Jenner & Block Secures Settlement Agreement with NYCHA to Prevent Wrongful Evictions
Our Pro Bono Commitment
Along with Legal Service NYC as co-counsel, Jenner & Block secured a settlement with the New York City Housing Authority, requiring the public housing agency to reform its rent adjustment system to prevent wrongful evictions and benefiting more than 400,000 NYCHA residents.
The agreement ensures that thousands of NYCHA tenants will have their rents reduced if their incomes were to decline – a process required by federal law that has become more urgent during the pandemic. The settlement also enhances protections for low-income residents by requiring that NYCHA may not prosecute nonpayment or chronic rent delinquency cases until they first resolve interim rent reduction requests or rent grievances. The settlement comes after a group of twelve families, who have lived in public housing anywhere between five and 50 years, sued NYCHA in federal court alleging illegal rent overcharges above 30% of income and eviction proceedings for unlawful amounts of rent.
NYCHA has agreed to pay tenants close to $190,000 in damages, lawyers’ fees, and rent overcharge claims and has six months to implement changes to its system-wide operations concerning rent readjustments and eviction cases. NYCHA is also subject to monitoring by the federal court for three years.
To learn more about the plaintiffs and the settlement, click here.
The Jenner & Block team included Special Counsel David W. Sussman, Associates Susanna Evarts and Olivia Hoffman, Law Clerk Keturah James, and former partner Andrew Weissmann.
Jenner & Block’s Pro Bono Efforts Lead to FCC Order Lowering Prison Phone Rates
A Jenner & Block team helped secure an order from the Federal Communications Commission lowering the rates that incarcerated persons and their families pay for phone calls.
On May 20, 2021, the Commission adopted an order lowering the interim rate caps on interstate inmate calling services to $0.12 per minute for all prisons and $0.14 for jails with average daily populations of 1,000 or more. The order also establishes caps on international calling services rates for the first time at all prison and jail facilities.
The team represented the Wright Petitioners, named after the late Martha Wright, who had struggled to pay for phone calls from her incarcerated grandson and later pushed for changes to the rules surrounding rates. The petitioners were among several advocacy groups and civil rights organizations that urged the Commission to lower the calling rates.
“The Wright Petitioners applaud the leadership of Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the Federal Communications Commission for taking this important incremental step toward providing much-needed relief for incarcerated people and their families from unreasonably high calling rates and fees, including capping international rates for the first time,” said Rebekah P. Goodheart, co-chair of the firm’s Communications, Internet, and Technology Practice who led the team representing the Wright Petitioners. “Studies consistently show that keeping in contact while incarcerated reduces recidivism. We look forward to working with the Commission on further reforms to bring additional relief to incarcerated persons and their loved ones.”
The team included Partner Howard J. Symons and Associate Gregory R. Capobianco. Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson and Practice Assistant Beth Gulden provided key support.
Pro Bono Client Released from Prison without Retrial
On May 6, our client Kenneth “Ken” Smith was released from state prison after serving 19 years for a murder and robbery that he did not commit.
The firm first took Ken’s case in 2006 after a state appeals court reversed and remanded his conviction for murder and 67-year sentence for a new trial. Since that time, various teams led by Partner David Jimenez-Ekman have represented the client through a second trial, a direct appeal, a third trial, another direct appeal, and a federal habeas petition.
Following appeals of his habeas petition, the Seventh Circuit sent an order calling for Ken’s immediate release without conditions at the end of April. This means that he is free from prison and will not be required to report to parole or a probation officer.
“We are grateful that, at long last, the justice system recognizes Ken Smith’s innocence, ending his almost two-decade nightmare,” Mr. Jimenez-Ekman told the Northwest Herald upon our client’s release. “The evidence of Ken’s innocence is overwhelming, and it is a tragedy it took so long for the justice system to acknowledge that. Ken looks forward to the hard and bittersweet task of rebuilding his life.”
