Partner Adam Unikowsky Counts Another Victory before the US Supreme Court
On January 22, 2018, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jenner & Block Partner Adam G. Unikowsky in Artis v. District of Columbia, a case that concerns the statute of limitations for litigants who file state-law claims in federal courts only to have those courts decline to exercise jurisdiction over those claims. The 5-4 decision on behalf of Adam’s pro bono client is the sixth consecutive victory for Adam – he won three cases last term, and two the term before that – and his first this term.
Mr. Unikowsky represented petitioner Stephanie Artis, a former DC health inspector. Following her termination, Ms. Artis sued the District; that suit was later dismissed by a federal court, which declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her state-law claims. Fifty-nine days following the dismissal, she filed the state-law claims in a DC trial court. This court dismissed the lawsuit, holding that the tolling provision in 28 U.S.C. §1367(d) merely provides 30 days beyond the dismissal for the plaintiff to refile, a deadline Ms. Artis missed. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed. In the Supreme Court, Mr. Unikowsky argued that §1367(d) suspends the limitations period for the state-law claim while the claim is pending in federal court, and that Ms. Artis’s DC suit was therefore timely.
In the Court’s opinion, Justice Ginsburg wrote that “Section 1367(d)’s instruction to ‘toll’ a state limitations period means to hold it in abeyance, i.e., to stop the clock.” Justice Ginsburg also wrote that “the stop-the-clock interpretation of §1367(d) does not present a serious constitutional problem.”
Last term, Mr. Unikowsky argued three Supreme Court cases in a 28-day span in March and April 2017 and achieved unanimous wins in them all. Those cases were Howell v. Howell, Honeycutt v. US and Kokesh v. SEC. In the prior term, Mr. Unikowsky earned two additional wins in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez Valle and V.L. v. E.L.
Murder Charges Dropped after Coerced Confession Suppressed
Jenner & Block Partner Andrew W. Vail led a team that won a key victory for our client and for other prisoners who were convicted based on confessions coerced by controversial former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara. In December 2017, Mr. Vail and Partner David P. Saunders persuaded Cook County Circuit Judge James Obbish to throw out our client’s coerced confession, which was essentially the only evidence against him in a high-profile double-murder case in 1998. Judge Obbish’s ruling came after prosecutors granted Guevara – who earlier had invoked the Fifth Amendment under questioning from Mr. Vail– immunity from prosecution for everything but perjury, only to hear Guevara testify in October 2017 that he did not remember anything about the case. Guevara refused even to examine documents offer to him to refresh his memory. “He showed what he was made of,” Judge Obbish said as quoted in Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times articles, concluding that Guevara had no reason to be evasive. “[Guevara] has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.” The judge’s ruling may have an impact on an undetermined number of other persons convicted based on Guevara’s investigative work. On December 21, 2017, prosecutors then dismissed the charges against Mr. Reyes and he was released from IDOC custody for first time in nearly 19 years.
News of the dropped charges was reported by multiple media outlets, ranging from the Chicago Tribune to the Associated Press.
Daily Journal Features Partner Rick Richmond in his First Murder Case
The firm team also includes Associates Matthew T. Gordon, Samuel Jahangir and Huiyi Chen and Paralegals Mike Hughes and Nick Perrone.
Mr. Reyes is the second pro bono client for whom Mr. Vail achieved post-conviction relief and freedom in 2017. To read more about the case of Patrick Pursley, please click here.
Jenner & Block Partner Rick Richmond, co-founder and managing partner of the Los Angeles office, is featured in the Daily Journal for his pro bono representation of Dietrich Canterberry, a 36-year-old man charged with one count of murder after an altercation outside a Hollywood nightclub resulted in a fatality in October 2016.
Canterberry, an Anaheim resident and former college football player, was a four-year letterman and three-year starter during his career as a UNLV Rebel. Earning All-Mountain West Honors in 2002, and voted as a team captain in 2003, Canterberry earned the Robert Cline Scholarship Award for demonstrating a strong commitment to his team, university and community and used the prestigious accolade towards completing his degree a year early.
“That’s not your typical person who would be charged with murder,” Mr. Richmond said. “I felt on a personal level this defendant has been treated unfairly, and I want very much for him to receive just and fair treatment.”
Although this is Mr. Richmond’s first criminal case, pro bono work has always been a mainstay in both his career and throughout Jenner & Block’s history: “It’s part of our DNA at Jenner & Block to provide pro bono representation in the communities where we serve.”
