This summer’s pro bono newsletter reflects the very diverse range of pro bono efforts going on around the firm. These efforts include appellate advocacy, work on behalf of the LGBTQ community, advocacy on behalf of veterans, immigration work, and corporate advice to a variety of nonprofits. We believe this diversity is reflective of our free market culture, as our pro bono efforts are often driven by passionate associates and partners, who take the initiative to find a client or a cause they want to help. The common thread between it all, of course, is that it reflects a commitment and desire to give back to the community, to step out of our comfort zone, and to make a difference in someone else’s life.
We are also pleased that so many of our summer associates were able to participate in our pro bono program this summer. We hope that it gave all of you a fuller picture of what it means to be an attorney at Gibson Dunn. We appreciate the time and energy that you put into helping these individuals and we hope that you got to get a taste of what a difference you can make in the life of someone in need as an attorney here at Gibson Dunn.
Finally, we wanted to take this opportunity to welcome a new member to the pro bono team here at Gibson Dunn, Faith Masterson. Faith joins us from Paul Weiss, where she worked as a litigation paralegal and supported their pro bono program. She will be taking on the newly created role of Pro Bono Coordinator. While she will be based in the New York office, she will be working on our pro bono efforts around the globe. Faith is bright, warm and very excited to be joining the firm. We know you will all enjoy working with her! Please take the time to reach out, introduce yourself and welcome her to Gibson Dunn!
We hope you will be inspired by these stories, proud of your colleagues, and motivated to get involved. Enjoy the rest of your summer!
Scott Edelman and Katie Marquart
On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court granted petitioners’ certiorari petition and, in a per curiam opinion, summarily reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision, explaining that under Obergefell, states “may not … deny married same-sex couples th[e] recognition” they provide opposite-sex couples—including with respect to birth certificates. The case dealt with Arkansas’ refusal to include a non-biological parent on the birth certificate of a child born to a married same-sex couple. In so holding, the Court noted, “Obergefell is crystal clear: marriage is marriage, and equal is equal.”
Gibson Dunn attorneys Stuart Delery, Doug Dreier, and Ryan Watzel represented Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders as amici in the case. In its friend-of-the-Court brief, Gibson Dunn argued that the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision upholding that refusal was contrary to the Supreme Court’s decisions guaranteeing marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015), and United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013). Gibson Dunn also emphasized how important it is to parents and their children for birth certificates to name both parents.
To read more, check out Lambda’s press release here.
Gibson Dunn Scores Appellate Victory for U.S. Marine Corps Veteran
The UCI Law VA Benefits Project and Gibson Dunn successfully persuaded a federal appellate court to vacate and remand a Board of Veterans’ Appeals decision that denied service-connected benefits to a U.S. Marine Corps veteran suffering from combat related post-traumatic stress disorder.
The case marks the third successful appeal by the VA Benefits Project and Gibson Dunn partnership on behalf of veterans who have been denied benefits and compensation relating to military service.
Briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims identified multiple errors in the Board’s decision, including the Board’s failure to account for substantial evidence of the severity and extent of the former marine’s PTSD symptoms, which entitles him to a higher rating for his condition. After reviewing the briefs, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of General Counsel conceded that the Board had erred in its decision, and the parties filed a joint petition to vacate the Board’s decision.
“I am delighted that we achieved another victory for a deserving client through the UCI project,” said Sean S. Twomey, attorney at Gibson Dunn and supervisor of the VA Benefits Project. “The Board’s decision wrongly downplayed and ignored evidence of the severity of our client’s PTSD symptoms. The Court’s action not only nullifies the Board’s decision, but also specifically mandates that the VA readjudicate the claim giving due consideration to that evidence.”
Click the link to read the full article here.
Gibson Dunn Honored by Public Counsel
On June 29, 2017, Gibson Dunn was honored by Public Counsel with their 2017 Law Firm Pro Bono Award. The firm was recognized for our work over the years on behalf of Public Counsel clients, committing over 10,000 hours in the last two years alone. The award also recognized the work the firm has done over the course of this year on several high profile, complex immigration-related cases, as well as our work in the wake of the Travel Ban. Ted Boutrous accepted the award on behalf of the firm.
