Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is pleased to announce the winners of the firm's annual team and individual Frank Wheat Memorial Awards. The Frank Wheat award is given every year to lawyers in the firm who obtain significant results for their pro bono clients and demonstrate leadership and initiative that serve as inspiration to others.
This year, the team award is presented to lawyers in Gibson Dunn's Denver office for their successful work in a high-stakes zoning matter before the Colorado Supreme Court. The individual award is presented to Dallas associate Andrew LeGrand for his instrumental role in developing an informal pro bono appellate program at the firm.
"We enthusiastically congratulate our Frank Wheat award winners," said Scott Edelman, Chair of Gibson Dunn's Pro Bono Committee. "Whether it's litigating a complex case on behalf of a nonprofit whose mission is to provide help and hope to people experiencing homelessness, or taking on numerous meritorious appellate causes on behalf of indigent individuals, these attorneys demonstrate Gibson Dunn advocacy at its finest."
"We are proud of the contributions made by our award winners," said Pro Bono Counsel & Director Katie Marquart. "Our lawyers' hard work and commitment to pro bono has changed for the better the lives of people who otherwise would not have had access to legal representation."
About the Team Award Project – Open Door Ministries
In 2016, 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 had 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 in 2010 and purchased the property in reliance on the permit. 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.
The trial court granted Open Door summary judgment in 2013 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).
The Gibson Dunn team was led by Denver-based of counsel Laura Sturges and partner John Partridge, and were assisted by partners Gregory Kerwin and Monica Loseman and associates Katherine Yarger, Timothy Zimmerman, Sara Carlisle, Holly Rooke and Eva Michaels.
About the Individual Award Project – Andrew LeGrand
Dallas associate Andrew LeGrand has been instrumental in developing an informal pro bono appellate program at the firm 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 at the Seventh Circuit, LeGrand 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 LeGrand returned to the firm following his clerkship, he began accepting pro bono appellate appointments through the Seventh Circuit. Since then, he 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.
LeGrand's individual pro bono efforts have resulted in, among other things, a vacatur of an elderly immigrant's criminal conviction for structuring financial transactions and the return of her previously forfeited life savings, reinstatement of an Illinois state prisoner's First and Eighth Amendment claims against various prison officials, and federal habeas relief for a Wisconsin state prisoner whose conviction violated the self-representation right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
In addition to briefing and arguing pro bono appeals himself, LeGrand also has 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 his efforts, Gibson Dunn has now accepted eight pro bono appeals in the Seventh Circuit, four of which are ongoing.
About the Frank Wheat Award
The award is named for the late Frank Wheat, a Gibson Dunn partner who was deeply committed to community service and pro bono work. A recognized leader in corporate transactions, Wheat served as a commissioner of the Securities Exchange Commission and as president of the Los Angeles County Bar. He also founded the Alliance for Children's Rights, served as a leader of the Sierra Club, and a board member of the Center of Law in the Public Interest, which established a fellowship in his name to train young lawyers in public interest litigation. The award recipients receive $2,500 to be donated to a pro bono organization of their choice.