Firm Joins Pro Bono Effort to Help Residents Struggling One Year after Sewage Backup
Jenner & Block is proud to join a coalition of law firms helping residents in South Ozone Park, Queens, New York. One year ago, governmental infrastructure failure caused a sewage backup, but many community members still struggle to navigate the city’s claims and compensation system as they try to rebuild their lives and homes. Working with the New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), the firm is helping families pursue their claims with the New York City Comptroller’s office, the government entity charged with administering their claims and fully compensating them for their losses.
Several local media outlets have reported on what NYLPI calls the South Ozone Park Sewage Legal Assistance Project. Among those with coverage were NY1, CBS, and NBC. An NYLPI press release also details the situation.
The team that is partnering with NYLPI on this important project includes Special Counsel David W. Sussman, Partner Mélida Hodgson, and Associate Edeli Rivera.
Partner Cindy Robertson Honored with the “Champion of the Year” award from The Human Trafficking Legal Center
The “Champion of the Year Award” honors a single advocate who has gone above and beyond to provide pro bono services to survivors. Jenner & Block Partner Cynthia “Cindy” J. Robertson and her team successfully handled two complex immigration cases for trafficking survivors, winning T-visas for both of the clients around the Fourth of July holiday this year. The cases – one involving forced labor, the second involving sex trafficking – represented significant challenges. Both cases demanded creativity, tenacity, attention to detail, and excellent legal research to prevail. Through it all, Ms. Robertson supported the clients, providing trauma-informed legal guidance. The award will be presented on November 18, 2020.
Team Secures Federal Court Orders Requiring USPS To Expedite Florida Ballots
A team led by Jenner & Block Partner David J. Bradford
represents 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East in its lawsuit against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy over alleged slowdowns in mail delivery.
The union sued DeJoy on October 6, claiming he made “illegal and unprecedented changes” to USPS policies that will delay ballots and disenfranchise Floridians who are voting by mail in larger numbers than usual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On October 29, the team won a court order
requiring USPS to issue “all clear” certifications from all postal facilities in the 10 largest counties in Florida by 8 a.m. on Monday, November 2. The “all clear” certification requires each facility to certify that it has processed all ballots at that facility. The court scheduled a hearing at 9 a.m. on Monday morning, at which he could order further emergency relief if the 8 a.m. certifications were not satisfactory to our client. These certifications and other relief were ordered over USPS’ objection.
This ruling came on the heels an October 28 agreement, that required USPS to provide detailed arrangements for USPS officials to transfer ballots directly to Election Officials prior to 7 p.m. on Election Day and for USPS to “implement a hub-and-spoke plan” for each Florida county for November 2 and 3.
Under the agreement, the USPS will route any ballots within or near the destination county directly to the county's supervisor of elections, preventing them from traveling to a sorting facility farther away.
“The key is to get the ballots in the hands of that servicing facility,” Mr. Bradford told US District Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. in a videoconference hearing. “The hub and spoke is designed to make sure they don't get sent 200 miles away only to be sent back to the county.”
The agreements also required USPS to report to our team on a daily basis if there have been any material departures from the agreed procedures. All of these agreed procedures to expedite ballots and to provide transparency about ballot delivery issues were made part of the Court’s October 29 Order.
Asylum Granted for LGBTQ Kyrgyz Woman
Our client is a young woman from Kyrgyzstan who fled to the United States seeking freedom from persecution because she was targeted, beaten, and raped for being a lesbian. Kyrgyzstan is a dangerous place for LGBTQ individuals, as the Kyrgyzstan government encourages the harassment of LGBTQ individuals and supports far-right anti-LGBTQ nationalist groups.
