Bluhm Legal Clinic Partnerships are collaborations with firms and corporations that provide pro bono services, in kind donations, and other support in order to further the mission of the Clinic and its various centers with specific, immediate projects. What follows is a highlight of some of our recent activities. For more information on pro bono opportunities with the Clinic please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. With questions about this webpage please contact email@example.com.
Appellate Advocacy Center
Sidley Austin attorneys Carter Phillips (JD ’77) and Jeffrey Green, along with other partners from their office, donate their time to provide instruction to Appellate Advocacy Center students. Additionally, partners and associates from Sidley Austin’s pro bono Supreme Court practice supervise students as they prepare briefs before the Court, mostly on behalf of indigent criminal defendants.
Center on Wrongful Convictions
Edelson attorneys Alex Tievsky (’15) and Christopher Gore partnered with the Center on Wrongful Convictions in representing Antonio Nicholas in proceedings in the Circuit Court of Cook County and in the Illinois Appellate Court. Nicholas has claimed for decades that Chicago Police detectives, under the command of disgraced former Commander Jon Burge, beat him into confessing to a 1991 murder; he seeks an evidentiary hearing on his claim and ultimately a new trial and release from prison.
Andrew Vail and Robert Stauffer, of Jenner and Block, has partnered with the CWC on the case of Patrick Pursley. Pursley was convicted of a murder in Rockford, Illinois in 1993. Police recovered a gun from Patrick’s home that an expert claimed matched the gun that fired bullets recovered from the crime scene. Newly discovered forensic evidence has proven that this testimony was wrong and that there was no such match. Based on this new ballistics evidence, Patrick filed a motion for a new trial. In 2016, the trial court granted Patrick an evidentiary hearing which will be held in Rockford, Illinois in October 2016.
Close to 40 attorneys from Jenner & Block are assisting the CWC in the review of over 300 DNA cases in IL for possible representation. The cases were sent to the CWC from the New Yok Innocence Project. With the help of the Jenner & Block attorneys, over half of the reviews have been completed.
Since 2010, Kirkland & Ellis attorneys Justin Barker and Tim Knapp have partnered with the CWCY on the case of Charles Johnson. Johnson was nineteen years old when he was arrested with three other teens and charged with the double-murder of two used car-dealers on the West Side of Chicago in 1995. A motion for a new trial has been filed based on newly discovered evidence of Johnson’s innocence -- fingerprints from the crime scene that have been matched to another man whom Johnson and the other boys did not know. In the summer of 2016, the State agreed to a new trial for Charles Johnson and two of his co-defendants based on the fingerprint evidence. Representing Johnson in his new trial are Steve Drizin from the CWCY, Joshua Tepfer from the Exoneration Project, Tim Knapp and Justin Barker from Kirkland & Ellis, and Ron Safer and Eli Litoff from Riley, Safer, Holmes & Cancila.
Northwestern Law client Jason Strong, his family, and members of his legal team
In May of 2015, Jason Strong was cleared of a murder conviction and released from prison after 15 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. On April 15, 2016, after filing a petition and presenting oral argument, Jason Strong’s Petition for Certificate of Innocence was granted. Throughout the process, Jason Strong’s legal case was handled by a dedicated team from Northwestern Law. Three Northwestern Law alums, who had worked on the case as students, continued to be a part of the team on a pro bono basis after graduation. This pro bono support was provided by Brian Nisbet (JD ’09) of Winston & Strawn and David Luger (JD ’09) and Charlie DeVore (JD ’11) both of whom started at Winston & Strawn and later moved to Katten Muchin & Rosenman LLP where they continued to work on the case. Their support consisted of hours of drafting documents, preparing depositions of witnesses, and conducting investigative work, among other things.
Schiff Hardin is partnering with the Center on Wrongful Convictions in representing a client in post-conviction proceedings, on remand from the Illinois Appellate Court. Schiff Associate Robert A.H. Middleton (’14) worked with the CWC as a law student and chose to continue his relationship with the CWC after graduation by taking on this pro bono project.
Since 2007, Sidley Austin Chicago office attorneys, John Levi, Joseph Cooper, Justin From and others have partnered with the CWC and Oklahoma licensed private attorney Mark Barrett in representing Thomas Jesse Ward. Mr. Ward, along with his co-defendant Karl Fontenot, were twice convicted of the 1984 disappearance and death of a convenience store clerk from Ada, Oklahoma. Even though no physical evidence linked either Mr. Ward or Mr. Fontenot to the crime, both were twice convicted based on a pair of “dream” confessions obtained over numerous, lengthy interrogations by authorities. When the victim’s body was discovered after the first trial, the physical evidence failed to match up to the confessions including who was involved, the method of death, and where the crime supposedly occurred. Sidley & Austin, the CWC and Mark Barrett have been investigating and preparing a post-conviction petition seeking to overturn Mr. Ward’s conviction.
