Jenner & Block

The Heart of the Matter Blog

Jenner & Block is proud of its 2019 pro bono results:

 

 

September 16, 2020 Letter to Alabama Governor Seeks Justice for Birmingham’s “Fifth Little Girl”

Jenner & Block Partners Ishan K. Bhabha and Alison I. Stein and Associate Caroline C. Cease sent a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey seeking justice on behalf pro bono client Sarah Collins Rudolph, who at age 12 was the victim of a 1963 bombing that left her partially blinded and killed her older sister.

Known as the “fifth little girl,” Ms. Collins Rudolph survived the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church carried out by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963. The attack killed four girls, including Ms. Collins Rudolph’s sister, 14-year-old Addie Mae, as well as Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14. Ms. Collins Rudolph lost her right eye in the attack.

The letter sent to Gov. Ivey on September 14 calls for an official apology from the State of Alabama to Ms. Collins Rudolph and seeks compensation for the decades of physical and emotional pain she has endured. “While social justice is always a worthy cause, given recent events, now is the time for Ms. Collins Rudolph to receive long overdue justice,” the letter states.

Learn more in this press release about the case.

CATEGORIES: Pro Bono

PEOPLE: Alison I. Stein, Ishan K. Bhabha, Caroline C. Cease

September 14, 2020 Cross-Office Team Advises Lawyers Without Borders

Earlier this year, Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB) asked the firm to conduct an in-depth analysis on wildlife trafficking and organized crime and whether there has been an impact since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in Africa, South America, and Asia.

After diligent research by a cross-office team including Partner Christine Braamskamp, Staff Attorney Angelina Smith, and Paralegal Neha Patel, the team found that while there were travel bans and trade restrictions in effect that limited the move of goods and people, organized crime found ways to adapt their operations and continue wildlife trafficking. This includes finding alternative methods of transportation and increasing online wildlife trading and selling.

The team suggested that to mitigate the adaptation of organized crime, law enforcement agencies should increase security at check points on land borders and at ports where the transport of wildlife occurs the most. Further, the development of specific strategies to police virtual markets, such as cybercrime units and special monitoring programs, may be needed. Their research recommended that educating local communities on the dangers of wildlife trade and the potential diseases that can cause outbreak would help curb the demand in wildlife trafficking. The team urged the LWOB to have readily available information on the practice of illegal wildlife trafficking and its connection to the spread of disease, as well as provide communities with a way to report suspected illegal trafficking.

CATEGORIES: Pro Bono

PEOPLE: Angelina E. Smith, Christine Braamskamp

July 2, 2020 Firm Joins New Alliance Aimed at Dismantling System Racism in the Law and Government

Jenner & Block was among more than 125 law firms nationwide to join the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), which formed late last month. 

LFAA is a coalition that will work with other organizations that are uniting to identify and dismantle systemic racism in the law and in government institutions.  LFAA will facilitate large-scale pro bono projects that address systemic racism, with priority areas determined by affected communities, community organizers, policy experts and legal aid partners.

“Recent events have affirmed and highlighted the need for law firms to do more to identify and dismantle structural or systemic racism in the law and in government institutions,” reads LFAA’s charter.  “Lawyers have a responsibility to use their knowledge and position to increase access to justice and to ensure a fair and equitable legal system.  Lawyers and law firms are uniquely positioned to analyze and to advocate to change laws, policies and institutional structures that encourage, perpetuate or allow racial injustice.”

Participant firms commit to leverage resources of the private bar to amplify the voices of communities and individuals oppressed by racism; better use the law as a vehicle for change to benefit communities of color; and promote racial equity in the law and in government institutions.

LFAA will mark its official launch with a virtual summit this summer.  Facilitated by experts in racial justice and systemic project design, the summit will include discussions among law firm leaders, diversity and inclusion professionals and pro bono professionals on developing LFAA's strategic focus and to plan a broad summit for the fall.

CATEGORIES: Pro Bono

June 22, 2020 Jenner & Block Named to PILI’s 2020 Pro Bono Recognition Roster

Jenner & Block is one of 47 law firms and corporations named to the Public Interest Law Initiatives (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster.  The roster honors organizations that have made significant commitments and contributions to pro bono throughout the state of Illinois by helping individuals, families and communities who are in need receive legal services.  Law firms named to the roster must demonstrate a commitment to their pro bono programs and must meet at least two of the following qualifications: an average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional; a five percent increase in Illinois office(s) pro bono hours from the previous year; pro bono participation by 60 percent or more of the firm’s Illinois lawyers; participation in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Law Firm Leadership Circle or one of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee Pro Bono Pledges; and adoption of innovative steps to expand the firm’s pro bono program. 

