Firm Files Lawsuit to Protect Historic Rock Island County Courthouse from Unlawful Demolition
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:
Jenner & Block filed a complaint and temporary restraining order, pro bono, on behalf of Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Rock Island Preservation Society, the Moline Preservation Society, the Broadway Historic District Association and Rock Island Justice Center bondholder Fred Shaw. The firm represents all of the plaintiffs against the Rock Island County Public Building Commission (PBC) and Rock Island County Board to protect Rock Island County Courthouse from unlawful demolition. The lawsuit contends the PBC is proceeding with demolition of the historic courthouse without complying with the Illinois State Historic Resources Preservation Act or the Illinois Public Building Commission Act. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the PBC plans to fund the demolition with bonds that were issued exclusively for construction of the Justice Center Annex, in breach of the covenants of those bonds. Plaintiffs are requesting that the PBC and Rock Island County Board engage in a good-faith effort to find a reuse for the historic courthouse building, including actively pursuing proposals from the private market. In addition to preserving the historic courthouse, this would avoid the demolition costs, create jobs and put the building on the tax rolls. The Rock Island County Courthouse, constructed in 1896 and determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017, is included on Landmarks Illinois’ 2018 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.
Patrick Pursley Acquitted after 25 Years Based on Precedent-Setting New Ballistics Evidence
The firm team representing the plaintiffs includes Associates Thomas E. Quinn and Charlies W. Carlin and Partner Randall E. Mehrberg.
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.
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.
Partner Bradford Lyerla Discusses Significance of William J. Hibbler Memorial Pro Se Assistance Program
Jenner & Block Partner Bradford P. Lyerla is quoted in The Circuit Rider regarding his involvement with the William J. Hibbler Memorial Pro Se Assistance Program. The program provides a free help desk for pro se parties in federal civil cases. Most often, the desk’s visitors are plaintiffs in civil rights and employment cases. Volunteer lawyers act as a resource to help analyze claims, draft pleadings, review documents and understand rulings. “Gratitude and service to others are keys to happiness,” Mr. Lyerla tells The Circuit Rider, the journal of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association. “I think the main kick that I get out of Hibbler is that I feel like I am helping real people with real problems. I also like the fact that Hibbler work is under the radar. At my firm, we do a lot of high profile pro bono, and I have done that myself. But Hibbler has no glory attached to it, and at this stage of my life, I prefer personal and low-key pro bono service.” To learn more about the program, contact the Legal Assistance Foundation at 312 229-6060 or visit the LAF online.
Court Reverses Murder Conviction for Pro Bono Client
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers led by Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes obtained the appellate reversal of a Kane County murder conviction based on what the court said was inadmissible expert testimony from a well-known former FBI profiler and television commentator. The firm represented Shadwick King pro bonoin the appeal of his murder conviction in the death of his wife, Kate.
On August 21, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that the State should not have been allowed to use the expert testimony of Mark Safarik, who has appeared on numerous television shows, including Forensic Files, to establish that Kate King had been killed in the first place – a key disputed issue at Mr. King’s 2015 trial.
Kate King was found dead on a set of railroad tracks near the couple’s Geneva, Illinois, home in July 2014. Investigators suspected Mr. King of being involved in her death, and the evidence against him at his March 2015 trial was heavily circumstantial. The forensic pathologist for the defense testified that Mrs. King likely had died of heart failure. The State’s medical examiner, after at first leaving the autopsy report blank for “manner of death” and telling the lead detective at the autopsy that Mrs. King’s cause of death would be listed as undetermined, testified at trial that she was manually strangled.
The Appellate Court ruled that the State “broke the tie” with the profiler, Mr. Safarik, who was not qualified to give medical testimony yet testified that her cause of death was manual strangulation. The court also held that the trial court erred in allowing Mr. Safarik to testify to his opinion that the crime scene was “staged” by someone who wanted to distance himself from the crime scene and Mrs. King to throw off law enforcement. Mr. Safarik’s “staging” testimony, the court ruled, strayed into impermissible “profiling” testimony that “indirectly, but pointedly” identified Mr. King as the killer, “because, under the circumstances, no one else fit that profile.” The Appellate Court remanded the case to the Kane County Circuit Court for retrial. Prosecutors have said they will ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review the decision.
Mr. Fuentes briefed and argued the case in this complex appeal, and with him on the brief were Partner Clifford W. Berlow and former associate Philip Kovoor.
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.
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.
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.
