “most severe” sanction that should be meted out “only with extreme caution.” “Sanctions should be used as a scalpel to surgically address issues where appropriate, not as a sledgehammer to squash an entire case,” the brief reads.
The team writing the brief pro bono includes Partner Gabriel K. Gillett and Associates Grace C. Signorelli-Cassady, Jeremy M. Sawyer, and Elena M. Olivieri, with valuable assistance from Paralegal Mary Frances Patston.
Partner David Robbins Helps Pro Bono Client Avoid Risk of Debarment
The US Navy proposed that client Nathan McNutt be debarred after his prior employer submitted a mandatory disclosure alleging time mischarging with bare minimum supporting information. The risks of debarment are tremendous, including an inability to work in the government contracts community at all. This can shut even the most well-trained and effective software engineers/tech developers, etc., out of their chosen career and deprive the US Government of their ability to innovate.
Mr. McNutt did his best to respond on his own and explain why his former employer's disclosure was factually incorrect, but as is the case with individuals – who bear the brunt of proposed debarment actions – he needed some help to convey the facts in a self-contained, effective manner.
Team Files Amicus Brief in Case Regarding Forced Separation of a Father and Son at the Border
Jenner & Block Partner David B. Robbins
assisted Mr. McNutt, gathered facts, crafted an effective response, explained why Mr. McNutt's prior employer was incorrect, and arranged for Mr. McNutt to take ethics and compliance training from Debarment Solutions Institute
, a third-party training organization. Days after submitting matters in opposition, the Navy terminated the proposed debarment with no further action, granting the relief the firm requested.
The plaintiffs are a father and his toddler son who seek redress for their forced separation at the border when they tried to enter the country. The amicus brief was submitted in support of their opposition to the government’s motion to dismiss their claims. Filed on behalf a Stanford law professor and clinicians, the brief argues that the Trump Administration’s forced family separation policy is torture under international law. “Since the inception of the Trump Administration’s family separation policy, amici curiae have important experience studying the mental and physical suffering endured by separated families. As a result, amici curiae have a significant interest in Plaintiffs’ allegations that the separation of D.J.C.V. from G.C., his asylum-seeking parent, constituted torture in violation of international human rights law,” reads the brief.
The team writing the brief includes Partners Brian J. Fischer, Debbie L. Berman, and Andrew W. Vail; Associates Brandon J. Polcik and Corinne M. Smith; Law Clerk Sara Cervantes; and Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson.
Associate Elizabeth Deutsch Highlights Successful Suit against the SBA Regarding CARES Funding
On December 10, Jenner & Block Associate Elizabeth B. Deutsch presented at the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs’ annual John Burke Pro Bono Breakfast, which highlights the pro bono work of the Committee and its partnerships with law firms, including Jenner & Block. The discussion focused on the firm’s winning lawsuit against the Small Business Administration, challenging the agency’s implementation of the CARES Act’s PPP loan program to arbitrarily exclude from loan eligibility disproportionately Black business owners with criminal histories. The program also featured plaintiff and client Sekwan Merritt, a Maryland small-business owner whom the lawsuit made eligible for PPP capital. Ms. Deutsch worked on the case with Partner Kali Bracey, Associate Jacob D. Alderdice, and Paralegal Cheryl Olson.
Firm Joins Pro Bono Effort to Help Residents Struggling One Year after Sewage Backup
Jenner & Block is proud to join a coalition of law firms helping residents in South Ozone Park, Queens, New York. One year ago, governmental infrastructure failure caused a sewage backup, but many community members still struggle to navigate the city’s claims and compensation system as they try to rebuild their lives and homes. Working with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the firm is helping families pursue their claims with the New York City Comptroller’s office, the government entity charged with administering their claims and fully compensating them for their losses.
Several local media outlets have reported on what NYLPI calls the South Ozone Park Sewage Legal Assistance Project. Among those with coverage were NY1, CBS, and NBC. An NYLPI press release also details the situation.
The team that is partnering with NYLPI on this important project includes Special Counsel David W. Sussman, Partner Mélida Hodgson, and Associate Edeli Rivera.