Jenner & Block has been on the roster since 2010.

CATEGORIES: Pro Bono

April 20, 2020 Cross-Office Team Advises Lincoln Center in Transition to Virtual Programming

A cross-office team led by Partner Alison I. Stein is providing pro bono counsel to Lincoln Center as the arts organization transitions to virtual programming after “closing its doors” indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Launched in early April, “Lincoln Center At Home” provides a unique way for the organization to virtually distribute extraordinary content and keep its audience and donors engaged.  The program includes an education channel for kids and access to both live and archived world-class performances such as a performance of Schubert’s Quintet in C Major.  To learn more about Lincoln Center, click here.

In addition to Ms. Stein, the Lincoln Center team includes Partner Steven R. Englund; Associates Camila A. Connolly, Allison N. Douglis, Amy Egerton-Wiley and Emily S. Mannheimer; and Law Clerk Isabel Farhi.  The team continues to work hard on the unique rights and other legal issues arising during this unprecedented time.

CATEGORIES: Pro Bono

PEOPLE: Steven R. Englund, Alison I. Stein, Allison N. Douglis, Emily S. Mannheimer

February 27, 2020 Patrick Pursley, Wrongly Accused and Convicted, Reflects on His Acquittal after Spending 25 Years in Prison

On January 16, 2019, an Illinois judge acquitted pro bono client Patrick Pursley of first-degree murder.

In this video, Mr. Pursley and his Jenner & Block lawyers reflect on the decades-long fight to prove his innocence.

Read more about the case in The Heart of the Matter .

CATEGORIES: criminal defense, Litigation, Pro Bono

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

February 13, 2020 Firm Publishes The Heart of the Matter Pro Bono Report

A wrongfully accused man is acquitted.  An imprisoned terminally ill man receives an $11 million jury verdict.  From veterans to human trafficking victims, from the Modern Classroom Project to the YWCA, Jenner & Block is pleased to tell these stories and more in our annual report on pro bono and community service.  The Heart of the Matter, published in time for Valentine’s Day, is a multi-media website that demonstrates how we have changed the lives of the clients and organizations we are privileged to represent.  For more information about the firm's pro bono program, please also visit The Heart of the Matter blog.

CATEGORIES: Litigation, Pro Bono, Transactional

August 22, 2019 Precious Jacobs and Garrett Fitzsimmons Named “Pro Bono Superstars” by The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation

Jenner & Block Partner Precious S. Jacobs and Associate Garrett Fitzsimmons will be honored as 2019 “Pro Bono Superstars” by The Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE).  The award recognizes and celebrates all CAASE pro bono partnerships and the exceptional representation CAASE pro bono lawyers have provided to survivors of sexual exploitation and harm.  Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Fitzsimmons are being recognized for their work in successfully resolving a dispute on behalf of a woman who was brought to the United States under false pretenses, exploited and sexually assaulted.

CAASE will present the honorees with the “Pro Bono Superstars” award at a ceremony at the CAASE office on Thursday, September 5.

CATEGORIES: Awards and Recognition, Litigation, Partnership, Pro Bono

PEOPLE: Precious S. Jacobs-Perry, Garrett Fitzsimmons

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

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

May 4, 2018 Appellate Court Affirms Firm Team’s Win of a New Trial for Patrick Pursley

A Jenner & Block team won another significant victory on behalf of pro bono client Patrick Pursley, who served 23 years in prison on wrongful charges of murder.  On May 3, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court affirmed 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Joseph McGraw’s decision last year to vacate Mr. Pursley’s conviction and award him a new trial. The State had appealed Judge McGraw’s decision.  This week’s ruling was based on new ballistics evidence establishing that the gun recovered from Mr. Pursley’s residence did not – contrary to the Illinois State Police testimony presented at his trial – fire bullets and cartridge cases found at the crime scene. Associate Kevin J. Murphy argued Mr. Pursley’s case before the appellate court.  “The appellate court got it right,” Mr. Murphy said in a Rockford Register-Star article on the case.  “Patrick has presented new and powerful evidence of his innocence.”

Other members of the Mr. Pursley’s team include Partners Andrew W. Vail and Robert R. Stauffer and Associate Monika N. Kothari.  In addition, Partners Anton R. Valukas, Michael J. Nelson and Clifford W. Berlow, along with Associate Matthew T. Gordon, assisted with briefing and preparation for oral argument.

