Firm Secures Below-Guidelines Sentence for Client
Jenner & Block is proud of its 2018 pro bono results:
Through the firm’s work serving on the Criminal Justice Act panel in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, a team of associates secured a favorable and unexpected outcome in a pro bono matter.
The case involved a 23-year-old client who had a significant prior criminal record and who was subsequently charged with selling relatively large quantities of drugs on 12 occasions to an undercover officer.
Associate Tali Leinwand led the case, with assistance from Associate Logan J. Gowdey and supervision from Partners Anthony S. Barkow and Katya Jestin.
The team negotiated a plea agreement with the government shortly after the client's arrest that reduced the mandatory minimum sentence from 120 months to 60 months. Despite the government's recommendation for an incarceration term of at least 100 months, and a Sentencing Guidelines range of up to 150 months' incarceration, the client was ultimately sentenced to a below-Guidelines term of 72 months in prison.
During the sentencing proceeding in December 2019, Chief Judge Colleen McMahon praised Ms. Leinwand's "very eloquent" oral argument and her and Mr. Gowdey's "excellent brief," telling the client how fortunate he was to have received such "excellent lawyering" and specifically citing favorable policy arguments that were set forth in the brief. The client was very appreciative as well.
Over the course of the representation, the team was also assisted by Associate Matt Phillips, summer associate Idun Klakegg, and paralegals Ricia Augusty and Charlotte Stretch.
Fourth Circuit Revives Maryland-Based Census Suit
The firm secured a pro bono victory on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Prince George’s County, Maryland, and other plaintiffs that are challenging the federal government’s plans for the 2020 Census. Working with the Rule of Law Clinic at Yale Law School, the firm argues that the Bureau’s deficient plans will lead to an undercount of communities of color, leading to inequities in political representation and federal funding.
Originally filed in 2018, NAACP et al. v. Bureau of the Census was dismissed in 2019 at the district court level. On December 19, 2019, the Fourth Circuit reinstated the suit, remanding it back to the district court to reconsider the plaintiffs’ Enumeration Clause claims. The unanimous three-judge panel concluded that the district court “erred in dismissing the plaintiffs’ Enumeration Clause claims as unripe, and in precluding the plaintiffs from filing an amended complaint regarding those claims after the defendants’ plans for the 2020 Census became final.”
Partner Jessica Ring Amunson argued the appeal with a student from the Yale Law Clinic. The team also includes Partners Susan Kohlmann, Jeremy Creelan and Michael Ross; Special Counsel Seth Agata; Associates Jacob Alderdice, Amy Egerton-Wiley, Logan Gowdey, Alex Trepp, Matthew Phillips, Keturah James and David Clark; Law Clerk Andrew Whinery; and Paralegal Esmeralda Bako.
“This decision gets us closer to a more just 2020 Census and shines a light on the critical issues at stake in the decennial census,” Ms. Amunson said in a press release about the decision.
At the NAACP’s annual meeting in July 2019, the organization honored the team with its “Foot Soldier in the Sand Award” for its efforts in the case.
The NAACP suit is the second suit the firm has filed, pro bono, seeking to ensure that the census adequately counts hard-to-count populations. The firm also represents the Center for Popular Democracy Action and the city of Newburgh, New York, in a suit that seeks an injunction that would require the government to implement a plan to ensure that hard-to-count populations will be enumerated. Filed in November 2019, Center for Popular Democracy Action and City of Newburgh v. Bureau of the Census is pending.
Firm Wins $11 Million Jury Verdict for Imprisoned Pro Bono Client after Failed Cancer Diagnosis
On December 17, a unanimous jury in Springfield, IL returned a more than $11 million verdict for incarcerated pro bono client William Kent Dean. The jury found that Wexford Health Sources, Inc. 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. With a team led by Jenner & Block Chair Craig C. Martin, the result concluded a seven-day trial before US District Judge Sue Myerscough in the Central District of Illinois.
Mr. Dean has 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.
“We are very pleased that the jury saw fit to compensate our client and his family for the tragic events surrounding his care. The delays in providing that care essentially have become a death sentence for Mr. Dean,” said Mr. Martin. “As his pro bono counsel, every member of our team has been privileged to tell his story, give a voice to his suffering and make the defendants accountable for this very serious error in care.”
At issue in the case was Wexford’s policy of “collegial review,” a process intended to address clinically appropriate and cost-conscious care that Wexford used instead to avoid paying for necessary care. From December 2015 to July 2016, while Mr. Dean was held at Taylorville Correctional Center, the delays occasioned by collegial review allowed Mr. Dean’s cancer to grow and metastasize. In closing, Mr. Martin asked the jury to consider not only the pain, suffering and mental anguish Mr. Dean had endured, but also the opportunity to send a message to Wexford that collegial review cannot be used to delay care.
The jury’s award included an assessment of $10 million in punitive damages against Wexford itself.
In addition to Mr. Martin, Jenner & Block trial team members included Partner Joel Pelz and Associates William M. Strom, Chloe Holt and Nathaniel K.S. Wackman. The team was assisted by paralegals Dan Rooney, Kevin Garcia and Eric Herling. In addition to their service, several trial members also provided their services pro bono, including trial director Dylan Green of Green Legal Technology and the trial graphics professionals, Kent and Val Bell of Discoll Bell LLC.
