At Gibson Dunn, we approach our long tradition of service to the community with the same passion, creativity and motivation we apply to all our work. We are convinced that by striving to strengthen the rule of law, assist the disadvantaged and bring top-quality legal thinking to those who might normally be overlooked by the legal system, we deliver tangible benefits to our clients, our firm and our community.
At Gibson Dunn, we believe that lawyers have a special ability – and duty – to help ensure meaningful access to the justice system for everyone. And, not just those who can afford an attorney. We are dedicated to the idea that the most vulnerable in our society receive a fair opportunity to receive legal representation in times of need. Whether protecting constitutional rights, working on behalf of the LGBTQ community, spearheading anti-human trafficking efforts, battling slumlords, fighting on behalf of domestic violence victims, advocating on behalf of veterans, or engaging in extensive efforts on behalf of the immigrant community, our lawyers have provided access to justice for those who could not otherwise afford it.
We are honored to be a signatory to the Pro Bono Institute’s Pro Bono Challenge, which requires us to use our “best efforts” to perform 60 hours of pro bono work per lawyer each year. Each year we have not only met the challenge, but have consistently exceeded expectations. In 2016, Gibson Dunn lawyers in the United States completed an average of 127 pro bono hours. Our international offices also contributed impressively to their communities and to communities around the world. In total, Gibson Dunn lawyers worldwide devoted a total of 162,246 hours to pro bono, averaging nearly 114 pro bono hours per person.
Gibson Dunn actively encourages robust participation in pro bono matters by giving one-to-one billable credit for all pro bono work performed, without limit. To support our program, the firm has a Pro Bono Committee comprised of partners and associates from nearly every office. Additionally, we have a dedicated attorney who oversees global efforts as the firm’s full-time Pro Bono Counsel & Director. The uniting force behind our pro bono work has been – and continues to be – a shared commitment to protecting the Constitution, upholding the rule of law, and providing access to justice for all. We are proud of the work our attorneys have done and we look forward to continuing in this tradition in the coming years.
Pro Bono Chair
In March 2014 and March 2015, Gibson Dunn attorneys were invited by Lawyers Without Borders to present at the United Nations at the 57th and 58th Sessions of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.
The theme of the 2014 session was “Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence Against Women and Girls.” The Gibson Dunn presentation focused on global anti-human trafficking efforts, and was a combination of prepared talking points and an interactive exercise led by our team, aimed at educating audience members and providing them with a mechanism for educating their own communities about human trafficking. The presentation focused on issues such as how to more effectively identify victims of human trafficking, how to properly deal with victims so as to make them feel comfortable telling their stories, and how to investigate and prosecute traffickers. Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise of the 21st century. And, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, around 27 million men, women and children are trafficking victims at any given time. In recent years, Gibson Dunn has become increasingly involved in human trafficking efforts. Just as human trafficking is not a one-dimensional problem, the projects that our lawyers work on approach the issue from many different angles, in many different parts of the world.
In 2015, the presentation centered on global legal efforts to promote women’s rights, as the Session itself was focused on the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is a powerful and groundbreaking program setting forth a global framework for empowering women and girls around the world. Our presentation focused on four substantive areas: Access to Education for Women, Domestic Violence, Economic Rights for Women, and Human Trafficking. The 90-minute presentation highlighted ways in which the law has been able to successfully move women’s rights forward in these four areas over the last several decades. Our presentation also recognized the fact that these issues are impacted greatly by things like culture, tradition, religion and socio-economic status and, in light of that fact, presented concrete examples of instances where the law has been able to creatively and effectively combat some of those obstacles.
A team of Gibson Dunn’s Dallas lawyers has played a pivotal role in the firm’s partnership with Klyde Warren Park, a 5.2 acre park constructed on top of a downtown Dallas freeway. The result of a $110 million public-private partnership, Klyde Warren Park is the focal point of the development of a more pedestrian-friendly central Dallas. The Park’s importance to the transformation of Dallas has received world-wide acclaim and has been reported on nationally by the New York Times and USA Today, among many other publications. And in October 2014, the Park received the renowned Open Space Award from the Urban Land Institute, which described the Park as “Dallas’ new town square that has literally and figuratively bridged the city’s downtown cultural district with the burgeoning mixed-use neighborhoods to the north, reshaping the city and catalyzing economic development.” The Park has galvanized over $2 billion in economic development in the immediate vicinity of the park, leading to a transformation of the area and the creation of a new center of downtown Dallas.
