Jenner & Block

The Heart of the Matter Blog

December 28, 2016 Firm’s Pro Bono Client Featured in Four-Part Sun Times Series

Jesse Webster, the firm’s pro bono client who was granted executive clemency after serving 20 years of a life sentence on charges related to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, is the subject of a four-part series by Chicago Sun Times columnist Mary Mitchell.  The series chronicles Mr. Webster’s run-in with the law at age 26 and how he had been in prison for 14 years and lost several appeals when he “crossed paths” with Partner Jessica Ring Amunson.  A federal appeals court appointed the firm in 2009 to represent Webster in his last, and final, appeal. Ms. Amunson is photographed and quoted throughout the series, telling Ms. Mitchell that, “I was honest about how much odds were against” clemency.  “But I decided to take on his clemency case because I could not understand why someone like Jesse would be spending the rest of his life in jail for a non-violent drug offense.  It just made no sense to me that our criminal justice system would work that way.”

On March 30, 2016, President Obama granted executive clemency to Mr. Webster and 60 other individuals “serving years in prison under outdated and unduly harsh sentencing laws,” according to the White House. The series tells of Mr. Webster’s work to re-integrate himself in society since his release, including getting a job at Catholic Charities.  It also describes Mr. Webster’s first face-to-face meeting with Ms. Amunson, in October at a restaurant in downtown Chicago.  “It wasn’t like I was meeting her for the first time,” Mr. Webster says.  “I felt like I knew her.”  Ms. Amunson is quoted saying, “It was a pretty amazing thing to be a part of helping someone spend the rest of their life with their family, rather than spending the rest of their life in prison.”

In addition to Ms. Amunson, Partner Barry Levenstam and Associate Caroline DeCell worked on the case. The team’s efforts included petitioning Capitol Hill and sharing Mr. Webster’s story with major media outlets such as the New York Times.  Ms. Mitchell also wrote several columns about Mr. Webster in the past and published Mr. Webster’s open letter to youth.  “It took a lot of caring people to get Webster back home safely,” the series concludes. “Without them, he would still be wasting away behind bars.”

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CATEGORIES: Appellate, clemency

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson, Barry Levenstam, Caroline DeCell

December 27, 2016 Firm Files Amicus Brief in High-Profile Suit Regarding Detainees’ Right to Sue Officials

An amicus brief filed on behalf of a number of immigrant rights groups argues that the US Supreme Court should permit immigrants detained in the wake of 9/11 the right to sue top officials for civil rights violations.  In 2015, the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the detainees, but last October, the Court agreed to take on three petitions in the consolidated case: one from ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft and ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller; one from ex-Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner James Ziglar; and one from Dennis Hasty and James Sherman, respectively the former warden and associate warden of the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where the detainees were held.  The firm’s brief is among at least 10 amicus briefs filed in support of detainees.

The brief argues that the detainees can sue the federal officials under the Bivens doctrine.  That doctrine stems from the 1971 Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents decision in which the Supreme Court held that plaintiffs can sue individual federal officials for monetary damages when no other remedy is available to protect a constitutional right.

Denying a Bivens remedy, the brief says, “would effectively immunize tens of thousands of federal officers, and large swaths of federal law enforcement activity, from damages, no matter how egregious the officers’ conduct.”  The brief continues, it “would effectively immunize federal officers from damages liability even for torture, so long as the torture arises in a context involving national security or noncitizens.  This Court should reject that extreme position and affirm the critical importance of a Bivens remedy in deterring unconstitutional conduct and enforcing constitutional rights.”

News of the amicus brief was reported in Law360.

The brief was written by Partner Matthew E. Price and Associates Marina K. Jenkins, Tassity S. Johnson and Michael E. Stewart.

CATEGORIES: detainees

PEOPLE: Marina K. Jenkins, Matthew E. Price, Michael E. Stewart, Tassity Johnson

December 6, 2016 Financial Times Recognizes Firm for Innovation in Social Responsibility

Jenner & Block has been recognized by the Financial Times (FT) in its North America Innovative Lawyers 2016 Report, which highlights the firm's pro bono work in a landmark US Supreme Court case.

The firm was designated as a “Standout” – FT’s highest rating – and ranked #2 overall among all law firms in the “Social Responsibility–Pro Bono Cases” category for an important win in the representation of Gregory Welch.  Mr. Welch was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 15years’ imprisonment based on the “residual clause” of the Armed Career Criminal Act—a statutory provision that the Supreme Court subsequently struck down because it was so vague that it violated the Constitutional right to due process.  In Welch v. United States, fifth-year Associate Amir H. Ali argued to the Supreme Court that its decision striking down the residual clause must be applied retroactively to people like Mr. Welch, whose conviction and sentence had already become final.  The Court agreed in a 7-1 vote.  In announcing the recognition, FT noted that the firm “proved that thousands of inmates were serving unconstitutional sentences and achieved a rare Supreme Court ruling” in favor of those inmates.