Transgender Woman and Husband Granted Asylum; Now Looking Forward to Honeymoon
On April 12, 2017, Gibson Dunn’s clients, a recently-married couple from Guatemala and El Salvador, were granted asylum in the United States, with the assistance of Philip Shapiro, Phillip Sanders, and Michelle Santoro, under the supervision of Joe Evall. The wife is a transgender woman who suffered four severe assaults by co-workers, gang members, and strangers in Guatemala due to their perception that she was a gay man. She was also severely abused by her family, who refused to accept what they viewed as “feminine” behavior and attraction to men. To escape this persecution, she emigrated from Guatemala to the United States in 2002, but did not consider seeking asylum until she had begun to transition to her correct gender in 2014. She was referred to Gibson Dunn that year, and an asylum application was promptly prepared and filed in December 2014. While awaiting an asylum interview, Gibson Dunn helped her to change her name to conform to her gender, and obtain work authorization and a Social Security number. After she married in October 2016, the Firm took on her husband as a client and, at their request, he was joined to his wife’s pending asylum application. An asylum interview was scheduled in February 2017. The Gibson Dunn team prepared an extensive letter-brief establishing the wife’s grounds for asylum and why she should be excused from the one-year application requirement. After the interview, the asylum officer took the unusual step of inviting supplemental briefing on difficult issues the case presented. Their new status will enable the husband to obtain work authorization as well, which they hope will finally enable them to afford a honeymoon in Miami.
New York Times Profiles Gibson Dunn Pro Bono Client
Gibson Dunn, working in conjunction with lawyers from the Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), secured an individualized bond hearing and the release of a legal permanent resident of the United States who was being held in federal prison on immigration charges for over six months without a hearing. Despite residing in the U.S. for over 14 years, our client, Cristal Morris was detained by U.S. immigration officials as an “arriving alien” upon her return to the U.S. after a short trip, due to a criminal conviction. The government used Cristal’s “arriving alien” status to argue that Cristal, a mother of five who suffers from health issues and has one non-violent criminal conviction, was not entitled to a bond hearing or release on parole pending her immigration proceedings.
Gibson Dunn, with BDS’s assistance, filed a writ for petition of habeas corpus on behalf of Cristal in the Southern District of New York, arguing that Cristal’s prolonged detention without a hearing or release on parole violated her right to due process. On May 11, 2017, upon the conclusion of oral argument, a judge granted Cristal’s writ for habeas corpus, holding that her detention without a hearing was in violation of her right to due process. In doing so, the court extended the holding of Lora v. Shanahan, 804 F. 3d 601 (2d Cir. 2015), which provides non-citizens with the right to an individualized bond hearing after being detained under the immigration laws for a period that exceeds six months, to “arriving aliens” or “aliens seeking admission.”
On May 19, a bond hearing was held and Cristal was released, allowing her to reunite with her family. Read more about the New York Times story here.
New York associates Stella Cernak and Margaret Miceli worked on the matter, which was supervised by partner Alexander Southwell.
Gibson Dunn Wins Back Title to Woman’s House in Real Estate Fraud Case
On June 20, 2017, a team of Gibson Dunn attorneys, in partnership with Bet Tzedek Legal Services, secured a victory for pro bono client Betty Shanklin in a real estate fraud case. This outcome ensured that Ms. Shanklin was returned legal title to the home in which she has lived for 45 years.
Ms. Shanklin is an elderly woman who has lived in her Pasadena home since she purchased it in the early 1970s. In the early 2000s she fell into a deep depression, during which she was unable to leave her home or otherwise care for herself. During this time, Ms. Shanklin relied on her daughter, the defendant, to assist with her daily needs. Unfortunately, the defendant—who was suffering from financial difficulties at the time—took advantage of her mother’s trust and reliance. In 2008, the defendant convinced Ms. Shanklin that she was dying, and that, in order to avoid the costly probate process, Ms. Shanklin needed to sign a quitclaim deed.
Unbeknownst to Ms. Shanklin, this deed immediately transferred her entire interest in the property to the defendant. Ultimately, in 2015, the defendant attempted to evict her mother from the home.
At this point, Ms. Shanklin sought help from Bet Tzedek and Gibson Dunn. The team filed suit against the defendant in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that the 2008 quitclaim deed was the product of fraud and undue influence. From there, the Gibson Dunn team moved for summary adjudication on Ms. Shanklin’s claims to title under a theory of judicial estoppel. The motion was premised on inconsistent statements taken by the defendant in her prior divorce proceedings regarding when she obtained title the home. Just a month before trial, the Court granted summary adjudication on that basis, awarding Ms. Shanklin full title to the home. Adam Teitelbaum drafted the motion and argued at the hearing. In the end, the team was able to secure judgment quieting title in Ms. Shanklin’s favor and cancelling the 2008 quitclaim deed.