Jose Velasco was a 16 year old Chicago boy from Pilsen when he was arrested and charged with the murder of his best friend, Juan Luna. After Velasco was convicted, Juan Luna’s mother and sister approached the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth (CWCY) to take Jose’s case. They firmly believed that Jose had nothing to do with the crime. Stuart Chanen (JD ’85) of the Valorem Group has been co-counsel on this case for over eight years. A petition for a new trial was filed, raising claims of actual innocence and ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC). The trial court dismissed the actual innocence claim and held an evidentiary hearing on the ineffective assistance of counsel claim. In the spring of 2016, the trial court denied Jose relief on the IAC claim. The trial court's decisions are currently being appealed.
Children and Family Justice Center
After eight years on the clinical faculty, Angela Vigil (JD ’95), now head of Baker & McKenzie's pro bono program in North America, has continued her work with Northwestern Law by writing and organizing numerous amicus briefs on behalf of clinic clients and centers, by coordinating pro bono projects, and by playing key roles in various Northwestern Law events and conferences. In addition, Baker attorneys Douglas Sanders (JD ’98), Rebecca Lock, Jaclyn Pampel, and Sonja Schiller have represented a CFJC client in criminal court for many years, supporting him as he faces one challenge after another.
DLA Piper has long partnered with the CFJC to promote fair sentences for youth which hold them responsible for their actions in age-appropriate ways. Attorneys Anne Helms, Lawrence Wojcik (JD ’77), and Eric Roberts have represented and advised the Illinois Coalition for the Fair Sentencing of Children, a project of the CFJC, filing amicus briefs in the Illinois circuit courts, the Illinois appellate courts, and the Illinois Supreme Court. In addition, DLA Piper has partnered with the CFJC on a wrongful conviction case for many years. DLA attorneys Richard Klawiter, Rachel Cowen, Terrence Smith, Dan Simon, Natalie Scruton, Andrew Fraerman (JD ’10), Ankoor Bagchi and Kevin Harlow have collectively spent thousands of hours helping to re-investigate the case, meeting with the client and his family, and fighting for justice in the trial court, the appellate court, and before the Torture Inquiry and Review Commission.
Eimer Stahl attorneys Alexis Chardon (JD ’08) and Jonathan Wier are partnering with CFJC to represent clients in cases for Project off the Record. Their representation in juvenile court provides clients an opportunity to demonstrate that they have earned the right to be removed from the juvenile sex offenders registry, a barrier that impacts the clients’ abilities to work, live in stable housing, and move forward. Ms. Chardon and Mr. Weir also drafted comments to the Illinois State Police Rules for Non-Court Ordered Juvenile Expungement of Records. If the recommended changes are implemented by ISP, the number of youth whose juvenile records will be expunged will greatly increase.
A team of attorneys at Jones Day recently partnered with the CFJC to win a new sentence for a client who had been serving life without parole. The team included associates Samantha Woo (JD ’12), Kat Dore (JD ’12) and Deborah Huerta, and partners Ted Chung (JD ’93) and Lee Ann Russo.
Locke Lord attorneys Rusty Perdew (JD ’99) and Ryan Holz (JD ’07) partnered with the CFJC on the case of Lindsey Crittle to represent Lindsey in various proceedings related to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. They spent several years investigating the case, meeting with the client, and litigating constitutional issues on Lindsey’s behalf in the circuit court and recently obtained relief for their client at a successful resentencing hearing.
Sidley Austin attorney Angela Weis has worked closely with CFJC attorneys to represent James Walker in post-conviction litigation and on appeal on issues relating to Miller v. Alabama. Ms. Weis’ work in investigating the case, meeting with the client and his family, and in researching and drafting issues in the lower courts and on appeal, have been critical to the CFJC’s efforts in this matter.
Environmental Advocacy Center
Goldberg Kohn has partnered with the Environmental Advocacy Center on two different cases. Kerry Nelson (JD ‘07) and William Meyers serve as co-counsel in the representation of EAC clients, a group of farmers in central Illinois, in appealing the dismissal, by the Circuit Court of LaSalle County, Illinois, of their lawsuit challenging a proposed silica sand mine planned for a site next to their farms. Kerry Nelson presented the oral argument before the Court of Appeals for the Third Appellate District in June 2016, and we await the court's ruling. If the Court of Appeals allows the case to proceed, we look forward to partnering with Goldberg Kohn on the ongoing sand mine litigation.
In a second matter, Goldberg Kohn lawyers Meredith Kirshenbaum (BA ‘09) and Ken Ulrich (JD ‘87; BA ‘84) stepped up on short notice when our client, the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, informed EAC that their friends, families and neighbors had serious concerns regarding the adequacy of a class action settlement for damages associated with petroleum coke contamination. With the deadline to opt-out looming, Goldberg Kohn filed an objection to the class-action settlement on behalf of 20 community members. Meredith Kirshenbaum argued the objection on behalf of the residents in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Although the objection was overruled, largely for reasons relating to the difficulty of prevailing in the underlying lawsuit, the court did reduce the class representative reward to increase the recovery for the community members.