Gibson Dunn Announces Annual Pro Bono Award Winners

March 24, 2011

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 Gibson Dunn attorneys from the Los Angeles office for their representation of the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.  The individual award is presented to Los Angeles associate Katie Marquart for her efforts on behalf of approximately 2,300 children with autism. 

"We are extremely proud of the efforts of this year’s Frank Wheat award winners," said Ken Doran, Chair and Managing Partner of Gibson Dunn.  "Gibson Dunn has a long tradition of giving back to the community.  The Frank Wheat award is one way we recognize and encourage our lawyers’ efforts to continue that tradition."

"I am very proud of the firm’s commitment to pro bono and the many extraordinary contributions of our attorneys," said Scott Edelman, Chair of Gibson Dunn’s Pro Bono Committee.  “In 2010, the firm donated more than 120,000 hours of pro bono work on a broad range of pro bono matters from asylum petitions to veterans’ benefits, from the arts to landlord/tenant disputes, domestic violence and affordable housing.”

About the Team Award Project

The team award is presented to the Los Angeles attorneys who represent the Tejon Ranch Conservancy.  The Conservancy’s mission is to preserve, enhance and restore the native biodiversity and ecosystem values of the Tejon Ranch and the Tehachapi Range for the benefit of California’s future generations.

The Conservancy was created as part of the Tejon Ranch Conservation and Land Use Agreement, signed in 2008 by the Tejon Ranch Company, Audubon California, Endangered Habitats League, Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League and Sierra Club.  Pursuant to the agreement, environmental groups obtained a binding commitment from the Tejon Ranch Company to protect up to 240,000 acres of the Tejon Ranch in advance of the Tejon Ranch Company’s proposed development projects in the years ahead.  The agreement balances sustainable development on the Tejon Ranch with the preservation of the land’s conservation values, and will hopefully serve as a nationwide model for cooperative conservation and land use planning.

After months of extensive work by the firm, the California Wildlife Conservation Board on November 18, 2010, approved $15.8 million in state funding for the Conservancy’s purchase of perpetual conservation easements across 62,000 acres of significant wildlife habitat on the Tejon Ranch.  In connection with the acquisition of the conservation easements, Gibson Dunn represented the Conservancy’s interests in all aspects of the real estate transaction, including negotiation of the forms of easement and related state grant agreements, development of policies for access to and monitoring of the easement property and conducting due diligence on such property.  The latter effort was a significant undertaking requiring review and evaluation of hundreds of agreements covering activities on the Tejon Ranch over the past 100 years.  Going forward, Gibson Dunn will assist the Conservancy with a host of near-term and long-term efforts, including a proposed realignment of the Pacific Crest Trail onto the Tejon Ranch and the possible development of a California State Park to be located on the Tejon Ranch within a portion of the conserved lands under the Conservancy’s stewardship.

The team representing the Conservancy is led by partner Tom McHenry and includes associates Janna Boelke, Claire Vigil, Doug Champion, Sarah Garber, Mike Szczurek and Eduardo Carvajal. 

About the Individual Award Project

The firm selected associate Katie Marquart for the individual award for her work on behalf of children with autism.  Children diagnosed with autism are eligible to receive state-funded services from regional centers.  During the recent economic crisis, the legislature cut funding for, among other things, “experimental therapies” and “recreational” therapies.  Improperly relying on these budget cuts, the East Los Angeles Regional Center (ELARC) eliminated funding for a type of autism treatment program known as Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based (DIR) or “floortime” treatment, which in some cases enabled these children to communicate, learn, and play with others for the first time. 

The firm concluded that ELARC’s actions violated the children’s rights under state law because the autism treatment programs were not experimental or recreational, but in fact were a well established method of treating the core symptoms of autism.  Furthermore, ELARC’s actions would have forced all parents to use one type of treatment, a treatment that was wholly ineffective for many of the children, as autism is not a disorder that lends itself to applying the same method of treatment for every child.  The firm and Public Counsel sued on behalf of a class of 2,300 autistic children.  In June 2010, the firm prevailed at the two-day hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction.  Within five days, services were reinstated for the children.  A settlement agreement ensured that the provision of these services would continue on a permanent, ongoing basis.

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.