Firm Joins New Alliance Aimed at Dismantling System Racism in the Law and Government
Jenner & Block was among more than 125 law firms nationwide to join the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), which formed late last month.
LFAA is a coalition that will work with other organizations that are uniting to identify and dismantle systemic racism in the law and in government institutions. LFAA will facilitate large-scale pro bono projects that address systemic racism, with priority areas determined by affected communities, community organizers, policy experts and legal aid partners.
“Recent events have affirmed and highlighted the need for law firms to do more to identify and dismantle structural or systemic racism in the law and in government institutions,” reads LFAA’s charter. “Lawyers have a responsibility to use their knowledge and position to increase access to justice and to ensure a fair and equitable legal system. Lawyers and law firms are uniquely positioned to analyze and to advocate to change laws, policies and institutional structures that encourage, perpetuate or allow racial injustice.”
Participant firms commit to leverage resources of the private bar to amplify the voices of communities and individuals oppressed by racism; better use the law as a vehicle for change to benefit communities of color; and promote racial equity in the law and in government institutions.
LFAA will mark its official launch with a virtual summit this summer. Facilitated by experts in racial justice and systemic project design, the summit will include discussions among law firm leaders, diversity and inclusion professionals and pro bono professionals on developing LFAA's strategic focus and to plan a broad summit for the fall.
Firm Wins Victory For Pro Bono Client In New York Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals reversed a lower court and ordered a new trial for firm client, David Lang, finding that the trial court had improperly substituted a juror mid-trial. Mr.Lang, now 78 years old, was convicted in 2012 of second-degree murder in the shooting death of his brother on the farm where they lived together in upstate New York. As a result of that conviction, Lang was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.
The firm appealed first to the New York Intermediate Appellate Court, which affirmed the conviction. The firm then petitioned the New York Court of Appeals to hear the case, and the Court of Appeals agreed to do so. Review by the Court of Appeals review is extremely rare—the court took only 34 cases out of about 2,500 criminal applications in 2019.
At issue in the appeal was the court’s substitution, on the ninth day of the trial, of a sitting juror with an alternate juror. On the morning of that ninth day of trial, the trial judge announced that he had been told by a court official that a juror couldn’t be there because a family member had a medical appointment in Rochester, which was several hours away by car. The court, when ordering the juror substitution, provided inaccurate (and limited) reasoning as to why it believed the juror might have suddenly become unavailable, and never actually made an inquiry into whether the juror was unavailable or likely to appear within a reasonable amount of time.
The Court of Appeals found that the trial court failed to conduct the requisite “reasonably thorough inquiry” before substituting jurors. “Not only did the court provide only limited – and inaccurate – reasons to support a finding of unavailability, there is nothing on the record reflecting that it made any inquiry into Juror Number 9’s whereabouts or likelihood of appearing prior to ordering the substitution of Juror Number 9 with Alternate Number 1,” reads the opinion.
The court reversed Lang’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial.
Partner Matthew S. Hellman argued before the Court of Appeals. Associate Caroline C. Cease was also on the team. They were supported by Legal Assistant Beth Gulden, Senior Paralegal Cheryl Olson, Associate Manager of Docketing Services Tyler Edwards and Manager of Docketing Services Na’eem Conway. Partners Jessica Ring Amunson and Zachary C. Schauf and Law Clerk Rachel Wilf-Townsend mooted the team. Associate Samuel C. Birnbaum and former associate Marguerite Moeller assisted with the Third Department appeal, and the original team on the long-running case included former partner Peter Pope.
Jenner & Block Named to PILI’s 2020 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is one of 47 law firms and corporations named to the Public Interest Law Initiatives (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. The roster honors organizations that have made significant commitments and contributions to pro bono throughout the state of Illinois by helping individuals, families and communities who are in need receive legal services. 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.
Jenner & Block Associates Join Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ Associates Advisory Board
The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) has voted Jenner & Block lawyers Wesley M. Griffith and Alice S. Kim to its Associates Advisory Board.
LAFLA is a nonprofit legal assistance organization that protects and advances the rights of some of the Los Angeles area’s most underserved populations by providing free, high-quality legal services to more than 100,000 people living in poverty each year. Its Associates Advisory Board is an association of like-minded professionals dedicated to supporting LAFLA’s mission by providing pro bono service, fundraising and raising awareness of LAFLA’s work in the greater Los Angeles community. The board provides leadership, professional networking, and pro bono and social opportunities for its board members.