Partner Cindy Robertson Honored with the “Champion of the Year” award from The Human Trafficking Legal Center
The “Champion of the Year Award” honors a single advocate who has gone above and beyond to provide pro bono services to survivors. Jenner & Block Partner Cynthia “Cindy” J. Robertson and her team successfully handled two complex immigration cases for trafficking survivors, winning T-visas for both of the clients around the Fourth of July holiday this year. The cases – one involving forced labor, the second involving sex trafficking – represented significant challenges. Both cases demanded creativity, tenacity, attention to detail, and excellent legal research to prevail. Through it all, Ms. Robertson supported the clients, providing trauma-informed legal guidance. The award will be presented on November 18, 2020.
Team Secures Federal Court Orders Requiring USPS To Expedite Florida Ballots
A team led by Jenner & Block Partner David J. Bradford
represents 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East in its lawsuit against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over alleged slowdowns in mail delivery.
The union sued DeJoy on October 6, claiming he made “illegal and unprecedented changes” to USPS policies that will delay ballots and disenfranchise Floridians who are voting by mail in larger numbers than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On October 29, the team won a court order
requiring USPS to issue “all clear” certifications from all postal facilities in the 10 largest counties in Florida by 8 a.m. on Monday, November 2. The “all clear” certification requires each facility to certify that it has processed all ballots at that facility. The court scheduled a hearing at 9 a.m. on Monday morning, at which he could order further emergency relief if the 8 a.m. certifications were not satisfactory to our client. These certifications and other relief were ordered over USPS’ objection.
This ruling came on the heels an October 28 agreement, that required USPS to provide detailed arrangements for USPS officials to transfer ballots directly to Election Officials prior to 7 p.m. on Election Day and for USPS to “implement a hub-and-spoke plan” for each Florida county for November 2 and 3.
Under the agreement, the USPS will route any ballots within or near the destination county directly to the county's supervisor of elections, preventing them from traveling to a sorting facility farther away.
“The key is to get the ballots in the hands of that servicing facility,” Mr. Bradford told US District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. in a videoconference hearing. “The hub and spoke is designed to make sure they don't get sent 200 miles away only to be sent back to the county.”
The agreements also required USPS to report to our team on a daily basis if there have been any material departures from the agreed procedures. All of these agreed procedures to expedite ballots and to provide transparency about ballot delivery issues were made part of the Court’s October 29 Order.
Asylum Granted for LGBTQ Kyrgyz Woman
Our client is a young woman from Kyrgyzstan who fled to the United States seeking freedom from persecution because she was targeted, beaten, and raped for being a lesbian. Kyrgyzstan is a dangerous place for LGBTQ individuals, as the Kyrgyzstan government encourages the harassment of LGBTQ individuals and supports far-right anti-LGBTQ nationalist groups.
Anara knew that she was gay since she was in middle school, but kept it a secret because in her community, to be gay was to be diseased or to be possessed by demons. Anara told her mother about her feelings for some of her female classmates, which her mother dismissed as a “phase.” Anara did not tell her father about her feelings, because he is a stern and deeply religious man. As Anara grew up, she exceled as a student, but was often mocked and ridiculed because she did not wear skirts, dresses, or high heels—all of which were expected of women in Kyrgyzstan. In her first year of college, Anara was elected to be class president, only to be told by administrators that she had to choose between the way she dressed and her position as president. Anara resigned.
Throughout her childhood and through her first year of college, Anara hid her sexuality. But the façade fell apart when she went home for winter break to celebrate her 18th birthday with her family. The family had prepared a large meal to celebrate the occasion, and Anara’s father asked to use her mobile phone to take a picture of everyone. After taking the picture, Anara’s father scrolled through Anara’s screenshots and discovered images of lesbian women, rainbow flags, and depictions from the film “Blue is the Warmest Color.”
