Jenner & Block

The Heart of the Matter Blog

Jenner & Block is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:

 

 

August 26, 2019 Firm Team Achieves 11th Circuit Victory in Pro Bono Voting Rights Case

On August 22, a Jenner & Block team won a significant victory when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision entering judgment against the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), in its lawsuit against the Broward County Supervisor of Elections, Dr. Brenda Snipes.  The appellate court rejected ACRU’s arguments as contrary to the statutory text of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and discerned “no clear error in the district court’s factual findings.”

In ACRU v. Snipes, ACRU alleged that Snipes failed to make reasonable efforts to conduct voter list maintenance programs, violating Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA).  The ACRU also claimed that Snipes failed to respond sufficiently to written requests for data regarding the offices implementation of programs and activities for ensuring the accuracy of official lists of eligible voters for Broward County, further violating Section 8 of NVRA.

After finding that the ACRU’s notice letter to Snipes was the only correspondence sent and did not disclose potential NVRA violation or probationary time to remedy it, the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida dismissed the allegation, sua sponte.

In July 2017, a five-day bench trial proceeded solely on the ACRU’s contention that Snipes failed to make “reasonable effort” to remove ineligible voters by reasons of death or change in address.  The court found every piece of evidence offered by ACRU unconvincing, concluding that the organization’s 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 favor of Dr. Snipes and SEIU.  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.  Partner Kali Bracey and Associate Tassity Johnson, joined by former partner Carrie Apfel and former associate Marina Jenkins successfully tried the case. 

In March 2019, Partner Jessica Ring Amunson argued the appeal in the 11th Circuit.  The appellate court affirmed the district court in full.  On appeal, the ACRU argued that the NVRA’s mandate to remove voters ineligible due to relocation or death extended to other categories of potential ineligibility, that the HAVA also broadened the NVRA’s list maintenance obligations, and that National Change of Address procedure outlined in the NVRA for removing relocated voters from the rolls did not create “safe harbor” of reasonable list maintenance.  The appellate court found that all three arguments were completely contrary to the language and purpose of the NVRA and HAVA.  Moreover, after “thorough review[ ]” of the record, the court “discern[ed] no clear error in the district court’s factual findings.” 

In addition to Ms. Amunson, the firm team on appeal included Partner Kali Bracey and Associates Tassity Johnson and Manuel C. Possolo.  Paralegal Cheryl Olson and Docketing Assistant Tyler Edwards also assisted at the trial and appellate levels.
 

CATEGORIES: Appellate Supreme Court, Litigation, Voting

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson, Manuel C . Possolo, Tassity Johnson, Kali Bracey

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, Garrett Fitzsimmons

August 20, 2019 Firm Secures DC Circuit Decision Overturning Convictions on 6th Amendment Grounds

A Jenner & Block team of Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and Associate James T. Dawson succeeded in persuading the D.C. Circuit to overturn the convictions of pro bono client Pheerayuth Burden and his export business, Wing-On LLC.  Mr. Burden was charged with exporting gun parts without a license in violation of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).  At trial, the testimony of a key prosecutorial witness was admitted through videotaped deposition; he was unavailable for questioning becausethe US government had deported him prior to the trial.  The firm argued that the admission of the deposition constituted a violation of the 6th Amendment, which guarantees the right of the defendants to confront the witnesses against them at trial.  On August 20, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit agreed, ruling that “the district court erred in admitting the deposition testimony” and vacating all charges.  The firm also won a second issue related to the jury instructions for a willful violation of the AECA, which criminalizes willful violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

CATEGORIES: Appellate, Litigation

PEOPLE: Lindsay C. Harrison, James Dawson

August 2, 2019 Jenner & Block Associates Secure Favorable, Rare Outcomes for Two Pro Bono Clients

Through Jenner & Block’s work serving on the Criminal Justice Act panel in the United States District Court for the Southern District New York, a team of associates secured favorable, rare outcomes in two pro bono matters.  The first involved a client who was charged with serious violations stemming from a series of armed robberies.  While his involvement in these offenses was minor; however, one of his charges carried a seven-year mandatory minimum sentence due to the use of a gun during the robberies.  Led by Associates Edelí Rivera and Jessica A. Martinez, with supervision from Partner Katya Jestin, the team negotiated an agreement with the government that allowed the client to plead to a lesser charge.  And even though he still faced 41 to 51 months’ imprisonment under the lesser charge to which he pled, the client was sentenced to only 16 months in jail, 14 of which he had already served.  After the proceedings concluded, Edelí’s effective oral advocacy earned high praise from presiding Judge Andrew L. Carter, Jr.

