Gibson Dunn Announces Annual Pro Bono Award Winners

January 19, 2012

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 New York office for their representation of eight immigrant day laborers in Danbury, Connecticut.  The individual award is presented to New York associate Lee Jarit for his work spearheading the firm’s involvement in the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network.   

“We are very proud of the 2011 Frank Wheat award winners,” said Ken Doran, Chairman and Managing Partner of Gibson Dunn.  “They exemplify the firm’s tradition of service to our communities, and our hope is they will inspire every attorney in the firm to follow their example.”

“We would like to congratulate our 2011 winners and all of our attorneys who contributed their time and effort to pro bono matters over the last year,” said Scott Edelman, Chair of Gibson Dunn’s Pro Bono Committee.  “Last year, the firm’s attorneys donated close to 110,000 pro bono hours in a broad range of matters on issues from the arts to poverty eradication and from children’s issues to veterans’ issues.  The work handled by our attorneys for our pro bono clients is truly inspiring, and their dedication to helping others should serve as an example to all of us.”

About the Team Award Project

In March 2011, a team of Gibson Dunn attorneys, working with the Jerome Frank Legal Clinic of the Yale Law School, achieved a landmark financial settlement and reform of improper police procedure in what became known as the Danbury Day Laborers Litigation.  The case was brought after Danbury, Connecticut police, collaborating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, used an illegal sting operation involving racial profiling to target day laborers for arrest as potential undocumented workers.

Day laborers were lured by an undercover police officer with promises of construction work, driven to a parking lot where police arrested them as undocumented workers and then turned them over to federal immigration agents.  Some of the firm’s clients were sent to detention centers around the country, where they were incarcerated for more than a month.

Gibson Dunn’s team filed a Section 1983 action on behalf of the day laborers against Danbury and the federal government and dedicated thousands of hours to conducting over a year’s worth of complex fact discovery. 

Danbury and federal government officials ultimately agreed to settle on favorable terms for the firm’s clients, committing not only to a substantial financial settlement but also systemic reforms of law enforcement practices.  Gibson Dunn’s clients received a total settlement of $650,000.

The team was led by New York partner Joel M. Cohen, and included Washington, D.C. associate Elizabeth Goergen and New York associates Mary Kay Dunning, Joseph La Perla, Beth Morales Singh, Anya Grossman, Jacob Sherkow, Cedric Logan and William Han.  Invaluable contributions also were made by partners Jeffrey Trinklein and Alexander Southwell, of counsel Farrah Pepper, associates Oliver Olanoff, Ladan Stewart, Anne Coyle, Rachel Lavery, Adam Chen, Vince Ruiz, Yeeta Yeger, Robert Gonzalez, Kevin Grady, Karen Grus, Sharon Grysman, Jason McKenney, Lisa Keith, Kevin Medrano, Ryan Reynolds, Jeffrey Coren, Dan Horowitz, Kelli Barton, Alfred Chianese, Daniel Harris, Karen Lee, Vikram Kumar, Amy Noblett, Karin Reiss, Benjamin Wastler and Mia White.

About the Individual Award Project

The firm selected New York associate Lee Jarit for the individual award for his work spearheading the New York office’s involvement in the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network and The Name Change Project.

The Holocaust Survivors Justice Network is a coalition of Jewish social service agencies, law firms and corporations, organized by Bet Tzedek Legal Services to assist Holocaust survivors apply for reparations programs.  Upon learning of the opportunity to become involved in the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network, Jarit offered to lead Gibson Dunn’s participation as one of several law firms that would coordinate the network’s efforts in the New York City area.  Under Jarit’s direction, close to 100 people in Gibson Dunn’s New York office spent approximately 2,200 hours assisting Holocaust survivors determine their eligibility for, and apply for, a reparations program established by the German government to compensate Holocaust survivors for work they performed while living in a ghetto during World War II. 

Gibson Dunn personnel helped schedule those Holocaust survivors in the New York City area that met the eligibility criteria for the program to attend a clinic, or receive a visit at home, where attorneys and paralegals from one of the participating law firms and corporate legal departments provided assistance with the application process.  Gibson Dunn personnel helped nearly 50 individuals apply for the reparations program by staffing several clinics and conducting home visits, resulting in payments of more than €60,000 to date, with several more applications expected to be approved in the near future.

In addition, Jarit organized a team of Gibson Dunn volunteers to work with The Name Change Project, a program developed by the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund to ensure that transgender people have adequate legal representation when seeking a name change, often a first step toward conforming their legal identities to the way they identify and live their lives.

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.