The team included Adam Teitelbaum, Helen Galloway, Ross Halper, Nathaniel Bach, Sara Ciccolari-Micaldi, Zoe Klein, and John Dwyer, with partner supervision from Chris Dusseault and paralegal assistance from Kristina Eckert.
Gibson Dunn Retained as Representation for Political Prisoner in Iran
Nazanin Ratcliffe, a dual citizen of Iran and the UK, was taken political prisoner in Iran by the Revolutionary Guard at the check-in desks of Imam Khomeini International Airport as she tried to leave Iran on her way back to England on April 3, 2016. Nazanin lives in London with her British born husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and had been visiting her parents in Tehran for two weeks with her then 22 month-old daughter, Gabriella. Nazanin was arbitrarily and unjustly detained and has now been in custody for over 440 days (including more than six weeks in solitary confinement during which time she suffered dangerous weight loss, lost hair and became so weak she was virtually unable to walk).
This is a stark case of unlawful arrest, arbitrary detention and abuse of human rights. After her arrest, Nazanin was taken to an unnamed prison in Kerman Province, around 600 miles south of Tehran. She was made to sign a confession under duress and was subsequently transferred to Evin prison in Tehran where she has been arbitrarily detained ever since. Nazanin has been denied any contact with the British embassy and consular staff, notwithstanding that she is a British citizen. She was reportedly indicted on July 11, 2016, but the charges against her are still unknown. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard previously released a statement accusing Nazanin of plotting the “soft overthrow of the Islamic Republic” through “her membership of foreign companies and institutions”. This claim is false. Nazanin works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Nazanin has appealed her conviction and detention to the Supreme Court of Iran (the highest court in Iran), but has been unsuccessful at all stages. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued Opinion No.28/2016 on September 7, 2016 finding that: Nazanin’s arrest and detention was unlawful and arbitrary contrary to Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); Nazanin’s right to a fair trial has been violated contrary to Article 14 of the ICCPR; and Nazanin has been subjected to treatment by the Iranian authorities in violation of Article 10(1) of the ICCPR.
Gibson Dunn has been retained on a pro bono basis by the Thomson Reuters Foundation to assist in seeking Nazanin’s release from unlawful and arbitrary detention, so that Nazanin and Gabriella are able to return to England and be reunited with Richard as a family again. The case is handled by Penny Madden QC and Sarika Rabheru in London and assisted by Jarrett Arp in Washington D.C.
Gibson Dunn Obtains Unanimous Fourth Circuit Victory for Pro Bono Client
On May 23, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit handed down a unanimous victory for Gibson Dunn pro bono client, Corey Woodfolk, in his 30-year saga to vacate a Maryland conviction for attempted murder that was tainted by conflicted trial counsel.
In 1988, Mr. Woodfolk was charged with attempted murder; his attorney also represented Mr. Woodfolk's co-defendant. After being told by counsel that he stood a good chance of prevailing at trial, that attorney negotiated a plea arrangement that would allow the co-defendant to go free if Mr. Woodfolk pleaded guilty. Mr. Woodfolk eventually accepted counsel's advice and accepted the plea. For the next twenty-five years, Mr. Woodfolk attempted to challenge that conviction in Maryland state courts, but was stopped at each turn by a series of inexplicable rulings finding his claim barred by seemingly inapplicable rules of procedure. Mr. Woodfolk fared no better when he brought a federal habeas action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254; the district court dismissed the petition as untimely and barred by the procedural defaults identified by the state courts.
In partnership with the Federal Public Defender for the District of Maryland, Gibson Dunn took up Mr. Woodfolk's case on appeal, arguing that the district court erred in dismissing Mr. Woodfolk's petition and asking the Court, at the very least, to vacate and remand the matter so that the district court could address the merits of Mr. Woodfolk's ineffective assistance claim.
In a 42-page unanimous decision, the Fourth Circuit agreed with Gibson Dunn's arguments. After disposing of each of the State's contentions, the Court concluded:
"For nearly 30 years, Woodfolk has contended that his guilty plea was procured by an attorney who served two masters, thereby betraying his duty of loyalty to Woodfolk in exchange for a favorable outcome for Woodfolk's codefendant. No court, state or federal, has ever addressed the substance of these troubling allegations. Having found no time bar or adequate state procedural bar to preclude a review of the claims on its merits, we believe the time has come for a fair adjudication of Woodfolk's claim."
Christopher Leach wrote the briefs and delivered oral argument, with assistance from David Schnitzer and under the supervision of Amir Tayrani. Former partner Tom Hungar supervised this matter prior to leaving the firm.