Her father flew into a rage, cursing to the heavens for giving him a gay daughter. He repeatedly struck Anara until she fell to the ground. He picked up a cutting board and continued until Anara fell unconscious. He then locked her in an unheated barn overnight—in December. He refused for days to allow her to eat, take painkillers, or seek medical attention. Instead, he gathered leaders and other members of the local mosque, and invited them to the house to “cleanse” Anara. They took Anara outside, threw her into freezing water, and then dumped her into the snow, chanting prayers. They picked her up and pulled her arms and legs in opposite directions, and forced our client’s eyes to remain open so that the “demons” could escape.
Anara was bed-ridden for some time after the beatings and conversion therapy. But once she had some time to heal, she escaped her house. She had no money or support, so she went to a local police station for shelter. She found more persecution instead. Two male police officers took her into a room in the police station and questioned her. Although they seemed kind at first, when Anara told them why her father had beaten her—because she was a lesbian—the officers laughed and mocked her. The officers took Anara down a hallway to another room and locked the door behind them. Despite Anara’s tears and pleas for them to stop, the officers raped her.
The officers released Anara the following day, and she managed to get back to her dorm at college. She knew she needed to flee somewhere safe—somewhere she could be free. To her, that was America. She finished the spring semester at the university and traveled to the United States in May of 2017 on a J-1 visa. She filed her petition for asylum a few months later.
In 2018, Associate Garrett Fitzsimmons and Partner Peter J. Brennan partnered with the National Immigrant Justice Center and lawyers from JP Morgan Chase to take on her case. They collected documentary evidence, drafted a brief, and prepared Anara for an eventual interview, even though the interview was not expected to come for many years. In the middle of this year, the team sought an expedited interview, which was granted. They were given two-weeks’ notice and prepared Anara for her interview and finalized the brief. Anara was calm, brave, and passionate in her interview. Within 48 hours of Anara’s interview, the government granted Anara’s petition for asylum. When the team told Anara that she had been granted asylum, she cried and told them, “It is like a big American family is opening its arms to welcome me in.”
Jenner & Block Files Lawsuit against New York City for Failing to Provide Shelter for Homeless New Yorkers during the Pandemic
On October 22, a Jenner & Block team partnered with The Legal Aid Society to file a lawsuit pro bono in New York State Supreme Court on behalf of the Coalition for the Homeless and single adult New Yorkers who are experiencing homelessness. The lawsuit is against the City of New York, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Homeless Services for failing to take appropriate action to provide safe shelter for single adults that protects them from aerosol transmission of COVID-19. A press release published by the Legal Aid Society notes that despite the large amount of vacant hotel rooms, and federal funding explicitly available for the purpose of housing adult homeless individuals, the City has taken only half-measures to protect this vulnerable group. The lawsuit seeks to require that the City offer a single-occupancy hotel room to single adult homeless New Yorkers for the duration of the pandemic, among other forms of relief.
The lawsuit was brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Due Process Clause of the United States and New York State Constitutions, the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York State Social Services Law and its implementing regulations, and the New York City Human Rights Law.
The firm team is led by Partner Dawn L. Smalls and Associates Jacob D. Alderdice, Ali I. Alsarraf, and Cayman C. Mitchell. Paralegal Nyema Taylor is also providing significant support in the case.
“To fight the coronavirus effectively, all New Yorkers – including those in need of shelter – need the ability to remain socially distanced,” Ms. Smalls said in the press release, “The City has an obligation under the New York State Constitution to provide safe shelter to our most vulnerable New Yorkers. We intend to ensure they fulfill it.”
Jenner & Block’s Five-Year Pro Bono Commitment (2021-2025)
Jenner & Block’s long-standing commitment to public service is a vital part of our culture and who we are as lawyers and people. As displayed in our annual pro bono report, The Heart of the Matter, we embrace our responsibility to serve individuals and organizations who would otherwise not have access to justice or legal services. Since we began tracking our pro bono hours nearly three decades ago, Jenner & Block has provided more than 1.6 million hours of pro bono service. We are ready to further our commitment.
Today, we reaffirm our role as an international leader in pro bono through a five-year commitment (2021 – 2025) to provide $250 million in free legal services to those in need of access to justice.