Gibson Dunn’s attorneys assisted Klyde Warren Park with every step of the difficult task of getting a major urban park off the ground. The team secured the Park’s political, legal, and economic viability by providing outside general counsel services covering all aspects of the Park’s operations. In addition to assisting in the day-to-day legal operations of the Park, the Gibson Dunn team has been responsible for providing extensive legal counsel to the Park on a vast array of topics, ranging from the First Amendment rights of demonstrators to Texas disability code compliance to Dallas regulations regarding food trucks. Gibson Dunn also spearheaded the successful creation of a specialized municipal taxing district in favor of the Park that is critical to its financial viability, which required extensive legal and political groundwork. Gibson Dunn lawyers have also been instrumental in the development and execution of countless use, development, and sponsorship agreements for the Park.
Gibson Dunn obtained a so-called ghetto pension from the German government for an 88-year-old woman who was forced to live and work in a ghetto outside of Budapest during the Holocaust. The German Federal Pension Insurance Agency had denied the woman’s application for a ghetto pension under the German Law for the Payment of Pensions for Work in a Ghetto (ZRBG) several times arguing that the woman had not sufficiently shown that she had actually lived and worked in the ghetto. Â Gibson Dunn contacted the German Pension Insurance Agency, requested an extension of the response period and to review the agency’s files and records on the case. The team reviewed hundreds of pages of documents (including German and Hungarian language originals and historic documentation) to clarify the facts and complete the legal analysis. Gibson Dunn filed a statement of objection presenting the new facts and legal analysis to the Pension Insurance Agency showing that the client had performed work in the ghetto in 1944 and that she was entitled to a ghetto pension. As a direct result, the client was awarded a monthly ghetto pension in the amount of around $1,100 plus a back payment of more than $19,000 for the period of 1 January 2005 through 31 March 2012.
Bet Tzedek, the legal aid organization who referred the matter, thanked Gibson Dunn by saying: “The Gibson team that handled [the] case did a PHENOMENAL job!… The substantive Statement of Objection that Gibson filed … was one of the finest bits of advocacy [we] have yet to encounter on a ZRBG case. [Gibson’s] recital of facts and arguments, judiciously supported by documents, was a model of efficiency that also proved to be quite effective! Going from an “intent to deny” to an award that extended back to 2005 is a remarkable accomplishment.”
Gibson Dunn represented three victims of a labor and sex trafficking scheme in a civil action against defendants Joseph Yannai and his wife Elena Fusillo. The lawsuit alleged that the defendants, using lies, intimidation, and manipulation, lured the plaintiffs from their respective home countries to the United States under the pretense of legitimate work, and upon their arrival, subjected them to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Specifically, Mr. Yannai would pursue young women from around the world who were seeking au pair positions in the United States. Using various aliases, Mr. Yannai would pose as a former female personal assistant searching for a replacement for her employer. Mr. Yannai offered the young women a live-in option, which included the provision of anything a young woman could need, plus a $20,000 bonus upon the completion of one year. Prior to leaving for the United States, Mr. Yannai, still using one of his aliases, informed each young woman how to lie to immigration in order to enter the country without proper documentation. Upon arrival in the United States, the women were isolated from their families and from outsiders, prohibited from using the phone or even the Internet. They were subject to both verbal and physical abuse. The women worked long hours without any pay. It is our understanding that over the years, dozens of women came through the defendants’ home and were subjected to abuse by Mr. Yannai.
Mr. Yannai had been previously convicted of forced labor and other crimes in the Eastern District of New York (Ms. Fusillo was never charged); the indictment indicated that he had been engaged in his criminal plot since at least 2003. The civil action was stayed pursuant to the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (18 U.S.C. § 1595(b)) until Mr. Yannai was sentenced in September 2013. He remained incarcerated at the Brooklyn MDC throughout the proceedings. Although Mr. Yannai was insolvent, just prior to his deposition, the Gibson Dunn team settled the case for a substantial amount. The three plaintiffs plan to share a portion of the settlement with his other victims.
On March 31, 2015, Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted preliminary approval of a settlement between Gibson Dunn clients and various officials and agencies in New York City and New York State.
For several years, Gibson Dunn’s “D-SNAP Team,” in conjunction with the Legal Aid Society, has been representing disabled New Yorkers to help them obtain disaster food stamp benefits (so-called “D-SNAP” benefits) that they were unable to apply for in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Two years ago, when the benefit application period opened, it became clear that the program had not been accessed by hundreds, if not thousands, of qualified individuals with disabilities. The essence of the complaint is that the program violated city, state, and federal anti-discrimination laws by failing to provide disabled applicants with reasonable accommodations (such as permitting them to apply by phone or conducting home visits, rather than requiring an in-person application at a site in Brooklyn or a part-time site on Staten Island). The operative complaint names city, state, and federal agencies and their officials as defendants.
Gibson Dunn has obtained extraordinary and precedent-setting relief over the years, including:
The breadth and depth of this relief, including substantial policy changes that will apply nationwide, would have been unimaginable at the inception of this case, when the sole relief Plaintiffs sought was a short extension of the application window in 2012 so that individuals with disabilities could have more time to apply, a form of relief that would have applied only to people who lived in 12 zip codes in New York City.