Gibson Dunn Honored by Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
On Friday, June 16, 2017, Gibson Dunn was honored with the Pro Bono Service Award by the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. The firm was recognized for our contributions over the past several years to the immigrant community in Denver, Colorado and nationally. The award was accepted by Laura Sturges and Katie Marquart. A number of lawyers from the Denver office have worked on cases for the organization over the past several years, including Jessica Brown, Gregory Kerwin, Monica Loseman, John Partridge, Laura Sturges, Eva Michaels, Zoe Gray Klein, Dan Nowicki, Wesley Sze, Jeremy Ochsenbein, Yamini Grema, Joshua Rosario, Allison Kostecka, Holly Rooke, Chelsea Glover, Lauren Kole, and Rachel Wade.
Fourth Circuit Win Changes Legal Landscape for Immigrant Defendants
On April 25, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the order of removal of Gibson Dunn pro bono client Daniel Castendet-Lewis, a native of Panama who was deported after pleading guilty to Virginia statutory burglary. Growing up in Panama, Castendet-Lewis was repeatedly exposed to violence related to the criminal activities of his father and brother. He fled to the United States with his mother when he was 13.Though he was able to build a better life here, he was arrested and charged with burglary at age 18 after entering a house that his friends had broken into. He pleaded guilty and received only a suspended sentence, but the government initiated expedited removal proceedings on the argument that Virginia statutory burglary is an aggravated felony under the INA.
When Castendet-Lewis’s requests for administrative relief were denied, Gibson Dunn petitioned for review in the Fourth Circuit, urging that the removal order be vacated because Virginia statutory burglary is not an aggravated felony. The government responded by attempting to cancel the order of removal by handwriting the word “CANCELLED” on it (even though the government had already executed the order and removed Mr. Castendet-Lewis from the country), and then the government moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The Fourth Circuit denied the government’s motion to dismiss. The Fourth Circuit held, in a published opinion by Judge King, that (1) Virginia statutory burglary does not qualify as an “aggravated felony” triggering expedited removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”); and (2) the government cannot defeat a court of appeals’ jurisdiction by purporting to “cancel” a removal order under review. The ruling will benefit numerous other immigrants (and federal criminal defendants).
Michael Huston briefed and argued the case, assisted by Kevin Barber and with guidance from Tom Dupree.
Paris Office Launches “Solidarity Bus”
Eager to make a difference in their community, the Paris office recently formed a partnership with the Paris Bar’s Solidarity Funds, in cooperation with Droits d’Urgence, an association that fights against exclusion and poverty. The project – the “Solidarity Bus” – consists of providing pro bono legal advice to people in need throughout Paris.
The Solidarity Bus parks to one of the entrance gates in Paris every weekday (holidays included) from 5 to 8 pm. The idea behind the project is to get closer to citizens in need, in order to assist them in addressing some legal issues they may face (e.g., immigration, employment, criminal or family law matters).
Jérôme Delaurière, partner, and Audrey Paul, Cécile Antoine-Melon, Manon Lafond, Victoire Segard, Claire Aristide and Pierre-Alain Marquet, associates, are among the volunteers that launched the initiative within the Paris office.
Gibson Dunn Secures Permanent Restraining Order For Victim of Domestic Violence
On June 20, 2017, in a five-hour long trial that included openings, direct, redirect, cross, and closings, Justin Gilio and Solomon Kim secured a three-year permanent restraining order for their client, a male victim of domestic violence in Los Angeles Superior Court. The two secured the victory despite their client previously having been denied a temporary restraining order. Though the client had no corroborating evidence of any physical abuse, Justin and Solomon successfully argued to the Court that a permanent restraining order should nonetheless be granted because the client had been a victim of repeated verbal harassment and abuse by the Respondent. As a result of the permanent restraining order, the judge modified their client's visitation and custody schedule for his son in favor of their client.
Michael Dore attended the trial with Justin Gilio and Solomon Kim, offering critical guidance and support along the way, while Douglas Fuchs supervised the case.
Please review these other exceptional contributions made by your colleagues across the firm:
Asylum Secured for Guinean Refugee
Asylum Granted for Young Girl from El Salvador
Munich Office Provides Corporate Advice to Haus des Stiftens gGmbH
Gibson Dunn Assists with Preparation for Impact Case in Los Angeles Regarding Non-EMT Services
First Star Launches in the UK With Help From Gibson Dunn’s London Office
Gibson Dunn Files Amicus Brief Regarding Refugee Protocol
Gibson Dunn Assists with Merger of U.K. Charities
Asylum Granted for 18 Year Old Girl from El Salvador
Gibson Dunn and Chevron Collaborate on Another Justice Bus Trip