The charges against Ken stemmed from a botched armed robbery. In March 2001, the owner of a strip mall burrito shop in McHenry, Illinois, was shot to death after he chased two armed, masked robbers out of his store carrying a knife. The state had no physical evidence linking Ken to the crime. There were no fingerprints from Ken at the scene, no DNA evidence, and no blood that could be linked to him. Instead, Ken was convicted based on a “confession” of an alleged co-conspirator, which was (a) procured after police falsely told him that his friends had already confessed and implicated him, (b) riddled with major inaccuracies that demonstrated he had no knowledge of the crime, and (c) force-fed through leading questions that supplied the only correct information in the entire statement. When the firm first took Ken’s case, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court had reversed and remanded his conviction for a new trial on the basis of a blatant Confrontation Clause violation.
Ken’s second trial occurred in 2008, and resulted in a second conviction that was overturned in 2010, when the Illinois Appellate Court held that the trial court had improperly excluded evidence implicating a completely separate group of perpetrators and exonerating Ken.
Indeed, in the years Ken’s case had been pending to that point, compelling evidence emerged showing that the crime was committed by three individuals completely unrelated to our client and his friends. At Ken’s third trial in 2012, the team put on evidence that those other individuals confessed – unprompted – numerous times to friends, family members, and police; they knew details about the crime that had never been made public; and there was physical evidence corroborating those other individuals’ confessions. The other individuals were seen with cuts and scrapes in the days after the crime; they were connected with a gun that matched the characteristics of the bullets recovered from the victim and found at the scene; and they were riding around in a car on the night of the crime that later was found burned in a field with the help of an accelerant. However, the court excluded important evidence implicating the other group, including compelling evidence of their motive to commit the crime, and also limited the defendant’s ability to cross-examine the only eyewitness to the crime. After three days of deliberation, the jury, still only having heard part of the story, convicted Ken again.
After Ken’s direct appeal was denied in January 2015, the firm filed a federal habeas petition for Ken that was assigned to Judge Andrea Wood of the Northern District of Illinois.
In March 2020, Judge Wood granted the habeas petition and vacated Ken’s conviction and sentence, ruling that evidentiary errors violated his constitutional rights. The court found that the Illinois Appellate Court improperly affirmed evidentiary exclusions that violated his right to present a complete defense and his right to engage in effective cross-examination.
The court wrote that “[g]iven the weaknesses of the State’s case,” the evidentiary errors had a “highly significant effect” on the trial result. The court wrote that “the evidence of the [other group’s] involvement is highly compelling if not conclusive,” that the court was “confounded as to how [the] evidence could not give a rational jury reasonable doubt as to [Ken’s] guilt,” and that, “[e]specially in combination with the exceedingly thin evidence supporting [his] convictions, the court is concerned that a miscarriage of justice has occurred here.” The court granted Ken a new trial, which would have been his fourth on the same charges.
Though the court’s habeas decision was a significant victory, the battle to secure Ken’s freedom was far from over. The State appealed Ken’s habeas victory, and Ken cross-appealed, asking for a ruling that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction and that he should be released without possibility of retrial. Mr. Jimenez-Ekman and Partner Katharine R. Ciliberti,presented oral argument on the appeal and cross-appeal in November 2020, at which point the panel of Seventh Circuit judges expressed strong skepticism about the constitutionality of the conviction. Chief Judge Diane Wood commented during the argument that “it [was] hard to imagine a case with thinner evidence” than what was presented against Ken.
On April 29, 2021, the Seventh Circuit went even further than the district court, holding that the evidence was constitutionally insufficient to sustain Ken’s conviction. The Seventh Circuit opinion, which reflects a caustic rebuke of the state appellate court’s decision affirming Ken’s third conviction, notes that the evidence implicating the separate group of perpetrators “casts a powerful reasonable doubt on the theory that Smith and Houghtaling were the robbers that night. . . . With such a serious possibility of a third party’s guilt,we are convinced as an objective matter that no rational trier of fact could have found Smith guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” The Seventh Circuit concluded that “the trial evidence failed to support Smith’s conviction beyond a reasonable doubt and that the Illinois Appellate Court was not just wrong, but unreasonable, in holding otherwise.” The Seventh Circuit remanded the case to the district court, with instructions to grant the petition for a writ of habeas corpus unconditionally, and ordered Ken’s immediate release from state custody—a tremendous victory for our client after nearly two decades of trying to prove his innocence.