Anara knew that she was gay since she was in middle school, but kept it a secret because in her community, to be gay was to be diseased or to be possessed by demons. Anara told her mother about her feelings for some of her female classmates, which her mother dismissed as a “phase.” Anara did not tell her father about her feelings, because he is a stern and deeply religious man. As Anara grew up, she exceled as a student, but was often mocked and ridiculed because she did not wear skirts, dresses, or high heels—all of which were expected of women in Kyrgyzstan. In her first year of college, Anara was elected to be class president, only to be told by administrators that she had to choose between the way she dressed and her position as president. Anara resigned.
Throughout her childhood and through her first year of college, Anara hid her sexuality. But the façade fell apart when she went home for winter break to celebrate her 18th birthday with her family. The family had prepared a large meal to celebrate the occasion, and Anara’s father asked to use her mobile phone to take a picture of everyone. After taking the picture, Anara’s father scrolled through Anara’s screenshots and discovered images of lesbian women, rainbow flags, and depictions from the film “Blue is the Warmest Color.”
Her father flew into a rage, cursing to the heavens for giving him a gay daughter. He repeatedly struck Anara until she fell to the ground. He picked up a cutting board and continued until Anara fell unconscious. He then locked her in an unheated barn overnight—in December. He refused for days to allow her to eat, take painkillers, or seek medical attention. Instead, he gathered leaders and other members of the local mosque, and invited them to the house to “cleanse” Anara. They took Anara outside, threw her into freezing water, and then dumped her into the snow, chanting prayers. They picked her up and pulled her arms and legs in opposite directions, and forced our client’s eyes to remain open so that the “demons” could escape.
Anara was bed-ridden for some time after the beatings and conversion therapy. But once she had some time to heal, she escaped her house. She had no money or support, so she went to a local police station for shelter. She found more persecution instead. Two male police officers took her into a room in the police station and questioned her. Although they seemed kind at first, when Anara told them why her father had beaten her—because she was a lesbian—the officers laughed and mocked her. The officers took Anara down a hallway to another room and locked the door behind them. Despite Anara’s tears and pleas for them to stop, the officers raped her.
The officers released Anara the following day, and she managed to get back to her dorm at college. She knew she needed to flee somewhere safe—somewhere she could be free. To her, that was America. She finished the spring semester at the university and traveled to the United States in May of 2017 on a J-1 visa. She filed her petition for asylum a few months later.
In 2018, Associate Garrett Fitzsimmons and Partner Peter J. Brennan partnered with the National Immigrant Justice Center and lawyers from JP Morgan Chase to take on her case. They collected documentary evidence, drafted a brief, and prepared Anara for an eventual interview, even though the interview was not expected to come for many years. In the middle of this year, the team sought an expedited interview, which was granted. They were given two-weeks’ notice and prepared Anara for her interview and finalized the brief. Anara was calm, brave, and passionate in her interview. Within 48 hours of Anara’s interview, the government granted Anara’s petition for asylum. When the team told Anara that she had been granted asylum, she cried and told them, “It is like a big American family is opening its arms to welcome me in.”
Jenner & Block Files Lawsuit against New York City for Failing to Provide Shelter for Homeless New Yorkers during the Pandemic
On October 22, a Jenner & Block team partnered with The Legal Aid Society to file a lawsuit pro bono in New York State Supreme Court on behalf of the Coalition for the Homeless and single adult New Yorkers who are experiencing homelessness. The lawsuit is against the City of New York, the Department of Social Services, and the Department of Homeless Services for failing to take appropriate action to provide safe shelter for single adults that protects them from aerosol transmission of COVID-19. A press release published by the Legal Aid Society notes that despite the large amount of vacant hotel rooms, and federal funding explicitly available for the purpose of housing adult homeless individuals, the City has taken only half-measures to protect this vulnerable group. The lawsuit seeks to require that the City offer a single-occupancy hotel room to single adult homeless New Yorkers for the duration of the pandemic, among other forms of relief.
The lawsuit was brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Due Process Clause of the United States and New York State Constitutions, the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York State Social Services Law and its implementing regulations, and the New York City Human Rights Law.
The firm team is led by Partner Dawn L. Smalls and Associates Jacob D. Alderdice, Ali I. Alsarraf, and Cayman C. Mitchell. Paralegal Nyema Taylor is also providing significant support in the case.
“To fight the coronavirus effectively, all New Yorkers – including those in need of shelter – need the ability to remain socially distanced,” Ms. Smalls said in the press release, “The City has an obligation under the New York State Constitution to provide safe shelter to our most vulnerable New Yorkers. We intend to ensure they fulfill it.”
Jenner & Block’s Five-Year Pro Bono Commitment (2021-2025)
Jenner & Block’s long-standing commitment to public service is a vital part of our culture and who we are as lawyers and people. As displayed in our annual pro bono report, The Heart of the Matter, we embrace our responsibility to serve individuals and organizations who would otherwise not have access to justice or legal services. Since we began tracking our pro bono hours nearly three decades ago, Jenner & Block has provided more than 1.6 million hours of pro bono service. We are ready to further our commitment.
Today, we reaffirm our role as an international leader in pro bono through a five-year commitment (2021 – 2025) to provide $250 million in free legal services to those in need of access to justice.
We make this clear commitment today because the need for pro bono representation in the pursuit of social, racial, and economic justice is greater now than ever before.
Our law firm’s passion for service began with the work of Albert E. Jenner, Jr. and Samuel W. Block, and has grown in its reach. In addition to high-profile cases at every level of the judicial system, our lawyers provide pro bono representation in a wide range of legal areas. This includes pursuing asylum for those fleeing persecution; fighting injustice in our criminal justice system, governments and society; advising grass roots and non-profit organizations; advocating for veterans; protecting constitutional rights; assisting victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking; and fighting for environmental protection, among so many other issues that impact people and our communities.
Recognized by The American Lawyer as the top pro bono firm in the United States for the past four years and 10 of the past 13 years, and as one of the top pro bono firms internationally only five years after opening our first international office, Jenner & Block is expanding its commitment to equality, fairness, and justice. We will continue to partner with dedicated legal aid organizations, law school clinics, in-house legal departments, and others committed to providing access to justice and serving the public good. As advocates for equity, we embrace our responsibility to serve those in need, better our communities, and protect our future. Together, we will make a difference.
Alabama Governor Issues Apology, Invites Compensation Dialogue for Pro Bono Client Injured in 1963 Church Bombing
The firm represents Sarah Collins Rudolph, who at age 12 was the victim of a 1963 church bombing that left her partially blinded. Carried out by the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham killed Ms. Collins Rudolph’s older sister and three other girls.
Earlier this month, the team sent a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, calling for an official apology from the State of Alabama to Ms. Collins Rudolph and seeking compensation for the decades of physical and emotional pain she has endured.
On September 30, Gov. Ivey responded. “Moreover, there should be no question that Ms. Collins Rudolph and the families of those who perished – including Ms. Collins Rudolph’s sister, Addie Mae, as well as Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carole Denise McNair – suffered an egregious injustice that has yielded untold pain and suffering over the ensuing decades. For that, they most certainly deserve a sincere, heartfelt apology – an apology that I extend today without hesitation or reservation,” reads the letter.
In the letter, the governor also suggests opening a dialogue with the firm team regarding the sought-after compensation.
“We are gratified by Governor Ivey’s unequivocal acknowledgment of the egregious injustice that Ms. Collins Rudolph suffered, and by the Governor’s apology for the State’s racist and segregationist rhetoric and policies that led to Ms. Collins Rudolph’s injuries. We look forward to engaging in discussions in the near future with the Governor about compensation, which Ms. Collins Rudolph justly deserves after the loss of her beloved sister and for the pain, suffering and lifetime of missed opportunities resulting from the bombing,” said Partners Ishan K. Bhabha and Alison I. Stein in a statement. Associate Caroline C. Cease is also on the team.
