Jenner & Block Team Recognized for Pro Bono Service by Eastern District of California
Our Pro Bono Commitment
The United States District Court for the Eastern District of California recently recognized Partner Kirsten Hicks Spira and Special Counsel Wesley M. Griffith as honorees for their commitment to pro bono during the District’s annual “Night to Honor Service.”
Spira and Griffith were recognized for leading a team that included Associates Elizabeth Avunjian, and Effiong K. Dampha in a Section 1983 civil rights case. The case arose from our client reporting several prison guards for misconduct. In retaliation, the guards took our client to an isolated area of the prison that was closed for construction and beat him until he lost consciousness. The guards denied all wrong doing, claiming that the client had instead slipped and fell to the ground during escort.
The client, who had limited education and financial means, was originally proceeding without counsel and having difficulty making his case in the face of the guards’ denial of any wrongdoing. The firm team, however, was able to secure evidence from the prison confirming that our client was taken to an outside hospital by ambulance for treatment for his injuries shortly after the attack, that the area where the attack occurred had no security cameras or other safeguards to prevent abuse of prisoners by staff, and that the guards involved had coordinated their incident reports before officially filing them. Based on this evidence, the action was settled on the eve of trial on favorable terms for our client.
The Eastern District has one of the highest levels of pro se civil rights litigants in the country, and Jenner & Block lawyers have served on the District’s Civil Rights Pro Bono Panel for many years.
Associates Vivian L. Bickford, Kristen Green, and Julia K. Hirata and Paralegal Christal Oropeza also supported the matter.
Jenner & Block Team Achieves Favorable Settlement in Civil Rights Case
Associates Wesley M. Griffith, Elizabeth Avunjian, and Effiong K. Dampha led a team that obtained a favorable settlement on the eve of trial in a Section 1983 civil rights case. The civil rights action arose from our client reporting several prison guards for misconduct. Our client alleged that in retaliation for his report, the guards took him to an isolated area of the prison that was closed for construction and beat him until he lost consciousness.
The client, who had limited education and financial means, was originally proceeding without counsel and having difficulty making his case in the face of the guards’ denial of any wrongdoing. The Jenner team was able to secure evidence from the prison confirming that our client was taken to an outside hospital by ambulance for treatment shortly after the attack and that the area under construction had no security cameras or other safeguards to prevent abuse of prisoners by staff. Based on this evidence, the action was favorably settled.
The team was supervised by Partner Kirsten Hicks Spira and supported by Associates Vivian L. Bickford, Kristen Green, and Julia K. Hirata and Paralegal Christal Oropeza.
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. 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 Partner Joel Pelz on behalf of the team. “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, the team 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. Pelz, Jenner & Block trial team members included 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.
On January 28, 2020, Mr. Dean was released from Illinois Department of Corrections custody upon completing his prison sentence. He was picked up from Taylorville Correctional Center by his wife, Cynthia Dean, and called his lawyers at Jenner & Block during their drive home to La Salle County, Illinois. Mr. Dean had been in custody since 2010. He will now begin a three-year term of court supervision to complete his sentence.
In February 2020, the Chicago Lawyer magazine highlighted the case in a feature article.
The case name is Dean v. Wexford Health Sources, et al.
Jenner & Block Associates Secure Five-Figure Settlement in Civil Rights Case
Three associates based in the firm’s Los Angeles office led a team that obtained a five-figure settlement for a wheelchair-bound prisoner in a civil rights claim against a prison physician.
Associates Wesley M. Griffith, Alexander M. Smith and Effiong K. Dampha led the team, which included support from Partner Kirsten Hicks Spira.
Our pro bono client filed a Section 1983 lawsuit against a physician at the California Medical Facility, a state prison, for not providing him adequate pain medication following second-degree burns to his face, neck, arm and chest. Despite our client’s repeated statements to the defendant that he was in severe pain, and the conclusion of four other doctors who examined him that day that he was in pain, the defendant did not administer medication or inquire if the client was in pain, in violation of prison policy.
The case settled a week before it was scheduled to go to trial in the Eastern District of California. Although one in ten lawsuits filed in federal court is a Section 1983 claim, these are frequently dismissed early and are known to be difficult cases to advance so close to trial.
The settlement judge overseeing the case thanked the team repeatedly for its dedication to pro bono, which is a core value of the firm, and its willingness to commit extensive resources to the matter.