In addition to Mr. Ali, the firm’s team included Partners Lindsay C. Harrison and Matthew E. Price, Associates R. Trent McCotter and Joshua M. Parker, former Law Clerk Adrienne L. Benson, Senior Paralegal Cheryl L. Olson, Docketing Assistant Tyler J. Edwards, Legal Assistant Mary “Beth” E. Gulden and Legal Secretary Curlene B. Wellington.

CATEGORIES: Financial Times, Welch v United States

PEOPLE: Lindsay C. Harrison, Matthew E. Price, Joshua M. Parker (Josh)

December 1, 2016

Moments in History: Jenner & Block's 100-Year Story

Juan Rivera’s Conviction Is Reversed

Freedom for Juan Rivera Hugging His MomFreedom for Juan Rivera Hugging His MomDecember marks the fifth anniversary of the Illinois Appellate Court for the Second District reversing the conviction of pro bono client Juan Rivera.  Mr. Rivera had been convicted of the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl.  The Illinois court found insufficient evidence to support his conviction in light of the DNA evidence excluding him as the perpetrator.

Click here to learn more about the case.

CATEGORIES: Moments in History, Wrongful Conviction

November 18, 2016 Firm Files Amicus Brief in Support of California Statute to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence

Partner Daniel A. Rozansky, Associate AnnaMarie A. Van Hoesen and Law Clerk Daixi Xu submitted an amicus brief in conceNovember 2016rt with the (FVAP) on behalf of FVAP and 10 other California-based nonprofit organizations that work with domestic violence survivors and their children.  Filed in the California Court of Appeal for the Second District, the amicus brief supports the appellant, a victim of domestic violence, in appealing an order granting joint custody of her two young daughters to her abusive partner.  Although California Family Code Section 3044 creates a rebuttable presumption against awarding custody to domestic abusers, trial courts such as this one have repeatedly failed to apply that presumption or properly consider the factors required to rebut it.  As set forth in the brief, joint custody arrangements provide the opportunity for batterers to further abuse their former partners and their children.  Studies have found that victims of domestic violence face serious safety risks in such custody arrangements and that children exposed to domestic violence are 74 percent more likely to commit crimes against other people, 50 percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and much more likely to abuse their own partners.  Accordingly, the brief urges the court of appeal to provide much needed guidance so that trial courts will understand and effectuate the legislative intent to protect children from the known harms associated with granting custody to domestic abusers.

CATEGORIES: California statute, Family Violence Appellate Project

PEOPLE: Daniel A. Rozansky, AnnaMarie A. Van Hoesen

November 10, 2016 DC, Chicago Lawyers Assist Non-Profit in Spin-Off from Sponsor

A team of Jenner & Block lawyers recently provided pro bono assistance to the Young Center, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote the best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children arriving in the United States.  The Young Center, which has offices in several major US cities, sought to spin off and become an independent entity from another nonprofit that had been its sponsor.  Jenner & Block Partner Richard F. Levy is a member of the Young Center’s Board of Directors and in addition to giving his time, he arranged for the firm to provide pro bono assistance to the organization.  Partners D. Joe Smith, Carrie F. Apfel, S. Tony Ling and Peter H. Rosenbaum; Of Counsel Emma J. Sullivan; and Associate Grant B. Schweikert provided counsel on multiple aspects of the Young Center’s separation, including the novation of its contract with the US Department of Health and Human Services; drafting transactional agreements governing its spin-off; providing counsel regarding certain labor and employee benefit matters; and advising its Board of Directors in connection with the spin-off.  The spin-off was completed on October 1.  To read a letter of appreciation to Jenner & Block Managing Partner Terrence J. Truax from the Young Center’s executive director and managing director, please click here.

