Frank Wheat Memorial Award 2016

The Pro Bono Committee is pleased to announce the winners of the Frank Wheat Memorial Award. Frank was not only a giant in the legal community — a superb transactional lawyer, an SEC commissioner, and president of the Los Angeles County Bar — but a giant in the nonprofit community as well. He founded the Alliance for Children's Rights, was a founder and trustee of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, a leader of the Sierra Club and a former board member of the Center for Law in the Public Interest, which established a fellowship in his name to train young lawyers in public interest litigation.

The Frank Wheat Memorial Award is given annually to the individual lawyer and team that:

  1. demonstrated leadership and initiative in their pro bono work;
  2. obtained significant results for their pro bono clients; and
  3. served as a source of inspiration to others.

Recipients of the Frank Wheat Memorial Award also receive a $2,500 prize, which will be donated to a pro bono organization or organizations designated by the recipients.

Please read about the work of our award recipients and nominees. You will be both proud and inspired by their accomplishments. Whether it’s litigating a complex case on behalf of a nonprofit whose mission is to provide help and hope to people experiencing homelessness, taking on numerous meritorious appellate causes on behalf of indigent individuals, or advocating on behalf of individuals seeking asylum and a better life here in the United States, these attorneys demonstrate Gibson Dunn advocacy at its finest.

As a result of these efforts and the work of many others not recognized here, we had another stellar year, averaging approximately 131 pro bono hours per attorney worldwide. Also noteworthy was that 1,150 attorneys billed time to a pro bono matter, 445 new pro bono matters were opened, and 18 Gibson Dunn offices participated in a pro bono project. Our pro bono achievements have also garnered recognition in the communities in which we practice. Law360 named Gibson Dunn to its list of top 20 Pro Bono Firms of 2016, and the firm was honored by the Legal Aid Society, Swords to Plowshares, the Lawyers Alliance, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, among others.

As we look forward into 2017, we are confident that the firm is going to continue its incredible work on issues ranging from First Amendment defense, to police reform, to women’s rights, to veterans advocacy, to immigration and asylum work. Of course, we have already seen a tremendous swell of support from around the firm just this week for work on civil liberty and due process issues stemming from the recent immigration-related Executive Order. To all of you who are involved in any of these incredible efforts around the firm, thank you! We look forward to seeing all that we can accomplish in this new year!

Best Regards,

Scott Edelman and Katie Marquart


TEAM AWARD WINNER

Open Door Ministries Litigation Team
Denver

Gibson Dunn persuaded the Colorado Supreme Court to reverse an appellate decision that had the potential to cripple Open Door Ministries’ efforts to maintain its Lighthouse Program for men experiencing homelessness or in danger of becoming homeless in Denver. If Open Door had lost, more than a dozen men likely would have been forced back onto the street or into a shelter, depriving them of stable housing at a time when they were particularly in need of support.

Open Door Ministries is a faith-based Colorado non-profit organization that seeks to provide hope and practical help to people in urban Denver who are experiencing homelessness or in danger of becoming homeless. Open Door operates fifteen programs, which provide food, shelter, access to education, and employment training to those in need, while also offering friendship, hope, and Christian spiritual guidance.

In December 2010, Open Door Ministries secured a rooming and boarding permit from the City of Denver for a property in Denver’s centrally located Capitol Hill neighborhood to operate a boarding home for men in need. Shortly thereafter, in reliance on the permit, Open Door Ministries purchased the property.

A neighbor then challenged the permit’s validity in the hopes of compelling Open Door to operate its ministry elsewhere. After intervening in the neighbor’s challenge to the permit’s validity, Open Door filed cross-claims against the City and County of Denver seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that would allow Open Door to continue to operate the property under the terms of the permit. Just months before the trial on Open Door’s cross-claims — and after the trial court decided that the City and County of Denver inappropriately issued the permit — Open Door turned to a team of litigators from Gibson Dunn to try the case on a pro bono basis.

After reviewing the record, the Gibson Dunn team decided to pursue summary judgment on the declaratory and injunctive relief cross-claims. In a January 2013 decision, the trial court granted Open Door summary judgment and enjoined the City and County of Denver from revoking the permit (even though the court had held that it was issued inappropriately at the outset).

On appeal, the neighbor argued for the first time that Open Door’s cross-claims were tort-based claims against a governmental entity (the City and County of Denver) and that the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act therefore stripped the courts of jurisdiction to hear Open Door’s cross-claims. A panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed, in an unpublished July 2014 opinion. Gibson Dunn persuaded the Colorado Supreme Court to grant certiorari on two issues presented by the case. Both were novel questions relating to the scope of the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act. Gibson Dunn argued the case on behalf of Open Door in early March 2016.

On May 23, 2016, the court held unanimously that the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act does not bar claims, like those asserted by Open Door, that seek prospective relief to prevent future injuries (i.e., an injunction barring the City and County of Denver from stripping Open Door of the rights provided by the permit). Because, as Gibson Dunn argued, Open Door Ministries would not suffer injury until the City and County of Denver actually revoked the permit (and the trial court’s order invalidating the permit was stayed pending the cross-claims), Open Door’s cross-claims were not barred by the Act (and the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the case). See Open Door Ministries v. Lipschuetz, 373 P.3d 575 (Colo. 2016).

