Wednesday, April 26, 2006

D. C. Bar honors "Servants of Justice"

This is the kind of news I love reading about. The law firms of Wiley Rein & Fielding and Zuckerman Spaeder should be very proud of their partners Ted Howard and David Reiser.

With 80,000 members of the D.C. Bar Association, the nation's capital has more lawyers -- and lobbyists -- per capita than any other city in America, so what sets Ted A. Howard and David A. Reiser apart?

"There are a lot of lawyers in D.C. who do a lot of good work, but they are not as quiet about doing it," said Jonathan M. Smith, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. "Ted and David in important ways have undertaken to represent the poor and given tremendous amounts of time to ensure that justice is equal in the District."

The legal services organization celebrates its 74th anniversary this evening at a gala honoring Mr. Howard and Mr. Reiser each as a "Servant of Justice." The dinner at the Capital Hilton is the public service agency's major annual fundraising event. Humility is the watchword for Mr. Howard and Mr. Reiser, both 49. Each said he was surprised to be selected for the honor and accepted it on behalf of the countless "unsung heroes," to give them incentive to keep on defending indigent clients. * * * * * * * Mr. Howard and Mr. Reiser may bill their private clients $350 to $500 an hour, but the volunteer work for Legal Aid, as Mr. Howard said, allows him to "stay grounded" and have a positive impact on people with day-to-day legal problems "who don't have the capacity to reach in their pockets and offer a $100,000 retainer." Though both men have earned reputations for being strident advocates in the courtroom, both are painfully reticent to speak about themselves in private. For his part, Mr. Reiser's voice gets louder, he draws closer to the edge of his seat and waxes passionately only after being prompted about his clients' or the tenants' rights.

The soft-spoken Mr. Howard remains reserved, only a twitch under his eyes revealing the passion that surfaces when he talks about saving a client from execution. Mr. Howard, who maintains a commercial practice with Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP, also has a thriving pro bono practice that includes issues dealing with the death penalty, DNA tests, AIDS in prison, jail overcrowding and consumer law. He also is representing a group of Montgomery County parents in a class-action lawsuit against the school system for the way in which it tests students to determine who is eligible for the gifted-and-talented program. Mr. Reiser, with Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, was a criminal and civil litigant for more than 15 years in the D.C. Public Defender's Service, where he served as lead counsel in the case that closed the Cedar Knoll facility for city juveniles. He worked at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, has taught at the Georgetown University Law Center and helped Legal Aid establish its Appellate Advocacy Project.

The rest of the story is here. Nice going Mr. Howard and Mr. Reisier. You make us all look better.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Osama bin Laden threatens proposed peacekeepers in Darfur?

This kind of political opportunism is absolutely mind bending in its evil. Now the U.N. is being threatened if it attempts to intervene in the worst humanitarian crisis in recent history. Go figure.
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Osama bin Laden issued new threats in an audiotape broadcast on Arab television Sunday and accused the United States and Europe of supporting a "Zionist" war on Islam by cutting off funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. He also urged followers to go to Sudan, his former base, to fight a proposed U.N. peacekeeping force.
Here is the rest of the AP story.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Darfur's violence spills into Chad

Have I mentioned Darfur lately? The situation continues to worsen. Please read this. How can this happen? We have only ourselves to ask.

Darfur is described by aid workers as "bandit country" where armed gangs - many of whom are thought to have backing from the Chadian and Sudanese governments – rape and plunder local communities.

Explicitly accusing Sudan of backing the rebels, Chad on Friday broke diplomatic ties with Sudan and expelled the Sudanese Ambassador. Khartoum's foreign ministry has repeatedly denied Chad's claims that it is backing anti-Deby militia. * * * * *

Analysts have been warning for months that the worsening mob rule and violence spilling over from Darfur into eastern Chad, and an escalating proxy-war between Sudan-backed insurgents and Deby loyalists, threatens to produce a new humanitarian crisis, as well as cutting off much-needed supplies to the quarter million Chadians and Sudanese already displaced by fighting.

Currently the AU has 7,000 troops in Darfur - an arid and barren landlocked region larger in size than France - which analysts say have failed to stop the violence. The UN estimates more than 200,000 civilians have already been killed by fighting in the region. Attempts by the UN to establish a force in the area have been blocked by Sudan. In mid-March the Brussels-based conflict analysis NGO International Crisis Group warned that the international strategy for dealing with the Darfur crisis was at a "dead end", and recommended a UN-led force be sent to Darfur immediately.