The firm’s Los Angeles office frequently partners with LAFLA on the foundation’s cases and initiatives. Mr. Griffith and Ms. Kim are currently working with LAFLA on COVID-19-prompted legal aid clinics involving housing, homelessness, eviction defense, domestic violence and other areas of need during the pandemic. Earlier this year, the LA office hosted a LAFLA training for associates on defending against wrongful evictions. Partner Carissa Coze serves on the organization's board of directors.
Outside of their involvement with LAFLA, Mr. Griffith and Ms. Kim maintain active pro bono practices.
Mr. Griffith recently led a team that secured the release of a pro bono client who had been detained by ICE at a privately run, for-profit detention facility, and led another team that obtained a five-figure settlement for a wheelchair-bound prisoner in a civil rights claim against a prison physician. Ms. Kim was part of a team that obtained an acquittal of second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter charges against a pro bono client. She also served on a firm team that obtained a significant win in the DC Circuit for two civilian lawyers who resigned from serving as counsel to 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 on ethical grounds after discovering various government intrusions into the attorney-client privilege, including finding surveillance equipment in a client meeting room. Ms. Kim is currently working to secure a federal prisoner’s compassionate release.
Firm Files Amicus Brief for more than 50 Organizations Committed to Gender Justice
On May 7, Jenner & Block Partner Devi M. Rao and Associate Emily S. Mannheimer filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, the New York Civil Liberties Union, National Women’s Law Center and 49 additional organizations committed to gender justice.
The case, Francis v. Kings Park Manor, involves whether or not a housing provider is obligated under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) to address tenant-on-tenant harassment if the provider had known about discriminatory conduct and had the power to correct it. A Second Circuit panel held that an African-American tenant plausibly alleged that his landlord had discriminated against him under the FHA by failing to address severe race-based harassment by another tenant.
The brief addressed the consequences that the Second Circuit’s decision will have for tenants’ housing protections; particularly, for women facing sexual harassment. Citing testimonies of women involved in sexual harassment cases, the brief observed that this widespread problem jeopardizes individuals’ access to a safe and stable home. The brief noted how intersecting forms of harassment, which are “based on multiple aspects of a person’s identity, such as race, national origin, religion and disability” pose significant concerns for women tenants, who have often indicated that “they wereharassed precisely because of their race and stereotypes about women of color.” It also explained that housing providers are empowered to take reasonable steps to address tenant-on-tenant harassment in accordance with the FHA and the First Amendment.
The Francis case is currently before the Second Circuit en banc. The court will hear oral arguments in September 2020.
Associate Hope Tone Honored with NIJC’s “Rising Star” Award
The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) is recognizing Jenner & Block Associate Hope H. Tone with its “Rising Star” award. The award celebrates Ms. Tone’s generosity in providing high-quality pro bono services to clients with complex immigration cases. Ms. Tone will be honored at the 21st Annual Human Rights Awards on June 2, 2020. NIJC hosts the awards each year to honor individuals who have made outstanding achievements to promote, protect and advance human rights throughout the world.
Firm Once Again Named to The National Law Journal’s “Pro Bono Hot List”
In its annual list of the “firms that do well by doing good,” The NLJ honors Jenner & Block for several pro bono victories in the past year. In one case, the firm ensured that tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients in Kentucky and Arkansas would not lose health insurance as a result of new restrictions on eligibility and coverage, including work requirements and lock-outs. That team was led by Partner Ian Heath Gershengorn.
“It is extremely rewarding to use our skills to help change the lives of individuals whose voices are not always heard,” as noted in The NLJ’s profile of the firm. “The Medicaid victory, in particular, is one in which tens of thousands of Americans can now continue to have access to health coverage and health care. The decision made clear that the administration cannot simply ignore the devastating real-world consequences of its policies.”
As the co-chairs of our Pro Bono Committee told The NLJ, pro bono is a core value at Jenner & Block. “Representing those without the resources to protect themselves reminds us that the work we do can make all the difference in the world,” said Matthew E. Price, Michael W. Ross, Todd C. Toral, Christian Tuddenhamand Andrew W. Vail.