We make this clear commitment today because the need for pro bono representation in the pursuit of social, racial, and economic justice is greater now than ever before.
Our law firm’s passion for service began with the work of Albert E. Jenner, Jr. and Samuel W. Block, and has grown in its reach. In addition to high-profile cases at every level of the judicial system, our lawyers provide pro bono representation in a wide range of legal areas. This includes pursuing asylum for those fleeing persecution; fighting injustice in our criminal justice system, governments and society; advising grass roots and non-profit organizations; advocating for veterans; protecting constitutional rights; assisting victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking; and fighting for environmental protection, among so many other issues that impact people and our communities.
Recognized by The American Lawyer as the top pro bono firm in the United States for the past four years and 10 of the past 13 years, and as one of the top pro bono firms internationally only five years after opening our first international office, Jenner & Block is expanding its commitment to equality, fairness, and justice. We will continue to partner with dedicated legal aid organizations, law school clinics, in-house legal departments, and others committed to providing access to justice and serving the public good. As advocates for equity, we embrace our responsibility to serve those in need, better our communities, and protect our future. Together, we will make a difference.
Alabama Governor Issues Apology, Invites Compensation Dialogue for Pro Bono Client Injured in 1963 Church Bombing
The firm represents Sarah Collins Rudolph, who at age 12 was the victim of a 1963 church bombing that left her partially blinded. Carried out by the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham killed Ms. Collins Rudolph’s older sister and three other girls.
Earlier this month, the team sent a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, calling for an official apology from the State of Alabama to Ms. Collins Rudolph and seeking compensation for the decades of physical and emotional pain she has endured.
On September 30, Gov. Ivey responded. “Moreover, there should be no question that Ms. Collins Rudolph and the families of those who perished – including Ms. Collins Rudolph’s sister, Addie Mae, as well as Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carole Denise McNair – suffered an egregious injustice that has yielded untold pain and suffering over the ensuing decades. For that, they most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology – an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” reads the letter.
In the letter, the governor also suggests opening a dialogue with the firm team regarding the sought-after compensation.
“We are gratified by Governor Ivey’s unequivocal acknowledgment of the egregious injustice that Ms. Collins Rudolph suffered, and by the Governor’s apology for the State’s racist and segregationist rhetoric and policies that led to Ms. Collins Rudolph’s injuries. We look forward to engaging in discussions in the near future with the Governor about compensation, which Ms. Collins Rudolph justly deserves after the loss of her beloved sister and for the pain, suffering and lifetime of missed opportunities resulting from the bombing,” said Partners Ishan K. Bhabha and Alison I. Stein in a statement. Associate Caroline C. Cease is also on the team.
The team’s initial letter was reported by multiple news outlets, and Governor Ivey’s response was reported by media including the Associated Press, Washington Post, NBC News, Montgomery Advertiser, WBRC Fox Birmingham, CBS 42 Birmingham, and AL.com.
US District Court Affirms More Than $8 Million Jury Verdict for Firm Pro Bono Client William Dean
On September 28, US District Judge Sue Myerscough issued a 55-page order affirming a jury verdict in excess of $8 million for firm pro bono client William Kent Dean against Wexford HealthSources, Inc. The order, which denied the defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial, includes approximately $700,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. In her ruling, Judge Myerscough noted, “This case was about a kind of deliberate indifference that is more subtle and insidious than the kind of deliberate indifference that screams out with obvious, easy-to-find evidence. The skill, resources, and tenacity of Plaintiff’s attorneys are the reason Plaintiff was able to uncover and prove deliberate indifference.”
“We are pleased with Judge Myerscough’s order, which sends a strong message about the systemic deficiencies in medical care involved in this case. Most importantly, we are hopeful that Mr. Dean and his family will now promptly receive the resources necessary to support his care,” said Jenner & Block Partner Joel T. Pelz, who leads the matter for the firm.