A better definition of pro bono

I completely agree with the sentiments expressed in this story:
As a 22-year practicing attorney who travels to work via a 15-year-old car or bicycle, I must respond to Charlie Mitchell's column (" 'Equal justice' can be much fun as driving a Lexus," April 6) lest the public get the impression that Mississippi lawyers only get satisfaction from procuring a Lexus rather than providing legal services to the poor. Every day, Mississippi lawyers give away many hours of uncompensated legal work or legal work at low cost. Whether it is called pro bono is beside the point. It is legal work performed at little or no cost for people who can't afford to pay for it. Pro bono work should not be limited to cases taken on a totally uncompensated basis at the outset. Court-appointed lawyers in Hinds County provide a service to indigent defendants at the 20-year-old rate of $45 per hour - a rate below plumbers. Is not this providing a service to poor people who cannot afford counsel?
Again, pro bono publico means "for the public good." It does not and should not mean "works for free."

Friday, April 14, 2006

Nepalese police open fire on lawyers

This isn't good, and it certainly provides perspective to anyone who takes our own civil liberties for granted.
KATHMANDU: Nepalese police opened fire on protesting lawyers as King Gyanendra called for general elections in a bid to end the ongoing democracy protests. Three lawyers were injured and 70 were arrested when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the protest outside the Supreme Court.
The courage of Nepal's lawyers under these most trying circumstances is truly inspirational.

Tennessee Bar honors University of Memphis law student

I think that the Tennessee Bar Association is doing a great thing by honoring this law student.
Betsy Prendergast, a third-year law student at the University of Memphis, recently received the Law Student Volunteer of the Year Award at the Tennessee Bar Association's annual public service luncheon in Nashville. The TBA selected Prendergast as the Tennessee law school student who has provided outstanding volunteer service by working with an organization that's dedicated to representing the indigent - in this case, Memphis' Community Legal Center, a nonprofit organization housed within the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association.
It's a little like teaching your children about family values. They do tend to remember what you teach, and they really like it when they are praised. Here, it looks like the honoree, Ms. Prendergast, also has a lot to teach many of us in the legal profession about values. The rest of the story is here.

A never ending battle for truth and justice

Here is another interesting story about life on death row.
Anthony "Two Guns" Fletcher's hands tell most of the story. Here at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility off I-95 in the Northeast, the once-feared lightweight boxer is leafing through a well-guarded, worn, ribbed folder that's filled with legal papers documenting the 1993 first-degree murder conviction that landed him on death row.
Read on.

Quarles & Brady announces pro bono winner

Congratulations to associate attorney Katherine Maloney Perhach. Work like this deserves publicity. Nice going, Ms. Maloney.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Angelina Jolie and Fulbright & Jaworski make a dream come true

This New York Times story out of Houston has a lot of press appeal, but it is just the tip of the iceberg of all the great pro bono asylum and immigration work being done by lawyers across the country.

HOUSTON, April 10 — Young Zheng could not wish for a better 18th birthday present: a green card. A judge ruled Friday that Young Zheng, 17, had been abandoned by his father in China, allowing him to seek residency in the United States. Not the counterfeit kind given to him by Chinese smugglers known as snakeheads before they put him on a plane to the United States. A real one, so he can get out of federal custody, stave off deportation, finish school and chase his dream of becoming a biologist.

It now appears that Young, who once bashed himself against a wall to avoid being sent back to China, has won a three-year legal struggle over his immigration status, putting him on the path to American citizenship — if keeping him in the shadows indefinitely for his own safety. Young foresees a normal life someday, he said in an interview on Sunday under condition that his whereabouts be withheld and that photographs not reveal his features. "I look so different than when I came here," he said, running a hand through his spiky black hair. Anyway, he said, "when I am 40 or 50, the smugglers already pass away." They had already threatened family members, he said.

After a federal judge in Houston forced the government in February to allow the case to be heard in family court, a Texas family court judge ruled Friday that Young had been neglected and abandoned by his father in China.

With that ruling, Young's lawyer, John Sullivan III — a partner at Fulbright & Jaworski who at the urging of the actress Angelina Jolie had mobilized a legal team to work on this and other child refugee cases pro bono — filed immigration papers on Monday to grant Young residency under the federal Special Immigrant Juvenile Status law.