Daily Journal Features Partner Rick Richmond in his First Murder Case
Jenner & Block Partner Rick Richmond, co-founder and managing partner of the Los Angeles office, is featured in the Daily Journal for his pro bono representation of Dietrich Canterberry, a 36-year-old man charged with one count of murder after an altercation outside a Hollywood nightclub resulted in a fatality in October 2016.
Canterberry, an Anaheim resident and former college football player, was a four-year letterman and three-year starter during his career as a UNLV Rebel. Earning All-Mountain West Honors in 2002, and voted as a team captain in 2003, Canterberry earned the Robert Cline Scholarship Award for demonstrating a strong commitment to his team, university and community and used the prestigious accolade towards completing his degree a year early.
“That’s not your typical person who would be charged with murder,” Mr. Richmond said. “I felt on a personal level this defendant has been treated unfairly, and I want very much for him to receive just and fair treatment.”
Although this is Mr. Richmond’s first criminal case, pro bono work has always been a mainstay in both his career and throughout Jenner & Block’s history: “It’s part of our DNA at Jenner & Block to provide pro bono representation in the communities where we serve.”
Murder Charges Dropped after Coerced Confession Suppressed
Jenner & Block Partner Andrew W. Vail led a team that won a key victory for our client and for other prisoners who were convicted based on confessions coerced by controversial former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara. In December 2017, Mr. Vail and Partner David P. Saunders persuaded Cook County Circuit Judge James Obbish to throw out our client’s coerced confession, which was essentially the only evidence against him in a high-profile double-murder case in 1998. Judge Obbish’s ruling came after prosecutors granted Guevara – who earlier had invoked the Fifth Amendment under questioning from Mr. Vail– immunity from prosecution for everything but perjury, only to hear Guevara testify in October 2017 that he did not remember anything about the case. Guevara refused even to examine documents offer to him to refresh his memory. “He showed what he was made of,” Judge Obbish said as quoted in Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times articles, concluding that Guevara had no reason to be evasive. “[Guevara] has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.” The judge’s ruling may have an impact on an undetermined number of other persons convicted based on Guevara’s investigative work. On December 21, 2017, prosecutors then dismissed the charges against Mr. Reyes and he was released from IDOC custody for first time in nearly 19 years.
News of the dropped charges was reported by multiple media outlets, ranging from the Chicago Tribune to the Associated Press.
Pro Bono Victory: False, Coerced Confession in Reyes Case Suppressed
The firm team also includes Associates Matthew T. Gordon, Samuel Jahangir and Huiyi Chen and Paralegals Mike Hughes and Nick Perrone.
Mr. Reyes is the second pro bono client for whom Mr. Vail achieved post-conviction relief and freedom in 2017. To read more about the case of Patrick Pursley, please click here.
On December 13, 2017, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Obbish suppressed the confession of firm client Arturo Reyes after finding it to be falsely coerced by Detective Reynaldo Guevara of the Chicago Police Department. Mr. Reyes, who has been in prison since 2000, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and home invasion in a high-profile double murder case in 1998. His conviction was largely based on a statement he signed after two-plus days of questioning by four Chicago police detectives, one being Det. Guevara.
In October 2017, after prosecutors granted Det. Guevara immunity from prosecution for everything but perjury, Det. Guevara repeatedly said he did not remember anything about the case and refused to examine documents offered to him to refresh his memory.
“He showed what he was made of,” Judge Obbish said as quoted in Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times articles, concluding that Det. Guevara had no reason to be evasive. “[Det. Guevara] has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.”
After the court’s directed ruling on the motion to suppress, which Partner David P. Saunders argued, Partner Andrew W. Vail, who leads the Jenner & Block trial team, moved the court to vacate Mr. Reyes’ conviction. The state has until January 10, 2018, to decide how it intends to proceed, whereupon Mr. Vail will renew the motion.
The firm team also includes Associates Matthew T. Gordon, Samuel Jahangir and Huiyi Chen and Paralegals Mike Hughes and Nick Perrone.
Jenner & Block Pro Bono Representation Inspires New Law Protecting Free Speech in Zoning Matters
The firm’s pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018. The new law will protect all Illinois residents from being sued for voicing their opinions at zoning board meetings.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 731 in August. The bill amends an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting. The amendment provides that the “parties of record” who must be named as defendants in these zoning lawsuits include only the zoning board and applicants before the board – and not members of the public who attended a board meeting and took the microphone.