Pro Bono Victory: False, Coerced Confession in Reyes Case Suppressed
On December 13, 2017, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Obbish suppressed the confession of firm client Arturo Reyes after finding it to be falsely coerced by Detective Reynaldo Guevara of the Chicago Police Department. Mr. Reyes, who has been in prison since 2000, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and home invasion in a high-profile double murder case in 1998. His conviction was largely based on a statement he signed after two-plus days of questioning by four Chicago police detectives, one being Det. Guevara.
In October 2017, after prosecutors granted Det. Guevara immunity from prosecution for everything but perjury, Det. Guevara repeatedly said he did not remember anything about the case and refused to examine documents offered to him to refresh his memory.
“He showed what he was made of,” Judge Obbish said as quoted in Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times articles, concluding that Det. Guevara had no reason to be evasive. “[Det. Guevara] has now eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.”
After the court’s directed ruling on the motion to suppress, which Partner David P. Saunders argued, Partner Andrew W. Vail, who leads the Jenner & Block trial team, moved the court to vacate Mr. Reyes’ conviction. The state has until January 10, 2018, to decide how it intends to proceed, whereupon Mr. Vail will renew the motion.
The firm team also includes Associates Matthew T. Gordon, Samuel Jahangir and Huiyi Chen and Paralegals Mike Hughes and Nick Perrone.
Team Leads Pro Bono Effort to Form Blessons
Jenner & Block Partner Olga A. Loy and Associate Rafi W. Mottahedeh provided the legal counsel and support to found and launch Blessons, a not-for profit organization that provides mentorship and educational workshops for women in need. Blessons also offers scholarships to disadvantaged, low-income womenand first-generation immigrants who have had their higher education interrupted due tosignificant life challenges. Please click here to learn more about Blessons.
Ms. Loy focuses her practice on all aspects of tax planning, private equity, regulatory and compliance work, merger and acquisitions and fund formation matters.
Mr. Mottahedeh focuses his practice on a broad range of federal and international tax planning and tax controversy matters.
US Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in High-Profile Dispute about IRS Tax Obstruction Statute
Jenner & Block Partner Matthew S. Hellman argued before the US Supreme Court on December 6, 2017, in the high-profile case Marinello v. United States.
According to an article in The National Law Journal (subscription required), Mr. Hellman told the justices that the firm’s client, Carlo Marinello, “was not charged with or convicted of felony tax evasion, and he does not challenge his misdemeanor convictions…But he does challenge his felony obstruction conviction under §7212(a), which was premised on his failure to maintain records and other acts and omissions not taken in the context of any IRS proceeding or investigation.”
In a related article (subscription required), Mr. Hellman told Bloomberg Law that, “when the number of potential obstructive acts is basically unlimited, like paying in cash or not consulting an accountant, and the only question is whether you did it to make the IRS's job harder, they could pick their defendant.”
The firm represents Mr. Marinello on a pro bono basis. He is challenging a Second Circuit decision upholding his felony conviction for obstructing an IRS investigation. The government reads the statute to criminalize any “corrupt” act that ultimately hinders the administration of the tax code. The firm argues that the obstruction statute should be interpreted like other obstruction statutes—to apply when the defendant intends to hinder an IRS proceeding that he or she knows about.
“In the absence of a government action there is no line. It's hard to say I can obstruct if I throw away receipts or pay in cash, even if I think that might lessen the likelihood of an audit or likelihood of having to pay if I am audited if there's an ongoing government action,” said Partner Geoffrey M. Davis in Bloomberg Law.
The case was also covered in an additional article by The National Law Journal.
In addition to Mr. Hellman and Mr. Davis, others on the team include Partner David Bitkower and Associates Corinne M. Smith and Michael E. Stewart. The firm was assisted by the Jenner & Block University of Chicago Law School Supreme Court and Appellate Clinic.
Chicago Foundation for Women Recognizes Associate Leah Casto for Working to Grant Asylum for Eritrean Refugee
Jenner & Block Associate Leah K Casto was recently featured during the Chicago Foundation for Women’s 2017 Annual Report Luncheon, highlighting the foundation’s collaborative efforts to successfully help tens of thousands of individuals impacted by issues such as economic security, health and freedom from violence. The event celebrated notable victories, including Ms. Casto’s work in granting asylum for a detained Eritrean refugee.
Shortly after the executive order was signed banning travel to and from majority-Muslim countries, the National Immigrant Justice Center contacted Jenner & Block for pro bono representation of a detained group of Eritrean women seeking asylum in the United States.
As a granddaughter of immigrants, Ms. Casto was compelled and eager to help those in need -- in particular, a 23-year-old Eritrean refugee who, if deported, would be vulnerable to serious danger, imprisonment and possibly death. However, thanks to Ms. Casto’s hard work and dedication, she was granted asylum.
