Arent Fox Announces 2016 Pro Bono Award Winners
“Joining the legal profession includes an obligation to make a commitment to pro bono,” said Chairman Mark M. Katz. “Throughout Arent Fox’s 75-year history, the attorneys at our firm have fought to address unequal access to legal representation. I would like to congratulate all of our attorneys and staff who continue to make public service a core commitment at Arent Fox.”
Receptions were held in Arent Fox’s Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC offices to announce that late partner Connie Raffa and partners Mary Carter Andrues, Linda A. Baumann, Karen Ellis Carr, Donald B. Mitchell, Pierre-Richard Prosper, and Brian D. Schneider received the Marc L. Fleischaker Award for notable work by partners and counsel.
The Albert E. Arent Award for outstanding pro bono achievement by associates and staff went to associates Alison Lima Andersen, Sean Clerget, Meera Chandramouli, Andrew Dykens, Cesar A. Francia, Michele L. Gipp, Lee A. Pepper, Diane B. Roldán, Andrew F. Solinger, Karen Van Essen, Rachel Yount, and Temitope K. Yusuf, senior paralegal David Yearwood, litigation paralegal specialists John Dowd and Aimee Hall, and legal secretaries Omelia Chan and Gladys Madrid.
In July, Connie Raffa, a pre-eminent health care lawyer in Arent Fox’s New York office, died after battling cancer. For more than two decades, Connie was an influential part of the firm’s Pro Bono program, billing more than 4,000 pro bono hours during her time with Arent Fox, intersecting her highly specialized legal expertise with a passion for public service. Connie advocated for the palliative care and hospice communities, working tirelessly to raise money for those organizations and providing vital pro bono legal advice. These efforts did not go unnoticed by her peers. In 2012, Connie was awarded the Pillar Justice Award by the Appleseed Foundation, an organization that helps establish public interest state centers. The foundation recognized for her pro bono work in helping to establish fair access to health care for low-income taxi workers in the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. New York Appleseed expressed its gratitude for all the pro bono hours Connie put in, citing her efforts as an integral part of the organization’s mission to bring fairness, justice, and opportunity to all. For her endless dedication and commitment to supporting others, Arent Fox recognized Connie with this year’s Pro Bono Lifetime Achievement Award.
In October 2016, the United Nations hosted at its headquarters in New York an exclusive premiere of “The Uncondemned” in advance of the film’s US release. An award-winning documentary about the first successful prosecution of rape in the time of war, “The Uncondemned” showcases the experience of a legal and investigations team that was led by Arent Fox partners Mary Carter Andrues and Ambassador Pierre Prosper. Arent Fox served as pro bono counsel for the production company, Film @ Eleven, which worked to tell the story of the incredible obstacles that prosecutors faced in a case that set international legal precedent, while featuring three heroic women who spoke for all who could not. The Arent Fox team included Diane B. Roldán, David Yearwood, and legal secretaries Omelia Chan and Gladys Madrid, who worked diligently to push back against attempts by the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals to keep the film from being released. In a complete victory for Film @ Eleven and the women, the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals ordered the prosecutor’s office to drop all contempt investigations against the film company and withdrew its orders blocking distribution of the film.
Partner Donald Mitchell was honored for his work on an environmental dispute that raises important constitutional questions. The Audubon Naturalist Society v. Pulte matter arose out of advocacy by Montgomery County citizens’ groups to preserve Ten Mile Creek in the Clarksburg area of northern Montgomery County, Maryland. It is the last remaining unspoiled major creek in the country and the water source for Little Seneca Lake, the emergency drinking water reservoir for the Washington metropolitan area. The Audubon Naturalist Society, the firm’s long-time pro bono client, spearheaded the organization of numerous citizens’ groups who argued that a large housing development proposed by Pulte in the headwaters of Ten Mile Creek would adversely impact the creek. Eventually, the Montgomery County Council and the Maryland-National Capital Parks & Planning Commission agreed, and the property was downzoned. Pulte then sued the County, alleging violations of constitutional due process and an unconstitutional taking of property without due compensation. Having sued the County, Pulte then issued subpoenas to Audubon and the citizens’ groups seeking all of their communications with each other to organize their opposition and all of their documents about their meetings and advocacy before their elected representatives. A few weeks ago, the judge in the case stated the subpoenas are dramatically overbroad and ill-defined and indicated that if forced to rule on the constitutional questions he would be unlikely to grant the plaintiff access to the citizens’ internal communications, which are the heart of the First Amendment protected material.
Beginning in January 2014, President Obama and the US Department of Justice launched a sweeping clemency initiative aimed at addressing the large number of federal inmates serving unjust and disproportionately long sentences. Volunteer lawyers across the nation were recruited to screen for clemency eligibility and, if eligible, prepare clemency petitions to be submitted to the President for consideration. Since 2014, the Arent Fox Clemency Project team has included more than 50 timekeepers who have spent more than 1,500 hours reviewing and screening the applications of 17 clients for project eligibility and subsequently preparing follow-up clemency petitions, all of which were presented to the White House’s Office of the Pardon Attorney. This effort ultimately resulted in two clemency petitions granted by President Obama. Arent Fox’s firmwide initiative included honorees Karen Carr, Linda Baumann, Paul Lynd, Meera Chandramouli, Sean Clerget, Andrew Dykens, Cesar Francia, Michele Gipp, Lee Pepper, Andrew Solinger, Karen Van Essen, Rachel Yount, Temitope Yusuf and Aimee Hall, and was part the largest nationwide pro bono effort in history.
Recently, an Arent Fox team of partner Brian Schneider, associate Alison Andersen, and litigation specialist John Dowd wrapped up a bench trial in a pro bono class action, Brown v. District of Columbia. The plaintiffs – Washington, DC nursing facility residents – are seeking to obtain systemic changes that will bring the District into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide Medicaid services to disabled people in a way that connects them with community-based supports and long-term care services. The suit involves potentially thousands of District nursing facility residents who remain isolated from their families because the District has failed to help them return to the community, where they would receive care at significantly lower taxpayer cost than the current nursing facility care.