CATEGORIES: Young Center

PEOPLE: Carrie F. Apfel, Terrence J. Truax, Emma J. Sullivan, Richard F. Levy, S. Tony Ling, Peter H. Rosenbaum, D. Joe Smith, Grant B. Schweikert

November 4, 2016 Firm Hosts Immigration Clinic for Synchrony Financial Legal Department

November 4, 2016On November 4, Jenner & Block’s New York office hosted a half-day pro bono immigration / naturalization clinic for the Legal Department of client Synchrony Financial. The clinic was organized with the assistance of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and brought more than 30 members of the Synchrony Legal Department into the New York office for a half-day of training and legal service. The attorneys were trained on assisting with naturalization paperwork for green card holders, and then spent the rest of the morning paired up with clinic participants who they helped fill out the paperwork needed to apply for U.S. citizenship. The clinic was organized in New York by Partners Joseph L. Noga and Michael W. Ross, with the capable assistance of New York’s Legal Assistance Group’s support staff.

CATEGORIES: Legal Department of client Synchrony Financial

PEOPLE: Michael W. Ross, Joseph L. Noga

October 26, 2016 Former Managing Partner Susan Levy Recognized for Commitment to Pro Bono

October 2016Jenner & Block’s former managing partner Susan C. Levy was honored by the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services (LAS) at its 2016 award luncheon on October 26.  Ms. Levy, now executive vice president and general counsel at Northern Trust, was presented with the LAS William H. Avery Award for Equal Access to Justice for her contributions to pro bono and community service.  Firm Chairman Anton R. Valukas interviewed Ms. Levy during the program segment of the luncheon, asking her questions about her tenure as Jenner & Block’s first woman managing partner and about her commitment to giving back. Ms. Levy noted that the firm’s emphasis on pro bono was one of the features that attracted her when she was deciding where to practice after graduating from Harvard Law School.  “We used to call it ‘the Jenner tax,’” she recalled, explaining that some of everyone’s salary supports the firm’s pro bono work.  The award event was attended by 325 members of Chicago’s legal community and raised more than $365,000 for the Legal Aid Society. 

Jenner & Block’s Litigation Department Chair Craig C. Martin was a member of the event’s Host Committee.  Partner William D. Heinz recently completed 30 years as a member of Metropolitan Family Services Board of Directors and the LAS Advisory Board.  Partner Amanda S. Amert is now serving as an LAS  board member, and Partner John R. Storino is a new member of the Metropolitan Family Services Board of Directors.  An article about the award event appeared in the October 31 issue of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

Photograph by LeVern Danley, LAD4 Creations

CATEGORIES: Legal Aid Society, S Levy

PEOPLE: Amanda S. Amert, Anton R. Valukas, John R. Storino, Craig C. Martin, William D. Heinz

October 14, 2016 Firm Participates in “Pro Bono Week” Events, Partner Andrew Vail Co-Chairs Chicago Citywide Observance

The week of October 23-29, 2016 has been designated National Pro Bono Celebration Week by the American Bar Association and Jenner & Block’s Chicago and Washington, DC offices are marking the week with special activities.

Jenner & Block Partner Andrew W. Vail is co-chair of the weeklong Chicago Bar Association/Chicago Bar Foundation’s 12th annual citywide observance that will include many educational and social events.

Among these, on Monday, October 24, the firm’s Managing Partner Terrence J. Truax will participate in a panel discussion titled “Breaking Poverty Barriers to Equal Justice.”  The program, which will include a multimedia presentation, will be moderated by Illinois Appellate Court Judge Maureen Connors.

On Tuesday, October 25, Jenner & Block will host a “Breakfast With Judges.”  Members of the judiciary, both state and federal, will lead conversations about pro bono in the Chicago area at small roundtable discussions that will allow attendees the opportunity to participate.

The firm’s DC office will participate in the DC Bar Foundation’s eighth annual “Go Casual for Justice” during Pro Bono Week.  Funds raised through this initiative provide critical resources to DC's civil legal aid network and the Foundation's Loan Repayment Assistance Program benefitting the District’s legal aid providers.  For more information about the fundraiser, please click here.

CATEGORIES: CBA, Pro bono week

PEOPLE: Andrew W. Vail, Terrence J. Truax

October 13, 2016 Jenner & Block’s DC Office Recognized for Providing Pro Bono Assistance in Housing Cases

On October 13, 2016, Jenner & Block’s Washington, DC office was recognized by the DC Bar Pro Bono Center for its participation in the Center’s Housing Right to Counsel Pilot Project.  The Project is a groundbreaking collaborative effort bringing together the legal services community and the private bar to reduce evictions from subsidized housing and resolve other housing issues.  More than 35,000 eviction cases are filed each year in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the DC Superior Court.  Of these, approximately 95 percent of the tenants involved appear without legal representation, whereas approximately 95 percent of landlords have counsel.  The Project is part of the broader DC Housing Initiative, a communitywide coalition convened by the DC Bar Pro Bono Center and the DC Access to Justice Commission, to address the housing crisis in the District.