In recognition of her efforts, the Chicago Foundation for Women featured Ms. Casto in its 2017 Annual Report video, including an in-depth article about her experiences during the case.
“The relief and happiness I felt when the judge finally said, ‘I am granting you asylum; you’ll be released tomorrow’ cannot match any experience that I’ve had in my life,” Ms. Casto said.
With asylum secured, the Eritrean refugee is currently acclimating to life in the States and, with the assistance of the Chicago Foundation for Women, will receive the help and care needed to prosper and thrive during her time here.
Firm’s Amicus Brief Challenges Constitutionality of Georgia’s Bail Practice
On November 20, 2017, Jenner & Block filed an amicus brief in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of the American Bar Association (ABA) in a suit challenging the constitutionality of the City of Calhoun, Georgia’s practice of detaining defendants prior to trial pursuant to a preset money-bail schedule that exclusively relies on the offense charged to assess the bail amount due, without an initial determination of an individual defendant’s ability to pay.
In Walker v. City of Calhoun, GA, the plaintiff, a mentally disabled individual, was arrested for a misdemeanor and detained for 11 days due to his inability to afford a standard $160 cash bond to secure his release. A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction ordering the municipal defendant to “implement post-arrest procedures that comply with the Constitution.” While further proceedings were pending, the City of Calhoun issued a new Standing Bail Order governing pre-trial detention of arrestees. The plaintiff again challenged the constitutionality of the new Standing Bail Order, and the federal district court found that the Standing Bail Order “still violates the Constitution insofar as it permits individuals who have sufficient resources to post a bond (or to have one posted for them) to be released immediately, while individuals who do not have those resources must wait forty-eight hours for a hearing.” The federal district court issued a second preliminary injunction prohibiting the City of Calhoun from detaining indigent misdemeanor arrestees who are otherwise eligible for release but are unable to pay money bail because of their poverty, and directing the city to provide indigent arrestees with an individualized hearing assessing their inability to pay within 24 hours of their arrest. The City of Calhoun appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
The brief in support of the plaintiff-appellee argues that money-bail systems that fail to adequately consider a defendant’s ability to pay violate the ABA’s Criminal Justice Standards and that jailing otherwise release-eligible defendants solely because they cannot buy their freedom is unconstitutional. It explains that, after studying the issue over many decades, the ABA has concluded that money-bail systems harm criminal defendants, do not serve the fair and proper administration of justice and do not advance public safety or the interests of justice. The brief also explains that a consensus has developed that money-bail schemes are unfair and do not work. It urges the Eleventh Circuit to affirm the decision of the district court.
The Jenner & Block team includes Partner Elizabeth A. Edmondson and Associates Jessica M. Ly and Jonathan M. Diaz, borrowing substantially from and building upon an amicus brief submitted to the Fifth Circuit on behalf of the ABA by Partner Lindsay C. Harrison and former Associates Peter A. Goldschmidt and Grace C. Signorelli-Cassady in O’Donnell v. Harris County and McGruder et. al. v. Harris County.
Team Argues for Release of Documents Related to Travel Ban
Jenner & Block Partner Kelly M. Morrison and Associate Joshua M. Parker are mentioned in a Law360 article about their lawsuit on behalf of the public interest group Muslim Advocates. Titled “Judge Frustrated with DHS Response to Travel Ban FOIA,” the article explains that the group seeks information under FOIA related to allegedly discriminatory policies targeting Muslims for searches following the Trump administration’s immigration ban. At a recent status conference, Judge Chutkan of the District Court for the District of Columbia deemed the government’s lack of responsiveness to Muslim Advocates’ request “unacceptable.” Mr. Parker is quoted arguing that Muslim Advocates seeks far less than the government’s claim of some 70,000 pages of potentially responsive documents. He also is quoted saying that Muslim Advocates has agreed to limit the search parameters, but the government continues to insist that it faces an undue burden without substantiation. The team is representing Muslim Advocates on a pro bono basis.
Associate Brij B. Patnaik Honored with Public Interest Law Initiative Fellow Alumni Award
Jenner & Block Associate Brij B. Patnaik was selected for the 2017 Distinguished Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI) Fellow Alumni Award. The Distinquished Alumni Award recognizes one former PILI Fellow for outstanding contributions of public interest and/or pro bono work. In his profile, Mr. Patnaik is celebrated for his commitment to service, specifically highlighting his pro bono work with firm client Adam Gray. Mr. Gray was sentenced to life in prison at the age of 14 for purportedly setting a fire in a Chicago apartment building that killed two people. Twenty years later, Mr. Patnaik obtained records of chemistry testing not disclosed at trial that proved the central elements of Mr. Gray’s confession could not be true. Mr. Patnaik then re-interviewed witnesses and worked with leading fire science experts to prove that there was actually no reason to believe the fire was caused by arson at all. After years of litigation, the Illinois Appellate Court overturned Mr. Gray’s conviction and granted him his freedom in 2017.