Nice going, Mr. Sullivan and Ms. Jolie.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Party time in Chattanooga

I love it when this happens.
The Chattanooga Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee and Young Lawyers Division will present Pro Bono Night 2006 at Bessie Smith Hall on Thursday, May 25. The doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice William “Mickey” Barker and Judge Samuel Payne will honor local attorneys Jay Clements, Buz Dooley, Rob Norred, Jr., and Brian Smith for their pro bono contributions to the citizens of Hamilton Country and the recipient of the annual Pro Bono Firm of the Year Award will be announced. The evening includes live music provided by local attorneys, complimentary food and beverages, and live and silent auctions. Cost is $25 for individual tickets. Proceeds will benefit the Pro Bono Program of Legal Aid of East Tennessee. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 756-4013.
Have a blast, everybody. You deserve it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pro bono creativity from Vinson & Elkins

Here's an innovative way to do law school recruiting:
Last Saturday, about 20 SMU law students joined 12 lawyers from the Vinson and Elkins law firm for a very different type of recruitment event. V&E associates were looking for students to work as summer associates, but the typical dinner and discussion interview was not V&E’s method of choice. Instead, SMU law students spent a few hours at the North Texas Food Bank boxing meals for hungry families in the Dallas area. This “Food Bank Project” was started in 2002 by V&E Partner Kevin Lewis, a 1986 graduate of Harvard Law School. Lewis wanted to do something different with the Harvard students that would not only show them what V&E is about, but also show them how important pro-bono work and community service is at V&E. Since then, the events have expanded to other schools including Duke, Yale, University of Texas, Howard and University of Virginia. In 2005 alone, more than 240 V&E lawyers and law students boxed food for nearly 30,000 meals.
I really like this idea. Nice going, V&E!

Mandatory pro bono in Mississippi!

It's only 20 hours annually, but what other profession does this?

Monday, April 03, 2006

More bad Darfur news

Things look like they are worsening, as reported here:

Sudan bars UN envoy from Darfur

The UN's humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland says he is being stopped from entering Sudan's western Darfur province. He was to visit the region on Monday, but, although his travel documents were in order, the authorities cancelled his trip at the eleventh hour. The Sudanese government says Mr Egeland's visit was cancelled because of the UN's unpopularity with the local population.

Over the last few weeks, the UN envoy has been critical of Khartoum, saying the government was partly responsible for the worsening situation in Darfur. Mr Egeland thinks this explains his not being allowed into Darfur. The Sudanese government is continuing to resist increasing international pressure to allow a UN peacekeeping force to be deployed in Darfur.

For as long as I have lived, we have been asking ourselves how we can allow things like this to happen. Yet they happen over and over again. Are the good people of the world truly powerless when it comes to evil? Will politics always trump idealism and action? Will Iraq mean an end to intervention against murderous tyranny?

Pro bono does not necessarily mean "for free"

Here's another example of what I believe is the unfortunate, but growingly conventional, misconstruction of the term "pro bono" to describe legal work.
ASHLAND, Miss. - The Selmer woman accused of shooting to death her minister husband has the best defense money can buy. But so far, Mary Carol Winkler hasn't had to pay for it. Mississippi lawyer Steven Ellis Farese Sr. is heading a dream team of four attorneys in her defense. The others are Steven Farese Jr., Memphis attorney Leslie Ballin and Atlanta attorney Marc N. Garber, a former federal prosecutor. They've been handling the highly publicized case pro bono, or for free. Farese Sr. took on the case March 23 at the request of a long-time friend, Memphis attorney Mike Cook, who is also Winkler's second cousin
"Pro bono" is short for "pro bono publico," which literally translated means "for the public good." It does not mean "for free," although most modern reference sources seem to have adopted this gloss as definitional. As the Winston & Strawn post below demonstrates, "for free" does not necessarily equate with "the public good," at least as far as most people would understand it. Also, there is nothing wrong at all or even mildly inconsistent with "pro bono" lawyers making fee applications in the cases they are handling. I'm not intending to make any comment upon whether the Winkler defense is truly being conducted in the "pro bono publico" spirit. It looks like it may very well be. It's just that it would be great if "high profile" trial lawyers would do the same for the countless indigent defendants who are facing capital murder trials without any real hope of accessing the type of legal services being provided here.