State Sen. Laura M. Murphy and Reps. Martin J. Moylan and Mike Fortner sponsored the legislation after a builder sued the Park Ridge zoning board and a group of residents who had spoken at public meetings on the builder’s proposal in May and September of 2014. The builder’s lawyers asserted that the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/3-107, required the residents to be named as defendants because the statute’s wording indicated they were among the “parties of record” in the proceeding, and the statute required all parties of record to be sued.
Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes and former associate Daniel Truesdell stepped in to represent 11 Park Ridge residents named as defendants, including Park Ridge Ald. Frank Wsol. After the builder refused to dismiss the residents voluntarily, the firm filed a motion to dismiss on their behalf, arguing that Section 3-107 did not require the residents to be sued, and that if it were construed to do so, it violated the residents’ constitutional rights by punishing them for speaking. While the motion was pending, the builder eventually dismissed the residents.
Mr. Fuentes later worked with Mr. Wsol and fellow Park Ridge Ald. Marty Maloney to draft language for a proposed amendment to Section 3-107, and the aldermen brought the language to their state legislators for inclusion in what became Senate Bill 731, enacted this summer.
Firm Team Wins Disability Benefits, Including 11 Years of Back Benefits, for Client
Jenner & Block recently won a victory in a denial of Social Security benefits case when, in a rare move, Judge Thomas Durkin of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois remanded the case to the Social Security Administration for the sole purpose of calculating and awarding benefits to the firm’s pro bono client, retroactive to 2005. Partner Craig C. Martin accepted the court appointment by Judge Durkin to represent the client in her appeal of the denial of disability and SSI (supplemental security income) benefits. Mr. Martin and Associate Elin I. Park moved for summary judgment and persuasively argued that based on the record below, which included extensive detail about the client’s medical history as well as testimony of a vocational expert, she was entitled to benefits and further proceedings were unnecessary. In a rare win of its kind, the court reversed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, who had twice denied the claims, and found the client incapable of working and entitled to benefits.
Jenner & Block Lawyers Win Asylum for Eritrean Woman
A team of Jenner & Block lawyers recently won a grant of asylum for a pro bono client who was forced to flee Eritrea because of persecution by its military regime. Born in Ethiopia to an Eritrean family, the client and her family were deported to Eritrea when a border war broke out between the countries in the late 1990s. But because they had lived in Ethiopia, the Eritrean military regime viewed them with hostility and suspicion. The regime killed our client’s father and when her two brothers raised questions about his death, they were arrested in the middle of the night. She has not seen them since and suspects they are dead.
The military also harassed our client, including making many attempts to conscript her into military service, where sexual abuse of young women is rampant. She ultimately fled to a monastery that helped smuggle her into Sudan. From there, she went to Brazil, eventually arriving in the United States.
Because our client left Eritrea without any identification documents or other paperwork and was no longer in contact with any witnesses who could identify her, questioning by the court and opposing counsel focused on whether she was actually from Eritrea or from a less oppressive country such as Ethiopia. An expert witness on Eritrean country conditions convinced the judge that she was from Eritrea, and a forensic medical expert testified to her physical and psychological trauma.
After weighing the evidence presented by Partner Casey T. Grabenstein and Associates Leah K. Casto and Henry H. Cornillie, the Immigration Court judge handed down his decision immediately upon the conclusion of the case, and the government waived any appeal rights.
Jenner & Block Team Assists Tahirih Justice Center in Protecting Immigrant Victims of Crime
Jenner & Block Partners David Bitkower and Mary Ellen Callahan, Staff Attorney Danielle J. Nicholson, Associate Sati Harutyunyan and Summer Associate Meenu Krishnan assisted the Tahirih Justice Center (TJC) in ensuring the removal of confidential information about immigrant victims of crime from a publicly-accessible database managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Tahirih Justice Center is a national organization that provides legal services to immigrants and refugee women and girls fleeing violence.
The ICE database, called the Victim Information and Notification Exchange, permitted members of the public to elect to receive notifications about the whereabouts of immigrants in ICE detention. But the database included information about detained immigrants who were themselves victims of crime, including human trafficking and domestic violence. The database thereby risked placing those victims in danger, including from those who had previously victimized them and could now track their physical location. Under federal law, DHS is prohibited from disclosing information about a survivor of violence seeking protection under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 or the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000.
After multiple requests from TJC to remove the confidential information – and after the information had been publicly available likely for months – ICE promptly resolved the database problem once the firm team took on the matter. There was no litigation involved.