Firm Named to PILI’s 2019 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is one of 48 law firms and corporations in Illinois named to the Public Interest Law Initiative’s (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. Launched in 1999, the Pro Bono Initiative Program aims to enhance the scope and quantity of pro bono legal assistance in Illinois for those who lack access to justice. Law firms named to the roster must demonstrate a commitment to their pro bono programs and must meet at least two of the following qualifications: an average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional; a five percent increase in Illinois office(s) pro bono hours from the previous year; pro bono participation by 60 percent or more of the firm’s Illinois lawyers; participation in the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Law Firm Leadership Circle or one of PILI’s Judicial Circuit Pro Bono Committee Pro Bono Pledges; and adoption of innovative steps to expand the firm’s pro bono program.
Jenner & Block has been on the roster since 2010.
Firm Team Receives Victory for Obama Presidential Center when Judge Dismisses Lawsuit
On June 11, Judge John Robert Blakey of the Northern District of Illinois dismissed the lawsuit challenging construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), providing a significant victory for the delayed project on Chicago’s south side. In Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District, the plaintiffs alleged that creating the OPC in Jackson Park—and allowing the Obama Foundation to operate the center under an agreement that the Chicago City Council unanimously approved—would violate the Public Trust Doctrine and certain other laws.
Firm Team Partners with the National Immigrant Justice Center to Secure Asylum for Pro Bono Client
However, in his 52-page decision, Judge Blakey wrote, ““the OPC does not, as a matter of law, violate the public trust under the level of scrutiny applied to never-submerged lands” and “even under the heightened levels of scrutiny (applied to formerly submerged and submerged lands), the OPC still does not violate the public trust.” As a result, he found that “[t]he facts do not warrant a trial, and construction should commence without delay.”
In November 2018, a firm team including Chair Craig C. Martin, Partner Daniel J. Weiss and Associates Gabriel K. Gillett and Henry C. Thomas filed an amicus brief, pro bono, on behalf of all 11 museums located on Chicago parkland. In support of the now-granted motion for summary judgment, the amici provided the court with historical context about the long tradition of locating museums in Chicago’s public parks and highlighted the potential practical consequences that may result if the OPC was not allowed to open on parkland.
A Jenner & Block team won an important asylum victory for pro bono client Oscar, an effeminate gay man from rural Guatemala who suffered multiple rapes as a teenager before fleeing his country in 2015 in fear of his life. That same year, Discovery Attorney Pedro Fernandez, former partner Reena Bajowala and former associate Ben Halbig partnered with the National Immigrant Justice Center to represent Oscar in his application for asylum while he was still detained. They worked to get Oscar released on bond, prepared his asylum materials and helped him obtain a work permit.
In April 2016, during Oscar’s final merits hearing, the team was unable to finish Oscar’s testimony. The immigration court cut off the testimony, citing time limitations and continued the hearing until a future date. That date was then changed three more times. During this time frame, Partner Megan B. Poetzel and Associates Alexis E. Bates and Sara Kim joined the team. They worked to update Oscar’s materials, prepare his testimony, retain and prepare a country conditions expert report, and prepare expert testimony.
The final merits hearing finally happened on May 9, 2019. Relying almost entirely on the filed submissions, the immigration judge granted Oscar asylum, and the government waived its appeal, making the decision final. Oscar was overjoyed.
Over the past four years, many others have assisted with Oscar’s case, including Partners Rachel S. Morse and Wade A. Thomson, Associate Gabriel K. Gillett, Staff Attorney Leonardo Morales and Paralegal Cat Carraci.
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 Achieves Victory in Pro Bono FOIA Case
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.
The firm recently achieved an important Freedom of Information Act victory for our pro bono clients the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School and the Protect Democracy Project. In 2017, our clients filed FOIA requests and later sued for records concerning President Trump's now-disbanded Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The government's subsequent document productions were untimely and incomplete, but ultimately revealed that at least two Department of Justice employees, Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore and trial attorney Maureen Riordan, had used their personal email accounts to discuss matters related to the Commission’s work. Late last year, our clients moved for partial summary judgment, requesting the Court to direct the defendants to expand their search criteria and search the private emails of government employees. In an opinion issued April 30, 2019, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein granted the motion.