Mr. Patnaik served as a PILI Fellow with the Cook County Public Defender’s Office after graduating from the University of Iowa College of Law in 2009, prior to joining Jenner & Block. He is a member of the Young Professionals Board of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and the Chicago Council of Lawyers. He is a member of the firm’s Litigation Department.
Partner Andrew Vail Discusses Pro Bono Opportunities for Corporate Clients
This Bloomberg BNA article explores how corporate legal departments are increasingly turning to law firms to establish and grow their pro bono programs. Jenner & Block has created a menu of pro bono opportunities for in-house lawyers so clients can identify the best fit, including cases by subject matter, type of legal work and the duration of a case, Mr. Vail says.
Associate Daniel Epstein Discusses Importance of Pro Bono Work
Jenner & Block Associate Daniel A. Epstein is interviewed at length in an article for the National Immigrant Justice Center, which ensures human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Mr. Epstein recently joined a team defending a group of women detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Michigan. Asked why he does pro bono work, Mr. Epstein responds: “There are people who are lost in a system that I can navigate. I feel duty-bound to help them. I think justice demands high quality legal defense, regardless of ability to pay. And, happily, my firm feels the same way.”
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin Features Firm’s Pro Bono Work Leading to Change in State Law
The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin featured Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes’ pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town that led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018.
The new law will amend an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting.
In a Q&A with the publication, Mr. Fuentes said “there was a First Amendment issue that needed to be vindicated” and that the residents “were very concerned about their First Amendment rights.”
“The changes that we helped propose became law,” said Mr. Fuentes. “And, really, to see our pro bono litigation efforts result in some positive law reform to protect First Amendment rights is very gratifying.”
Jenner & Block Pro Bono Representation Inspires New Law Protecting Free Speech in Zoning Matters
The firm’s pro bono representation of a group of Park Ridge residents sued for speaking out against a development project in their town led to Illinois legislation that will become law in January 2018. The new law will protect all Illinois residents from being sued for voicing their opinions at zoning board meetings.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 731 in August. The bill amends an obscure provision of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure that was said to require lawsuits for administrative review of local zoning decisions to name as defendants anyone who spoke publicly at the zoning board meeting. The amendment provides that the “parties of record” who must be named as defendants in these zoning lawsuits include only the zoning board and applicants before the board – and not members of the public who attended a board meeting and took the microphone.
State Sen. Laura M. Murphy and Reps. Martin J. Moylan and Mike Fortner sponsored the legislation after a builder sued the Park Ridge zoning board and a group of residents who had spoken at public meetings on the builder’s proposal in May and September of 2014. The builder’s lawyers asserted that the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, 735 ILCS 5/3-107, required the residents to be named as defendants because the statute’s wording indicated they were among the “parties of record” in the proceeding, and the statute required all parties of record to be sued.
Partner Gabriel A. Fuentes and former associate Daniel Truesdell stepped in to represent 11 Park Ridge residents named as defendants, including Park Ridge Ald. Frank Wsol. After the builder refused to dismiss the residents voluntarily, the firm filed a motion to dismiss on their behalf, arguing that Section 3-107 did not require the residents to be sued, and that if it were construed to do so, it violated the residents’ constitutional rights by punishing them for speaking. While the motion was pending, the builder eventually dismissed the residents.
Mr. Fuentes later worked with Mr. Wsol and fellow Park Ridge Ald. Marty Maloney to draft language for a proposed amendment to Section 3-107, and the aldermen brought the language to their state legislators for inclusion in what became Senate Bill 731, enacted this summer.
Firm Named to PILI’s 2017 Pro Bono Recognition Roster
Jenner & Block is one of 47 law firms and corporations in Illinois named to the Public Interest Law Initiative’s (PILI) Pro Bono Recognition Roster. Law firms named to the Roster met at least two of the following criteria: an average of 35 pro bono hours per legal professional; a 5 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/or innovative steps to expand the firm’s pro bono program.
“Through the collective efforts of law firms and corporations like yours, more low-income and under-represented individuals across Illinois have access to the justice they deserve,” expressed Michael G. Bergmann, PILI executive director.
Jenner & Block has been on the roster since 2010.
To learn more about Jenner & Block’s pro bono program, visit our pro bono page or read The Heart of the Matter newsletter.