On Thursday, May 6, 2021, Ken Smith walked out of Lawrence Correctional Center as a free man. In the days since, he has been spending time with his family and starting the long process of adjusting to life on the outside.
Several media outlets covered Ken’s release, including Law & Crime.
In addition to Mr. Jimenez-Ekman and Ms. Ciliberti, Associate Elena M. Olivieri, and former associate Emma O’Connor. The past trial teams included Partners John R. Storinoand Gregory M. Boyle, and Paralegal Chris Ward.
Illinois Prison Project and Jenner & Block Welcome Home Kensley Hawkins
Kensley “Sonny” Hawkins, who turned 70 years old this year after spending over 39 years in prison, walked out of Shawnee Correctional Center last week a free man. Mr. Hawkins suffered from numerous serious medical issues that made him extremely vulnerable to COVID-19, and we are overjoyed that he returned home to his loving daughter and grandchildren.
Mr. Hawkins grew up in a single-parent household and was one of 10 children. To support his mother, he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Army, where he simultaneously earned his GED, worked as a cook, and earned a National Defense Service Medaland and a parachute badge. After leaving the Army, Mr. Hawkins attended Chicago State University with dreams of becoming an electrical engineer but once again faced the overwhelming pressure of supporting his mother and his family. Mr. Hawkins dropped out of school yet again. In the midst of his financial stress, Mr. Hawkins’ brother committed suicide in their childhood home. Distraught and desperate, Mr. Hawkins agreed to be the get-away driver of the van used in a gas station robbery. The van was later traced back to a person who had been killed before the group went to rob the gas station. As a result, Mr. Hawkins was convicted for murder based on the conduct of his co-defendant, under the controversial theory of accountability.
Always industrious, Mr. Hawkins worked throughout his incarceration. He started as an upholsterer and cabinet maker at Stateville Furniture Factory. Skilled with his hands with a knack for engineering, Mr. Hawkins made products like desks, chairs, bookcases, and cabinets and was eventually promoted to “lead worker” at the factory. More recently, Mr. Hawkins ran the “Set Up” department of the Shawnee Metal Factory. If Mr. Hawkins has a product design, he can quickly prepare the sheet metal for welding and painting. Throughout his incarceration, Mr. Hawkins has been repeatedly recognized for his service and high-quality work and hopes to transfer some of the skills he’s acquired to his new life as a free man. Throughout his incarceration, Mr. Hawkins remained close to a large network of family and friends, including his devoted daughter Ramonia.
Mr. Hawkins was zealously represented by Department Counsel Lisa Schoedel at Jenner & Block, as part of IPP’s pro bono program. Ms. Schoedel's commitment and dedication to Mr. Hawkins and his case paid off: Last week, she received a call from the Illinois Governor’s Office, telling her that Mr. Hawkins would be coming home.
DC Office Lawyers Honored for Pro Bono Service by DC Courts
Since 2011,the DC courts have published an annual Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll that recognizes lawyers who contributed 50 hours or more of pro bono service to those who cannot afford legal counsel. The 2020 Honor Roll includes 55 DC office lawyers. In a joint letter, DC Court of Appeals Chief Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby and DC Superior Court Chief Judge Anita Josey-Herring thank all honorees, noting that 2020 presented unique pressures like the pandemic. “We salute you for using your talents and expertise to help those unable to afford an attorney, and rely on your continued dedication and compassion in the face of new challenges that threaten equal access to justice,” the judges write.
The Honor Roll is sponsored by the DC Bar Pro Bono Center and the DC Access to Justice Commission. To learn more about the initiative, read this press release.
Jenner & Block Secures Compassionate Release of Pro Bono Client under First Step Act
Recently, US District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman exercised her powers under the First Step Act and granted the petition for compassionate relief we filed on behalf of our client, Tracy Conley. By this ruling, Judge Coleman released Mr. Conley from prison more than five years before the end of his sentence.
