December 14, 2005

Over 100 attorneys, judges and other members of the Chicago legal community gathered at Jenner & Block on December 6 to celebrate the MacArthur Justice Center’s 20th year of criminal justice reform efforts.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the many lawyers and law firms who have been brave enough to work with us as co-counsel” on many complex and often controversial cases through the years, said Partner David J. Bradford, founding attorney and General Counsel of the organization that has garnered a reputation for tackling some of the toughest civil rights cases – and for achieving dramatic results for its indigent clients.

Jenner & Block first partnered with the Justice Center in 1985 when Mr. Bradford, Partner Jeffrey D. Colman, then-associate Terri L. Mascherin and attorney Robert Markin began what would be an eight-year representation of former Illinois Death Row inmate Dickey Gaines, who had been sentenced to death for double homicide in 1979.

“I am grateful to the attorneys who worked on my case, and for the MacArthur Justice Center, because without them I wouldn’t be here,” said Mr. Gaines at the event.

In 1987, Messrs. Bradford and Markin and Ms. Mascherin (who is now a Partner) persuaded the federal district court that Mr. Gaines did not receive effective assistance of counsel at his original trial.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision to vacate the death sentence on alternative grounds.  At a new sentencing hearing, Mr. Bradford, Ms. Mascherin and Mr. Markin persuaded a jury to return a no-death verdict, and Mr. Gaines was given a natural life sentence.  Ms. Mascherin then appealed that life sentence based, among other things, on inconsistencies in the testimony of a key eyewitness, and Mr. Gaines’ sentence was reduced.  He was released from prison in 1998.

Now residing in California, Mr. Gaines is an advocate for prison reform – he works on behalf of prisoners and those who have been wrongly incarcerated.  He also speaks at high schools and universities, and has plans to start an organization in Southern California to help young people avoid the prison system.

MacArthur Justice Center attorney Joseph Margulies, who also spoke at the event, described his successful representation of Australian citizen Mamdou Habib in Rasul v. Bush, the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that foreign terror suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay can use U.S. courts to challenge their detentions.  According to Mr. Margulies, Mr. Habib had allegedly been held and tortured for six months at Guantanamo Bay.  He was returned to his homeland in March of this year.  Mr. Bradford and others at Jenner & Block also submitted amicus briefs in the case on behalf of the detainees, advocating their right to the basic elements of due process.

In high-profile cases like these, there is a temptation to think in terms of the overarching principles at stake rather than an effort on behalf of a live person, said Mr. Margulies.  But in this instance, he had “the rare privilege” of being able to tell his client that his life had been spared.

The MacArthur Justice Center and its partners have accomplished a lot in the last ten years, concluded Locke Bowman, Legal Director of the Justice Center, and “we’re looking forward to the struggles ahead.”