In December 2019, a unanimous jury in Springfield, IL returned a more than $11 million verdict for Mr. Dean, who was incarcerated at the time. The jury found that Wexford and several of its employees violated Mr. Dean’s federal civil rights (8th Amendment, deliberate indifference) and committed both institutional negligence and medical malpractice under Illinois law. The result concluded a seven-day trial before US District Judge Sue Myerscough in the Central District of Illinois. Mr. Dean secured early release from prison in January.
Hehas stage-4 metastatic kidney cancer, which is terminal. While imprisoned in the Taylorville Correctional Center in central Illinois, he began showing obvious signs of serious illness, including gross hematuria, or visible blood in his urine, in late 2015. Despite his alarming symptoms, Mr. Dean did not receive proper diagnostic testing for four months and did not receive surgery for seven months. Jenner & Block was appointed as his pro bono counsel in 2017.
In her decision to set punitive damages at $7 million, Judge Myerscough wrote: “This amount recognizes the reprehensibility of Wexford’s conduct and the harm Plaintiff suffered,should be sufficient to deter future similar conduct, and also stays within the bounds of due process, in the court’s judgment.”
Paralegal Kevin O. Garcia assisted Mr. Pelz in the matter.
Jenner & Block Partner Gregory Boyle Selected to Chicago Bar Foundation Leadership Team
On September 21, 2020, Partner Gregory M. Boyle was selected as second vice president of the Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) Board of Directors. After serving as a vice president for two years, Mr. Boyle will become CBF president in 2022. Comprised of diverse lawyers and judges, CBF officers and board of directors develop plans to carry out its mission: “to improve access to justice for people in need and make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone.”
As the charitable arm of the Chicago Bar Association (CBA), the CBF brings the Chicago legal community together to improve access to justice for people in need and make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone. The Foundation addresses large systemic issues, such as the sharp increase of unrepresented people in the courts. Through community leadership, the CBF develops new solutions for providing access to justice, including advocating within the courts and at all levels of government for laws and policies that make the justice system more fair and accessible.
In addition, Through its annual Investing in Justice Campaign, the CBF raises millions of dollars to support legal aid organizations and programs throughout Chicago. Since its inception in 2007, the Campaign has raised more than $18.5 million to fund legal services for low- and middle-income people in need.
Another CBF initiative is the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP), which is a small-business incubator that helps lawyers start practices serving low- and middle-income Chicagoans. The JEP has helped several lawyers build sustainable practices, serving more than 4,000 clients and securing more than $4 million in revenue over the past year. As a JEP board member for many years, Partner Terri L. Mascherin currently serves as chair of its Advisory Board.
In addition to Ms. Mascherin, Mr. Boyle joins a long tradition of Jenner & Block lawyers who have been involved with the Foundation and who have held CBF leadership positions. The late Floyd E. Thompson, who was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, CBA president, and a former Jenner & Block partner, made the initial gift to establish the CBF in 1948. Partner Jeffrey D. Colman served as CBF president, in addition to long service as a board member. Partner Terry J. Truax was also a longstanding board member. Partner Jason M. Bradford currently serves as vice president of its Young Professionals Board. Since 2005, Partner Howard S. Suskin has served as a member of the CBF’s Cy Pres Committee.
Jenner & Block lawyers have also been recognized by the CBF for contributions to the profession, including Partner Andrew F. Merrick, who received the Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award in 2016. Mr. Weigle was a Jenner & Block partner in the 1970s and 80s.
Firm Assists Healthy Eating Non-Profit Strengthen the Delivery of its Services
The firm counseled Purple Asparagus as it explored a strategic alliance that would strengthen the delivery of its programming. Purple Asparagus educates children, families, and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Its flagship program, “Delicious Nutritious Adventures,” brings healthy foods to life for elementary school children in Chicagoland schools.
The matter began at the top of the year as a proposed merger with a local non-profit, but uncertainties caused by COVID-19 led to negotiations ending. Purple Asparagus and the firm team shifted focus to finding another home for the programming and ultimately entered into an agreement with another Chicago-based non-profit that will strengthen the delivery of all Purple Asparagus programs.
The firm team included Partner Gail H. Morse and Associates William R. Erlain and Rita L. Feikema.