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.
Jenner & Block and the Chicago Bar Association Team Up to Provide Pro Bono Services to Healthcare Workers
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.
Recognizing the sacrifices that essential healthcare workers are making on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, Jenner & Block is proud to partner with the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) in its Wills for Healthcare Heroes Program.
The Wills for Healthcare Heroes Program is an extension of the Wills for Heroes program, a national program that the firm has partnered on with the CBA for many years. Through the Wills for Healthcare Heroes Program, the firm will provide free estate planning services to healthcare workers treating in the Chicagoland area, enabling them to prepare simple wills and powers of attorney for themselves, their spouses or partners. The initiative was recently featured on a segment of WGN Midday News
In a press release
about the initiative, Joe Busnengo, who chairs the CBA’s Young Lawyers Section Wills for Heroes Program, said, “The Wills for Heroes Program has always been a way for attorneys to give back to those heroes who put their lives on the line to protect all of us like our veterans and police officers. We are very excited to be expanding this program to help our healthcare heroes, who are shouldering an enormously heavy burden during this pandemic.”
Jenner & Block has a longstanding partnership with the CBA, including in the Wills for Heroes program, and the firm is proud to be pitching in to help with legal assistance for healthcare workers, said Partner Andrew W. Vail
, co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee.
“This crisis demonstrates how healthcare providers put the rest of the community first,” Mr. Vail said. “This is one small way that our law firm, together with the CBA and the legal community, can come together to help provide peace of mind for these heroes, along with the other heroes on the front lines as well as their families.”
To learn more about the program, please click here
Central District of California Cites Jenner & Block Amicus Brief in an Order Granting Injunctive Relief to At-Risk ICE Detainees
On April 20, 2020, the Honorable Jesus G. Bernal of the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted a preliminary injunction to a nationwide class of persons detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The injunction requires that ICE do more to protect detainees from the risks of COVID-19, including by freeing many of those who face the greatest risk of serious harm due to their preexisting medical conditions. The court’s decision cited and drew from a brief filed by Jenner & Block Partners Clifford W. Berlow, Michele L. Slachetka and Christopher J. Rillo and Associate Faaris (Fares) Akremi on behalf of 16 public health experts as amici curiae in support of the class plaintiffs.
The court summarized that “[t]he central question presented” by the detainee plaintiffs’ motion for injunctive relief “is whether the conditions in which [ICE] detainees are held during the pandemic likely violate the Constitution, and if so, what measures can and should be taken to ensure constitutionally permissible conditions of detention.” Fraihat v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, EDCV 19-1546 JGB (SHKx), slip op. at 1-2 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 20, 2020). In its decision, the court observed that the class plaintiffs were supported by the firm’s clients as amici curiae: 16 professors at American medical schools located across the nation, virtually all of whom are practicing emergency room and intensive care unit physicians. In their brief, the amici had taken the position that ICE’s lackluster infection-control guidance was inadequate to stop the highly contagious, life-threatening disease and contextualized the extreme risk faced by vulnerable people detained in close quarters with no meaningful opportunity to socially distance or practice the protective measures necessary to prevent illness. Further, they had maintained that the risk of an outbreak at an ICE detention facility was not just to the detainees, but instead to all those in neighboring communities whose access to medical care would be jeopardized if local hospitals become overrun with detainees infected with COVID-19.
Embracing these points and the underlying medical and scientific evidence, the court provisionally certified an injunctive class comprising “[a]ll people who are detained in ICE custody” and who suffer from at least one condition or disability—defined broadly in the court’s order—that “plac[es] them at heightened risk of severe illness and death upon contracting the COVID-19 virus.” id. at 21-22 & nn. 20, 21. The court then concluded that “[p]laintiffs have established they will suffer the irreparable harm of increased likelihood of severe illness and death if a preliminary injunction is not entered,” id. at 36, and that the public’s interest tips sharply in detainees’ favor—in large part because, as amici had explained, ICE’s “failure to protect the most vulnerable detainees could quickly overwhelm local hospitals with insufficient ICU” capacities, id. at 37.
