Jenner & Block

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

 

 

May 4, 2020 Team Wins Seventh Circuit Victory for Illinois Prisoner
A firm team representing an Illinois prisoner achieved an important victory in the Seventh Circuit last week when the court reinstated the prisoner’s lawsuit challenging a private healthcare contractor’s deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.  The court’s opinion paved the way for the prisoner to pursue his constitutional claims against the contractor in federal district court.  
 
Robert Williams brought suit against Wexford Health Sources in 2017, challenging the contractor’s “one good eye” policy, under which it refuses critical eye care to prisoners like Mr. Williams as long as they retain a modicum of visual acuity in one eye.  Although healthcare providers inside and outside the prison recommended eye surgery for Mr. Williams, Wexford refused that surgery for several years.  At the time he filed suit, Mr. Williams was completely blind in one eye and suffering from a host of conditions in both eyes.  The district court held that Mr. Williams’s complaint stated a colorable claim against Wexford for violating his constitutional rights.  Yet the district court granted summary judgment in Wexford’s favor, holding that Mr. Williams failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act and the Illinois Administrative Code.  
 
The Seventh Circuit reversed that decision last week.  In a precedential opinion, the court clarified the standards applicable to prisoners like Mr. Williams who used the emergency procedures to seek expedited review of their grievances by prison officials.  The court explained that while those emergency procedures were recently amended to require additional steps, those additional steps were not required of Mr. Williams, who submitted his grievances before the amendment.  In reaching this result, the court emphasized the importance of transparency and clarity in the grievance process, and criticized the prison authorities for trying to “move the goal posts while [Mr. Williams] was in the middle of his case and suddenly announce that special new requirements applied to him.”  The court also questioned Wexford’s “dubious” decision to refuse the surgery that Mr. Williams needed.
 
Associate Lauren J. Hartz briefed and argued the appeal, with supervision from Partner Ishan K. Bhabha.  They were assisted by former summer associates Erica Turret and Ray Simmons.  Partners Jessica Ring Amunson, Adam G. Unikowsky, and Devi M. Rao participated in moots, as did Associates Andrew C. Noll and Julian J. Ginos and former Associate Maria Liu.  Paralegal Mary F. Patston provided invaluable support, and Partner Michael T Brody coordinated the court-appointment.  

CATEGORIES: Illinois, prisoner rights, Seventh Circuit

PEOPLE: Jessica Ring Amunson, Michael T. Brody, Adam G. Unikowsky, Ishan K. Bhabha, Lauren J. Hartz, Julian J. Ginos

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

August 2, 2017 Team Wins Seventh Circuit Appeal for Defendant who Struggled with Mental Health Issues

A pro bono client will have an evidentiary hearing on claims that he was not competent to plead guilty to a firearms possession chargeand that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to seek a competency evaluation or hearing before he pled guilty, thanks to a Seventh Circuit decision on August 2, 2017.  The client, Denny Anderson, suffered from a host of serious psychiatric disorders, including chronic schizophrenia.  He pleaded guilty to a firearms possession charge.  The district court accepted the plea and sentenced him despite his psychiatric problems, irregularly administered medical regimen, and unusual behavior in court.

Mr. Anderson moved for federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. s 2255 on the grounds that he was not competent to plead guilty and be sentenced and on the ground that his counsel was ineffective for failing to seek a competency evaluation and hearing.   The district denied Mr. Anderson’s claims without an evidentiary hearing.  In a published opinion, the Seventh Circuit unanimously reversed the district court, ruling in favor of the client, and remanding the case for a hearing on his claims.  “Because the district court lacked a full picture of Anderson’s mental health, its finding that Anderson had the capacity to plead guilty rests on a flawed factual foundation that must be explored in a hearing,” Chief Judge Wood wrote in an opinion for the court.

The team representing Mr. Anderson included Partner Barry Levenstam and Associate Joshua M. Parker, who argued the appeal before the Seventh Circuit.  Paralegal Mary Frances Patston provided invaluable assistance.

CATEGORIES: Seventh Circuit

PEOPLE: Barry Levenstam

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