The case name is Dean v. Wexford Health Sources, et al.
Lawsuit Seeks to Ensure that 2020 Census Counts Hard-To-Count Populations
Jenner & Block has filed a lawsuit seeking to ensure that the US government alter its “deficient” plans for the 2020 census so that hard-to-count populations are counted.
The firm represents the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a New York-based non-profit that works to “expand the voice and power of workers, communities of color and immigrants on issues of economic and racial justice,” and the city of Newburgh, located in the Southern District of New York. Newburgh is home to large Hispanic American, African American and undocumented populations, making it a hard-to-count community for the 2020 Census.
The complaint describes the risk of a constitutionally and statutorily deficient census, which is used to allocate public funding, for seat apportionment in the US House of Representatives and to create state legislative districts. Specifically, according to the complaint, the government’s Final Operational Plan “drastically and arbitrarily reduces the necessary resources for key activities,” the complaint reads. It asks that the court hold unlawful five Census Bureau actions, including plans to hire an unreasonably small number of enumerators and a drastic reduction in the number of field offices.
“These decisions are not supported by reason. They will inevitably cause a massive and differential undercount of communities of color,” the complaint reads.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks an injunction that would require the government to implement a plan to ensure that hard-to-count populations will be enumerated in the census.
The team that filed the complaint included Partners Jeremy M. Creelan and Susan J. Kohlmann, Special Counsel Seth H. Agata , Associates Jacob D. Alderdice and David J. Clark and Law Clerk Keturah James.
Judge Rejects Motions to Dismiss, Orders Discovery in Class Action for Veterans with PTSD
On November 7, a Jenner & Block team secured a significant pro bono victory on behalf of thousands of Navy and Marine Corps veterans when a federal judge rejected the Secretary of the Navy’s request to dismiss a nationwide class action against the Navy Discharge Review Board (NDRB) and the US Department of Defense for issuing less-than-honorable discharges to veterans suffering from undiagnosed PTSD.
In addition to denying the government’s motion, Senior Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr. of the District of Connecticut ordered the case to proceed discovery and directed the Navy to reconsider the requests to upgrade to Honorable the discharge characterizations of firm client Tyson Manker and of John Doe, a member of the organizational plaintiff National Veterans Council for Legal Redress (NVCLR).
“Today’s ruling, in time for Veterans Day, reaffirms the rule of law and brings us one step closer to getting justice for every veteran who was unfairly dismissed from the military with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and military sexual trauma, and denied their honorable discharge,” said Manker in a press release announcing the judge’s order to proceed.
In March 2018, Manker, a veteran of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and NVCLR filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of former Marines and sailors suffering from PTSD, who were unfairly dismissed from the military and denied their honorable discharge. The lawsuit seeks to ensure the fair treatment of veterans who have or would be subjected to unfair procedures during the review process in front of the NDRB.
On November 16, 2018, a judge certified the class action against the NDRB and US Department of Defense. The government went on to advance multiple arguments that, as the Court summarized, “seem to relate exclusively to the individual circumstances of Tyson Manker and John Doe.” But Judge Haight rejected these contentions, emphasizing that in fact thousands of veterans would likely be affected by the litigation: “Manker and Doe play important roles in this opera, but there are other soloists, a chorus, and a full orchestra—a fair analogy, given that the Court has certified a class of Navy and Marine Corps veterans…”
“As many as one-third of the more than two million men and women who have served since September 11, 2001, suffer from PTSD or other mental health conditions in relation to their service. Many of these veterans obtain less-than-Honorable discharges, often for minor infractions related to their mental health,” said Garry Monk, executive director of NVCLR. “Veterans with ‘bad paper’ are often cut off from the very benefits that would allow them to successfully transition back to civilian life, and instead suffer a lifetime of stigma, barriers to employment, and ineligibility for crucial state and federal benefits.”
“When veterans seek to correct these unjust discharges, the Navy denies the vast majority of their applications, contrary to statute and to Department of Defense policies designed to provide relief to veterans with service-related PTSD and other conditions,” said Samantha Peltz, a law student intern in the Yale Veterans Legal Services Clinic. “Despite its claims of improved compliance with Defense policies, over the past two years, the Navy has granted less than 20% of discharge upgrades for applicants with mental health claims. The court’s decision today is another step towards justice for veterans who served their country and came home only to face daunting hurdles in seeking care for the wounds of war.”
Acting as co-counsel with Yale Law School’s Legal Services Organization Veterans Clinic, Jenner & Block represents veterans who say they were denied the Honorable upgrade because they had undiagnosed mental health issues, such as PTSD. Associates Jessica A. Martinez and Jeremy H. Ershow have led the firm team since the complaint was filed in early 2018. Associate Nicole Taykhman also made the oral argument in federal court on the motion. They are overseen by Partners Susan J. Kohlmann and Jeremy M. Creelan.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
Firm Represents Filmmaker in Release of Unauthorized Afghanistan War Documentary
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.
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.
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. Hartz, Andrew 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.
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.
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.