The injunctive relief is broad. ICE is required to, nationwide: (1) identify all detainees with any of a broad range of “risk factors” that render them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19; (2) make timely, individualized custody determinations for those detainees, including consideration of whether each detainee herself is willing and able to be released from custody; and (3) issue a performance standard clearly defining “the minimum acceptable detention conditions” for at-risk detainees. id. at 38.
Cross-Office Team Advises Lincoln Center in Transition to Virtual Programming
A cross-office team led by Partner Alison I. Stein is providing pro bono counsel to Lincoln Center as the arts organization transitions to virtual programming after “closing its doors” indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Launched in early April, “Lincoln Center At Home” provides a unique way for the organization to virtually distribute extraordinary content and keep its audience and donors engaged. The program includes an education channel for kids and access to both live and archived world-class performances such as a performance of Schubert’s Quintet in C Major. To learn more about Lincoln Center, click here.
In addition to Ms. Stein, the Lincoln Center team includes Partner Steven R. Englund; Associates Camila A. Connolly, Allison N. Douglis, Amy Egerton-Wiley and Emily S. Mannheimer; and Law Clerk Isabel Farhi. The team continues to work hard on the unique rights and other legal issues arising during this unprecedented time.
Pro Bono Client Roberto Lazcano Reunited with Family after 24 Years Apart
On April 3, after 20 years of clemency, sentencing credit, and post-conviction petitions, client Roberto Lazcano was released from custody and returned home to his family.
Roberto received a 55-year sentence in 1996 following his conviction as an accomplice to first-degree murder. Roberto was 15 years old at the time of the offense. Following his family’s relocation from Mexico, Roberto was pulled into a gang. At the time of the offense, Roberto and fellow gang member Mario Ramos spotted a car full of boys they believed to be rival gang members. Roberto, on a bike, took Mario towards the car, and Mario shot the driver, Andrew Young. At trial, Roberto was represented by a lawyer later disbarred for incompetence, illegal conduct amounting to fraud, and abusing drugs during the time he represented Roberto. Following Roberto’s sentencing, Mario pleaded guilty and received a 40-year sentence. Mario was released from prison in 2016.
Roberto underwent a remarkable transformation while incarcerated. He had dropped out of school at 14, but in prison, he prioritized education and helping others. He earned a GED and a bachelor’s degree and served as a tutor. Accepting responsibility for his role in the crime and the harm he caused, he sought and received forgiveness from the parents of the victim.
Jenner & Block took Roberto’s case in 2000, after hearing his story from his parents and mentor, Ric Elias, CEO of Red Ventures, and his colleague Alexandra Garrison. Over the years, the firm filed three clemency petitions for Roberto. Associate Elin I. Park
, former partner Sarah Hardgrove-Koleno, and former associate Nick Kurk drafted the first petition. Partner Caroline L. Meneau
and former partner Elizabeth Coleman drafted the subsequent petitions with assistance from Staff Attorney Anna W. Margasinska
, paralegal Mary Patston, and former associate Shy Jackson.
Between clemency petitions, Caroline and Elizabeth successfully filed a motion that advanced Roberto’s out-date by helping him get credit he was entitled to for his time in juvenile custody. Partner Clifford W. Berlow
, Caroline, Associate Joshua M. Levin
, and Elizabeth also worked on a successful legislative effort to provide further sentencing credit for education for numerous Illinois prisoners.
Roberto’s third clemency petition was filed in 2019. It stressed Roberto’s transformation, incompetent prior representation, and juxtaposed the length of Roberto’s sentence with that of the shooter, Mario, who had already been released on time served. Caroline presented the petition before the panel. She was joined by the victim’s father, Mr. Young, who explained that he forgave Roberto and asked the panel for his release. The State’s Attorney’s Office did not oppose the petition, and remarked that Roberto’s was the unique case fulfilling penological justifications prior to release.
Following a change in juvenile sentencing law, Cliff and Associates Sarah A. Youngblood and Hanna M. Conger
filed a post-conviction petition arguing for a resentencing hearing crediting Roberto with time served. The post-conviction team was aided by the third clemency petition. The State’s Attorney’s Office agreed not to oppose resentencing. Ultimately, the parties brokered a deal reducing Roberto’s sentence to secure his immediate release. In approving the deal, the court credited Mr. Young’s remarkable support of Roberto through his clemency process.