The second pro bono matter involved a client being investigated for embezzlement from a labor union.  For almost two years, Associate Ali M. Arain led the case, supervised by Partner Anthony S. Barkow and assisted by Associates Lori B. Day and Jacob Lincoln Tracer and law clerk Andrew D. Whinery.  The team persuaded the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to give our client a rare deferred prosecution agreement, providing that if our client pays back the money at issue, he would not be prosecuted and will have no criminal record.  The client repeatedly thanked Ali and the team, stating that they had “saved his life,” “gave him his humanity” and “treated him with dignity and respect.”
 

CATEGORIES: Criminal Justice Act, Litigation

PEOPLE: Katya Jestin, Anthony S. Barkow, Ali M. Arain, Jacob Lincoln Tracer, Jessica A. Martinez, Lori B. Day, Edeli Rivera

July 25, 2019 Judge Grants Motion to Suppress Evidence and Dismisses Case Against Pro Bono Client

A firm team successfully proved that Chicago police had no reason to arrest our pro bono client on charges of carrying a gun without a concealed carry permit.  In granting the firm’s motion to suppress evidence, Judge Steven Watkins stated that the stop and arrest of the firm’s client were improper.

At issue was the gun that the client was carrying when police stopped him as he walked home in his Chicago neighborhood.  The client legally purchased the gun, and he had a valid Firearm Owners Identification card, but he did not yet have a conceal carry permit.  The arresting officers claimed that the client was looking into a window of a commercial business, and once stopped, one officer claimed he saw a “bulge” protruding from the client’s waistband, giving him probable cause to search.

However, the team developed a creative defense strategy for the evidentiary hearing in Cook County Criminal Court. The client was put on the stand wearing exactly the same hooded sweatshirt and winter jacket he was wearing the night of the search. The team put a replica gun in the client’s waistband, illustrating that the officer could not have seen any “bulge.”  The client and the officers were also questioned about the client looking into the window.  The judge found the stop, and therefore the arrest, to be improper.

The firm team included Partners Andrew F. Merrick and Sarah F. Weiss and Associate Miriam J. Wayne.

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Andrew F. Merrick, Sarah F. Weiss, Miriam J. Wayne

May 15, 2019 Firm Wins Domestic Violence Restraining Order Appeal on Behalf of Pro Bono Client

On behalf of a pro bono client, a Jenner & Block team obtained a reversal of a trial court’s decision to deny her request for a domestic violence restraining order against her husband.
 
Our client, who was born and raised in the Philippines and whose first language was Tagalog, represented herself in the trial court.  She told the trial court that her husband had raped her numerous times, was physically and emotionally abusive, and had taken their children to live with a family member without our client’s knowledge or consent. She also told the court that her husband dismantled her car on numerous occasions so she could not leave him, and that he said he could track her whereabouts through her phone.
 
The trial court excluded a substantial portion of her testimony on two grounds.  First, based on the mistaken belief that a number of our client’s allegations were not properly included in the written materials submitted to the court prior to the hearing, thus depriving her husband of the requisite notice to defend against her allegations.  And second, on res judicata grounds, based on another hearing for a domestic violence restraining order from 2014 (at which time our client had also represented herself and had been denied the assistance of an interpreter). 
 
Following the firm’s involvement as co-counsel with the Family Violence Appellate Project, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, reversed the trial court’s denial of her request and remanded the matter for a new hearing. 
 
In its May 2019 decision, the appeals court said that the trial court “placed too heavy a burden” on our client and that it was too protective of the husband’s rights at the expense of our client’s right to seek protection under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The appeals court added that the court misread our client’s filings and that she had in fact specifically pled allegations of rape and abuse, with the court’s error being prejudicial to her case.
 
The appeals court also said that the trial court should have granted our client more leeway on the res judicata issue, given her language barrier and status as a pro per litigant. “As a self-represented domestic violence litigant whose first language is not English, she could not be expected to grasp the full ramifications of the res judicata doctrine,” the justices wrote in their decision. The appeals court held that the elements to apply the res judicata doctrine had not been met, and the doctrine should not have been used to exclude evidence.
 
Associate Nayiri K. Pilikyan argued the appeal, and Partner Julie A. Shepard and Associate Effiong K. Dampha provided support on the case. Former associates Kate Spelman, Peter Goldschmidt and Elizabeth Capel also worked on the case.
 