“Praise the Lord!” That was the reaction of Open Door’s Executive Director, David Warren, when he learned of the Supreme Court’s decision. It has been an exhausting few years of litigation for David and his colleagues, and he was thrilled with the “great news.” After some time for reflection, David described Gibson Dunn’s legal assistance as “tremendous.” “Without [the Gibson Dunn team] we would have had to abandon our legal efforts and sell our home for men in recovery. Because of Gibson Dunn we have been able to continue housing men in recovery for over five years now. Scores of lives have been helped.”

The Gibson Dunn team was led by Laura Sturges, who managed the pre-trial briefing, discovery, and overall litigation strategy, and John Partridge, who oversaw the petition for certiorari and Supreme Court briefing and argued the case before the Court. Denver partners Greg Kerwin and Monica Loseman (among others) provided guidance, particularly with respect to the appellate argument and petition for certiorari. Katie Yarger, Tim Zimmerman, and Sara Carlisle contributed to the briefing before the trial court and/or the Colorado appellate courts, as well as to key discovery efforts and the litigation strategy. Holly Rooke and Eva Michaels also handled aspects of the research, briefing, and fact development.

Since the beginning of the matter in October 2012, Gibson Dunn attorneys from the Denver office have devoted more than 3,000 hours to this matter.

Team Nominees:

Anti-Wildlife Trafficking Team (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver)
Pro Bono Representation of Law Enforcement Veteran (Washington D.C.)
CJA Panel Appointment: United States v. Collin Leong (San Francisco)


INDIVIDUAL AWARD WINNER

Andrew LeGrand
Dallas

Andrew LeGrand
Dallas

Dallas associate Andrew LeGrand has been instrumental in developing an informal pro bono appellate program with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that provides indigent litigants with first-class appellate advocacy and offers Gibson Dunn associates an opportunity to gain valuable experience briefing and arguing appeals. As a law clerk to Judge Ann Claire Williams (7th Cir.), Andrew witnessed firsthand the importance of high-quality appellate advocacy and the need for skilled advocates to accept pro bono appointments in service of both the courts and those litigants who otherwise could not afford representation. When Andrew returned to the firm following his clerkship, he began accepting pro bono appellate appointments through the Seventh Circuit. Since then, Andrew has devoted hundreds of hours to litigating pro bono appellate cases and has developed a pipeline for other Gibson Dunn associates to do the same.

In his first appellate appointment, Andrew convinced the Seventh Circuit to reverse the criminal conviction of Yulia Abair, a recent immigrant to the United States from Russia. Abair was convicted of structuring financial transactions for the purpose of evading federal reporting requirements based on her withdrawal and use of funds from her foreign bank account to purchase a home in South Bend, Indiana for herself and her young son. The Seventh Circuit reversed the conviction in a published opinion and remanded for a new trial. Following remand, Andrew convinced the U.S. Attorney’s Office to drop all charges and return the $67,000 that the government had previously seized from Ms. Abair.

In 2015, Andrew convinced the Seventh Circuit to reverse the dismissal of Illinois state prisoner Miguel Perez’s complaint against various prison officials for deliberate indifference under the Eighth Amendment and retaliation under the First Amendment. Mr. Perez injured his hand during a basketball game, suffering a torn ligament, dislocated thumb, and a “gaping wound” between his thumb and index finger. Despite a hand surgeon’s recommendation for corrective surgery, the prison officials offered him only an ace bandage. Andrew briefed and argued Mr. Perez’s appeal. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that Mr. Perez had adequately stated Eighth Amendment and First Amendment claims against the prison officials, and that pro bono counsel should be recruited to assist Mr. Perez with prosecuting his claims on remand.

In 2016, Andrew achieved the rare feat of overturning a state-court criminal conviction on a federal habeas appeal. Rashaad Imani challenged his Wisconsin state-court conviction as a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation because the trial judge refused to allow him to represent himself despite Mr. Imani’s knowing, voluntary, and timely request to do so. The Seventh Circuit once again reversed, holding that Mr. Imani’s conviction could not stand. Also in 2016, Andrew led the briefing efforts and presented oral argument in a state court appeal involving the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Also in 2016, Andrew led the briefing efforts and presented oral argument in a state court appeal involving the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“TRFRA”). In that case, the state appellate court held that the government may not deprive trial courts of jurisdiction to review a TRFRA claim by curing a burden on religious freedom after the plaintiff has already initiated a lawsuit.

In addition to briefing and arguing pro bono appeals himself, Andrew has also played an invaluable role in developing and cultivating Gibson Dunn’s budding relationship with the Seventh Circuit, with the goal of helping other associates secure opportunities to brief and argue federal appeals. As a result of Andrew’s efforts, Gibson Dunn has now accepted eight pro bono appeals in the Seventh Circuit, four of which are ongoing. Six different attorneys have led cases. Dozens of attorneys have assisted in these cases, offering valuable assistance drafting, researching, and mooting. Overall, the Seventh Circuit Pro Bono Program has secured a series of favorable opinions for our pro bono clients, a five-figure settlement for one of our clients, and several important statements on constitutional rights, including the right to self-representation and the protection against excessive forfeiture penalties.

Individual Nominees:

Emily Aldridge (San Francisco)
Rachel Brook (New York)
Martin Hewett (Washington, D.C.)
Sean Twomey (Los Angeles)