The team’s initial letter was reported by multiple news outlets, and Governor Ivey’s response was reported by media including the Associated Press, Washington Post, NBC News, Montgomery Advertiser, WBRC Fox Birmingham, CBS 42 Birmingham, and AL.com.
US District Court Affirms More Than $8 Million Jury Verdict for Firm Pro Bono Client William Dean
On September 28, US District Judge Sue Myerscough issued a 55-page order affirming a jury verdict in excess of $8 million for firm pro bono client William Kent Dean against Wexford HealthSources, Inc. The order, which denied the defendants’ motion for judgment as a matter of law and motion for a new trial, includes approximately $700,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. In her ruling, Judge Myerscough noted, “This case was about a kind of deliberate indifference that is more subtle and insidious than the kind of deliberate indifference that screams out with obvious, easy-to-find evidence. The skill, resources, and tenacity of Plaintiff’s attorneys are the reason Plaintiff was able to uncover and prove deliberate indifference.”
“We are pleased with Judge Myerscough’s order, which sends a strong message about the systemic deficiencies in medical care involved in this case. Most importantly, we are hopeful that Mr. Dean and his family will now promptly receive the resources necessary to support his care,” said Jenner & Block Partner Joel T. Pelz, who leads the matter for the firm.
In December 2019, a unanimous jury in Springfield, IL returned a more than $11 million verdict for Mr. Dean, who was incarcerated at the time. The jury found that Wexford 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 secured early release from prison in January.
Hehas 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.
In her decision to set punitive damages at $7 million, Judge Myerscough wrote: “This amount recognizes the reprehensibility of Wexford’s conduct and the harm Plaintiff suffered,should be sufficient to deter future similar conduct, and also stays within the bounds of due process, in the court’s judgment.”
Paralegal Kevin O. Garcia assisted Mr. Pelz in the matter.
Jenner & Block Partner Gregory Boyle Selected to Chicago Bar Foundation Leadership Team
On September 21, 2020, Partner Gregory M. Boyle was selected as second vice president of the Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) Board of Directors. After serving as a vice president for two years, Mr. Boyle will become CBF president in 2022. Comprised of diverse lawyers and judges, CBF officers and board of directors develop plans to carry out its mission: “to improve access to justice for people in need and make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone.”
As the charitable arm of the Chicago Bar Association (CBA), the CBF brings the Chicago legal community together to improve access to justice for people in need and make the legal system more fair and efficient for everyone. The Foundation addresses large systemic issues, such as the sharp increase of unrepresented people in the courts. Through community leadership, the CBF develops new solutions for providing access to justice, including advocating within the courts and at all levels of government for laws and policies that make the justice system more fair and accessible.
In addition, Through its annual Investing in Justice Campaign, the CBF raises millions of dollars to support legal aid organizations and programs throughout Chicago. Since its inception in 2007, the Campaign has raised more than $18.5 million to fund legal services for low- and middle-income people in need.
Another CBF initiative is the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP), which is a small-business incubator that helps lawyers start practices serving low- and middle-income Chicagoans. The JEP has helped several lawyers build sustainable practices, serving more than 4,000 clients and securing more than $4 million in revenue over the past year. As a JEP board member for many years, Partner Terri L. Mascherin currently serves as chair of its Advisory Board.
In addition to Ms. Mascherin, Mr. Boyle joins a long tradition of Jenner & Block lawyers who have been involved with the Foundation and who have held CBF leadership positions. The late Floyd E. Thompson, who was Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, CBA president, and a former Jenner & Block partner, made the initial gift to establish the CBF in 1948. Partner Jeffrey D. Colman served as CBF president, in addition to long service as a board member. Partner Terry J. Truax was also a longstanding board member. Partner Jason M. Bradford currently serves as vice president of its Young Professionals Board. Since 2005, Partner Howard S. Suskin has served as a member of the CBF’s Cy Pres Committee.