Roberto was released from IDOC custody on March 19. Following his release, he was taken into ICE custody pending deportation to Mexico. Facing concerns regarding potential COVID-19 infection while detained, Cliff, Hanna, and Sarah counseled Roberto through the deportation process with assistance from Partner Michele L. Slachetka
On April 3, Roberto returned to Mexico. He reunited with his parents after 24 years apart. Last week, a team of current and former lawyers held a zoom video conference with Roberto from his family’s home in Mexico. Roberto is looking forward to the future and grateful for all of the firm’s assistance. In addition to the lawyers named above, the team was aided by two dozen additional time keepers, numerous legal assistants, and docketing.
Partner Vince Lazar Co-Leads Group that Proposed Bankruptcy Rules Approved by CFTC
Jenner & Block Partner Vincent E. Lazar served as co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Joint Part 190 Rules Subcommittee, a group of lawyers, market participants and regulators who worked to rewrite the Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulations governing commodity broker bankruptcy cases.
The ABA subcommittee started its work in 2015, formally submitted a new set of proposed rules to the CFTC in 2017, and continued to work with the CFTC thereafter to refine the proposal. On April 14, 2020, the full commission unanimously approved the proposed rules for public comment, with final approval slated for later this summer. Several commissioners and CFTC leadership recognized the pro bono work of the ABA subcommittee at the April 14 public commission meeting.
To learn more, see the CFTC’s press release here.
Illinois Governor Grants Clemency Petition for Pro Bono Client Charles Harris, Commuting Life Sentence to Time Served
This week, Governor Pritzker granted the clemency petition of longtime firm pro bono client Charles Harris, commuting his lifesentence to time served and ordering his release from Pontiac Correctional Center. Mr. Harris was sentenced to life in prison under the Illinois Habitual Criminal Act in 1988 for committing three armed robberies, even though two of the robberies occurred when Mr. Harris was a juvenile, no one was injured during any of the robberies, and a total of only $235 was taken during the course of all three robberies combined.
The team was led by Partner Thomas P. Sullivan and included Associates John J. Frawley and Bethany H. Felder. Together, the team drafted a Petition for Executive Clemency in which they argued that Mr. Harris’ life sentence constituted a gross miscarriage of justice given the nature of the crimes, the mitigating factors that led to those crimes, and the astounding personal reforms Mr. Harris made while incarcerated. Additionally, the team collaborated with Mr. Harris’ family and friends to obtain letters in support of the petition. The team also coached Mr. Harris for his interview with the Illinois Prisoner Review Board.
Mr. Harris’ release will end a total of 40 years spent in prison. Mr. Harris had previously submitted three petitions for executive clemency, all of which were denied. Mr. Harris looks forward to reuniting with his family upon release and spending time in his community educating young people about the criminal justice system.
First Circuit Revives Suit that Challenges the EPA’s Plan to Limit Academic Scientists on Advisory Boards
Jenner & Block won a significant First Circuit appeal on behalf of pro bono clients, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and Dr. Elizabeth Anne Sheppard, a public health professor. At issue is a directive from then-EPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt dating to October 2017. In that directive, Mr. Pruitt planned to exclude anyone who had received EPA grants to fund their research from serving on any of the 23 EPA scientific advisory boards. Filed in January 2018, the lawsuit argues that “the effect of the ban, which has no precedent and no counterpart at any other federal agency or department, is to single out academic scientists and experts by excluding them from serving EPA in the public interest.”
On March 23, the First Circuit ruled that the lawsuit, Union of Concerned Scientists and Elizabeth Anne Sheppard v. US EPA et al., may proceed. The court reversed the lower court’s judgment dismissing the case as unreviewable and sent the case back to the lower court for further consideration of the claims. The unanimous three-judge panel said that the directive effectively "purged" 8,000 otherwise-qualified scientists from the rolls.
Partner Lindsay C. Harrison leads the team. The First Circuit appeal was argued by Partner Zachary C. Schauf, with assistance from Associates Samuel C. Birnbaum and Julian Ginos and Paralegal Cheryl Olson. “This case is an important victory for scientific integrity,” Ms. Harrison said in a statement.