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 New York office for their successful work on a voting rights case in Albany County, New York. The individual award is presented this year to two associates, Thomas Pack and Jin Yoo. Pack, based in San Francisco, is honored for his work securing asylum for an LGBT family from Mexico. Yoo, based in Washington, D.C., is recognized for his work helping three children, who had fled abusive homes in Honduras, remain with their mothers in the United States.
"We are extremely proud of our lawyers and their pro bono work," said Scott Edelman, Chair of Gibson Dunn's Pro Bono Committee. "The firm is deeply committed to performing pro bono work, and it is our hope that the work performed by our Frank Wheat winners will inspire all of our attorneys to continue dedicating their talents in similar ways. As a result of these efforts and the work of many others not recognized here, we had another exemplary year, averaging approximately 120 pro bono hours per attorney in the United States. Our pro bono achievements have also garnered recognition in the communities in which we practice, such as the Legal Aid 2015 Pro Bono Publico Award for providing excellent legal services to low-income New Yorkers and the California State Bar's President's Pro Bono Service Award."
"We would like to congratulate our Frank Wheat winners," said Pro Bono Director Katie Marquart. "The work accomplished by this year's winners has changed the lives of their clients and effected change for entire communities. We thank our attorneys for their commitment advocating for the underrepresented members of society."
About the Team Award Project – Albany Voting Rights Act Litigation
Gibson Dunn won a trial victory on behalf of a group of minority citizens of Albany County, New York, in a federal Voting Rights Act case against the County of Albany and the Albany County Board of Elections. Following more than three and a half years of litigation and a 13 day trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, the Honorable Lawrence Kahn held in an 81-page opinion issued on March 24, 2015 that the Albany County Legislature's 2011 redistricting plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by unlawfully diluting the voting strength of black voters. Gibson Dunn attorneys recorded over 14,000 hours in the case.
Gibson Dunn filed suit in 2011, after the County Legislature enacted a redistricting plan over the objections of minority legislators and citizens in Albany County that maintained the number of majority-minority districts in the 39-seat County Legislature at four despite Census results that supported a fifth majority-minority district. At trial, Gibson Dunn put on 17 witnesses and proved that the County had publicly stated it was using an inclusive definition of minority voters while secretly directing its mapmaker to use a restrictive and disfavored definition of minority that ignored Hispanics and any mixed-race individuals. Gibson Dunn also proved that the County Legislature enacted the plan without adequate opportunity for the community to review or provide input and despite being presented with viable five-district plans. In the judgment, the court held that using an appropriate definition of black voters, the Legislature should have added a fifth majority-minority district and concluded that the plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of minority voters in the County. The court noted that "though there has been meaningful progress, the journey to real electoral opportunity for minority voters in Albany County is not yet over." The court enjoined the County from holding further elections under the redistricting plan, and ordered it to create a remedial redistricting plan adding a fifth majority-minority district before the next election. Defendants elected not to appeal. The opinions issued by Judge Kahn and the Second Circuit during the course of the litigation provide important guidance regarding the application of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The Gibson Dunn team included partners Mitch Karlan, Aric Wu, and Anne Champion, and associates Kyle Kolb, Brittany Garmyn, Gabriel Gillett, Jonathan Fortney, Kristin Carlson, Amy Mayer, Alyssa Kuhn, Masha Bresner, Jeana Bisnar Maute, Lindsey Schmidt, and Peter Wade. Paul DerOhannesian II and Danielle Smith of DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian provided invaluable assistance as local counsel on the litigation.
About the Individual Award Project – Thomas Pack
Thomas Pack is honored for his work representing two women and their daughter who fled their small Mexican city during the middle of the night, after witnessing the murder of one of their neighbors at the hands of a drug cartel and receiving subsequent death threats. Within weeks of arriving in California, the women were able to legally marry, thanks to equal marriage rights secured by Gibson Dunn in the 2013 Hollingsworth v. Perry case.
Pack successfully represented the family in pretrial negotiations with the Department of Homeland Security and at the merits hearing in immigration court. DHS representatives effectively conceded the case after reading the briefing and other written submissions. At the merits hearing, Pack guided the clients through a direct examination, where they testified in detail regarding the persecution they had experienced in Mexico as LGBT individuals and as a family, and the persecution they feared if they were forced to return. At the hearing's conclusion, after asylum was granted, DHS waived its right to appeal the decision.
About the Individual Award Project – Jin Yoo
Jin Yoo, along with partner Karen Manos, represented three children from Honduras who had suffered domestic abuse while living in that country. The children came to the United States undocumented to join their mothers, and the government promptly initiated removal proceedings. In August 2015, a hearing was granted in a Maryland court to determine the children's custody status and their eligibility for the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status relief. After a four-and-a-half hour hearing encompassing five witnesses and multiple exhibits, the Maryland court granted complete custody over the children to the mothers and found all three children eligible for the SIJS relief. One month later, the Immigration Court in Baltimore took notice of the Maryland court's findings and dismissed the government's removal proceedings against the children.
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 and served as founder and trustee of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, 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.