Partner Damon Y. Smith is coordinating the firm’s participation in the pilot project and supervising cases; Partners Kenneth L. Doroshow and Jerome L. Epstein are also supervising.  Associates handling cases have included Emily A. Bruemmerand Marguerite L. Moeller.   

The recognition event was reported in the DC Bar Newsletter on October 24.

CATEGORIES: DC office, housing

PEOPLE: Jerome L. Epstein, Kenneth L. Doroshow, Damon Y. Smith, Emily A. Bruemmer, Marguerite L. Moeller

October 13, 2016 Firm Regains Position on Law360’s Pro Bono Firms of Year List

2016Jenner & Block has once again been named to Law360’s list of the top pro bono firms in the United States.  This marks the sixth time the firm has been selected for the series, which began in 2010.

In a lengthy profile, Law360 highlighted the firm’s “influential wins at the US Supreme Court, lifesaving work for clients on death row and a firmwide commitment to pro bono work at every level.”

In the feature, Partner Adam G. Unikowsky explains why he got involved in the case of V.L. v. E.L., representing an adoptive parent who had essentially been stripped of her parental rights to her three children by the Alabama Supreme Court when her same-sex relationship with the biological mother ended.  Mr. Unikowsky told Law360, “I felt this … really was quite inconsistent with very settled law.  And … it really would have a terrible effect on families.”  He reached out to National Center for Lesbian Rights attorneys who had been working on the case and offered to help get it in front of the US Supreme Court, where the Alabama court’s actions were reversed.

Additionally, Associates Amir H. Ali and R. Trent McCotter relate their experience before the Supreme Court in Welch v. US, which Law360 called “a ruling that decisively invalidated unconstitutional prison sentences for thousands of incarcerated individuals.”  Mr. Ali describes the firm’s involvement as a “momentous opportunity to give a voice to people who would otherwise be voiceless,” while Mr. McCotter notes that the case “inspired a lot of other associates to realize that the pro bono work that they do is meaningful, and that they can stay in charge of the case, even at the highest level.”

The article also discusses Jeremy M. Creelan and Susan J. Kohlmann’s work with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic that is helping Vietnam veterans with PTSD that was undiagnosed when they left the service upgrade their other-than-honorable discharges.

CATEGORIES: Law360

PEOPLE: Susan J. Kohlmann, Adam G. Unikowsky, Jeremy M. Creelan

October 6, 2016

Moments in History: Jenner & Block's 100-Year Story

Jean Marc Nken Asylum Case Anniversary

Lindsay Harrison US Supreme Court for pro bono blogOctober marks the fifth anniversary of the granting of asylum for pro bono client Jean Marc Nken.  Mr. Nken fled Cameroon in 2001 after having been jailed and tortured by the government for his participation in pro-democracy protests.  He lost his initial asylum case and several unsuccessful appeals and was set to be deported when Jenner &  Block Partner Lindsay C. Harrison took on his case. 

Click here to learn more about the case.

CATEGORIES: L Harrison, Moments in History, US Supreme Court

October 4, 2016

Moments in History: Jenner & Block's 100-Year Story

Anniversary of Dowaliby Reversal

October marks the 25th anniversary of the Illinois Appellate Court reversing the conviction of pro bono client David Dowaliby in a high-profile case that centered on the kidnapping of Mr. Dowaliby’s 7-year-old daughter Jaclyn in 1988. The Illinois Appellate Court ruled the prosecutors failed to prove that no one else killed Jaclyn and that the evidence against him was not sufficient.

Click here to learn more about the case.

CATEGORIES: Moments in History, Wrongful Conviction

September 26, 2016 Firm Joins Team of Organizations Challenging Alabama’s Disenfranchisement Law

Used for pro bono blogOn September 26, 2016, the firm joined a team of civil rights organizations that filed suit in Alabama district court on behalf of US citizens with past felony convictions who have been denied the right to vote due to the state’s felony disenfranchisement system.  The firm is working pro bono alongside the Campaign Legal Center and the Voting Rights Institute.

Thompson v. Alabama argues that the 14th Amendment does not allow the blanket disenfranchisement of citizens for minor non-violent offenses that are irrelevant to voting.  The lawsuit calls for the court to rule that the law is racially discriminatory, unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act.  It also asserts a theory that, if successful, could limit the scope of permissible felony disenfranchisement nationwide.

Please click here to read more about the lawsuit.  News of the lawsuit was reported by several media outlets, including the New York Times, in an article and opinion piece, and Mother Jones.

CATEGORIES: J Amunson, Thompson v Alabama, Voting

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson