Firm Joins Pro Bono Effort to Help Residents Struggling One Year after Sewage Backup
Our Pro Bono Commitment
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.
Partnering with the UK’s Centrepoint Charity
Creating an effective pro bono partnership requires a broad commitment to supporting an organization on many levels. But this is the goal of Jenner & Block’s London office in its new partnership with Centrepoint, the United Kingdom’s leading youth homelessness charity. “This is a unique opportunity for everyone in our growing office to be part of something that makes a difference in the lives of many people,” said Partner Christine Braamskamp, who is a co-chair of the firm’s Investigations, Compliance and Defense Practice.
Ms. Braamskamp and Partner Christian Tuddenham, a co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee, are in the early stages of providing pro bono governance and risk management advice to Centrepoint’s board of trustees.
Hear more about the partnership and the London office’s growing pro bono program from Mr. Tuddenham and Centrepoint’s Relationship Director Orla Constant in this video.
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.
Pro Bono Win for Jenner & Block’s LA Office: Breaking Ground on Homes for the Homeless
After a hard-fought mediation, Partners Michael McNamara and G. Thomas Stromberg recently secured an agreement to allow pro bono client Colden (aka FlyawayHomes) to move forward in building homes for the homeless. This particular permanent supportive housing (PSH) project is unique: it repurposes shipping containers from the Port of Los Angeles to manufacture modular housing units, which drastically reduces the time and cost of completion compared to traditional construction.
“It’s cheaper for shipping companies to leave them here then to ship them back…Therefore, you have all these one-time-use containers that are essentially brand new,” Kevin Hirai, chief operating officer of FlyawayHomes, said in a video feature about the project. In addition, the PSH is 100 percent privately funded and does not use taxpayer money for development, which amounts to about $3 million to build the three-story, 33-person capacity structure. “It’s a beautiful model, if you think about it,” Mr. Hirai added. “You can invest money, make a modest return and house our most vulnerable neighbors.”
It took months of difficult negotiations for the parties to enter into an agreement to move forward with building the homes. Lawry J. Meister, president of FlyawayHomes, thanked Mr. McNamara and Mr. Stromberg for their efforts: “We truly never would have reached an agreement if it weren’t for your diplomacy, determination and dedication to getting it done.”
LA Office Team Secures Pro Bono Victory in Housing Discrimination Case
A team from Jenner & Block’s Los Angeles office helped secure a favorable settlement for a pro bono client in a lawsuit challenging a Southern California city’s discriminatory housing ordinances.
Serving as co-counsel with the ACLU, the firm represented the Victor Valley Family Resource Center (VVFRC), which provides transitional housing to individuals recently released from incarceration.
Beginning in 2016, the City of Hesperia, in California’s high desert, began issuing regular citations to VVFRC for violating a city ordinance—which hadn’t been enforced in years—barring two or more unrelated individuals on probation from living together. The City also began pressuring VVFRC’s landlords to evict the organization, relying on a new ordinance requiring landlords to evict upon notice any tenant engaged in unspecified criminal activity, regardless of whether an arrest was made or citation issued.
In response, the ACLU of Southern California filed a class action in the Central District of California against the City and the San Bernardino County Sheriff, alleging that the two ordinances were unconstitutional in that they violated state and federal equal-protection and due-process rights. Jenner & Block joined the case as co-counsel shortly after.
In the spring of 2017, Hesperia’s city council repealed one of the ordinances. Later that year, the city council adopted significant revisions to the other ordinance, many of which were drafted by Associate Christopher S. Lindsay and our ACLU co-counsel.
As part of a settlement agreement finalized in April 2018, Hesperia also agreed to pay a substantial award to make VVFRC and our other clients whole for the costs they incurred due to the city’s enforcement of the two ordinances, rescind any outstanding fines or citations, and release liens imposed against their properties. It also agreed to pay attorneys’ fees.
Several media outlets covered the settlement in the case, including the Los Angeles Times, San Bernardino Sun and Victor Valley Daily Press.
At a luncheon on June 8, 2018, the ACLU will honor the firm for its work on the case with its Homeless Rights Advocacy Award.
In addition to Mr. Lindsay, Associate Andrew G. Sullivan helped lead the firm team, with support from Partner A.J. Thomas and former associate Kate Spelman. Many other associates made valuable contributions, including Brian Adesman, Ben J. Brysacz, Sean D. Nelson and Daixi Xu; summer associate Anna Lyons; and former associate Calvin Mohammadi. Paralegals Alonso Ponce, Diana Vuong and Julian Valenzuela, and legal assistants Jennifer Rodriguez, Laura Saltzman and Kat White, supported the team.
Firm’s Win Helps DC Legal Services Corporations Recover Reasonable Fees
In Tenants of 710 Jefferson Street v. DC Rental Housing Commission, a firm team won an important victory for the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. The win will affect the way DC courts determine lawyers’ fee awards when the prevailing party is a non-profit legal services corporation.
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Associate Handles DC Pro Bono Clinic Referral of Landlord/Tenant Case
The firm successfully represented a pro bono client who was sued by her landlord in an effort to evict her based on nonpayment of rent and violation of the terms of the lease. On her behalf, the firm pursued a counterclaim to recoup rent she had paid despite serious housing code violations, including flooding in the bathroom over a nine-month period, exposed heating elements and electrical wires, and rodent and cockroach infestations.
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