Firm Represents Filmmaker in Release of Unauthorized Afghanistan War Documentary
The Court concluded that in light of government employees' widespread use of private email for official business, limiting FOIA to official repositories would be "inconsistent with ‘the citizen's right to be informed about what their government is up to,’ the very purpose of FOIA." Accordingly, the court directed the government to search the private email accounts of Mr. Gore and Ms. Riordan and report on other employees' use of private email to conduct government business. The decision is a significant affirmation of the public's right to access government records, regardless of where and how they are maintained.
The team representing the Brennan Center and Protect Democracy includes Associate Carl N. Wedoff, who argued the motion, Partner Jeremy M. Creelan, Special Counsel David S. Sussman, and Associates Katie Rosoff, Michael J. Wadden, and Cayman C. Mitchell.
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 Wins Asylum Victory for Client
Jenner & Block Partner D. Joe Smith and Associate Grant B. Schweikert, along with Evelyn Miller, a Senior Vice President at National Geographic Partners (a firm client), won an important asylum victory for their client Victor de Jesus Chavez Cruz, who arrived in the United States in 2014 as a 13-year old unaccompanied minor from San Miguel, El Salvador. The firm was introduced to Victor in the summer of 2017, learning that Victor had fled his hometown due to repeated threats against his life and his family because of Victor’s sexual orientation. This pro bono case was particularly challenging because several months prior to Jenner’s engagement an immigration Judge had issued Victor a removal order due to a prior missed hearing. As a result, the team had to utilize a multi-pronged approach to maximize Victor’s chances of success, first applying for asylum and then immediately seeking a legal determination of special immigrant juvenile status (SIJS). Specifically, the team obtained a professional psychological evaluation for Victor, filed Victor’s asylum application, accompanied Victor through the in-person asylum interview process, obtained the requisite custody and SIJS findings from the DC Family Court, and filed a lengthy and complex motion to reopen Victor’s immigration proceedings despite the removal order. Throughout this process and in the face of constant uncertainty, Victor persevered with a focus on his education and improving his English. Victor graduated high school in January 2019. Victor and the team were preparing for a May 14th Master Calendar Hearing in the Arlington Immigration Court when Victor’s asylum approval arrived. Thanks to this significant team effort, Victor can now focus on his career aspirations—he wants to be a teacher or a nurse—and begin his new life without the constant fear of possible deportation.
Mr. Smith, Mr. Schweikert and Ms. Miller were assisted by the DC office of KIND (Kids in Need of Defense).
A Story of Courage: Asylum for Teacher and Congolese Immigrant Jean B.
Client Jean B., a high school history and geography teacher in the Republic of Congo, was part of the leadership of a teacher’s union in the country. Known for its long history of grievances between the teachers and Congolese government, Mr. B. and several union teachers went on strike in 2013 in an effort to create change. “We were living in a country where teachers were paid poorly and teaching in miserable conditions,” said Mr. B.
After several interrogations, beatings and threats to his life from the Congolese government, Mr. B. fled to the United states. The National Immigrant Justice Center then referred his asylum case to a team including Jenner & Block Partner Wade A. Thomson and Senior Counsel at McDonald’s Corporation Pauline Levy for pro bono legal services.
Learn more about Mr. B’s courageous story in the video below and in our 2018 Heart of the Matter Pro Bono Report.
Pro Bono Stories: Jean B. from Jenner & Block LLP on Vimeo.
Partnering with the UK’s Centrepoint Charity
Creating an effective pro bono partnership requires a broad commitment to supporting an organization on many levels. But this is the goal of Jenner & Block’s London office in its new partnership with Centrepoint, the United Kingdom’s leading youth homelessness charity. “This is a unique opportunity for everyone in our growing office to be part of something that makes a difference in the lives of many people,” said Partner Christine Braamskamp, who is a co-chair of the firm’s Investigations, Compliance and Defense Practice.