Mr. Conley was convicted of participating in a conspiracy to rob a drug “stash house.” The stash house was entirely fictional, however, as were the drugs it supposedly contained and the armed men who supposedly guarded it. This case was one of many in which an undercover government agent presented a target with the opportunity to get rich. The scheme began in 2011, when a government agent presented Myreon Flowers with the opportunity to rob a fictional stash house. To trigger steep mandatory sentences, the agent stated the stash house contained a huge quantity of drugs and encouraged Mr. Flowers to recruit others and bring guns.
Mr. Conley became involved only because of what the Seventh Circuit described as two strokes of bad luck: On November 1, 2011, Mr. Conley went to work as usual, but was sent home because a piece of machinery had broken at the factory where he worked. On his way home, he stopped at a gas station where he ran into an old acquaintance. Unbeknownst to Mr. Conley, that acquaintance had joined Mr. Flowers’s group, which had planned the robbery for that very day. Mr. Conley agreed to go with his acquaintance, Mr. Flowers, and the others to what he thought was a job to clean a vacant apartment. On the way, government agents surprised the men and arrested everyone.
All of Mr. Conley’s co-defendants accepted plea deals for lesser charges. Mr. Conley maintained that he knew nothing of the plan to rob a (fake) stash house, but was convicted after a jury trial. Because his charges carried mandatory minimum sentences, Mr. Conley was sentenced to 15 years in prison – twice as long as any other co-defendant. In the years following Mr. Conley’s conviction, the fake stash house program received significant scrutiny. As more prosecutions emerged, so too did evidence suggesting that the government’s selection of targets for the scheme may have been racially motivated. Under increasing criticism, the government abandoned the program. One by one, Mr. Conley’s co-defendants served their lesser sentences and were released, but Mr. Conley remained in prison.
In 2018, Mr. Conley filed a pro se habeas petition, and Judge Coleman appointed Mike to represent Mr. Conley. Leigh joined the team at the start, as did Theo, who was part of the team for the habeas briefing. Eric joined the team last fall. Judge Coleman denied the habeas petition, but certified for appeal the argument that Mr. Conley’s conviction should be reversed on due process grounds, and because the fake stash house scheme targeted people of color. The team is continuing to prosecute that appeal.
With the habeas appeal being briefed, the team filed a motion for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act, also known as compassionate release. Leigh and Eric argued the motion in January, under Mike’s supervision. On March 4, Judge Coleman granted the motion and ordered Mr. Conley’s sentence reduced to time served. Judge Coleman accepted the team’s arguments that the circumstances demonstrated extraordinary and compelling reasons for compassionate release. She noted that Mr. Conley had never even met Mr. Flowers before the day of the planned “robbery,” and that Mr. Conley’s sentence was driven by the government’s decision of what charges to bring, not the Court’s decision of what sentence was warranted. That sentence was “grossly disproportionate,” “devoid of true fairness,” and served “no real purpose other than to destroy any vestiges of respect in our legal system and law enforcement that this defendant and his community may have had.” His disproportionate sentence was a “trial tax.” She concluded that “if there ever was a situation where compassionate release was warranted based on the injustice and unfairness of a prosecution and resulting sentence, this is it.”
Mr. Conley was released on March 17, after serving nearly 10 years in prison. He is now home.
Amicus Brief Urges Seventh Circuit to Reverse Lower Court’s Dismissal of Pro Se Litigant’s Case
Partner Michael T. Brody and Associates Leigh J. Jahnig, Eric S. Fleddermann, and Theo A. Lesczynski represented Mr. Conley in this important matter.
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.
Pro Bono Client Patrick Pursley Receives Certificate of Innocence
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.
Watch Mr. Pursley discuss the impact of the certificate.
Learn more about his case in The Heart of the Matter.
Over the years, the team helping Mr. Pursley included Partners Robert R. Stauffer and Andrew W. Vail, Associates Kevin J. Murphy and Monika N. Kothari, and former associate Kyle Palazzolo.
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.
Associate Elizabeth Deutsch Highlights Successful Suit against the SBA Regarding CARES Funding
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.
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.
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.
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.