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October 2011 Volunteer Feature: Law Firms Co-Counsel with The Legal Aid Society on Law Reform and Appellate Work that Seek Systemic Change and Correction of Unjust Legal Determinations

Friday, October 21, 2011

  • Organization: The Legal Aid Society

The Legal Aid Society, the nation’s oldest and largest provider of free legal services to the indigent, has been part of New York City’s social fabric since 1876. Through a network of neighborhood and court-based offices, the Society provides a full range of civil legal services as well as criminal defense work and juvenile rights representation in Family Court. In addition to the annual caseload of 300,000 individual cases and legal matters, the Society’s law reform work benefits some 2 million low income families and individuals in New York City and landmark rulings in many of these cases have a State-wide and national impact.

The Society’s indelible partnership with New York’s major law firms has supported Legal Aid’s unique ability to go beyond any one case to create more equitable outcomes for individuals and broader, more powerful systemic change for society as a whole. Throughout its history, the Society and its pro bono law firm partners have worked tirelessly to achieve systemic change and justice for the clients of our Civil, Criminal, and Juvenile Rights Practices and their respective appellate units.

Most recently, Cooley LLP; Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP; Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; Dechert LLP; Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP; Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP; Orrick Herrington & Sutcliff LLP; Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; Shearman & Sterling LLP; and Weil, Gotshal & Manages LLP have contributed thousands of hours on behalf of homeless families and individuals, immigrants, inmates, adults accused of criminal behavior, inmates, children accused of acts of juvenile delinquency or the subjects of abuse and neglect proceedings, and death row prisoners. Their work on impact litigation, landmark appeals, and capital defense cases are highlighted below.

John F v. Carrion: Cooley joined the Society in a challenge to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services’ (OCFS) practice of routinely shackling children whom the agency transported to Family Court. The New York State Supreme Court declared that OCFS’s policy lacked legal authority and was in contravention of governing regulation.

People v. Kareem Bellamy: Cravath won a rare new trial order in a murder case in Queens on grounds of newly discovered evidence, and successfully defended the ruling on appeal. After the District Attorney declined to re-prosecute, Mr. Bellamy was released from prison after serving 14 years.

Amador v. Andrews: Debevoise & Plimpton has been dedicated co-counsel since 2003 on behalf of women prisoners who have been sexually abused by male correctional officers in New York State prisons. In August 2011, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the claims of the women prisoners and the case is before the U.S. Southern District Court where plaintiffs again will seek class certification on behalf of some 2,200 current prisoners, as well as future female inmates.

State v. Casey McWhorter: Dechert joined Legal Aid as pro bono counsel on behalf of an Alabama death row inmate who was sentenced to death for a crime committed just a few months past his 18th birthday. An appeal is pending in Alabama’s Court of Criminal appeals, requesting a new sentencing hearing based upon ineffective assistance of counsel at the original penalty trial, and also asking that the conviction be vacated because a trial juror withheld important information about her background during the jury selection process. The firm also has been steadfast co-counsel on Milburn v. Goord, a class action to ensure that prisoners at the Green Haven Correctional Facility receive adequate medical care.

M.K.B. v. Eggleston: Hughes Hubbard has served as co-counsel on this class action lawsuit that challenged the systemic failure of the City and the State to provide public benefits to eligible documented immigrants, including domestic violence survivors and their children. Although settled in 2007, the work on behalf of the class continues to require outreach to thousands of potential class members and enforcement litigation to assure receipt of retroactive cash benefits and defendants’ compliance.

A.M. et al. v. Mattingly: Patterson Belknap was co-counsel on a federal class action civil rights lawsuit that resulted in an settlement prohibiting the City of New York from continuing practices that cause children in its care to languish in psychiatric hospitals longer than medically necessary. The settlement provides relief to approximately 14,000 children, requires the City to comply with applicable federal and State laws, provides substantial reforms, and requires relevant training for Administration of Children’s Services staff.

G.B. et al. v. Carrión et al: Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is co-counsel on a class action that seeks freedom from physical abuse and the right to mental health care for children in juvenile prisons. The federal District Court for the Southern District recently dismissed the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of exhaustion under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, finding that that the grievance system was either unavailable to the plaintiff children or that special circumstances existed for the named plaintiffs.

Davis et al. v. City of New York et ano: Paul, Weiss is co-counsel with The Legal Aid Society and the N AACP Legal Defense Fund in a class action lawsuit against the New York City Police Deparmtnent and the New York City Housing Authority, which challenges the NYPD trespass arrest procedure. The practice has resulted in an increase in the number of illegal trespass arrests, particularly of tenants and visitors who have a legitimate reason to be on Public Housing grounds.

Wrongful Conviction Matter: Shearman & Sterling, working closely with the Society’s Criminal Appeals Bureau, spearheaded an investigation into the wrongful conviction of our client. Their efforts resulted in the vacatur of the conviction and our client was recently ordered released on bond after serving 20 years in prison.

DeBruce: Weil has provided extraordinary resources in the matter of Derrick DeBruce, an inmate on Alabama’s death row who was sentenced to die after a three-day trial in which his lawyer was ineffective at both the guilt and sentencing phases. The firm has joined in the Society’s pro bono representation of Mr. DeBruce on his federal habeas proceeding in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and is pursuing legal remedies for inadequate medical treatment for a chronic debilitating gastrointestinal disease.

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