Jenner & Block lawyers have also been recognized by the CBF for contributions to the profession, including Partner Andrew F. Merrick, who received the Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award in 2016. Mr. Weigle was a Jenner & Block partner in the 1970s and 80s.
Firm Assists Healthy Eating Non-Profit Strengthen the Delivery of its Services
The firm counseled Purple Asparagus as it explored a strategic alliance that would strengthen the delivery of its programming. Purple Asparagus educates children, families, and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Its flagship program, “Delicious Nutritious Adventures,” brings healthy foods to life for elementary school children in Chicagoland schools.
The matter began at the top of the year as a proposed merger with a local non-profit, but uncertainties caused by COVID-19 led to negotiations ending. Purple Asparagus and the firm team shifted focus to finding another home for the programming and ultimately entered into an agreement with another Chicago-based non-profit that will strengthen the delivery of all Purple Asparagus programs.
The firm team included Partner Gail H. Morse and Associates William R. Erlain and Rita L. Feikema.
Letter to Alabama Governor Seeks Justice for Birmingham’s “Fifth Little Girl”
Jenner & Block Partners Ishan K. Bhabha and Alison I. Stein and Associate Caroline C. Cease sent a letter to Alabama Governor Kay Ivey seeking justice on behalf pro bono client Sarah Collins Rudolph, who at age 12 was the victim of a 1963 bombing that left her partially blinded and killed her older sister.
Known as the “fifth little girl,” Ms. Collins Rudolph survived the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church carried out by the Ku Klux Klan in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963. The attack killed four girls, including Ms. Collins Rudolph’s sister, 14-year-old Addie Mae, as well as Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14, and Cynthia Wesley, 14. Ms. Collins Rudolph lost her right eye in the attack.
The letter sent to Gov. Ivey on September 14 calls for an official apology from the State of Alabama to Ms. Collins Rudolph and seeks compensation for the decades of physical and emotional pain she has endured. “While social justice is always a worthy cause, given recent events, now is the time for Ms. Collins Rudolph to receive long overdue justice,” the letter states.
Learn more in this press release about the case.
Cross-Office Team Advises Lawyers Without Borders
Earlier this year, Lawyers Without Borders (LWOB) asked the firm to conduct an in-depth analysis on wildlife trafficking and organized crime and whether there has been an impact since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in Africa, South America, and Asia.
Third District Panel Upholds Historic Preservation Law in Protecting Rock Island County Courthouse from Demolition
After diligent research by a cross-office team including Partner Christine Braamskamp, Staff Attorney Angelina Smith, and Paralegal Neha Patel, the team found that while there were travel bans and trade restrictions in effect that limited the move of goods and people, organized crime found ways to adapt their operations and continue wildlife trafficking. This includes finding alternative methods of transportation and increasing online wildlife trading and selling.
The team suggested that to mitigate the adaptation of organized crime, law enforcement agencies should increase security at check points on land borders and at ports where the transport of wildlife occurs the most. Further, the development of specific strategies to police virtual markets, such as cybercrime units and special monitoring programs, may be needed. Their research recommended that educating local communities on the dangers of wildlife trade and the potential diseases that can cause outbreak would help curb the demand in wildlife trafficking. The team urged the LWOB to have readily available information on the practice of illegal wildlife trafficking and its connection to the spread of disease, as well as provide communities with a way to report suspected illegal trafficking.
On July 16, the Illinois Appellate Court ruled that a state historic preservation law prevents local authorities from demolishing the nearly 125-year-old Rock Island County Courthouse. Justice William E. Holdridge wrote in a 46-page opinion that neither Rock Island County, nor the Chief Judge of the Rock Island Circuit Court could order the courthouse demolished without first complying with the Illinois State Agency Historic Resources Preservation Act. Under that Act, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency must undergo a process to look for alternatives to demolition. The Appellate Court enjoined any demolition until the county complies with the state law.
The Appellate Court decision is an important step forward in saving the historic landmark. 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.