CATEGORIES: Litigation, Pro Bono, Wrongful Conviction

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

April 30, 2018 Jenner & Block Named to National Law Journal “Pro Bono Hot List”

For the fifth consecutive year, Jenner & Block has been named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List,” as one of only seven law firms across the United States selected for this recognition.  “Pro bono and the work we do provides representation to those who otherwise would not be in a position to protect or defend or pursue their rights,” said Partner Andrew W. Vail, co-chair of Jenner & Block’s Pro Bono Committee.

A feature article published by The National Law Journal spotlights the firm’s significant work on a voting rights and gerrymandering case (Gill v. Whitford), in which the firm partnered with the Campaign Legal Center in its work on the case.  “Jenner & Block is the best.  Their lawyers on voting rights cases are incredibly dedicated to obtaining a just result,” said Gerry Herbert, the senior director of voting rights and redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center.

The profile also highlights Partner Adam G. Unikowsky’ s “Hat Trick for Pro Bono at Scotus.”  Last term, Mr. Unikowsky argued three cases before the US Supreme Court within the span of four weeks and achieved unanimous wins in all three.  “The cases are a point of pride because they demonstrate the firm’s deep commitment to pro bono litigation and its ability to achieve significant victories at the Supreme Court for individuals most I need of experienced counsel,” Mr. Unikowsky said.

CATEGORIES: Litigation, Pro Bono, Supreme Court

PEOPLE: Andrew W. Vail, Adam G. Unikowsky

April 9, 2018 Firm Team Achieves Victory in Pro Bono Voting Rights Case

Jenner & Block won a victory when a federal judge rejected the efforts of the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU)—a conservative organization devoted, in part, to rooting out “voter fraud” in counties with large populations of racial minorities and Democratic-leaning swing state counties—to purge voters from Broward County’s rolls.  In American Civil Rights Union v. Brenda Snipes, the ACRU alleged that the Broward County’s supervisor of elections, Dr. Brenda Snipes, failed to maintain accurate voter rolls and violated Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act; the group sought a court order requiring Dr. Snipes to purge voters.  In 2016, the United Healthcare Workers East union intervened in support of Dr. Snipes and Broward County voters.  The firm represented United Healthcare on a pro bono basis. 

After a five-day trial in July 2017, the court found every piece of evidence offered by ACRU unconvincing, concluded that its accusations were thoroughly unfounded, and held that Broward County’s voter list maintenance program was fully compliant with federal law.  On March 30, 2018, Judge Beth Bloom ruled in Dr.Snipes and SEUI's favor.  In doing so, the judge wrote that Dr. Snipes “implemented a general program that makes a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters from the official lists of eligible voters by reason of death or change of address.”  The judge also held that the ACRU failed to prove a violation of Section 8 of the NVRA.   “The court recognizes that the NVRA has a nationwide application, and for that reason, it declines to apply a subjective approach that would vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction,” she wrote.

The Jenner & Block team includes Partner Kali N. Bracey, Associate Tassity Johnson, former partner Carrie Apfel and former associate Marina Jenkins.

CATEGORIES: Litigation, Pro Bono

PEOPLE: Tassity Johnson, Kali Bracey

February 16, 2018 The Heart of the Matter 2017 Report
Jenner & Block is pleased to present The Heart of the Matter, our annual report that covers highlights of our pro bono and community service from 2017.
 
Our dedicated micro-website reflects the breadth of Jenner & Block’s pro bono program.  Through featured articles and videos, we have illustrated stories of how Jenner & Block has changed the lives of the clients and organizations we are privileged to represent.
 
To stay informed about new pro bono developments in 2018, please also visit The Heart of the Matter blog.

CATEGORIES: Pro Bono

May 5, 2017 Jenner & Block Named to National Law Journal “Pro Bono Hot List”

November 2016 For the fourth consecutive year, Jenner & Block has been named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List,” as one of only 12 law firms across the United States selected for this recognition.

A feature article published by the NLJ spotlights the excellent results firm teams achieved in six pro bono cases won in the US Supreme Court in 2015-2016, as well as the significant transactional work done by a multi-disciplinary, cross-office team for the Young Center, a nonprofit that represents unaccompanied immigrant children.

The article also notes that more than 75,000 pro bono hours were contributed by firm lawyers in 2016 alone, representing an average of 138 hours per lawyer.  Nearly 94 percent of lawyers performed 20 hours or more of pro bono – an all-time firm record.

CATEGORIES: Awards, Litigation, Pro Bono

PEOPLE: Adam G. Unikowsky

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