February 27, 2018
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP is pleased to announce the winners of the firm’s annual team and individual Frank Wheat Memorial Awards. Every year, Gibson Dunn presents its Frank Wheat award 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 offices across the country who worked tirelessly to protect the civil liberties and due process rights of individuals impacted by various new immigration-related policies and procedures. This includes a multi-office effort over 100 Gibson Dunn attorneys who responded to President Trump’s “Travel Ban” deploying to major airports around the country and specifically, the successful efforts to obtain the release a family of five Afghan immigrants unlawfully detained at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
The individual award is presented to co-winners, Los Angeles associate Michael Holecek and Washington, D.C. associate Christopher Leach. Holecek and Leach are selected for their work on behalf of domestic violence victims and in a complex habeas case, respectively, as well as their pivotal roles in spearheading new programs to create future pro bono projects.
“We are very proud to congratulate our Frank Wheat award winners,” said Scott Edelman, Chair of Gibson Dunn’s Pro Bono Committee. “This year, Gibson Dunn lawyers focused on the protection of the rule of law and civil liberties. As a result of these efforts and the work of many others not recognized here, we had another stellar year, averaging approximately 129 pro bono hours per attorney worldwide.”
“Whether it’s fighting for civil liberties, due process rights, LGBTQ rights, animal rights, and access to justice, or advocating on behalf of domestic violence victims, or immigrants, these attorneys demonstrate Gibson Dunn advocacy at its finest,” said Pro Bono Counsel & Director Katie Marquart.
About the Team Award Project – Gibson Dunn’s Travel Ban Response Team
After the Travel Ban was issued in January 2017, chaos broke out at airports across the country as travelers were detained and sometimes returned to the country from which they departed. Gibson Dunn deployed more than 100 lawyers to airports around the country to monitor incoming flights, observe the activities of relevant officials and government agencies, and work behind the scenes with our legal aid partners to provide meaningful pro bono legal assistance to those in need.
The firm was able to significantly help one family in particular. This family of five had traveled to the United States on Special Immigrant Visas granted to them on the basis of the father’s years of service to the U.S. government as a translator in Afghanistan. His service led to multiple death threats from the Taliban causing them to leave Afghanistan to find refuge in this country. However, upon their arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, they were inexplicably detained by Customs and Border Patrol for over 40 hours, interrogated, and threatened with deportation. Upon learning of the situation, a team of Gibson Dunn attorneys in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange County, Denver, Washington, D.C., and New York immediately sprang into action and worked around the clock to draft a habeas corpus petition demanding the family’s release and that they be provided with immediate access to counsel. Additionally, the Gibson Dunn team obtained an emergency temporary restraining order minutes before the family was to be inexplicably separated to detention centers in different states. While the Gibson Dunn team prepared for a hearing on their emergency TRO, the government agreed to release the family. With the help of Gibson Dunn, the family was finally able to settle in Washington state, where they look forward to one day becoming United States citizens.
About the Individual Award – Michael Holecek
Michael Holecek is honored for his over seven years of commitment to pro bono matters on behalf of domestic violence victims. In 2017, Holecek spearheaded several cases, including successfully arguing an appeal to the California Court of Appeal, which reversed the trial court’s order granting joint child custody to a proven domestic abuser. He was selected by the Carl & Roberta Deutsch Foundation as a 2017 HALO Award winner for his work.
He also has created a pipeline for future domestic violence related pro bono work at the firm in his new role as a member of the Board of Directors for Family Violence Appellate Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to representing domestic violence survivors in civil appeals.
About the Individual Award – Christopher Leach
Christopher Leach is honored for creating the firm’s partnership with the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Maryland, and his recent pro bono success on behalf of a federal inmate.
Leach represented a Maryland man whose trial lawyer in a 1988 attempted-murder charge was tainted by a conflict of interest; that same lawyer also represented his co-defendant and negotiated a plea allowing the co-defendant to go free only if our client pleaded guilty. After presenting oral argument on his habeas case before a panel of the Fourth Circuit, the court agreed with his arguments in a 42-page published decision, and ordered the district court to adjudicate the client’s conflict of interest claim. After the appellate victory, Leach worked with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office and the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office to negotiate a favorable settlement of the remand proceedings in which the State would consent to the vacatur of his client’s conviction, hereby mooting his federal habeas case in the district court. On December 7, 2017, the Maryland court entered a consent order vacating the conviction.
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.