Ms. Braamskamp and Partner Christian Tuddenham, a co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee, are in the early stages of providing pro bono governance and risk management advice to Centrepoint’s board of trustees.
Hear more about the partnership and the London office’s growing pro bono program from Mr. Tuddenham and Centrepoint’s Relationship Director Orla Constant in this video.
The Heart of the Matter 2018 Report
Jenner & Block is pleased to present The Heart of the Matter, our annual report that covers highlights of our pro bono and community service of 2018.
Through feature articles and videos, this multi-media report demonstrates how Jenner & Block has changed the lives of the clients and organizations we are privileged to represent.
To stay informed about new pro bono developments in 2019, please also visit The Heart of the Matter blog.
Asylum for Children in Need
Every year, minors in need of protection and support seek asylum in the United States. In this video, Partner Michael W. Ross discusses one of his pro bono clients who came to the United States as a minor after fleeing an unsafe living situation in Ecuador.
Firm Files Lawsuit to Protect Historic Rock Island County Courthouse from Unlawful Demolition
Interested in learning more about Jenner & Block’s pro bono advocacy? Visit Jenner & Block’s annual pro bono report, The Heart of the Matter.
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.
Article Features Latest USS Cole Bombing DC Circuit Appeal
The firm team representing the plaintiffs includes Associates Thomas E. Quinn and Charlies W. Carlin and Partner Randall E. Mehrberg.
Courthouse News Service published an article about arguments in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia arising out of the trial of the alleged mastermind of the attack on the US Navy destroyer USS Cole.
A Jenner & Block team represents two civilian lawyers who resigned on ethical grounds from serving as trial counsel to the defendant, Abd al-Rahim Hussein Muhammad al-Nashiri, after discovering various intrusions into the attorney-client privilege, including finding surveillance equipment in a client meeting room.
In October 2017, the chief defense counsel for Military Commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Marine Corps General John Baker, excused Pentagon-paid civilian defense lawyers Mary Spears and Rosa Eliades as counsel for Mr. Nashiri. The military judge overseeing the case, Air Force Colonel Vance 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 arguments before the DC Circuit was General Baker’s authority to dismiss the civilian lawyers. The article quoted Partner Matthew S. Hellman addressing the military court rules that grant the general the right to excuse Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades. “It couldn’t be much clearer,” said Mr. Hellman, who is a co-chair of the firm’s Appellate and Supreme Court Practice.
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. Quoted in the Courthouse News Service article, one of the justices overseeing the arguments remarked, “I just don’t see how this passes the smell test.”
The arguments marked the second time the case appeared in the DC Circuit. In May, Mr. Hellman and the firm argued to grant Ms. Spears and Ms. Eliades the right to intervene in US Court of Military Commission proceedings regarding their resignation from the case.
In addition to Mr. Hellman, the Jenner & Block team includes Partners Todd C. Toral—lead counsel for the civilian lawyers—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’s Efforts to Free Pro Bono Client Noted in Chicago Daily Law Bulletin Article
Titled “Northwestern Law Center Clears Three Wrongful Convictions,” the article featured the recent successes of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. The firm partnered with the center in the case of Patrick Pursley, who was acquitted of murder after a two-day bench trial in Winnebago County on January 16. Partner Andrew W. Vail, co-chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and one of Mr. Pursley’s lawyers, is quoted saying, “It’s a special opportunity that’s made possible by Jenner & Block’s long-standing commitment to pro bono to be able to take on a case like Patrick’s and obtain the necessary experts and deploy the firm’s resources and our attorney skills to bring justice.” On the same day of Mr. Pursley’s acquittal, another client of the center had murder charges in Cook County dropped. On January 24, a center client in New York had his conviction vacated.