This relief would not have been possible without Gibson Dunn’s multifaceted litigation strategy, taking the lead on briefing and arguing motions. Over the years, Judge Forrest denied the City’s and State’s motions to dismiss, granted Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification (certifying two subclasses), and ruled in Gibson Dunn’s favor on numerous other contested issues. The Federal Government filed a motion to dismiss, which remains in contention. Gibson Dunn also has conducted extensive discovery, reviewing tens of thousands of documents, issuing interrogatories, and taking depositions.
In 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”)—despite having nominally been dismissed from the case—responded to this litigation by revising its policy guidance to expand accommodations available to disabled applicants. The new federal guidance now makes clear that state agencies have a responsibility to comply with civil rights laws and to provide meaningful access to the disabled. Moreover, in addition to requiring states seeking to run a D-SNAP program to provide a “thorough explanation” of potential disability access issues, USDA has promulgated a list of “best practices,” including satellite application sites, special public transportation, home visits for those who have difficulty traveling, and internet video-technology to facilitate off-site interviews.
After USDA revised its policy guidance, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (“OTDA”) revised its guidance as well. The state’s guidance now requires OTDA to advise city agencies to consider reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities and to conduct annual training on compliance with civil rights laws. OTDA also requires city agencies to consider collaborating with local public transportation authorities and community partners and conducting outreach to disabled populations. Crucially, OTDA also encourages city agencies to consider the “best practices” in the revised federal guidance. And the state’s form application to run a D-SNAP program now requires a formal plan for ensuring disability access.
On March 31, 2015, Judge Forrest granted preliminary approval of a settlement between Plaintiffs, HRA, and OTDA. As part of that settlement, a new D-SNAP program will be run for those who did not apply after Hurricane Sandy because of a disability. Among other things, the program will provide home visits to anyone who requests one, and it will make use of expanded efforts to collaborate with community partners. The settlement also includes a commitment from HRA to make best efforts to comply with the new, improved state and federal guidance, and it requires OTDA to maintain its policies in all material respects. Finally, the settlement provides for a limitation on the Court’s retention of jurisdiction if the city convenes a Disability Advisory Community Panel comprised of government personnel and community organizations to address emerging challenges and solutions related to disability access. The Court has scheduled a fairness hearing for the end of June and approved publication of notice to the class.
In recognition of these efforts, the Legal Aid Society awarded members of the D-SNAP team with its 2013 and 2014 Pro Bono Publico Awards for providing excellent legal services to low-income New Yorkers
On March 3, Gibson Dunn secured a complete victory for pro bono client Jose Perez in a real estate fraud jury trial encompassing claims for quiet title, financial elder abuse, and intentional interference with expected inheritance. After two days of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict for economic and noneconomic damages totaling over a half million dollars for Mr. Perez.
Mr. Perez, the plaintiff and cross-defendant in the matter, is an elderly and illiterate monolingual Spanish speaker who in 2012 was fraudulently tricked into signing away the rights to the home he shared with his now-deceased wife for more than 33 years. Following Mr. Perez’s loss of his rights in the home, Mr. Perez’s estranged stepson and daughter-in-law drained Mr. Perez’s bank account and deprived Mr. Perez of virtually all other assets he had acquired prior to and during his marriage, including through the use of an invalidly procured quitclaim deed. The stepson and daughter-in-law then sought to evict Mr. Perez from the home just 10 days after his wife passed away.
After a six-day trial, the jury returned a virtually unanimous verdict for Mr. Perez on the financial elder abuse and intentional interference with expected inheritance claims, finding that the stepson and daughter-in-law intentionally deprived Mr. Perez of his property and expected inheritance by, among other things, exerting undue influence. The court, Judge Yvette Palazuelos presiding, also quieted title in Mr. Perez’s favor, setting aside two deeds the defendants had claimed demonstrated their right to the title. In addition to the damages and title won for Mr. Perez, Gibson Dunn’s victory on the financial elder abuse claim entitles Mr. Perez to an automatic award of attorney’s fees. That fee award will be added to a fee award of more than $66,000 Gibson Dunn previously secured after winning an anti-SLAPP motion in this matter.
The case originally came to the firm from Bet Tzedek in 2013. The Gibson Dunn team surmounted many obstacles during the course of the year-and-a-half long representation, including the death of one of the defendants and a subsequent detour through probate court, a mistrial, and the filing of frivolous cross-claims by the defendants, which the team was able to eliminate through the use of strategic motions in limine and an anti-SLAPP motion. Bet Tzedek’s Pro Bono Director called Gibson Dunn’s victory in this matter “incredible” and “a shining example of the power of pro bono” services.