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Julie Ann Shepard, Nayiri Keosseian Pilikyan, Effiong K. Dampha

May 3, 2019 Firm Represents Filmmaker in Release of Unauthorized Afghanistan War Documentary

Together with the Knight Foundation of Columbia University, the firm represents Miles Lagoze, a former Marines combat cameraman who directed a documentary film based on footage he captured while deployed in Afghanistan.  The firm first became involved in the matter after the Marines Corps initiated an inquiry into the film and indicated that the client could be liable for theft of government property.  In addition to advising the client with respect to potential criminal liability, the firm helped negotiate a distribution agreement for the film and crafted communications with members of the press in connection with the film’s release.  The film debuted in theatres across the country and on iTunes on March 15, and the Marines Corps has indicated that it does not intend to pursue legal action against the firm’s client.  The firm’s efforts on this matter were led by Edeli Rivera, David W. Sussman, Brian J. Fischer and Thomas J. Perrelli.

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Brian J. Fischer, David W. Sussman, Edeli Rivera

April 16, 2019 Firm Wins Significant DC Circuit Ruling in Guantanamo Defense Lawyers’ Case

A firm team obtained a significant win for two civilian lawyers who resigned from serving as counsel to Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammad al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the attack on the United States Navy destroyer USS Cole who is facing a military trial at Guantánamo Bay.

The civilian lawyers resigned after discovering various intrusions into the attorney-client privilege, including finding surveillance equipment in a client meeting room.

On Tuesday, April 16, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision vacating all rulings from Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, the now-retired military judge overseeing the case, dating back to 2015 in the trial of Mr. Nashiri. Among those rulings were orders preventing the Pentagon-paid civilian defense lawyers, Mary Spears and Rosa Eliades, from resigning.

In October 2017, the chief defense counsel for Military Commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Marine Corps General John Baker, excused Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades as counsel for Mr. Nashiri. Judge Spath disagreed with that decision, eventually confining General Baker to quarters and ordering Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades to continue to serve, threatening them with arrest. Judge Spath eventually abated the case to put it on an indefinite hold.

At issue in the January 2019 arguments before the DC Circuit was General Baker’s authority to dismiss the civilian lawyers. In a related case argued during the same hearing, a defense attorney for Mr. Nashiri urged the DC Circuit to toss all of Judge Spath’s rulings, as the judge was seeking a position with the US Department of Justice as an immigration judge while issuing rulings in the military court case prosecuted by the DOJ.

The Court found that his efforts to be hired by the same agency currently appearing before him in court was “impermissible.”

“Spath’s job application, therefore, cast an intolerable cloud of partiality over his subsequent judicial conduct,” the justices note in the opinion vacating Judge Spath’s orders.

The legal proceedings involving Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades have been complex and involved numerous government branches and court jurisdictions. Please click here for more information about the background of the case.

Partner Todd C. Toral, who led the firm team handling the case, represented Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades in the military proceedings at Guantánamo Bay and in the US Court of Military Commission (CMCR). Partner Matthew S. Hellman argued the case in front of the DC Circuit. The Jenner & Block team includes Partners Brandon D. Fox and Keisha N. Stanford and Associates Alice S. Kim and Eric Lamm. Partners Gabriel A. Fuentes and Luke C. Platzer  are also providing support. Partners Adam G. Unikowsky and Ishan K. Bhabha and Associates Lauren J. HartzAndrew C. Noll and Tassity Johnson assisted with moot arguments. Cheryl Olson provided paralegal support, Tyler Edwards provided docketing support, and Beth Gulden provided administrative assistance.

CATEGORIES: Appellate, Guantanamo, Litigation

PEOPLE: Matthew S. Hellman, Luke C. Platzer, Adam G. Unikowsky, Ishan Kharshedji Bhabha, Keisha N. Stanford, Andrew C. Noll, Tassity Johnson, Todd C. Toral, Lauren J. Hartz, Alice S. Kim, Eric H. Lamm

February 11, 2019 Firm Files Lawsuit to Protect Historic Rock Island County Courthouse from Unlawful Demolition

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.

The firm team representing the plaintiffs includes Associates Thomas E. Quinn and Charlies W. Carlin and Partner Randall E. Mehrberg.
 

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Thomas E. Quinn, Randall E. Mehrberg, Charles W. Carlin

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, Sara Kim

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

December 4, 2018 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.

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Bradford P. Lyerla

August 21, 2018 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 bono in 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.

CATEGORIES: Litigation

PEOPLE: Clifford W. Berlow

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

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