Jenner & Block represents, pro bono, all of the plaintiffs against the Rock Island County Public Building Commission and County Board; they include Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Rock Island Preservation Society, the Moline Preservation Society, the Broadway Historic District Association, Rock Island Justice Center, and bondholder Fred Shaw. Associate Thomas E. Quinn argued the appeal. The firm team includes Charles W. Carlin, Hope H. Tone, Bill A. Williams, and Co-Managing Partner Randy E. Mehrberg.
Team Helps Pro Bono Client Secure Compassionate Release from Prison in the Wake of COVID-19 Threat
In 2012, our client was sentenced to 252 months in prison for a non-violent drug offense, a sentence that was 12 months longer than the minimum sentence. He has been an inmate at FCI Oakdale in Louisiana, despite being tried in the Northern District of Illinois and residing in Illinois. Oakdale has experienced a severe outbreak of COVID-19 and has a staggering 18.5% confirmed infection rate. This percentage is about 22 times worse than the United States overall. Furthermore, Oakdale has faced heavy scrutiny (including media attention) for its wardens’ negligent handling of the pandemic and endangering inmates. Our client has three of the most common COVID-19 comorbidities, making him highly susceptible to severe illness if he were to contract the virus. Out of fear for his life, he filed a pro se petition with Judge Lefkow for compassionate release under 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A)(i).
On June 18, Judge Lefkow appointed Partner Paul B. Rietema to assist our client with his petition. Associate Maliha Ikram quickly worked to gather necessary information to support the petition. Maliha spoke to our client on June 19to glean information on his friends, family and community members. Maliha contacted dozens of these individuals over the course of 10 days. On July 1, Paul and Maliha were able to make an evidentiary submission that included 22 letters and affidavits in support of our client’s release.
On July 7, our client’s motion was granted and his sentence was reduced to time served. He has been ordered to be released from custody at Oakdale as soon as practicable. His term of supervised release will commence immediately upon his release, with his first six months to be served in home confinement. Though our client’s prison sentence would have otherwise run until 2028, the court released him to home confinement with the remainder of his term to be served on supervised release.
In granting his motion, the court noted that our client does not pose “a danger to individual or community safety” and, while incarcerated, has shown remorse for past conduct, earned his GED, and enrolled in several self-bettering courses. To have kept him imprisoned at Oakdale would have been to put him at “extraordinary risk” for his life.
The team was assisted by Legal Assistant Mirella Marquez, Manager of Docketing Services Na’eem Conway, and Docket Assistant Dylan Doppelt, who were instrumental in compiling and filing documents on our compressed timeline.
The American Lawyer’s Annual Survey Ranks the Firm No. 1 in Pro Bono for the Fourth Consecutive Year
Once again, The American Lawyer has recognized Jenner & Block as the No. 1 law firm in the United States for pro bono service. This marks the fourth consecutive year – and the 10th time in 13 years – that the firm has achieved the top spot in the annual survey of pro bono commitment among AmLaw 200 firms.
The American Lawyer’s annual survey ranking is based on 2019 hours, which totaled more than 85,700. Firm lawyers contributed, on average, more than 175 hours of pro bono work during the year, and 100 percent of US-based lawyers performed more than 20 hours. In international pro bono work, the firm secured third place for the second year in a row.
Jenner & Blockhas a deep and historic commitment to pro bono and public service. Partners Thomas P. Sullivan, Prentice H. Marshall and Jerold S. Solovy launched the firm's formal pro bono program in the 1950s when, as active members of the Chicago Bar Association’s Defense of Prisoners Committee, they not only represented indigent criminal defendants, but also began recruiting dozens of other Jenner & Block lawyers to the same service. The firm's name partners, Albert E. Jenner, Jr. and Samuel W. Block, worked on many pro bono cases involving civil and constitutional rights and were widely recognized for their contributions to public service.
The firm was named No. 1 in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 1999.