May 2011 Volunteer Feature: Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP Receives the New York State Bar Association’s 2011 President’s Pro Bono Service Large Firm Award
The scope and breadth of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP's pro bono commitment was recognized by the New York State Bar Association at its May 2nd Pro Bono Awards Luncheon. Over the last three years, the firm's attorneys have devoted more than 190,000 hours to pro bono work to expand access to justice for low-income individuals and entities. Because of the firm's extraordinary pro bono work, a man on death row obtained a new trial based on prior ineffective assistance of counsel, individuals fleeing persecution gained asylum in the U.S., victims of domestic violence escaped their batterers, workers gained wages to which they were entitled, and various non-profit organizations received much needed corporate, tax and intellectual property assistance.
In 2010, the firm's single largest area of focus was criminal justice. They devoted over 18,000 hours to matters in the area and more than 100 lawyers worked on criminal justice related matters. Their efforts included individual representation as well as efforts to address systemic reform. Through this comprehensive approach, the Davis Polk seeks to make a lasting impact in the way in which the criminal justice system operates. For example, the firm serves as Counsel to the New York State Justice Task Force, one of the first permanent task forces on wrongful conviction in the United States, created by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in 2009. Other criminal justice initiatives include partnering with The Legal Aid Society as pro bono appellate counsel and working on 23 re-sentencing petitions on behalf of inmates sentenced under the Rockefeller Drug Laws, gaining reduced sentences or releases.
Since Fall 2008, the firm has assisted the Legal Aid Society with issues related to its funding for indigent criminal defense. They assisted in the advocacy for a legislative provision pursuant to which the Chief Administrative Judge promulgated a case cap rule limiting the number of annual cases a New York City criminal indigent defense attorney can handle, and continue to assist the Society in achieving compliance with the new rule. In early 2010, the firm drafted an amicus brief on behalf of the Legal Aid Society in Hurrell-Harring v. State, in which indigent criminal defendants in five counties alleged that pervasive underfunding and deficiencies in the system had created an unacceptably high risk of systemic violations of the right to counsel. In a landmark ruling, the Court of Appeals concluded that the allegations in the complaint stated cognizable 6th Amendment claims. Finally, they are assisting the Society in a case involving New York City's contracting process for indigent defense providers.
The Legal Aid Society, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and In Motion nominated Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP for New York State Bar Association's President's Award. Partner Sharon Katz, Pro Bono Counsel Ronnie Abrams, and Pro Bono Attorney Amy Rossabi were present in Albany to accept the award on the firm's behalf.
*Pictured in photo above, from left-to-right: Ronnie Abrams, Sharon Katz, and Luigi De Ghenghi