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The Alliance for the Great Lakes recently honored Jenner & Block with its Great Lakes Stewardship Award as the agency’s “Advocate of the Year.” The honor recognizes the Firm’s pro bono work on a lawsuit to stop the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) from allegedly using Lake Michigan and area waterways for raw sewage overflows in violation of the Clean Water Act.
“We have had a major battle on our hands,” said Cameron Davis, Executive Director for the Alliance. “But the incredible legal advocates at Jenner & Block have helped us fight the fight – they are truly heroes.”
Milwaukee attorney Karen Schapiro, who also received an award from the Alliance at the event, recruited Jenner & Block in 2002 after she had fought MMSD by herself for over a year. “My colleagues at Jenner & Block really model what the practice of law should be,” she said of the Firm’s pro bono efforts on the case.
In 2002, Jenner & Block and Ms. Schapiro filed a federal citizens’ suit in district court on behalf of the Alliance and the Friends of Milwaukee’s Rivers. The court later dismissed the suit because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources had filed its own suit against MMSD in state court, and federal law states that citizens can’t sue to enforce the Clean Water Act if a government agency has already done so.
On appeal to the Seventh Circuit, Partners James A. Vroman and Steven M. Siros and Associate Jason E. Yearout successfully argued in the briefs that the state had historically taken little or no action against MMSD’s violations, and the Court reversed the dismissal. Partner Barry Levenstam presented oral argument to the Seventh Circuit on behalf of the Alliance and the Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers.
As a result, MMSD petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. But, Mr. Levenstam and Mr. Yearout filed an opposition brief on behalf of the organizations, and the High Court denied MMSD’s petition. The case is currently in district court for further fact-finding.
In addition to Messrs. Levenstam, Vroman, Siros and Yearout, other Jenner & Block attorneys involved in the case are Associate Eric W. Truett and former Associate David J. Scriven-Young.
Formerly known as the Lake Michigan Federation, the Alliance for the Great Lakes is an organization dedicated to conserving and restoring the five Great Lakes, the world’s largest freshwater resource, through policy, education and local efforts.