October 04, 2012


22nd Anniversary & Volunteer Recognition Event - Honorees

22nd Anniversary & Volunteer Recognition Event 2008 Exceptional Service Award Nominations

Each year pro bono firms are nominated by their colleagues for exceptional service to prisoners on Death Row and honored with our Exceptional Service Award.

22nd Anniversary & Volunteer Recognition Event 2008 Exceptional Service Award Nominations

Each year pro bono firms are nominated by their colleagues for exceptional service to prisoners on Death Row and honored with our Exceptional Service Award. The Death Penalty Representation Project presents the 2008 Exceptional Service Awards for exceptional pro bono contributions on behalf of death-sentenced prisoners to Kaye Scholer LLP and Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

Kaye Scholer has a proud 30-year tradition of taking on difficult habeas and clemency petitions for indigent death row inmates. The former Chair of Kaye Scholer’s Executive Committee, David Klingsberg, set an example at the firm by personally handling several death penalty cases, including arguing Beck v. Alabama (1980) and Lowenfield v. Phelps (1988) in the U.S. Supreme Court. Since 1991, dozens of Kaye Scholer attorneys have spent almost 30,000 hours on eight separate cases.

Most recently, Kaye Scholer, who has represented Percy Walton since 2002, was successful in obtaining a reprieve from Governor Kaine on June 8, 2006 just one hour before Mr. Walton was scheduled to be executed, which delayed the scheduled execution to allow for an independent evaluation of the client's mental condition and competence. Mr. Walton, a borderline-retarded schizophrenic, was originally sentenced to be executed in October 1997. Numerous appeals and habeas petitions were submitted to Virginia federal courts in an effort to stay and ultimately commute Mr. Walton’s death sentence on the grounds that Mr. Walton was only 18 at the time of his crime, is mentally retarded, and is mentally ill such that he lacks the necessary competence to be put to death. Mr. Walton’s appeals all failed, and a team of Kaye Scholer attorneys prepared for their extensive attempt at procuring clemency for Mr. Walton.

In the 1999 case of Calvin Swann v. State of Virginia, the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center contacted Kaye Scholer to prepare a clemency petition ten days prior to Mr. Swann's execution date and after the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari. With support from various circles enlisted and convinced by Kaye Scholer's work, Virginia Governor James S. Gilmore III determined to make his own assessment of Mr. Swann's condition and determined he was profoundly mentally handicapped and commuted his death sentence.

Kaye Scholer’s efforts and results in each of their cases was the acceptance of responsibility for the clients not because they recognized the potential triumph but because they recognized the need on behalf of clients who could not help themselves.

A firm of fewer than 200 lawyers, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP allocates tremendous resources to its pro bono program, and in particular to work on behalf of those facing or serving death sentences. Combined, approximately 100 Schnader lawyers, paralegals, and other personnel have spent over 15,000 hours through the years on death penalty matters. Beyond their direct involvement in death penalty litigation, the Schnader firm is enthusiastically involved in lecturing and advocating for reforms in the death penalty system. Schnader has continuously been in involved in capital pro bono representation since at least 1988, and has handled more pro bono Pennsylvania cases than any other firm in the country.

In its direct representation cases, Schnader, led by partners including Sam Silver, Ralph Wellington, and Paul Titus, has represented numerous capital defendants at the trial, appellate, state post-conviction, and federal habeas corpus stages of the criminal process. They leave no stone unturned in their vigorous representation of their capital clients.

Schnader’s thirteen year representation of one client, Florencio Rolan, exemplifies the firm’s commitment. Schnader first entered Mr. Rolan's case by successfully obtaining a last-minute stay of execution. After extensive post-conviction proceedings before the Pennsylvania state courts, Schnader secured a new sentencing trial. Schnader represented Mr. Rolan at the sentencing trial, and succeeded in getting Mr. Rolan’s death sentence vacated. Thereafter, Schnader initiated successful federal habeas proceedings, where Mr. Rolan was awarded a new trial on the merits. They later preserved that victory in the Third Circuit. Schnader then represented Mr. Rolan at trial in hopes of winning Mr. Rolan his freedom. When that did not occur, they took the case on appeal, where it remains today.

Schnader brings the same level of commitment, passion, and expertise to each of their death penalty cases, earning the respect of Philadelphia’s Bench and Bar. Whether directly representing death row inmates, submitting amicus briefs in death penalty cases, or advocating for reform in the death penalty system, Schnader has been an active voice on behalf of capital defendants in Pennsylvania and across the country.

Past Honorees

for exceptional pro bono contributions on behalf of death-sentenced prisoners


WilmerHale offers exceptional legal representation across a comprehensive range of practice areas that are critical to the success of their clients. With a heritage that includes their involvement in the foundation of legal aid work early in the 20th century, WilmerHale has consistently distinguished themselves as leaders in pro bono representation.

Their commitment to providing pro bono representation to defendants under sentence of death has spanned decades and involved the representation of no fewer than twelve death row inmates, including several cases involving high profile decisions. In Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551 (2005), the Supreme Court held that is was unconstitutional for states to execute offenders who were under the age of 18 when their crimes were committed. Defendant Christopher Simmons was represented before the Supreme Court by attorneys from WilmerHale. The court’s decision in Roper canceled the death sentence of Roper and 72 others on death rows throughout the country.

WilmerHale also represented Maryland death-row inmate Vernon Evans, Jr. through his appeals, culminating in the Maryland Court of Appeals’ December 2006 decision enjoining the use of Maryland’s lethal injection procedures. This ruling effectively imposed a de facto moratorium on executions in Maryland. WilmerHale has logged thousands of pro bono hours in their exemplary representation of pro bono death penalty clients. The firm is currently involved in five death penalty representations, including Mr Evans.

Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw is now officially Mayer Brown. And while its name has changed, its commitment to client service has not. What also has not changed is its commitment to the idea that defendants facing the death penalty deserve quality legal representation.

The firm has been associated with the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project for more than eight years. Through the Project, the Georgia Resource Center, the Texas Defender Service, the clinic program at the Northwestern University School of Law, the Innocence Project and various court appointments, the firm has worked on numerous post-conviction death penalty appeals and habeas cases with great success.Indeed, for more than five years Mayer Brown was heavily involved with efforts in Texas that resulted in the Fifth Circuit recognizing that it and the Texas state courtsnot been following the Supreme Court's requirement that capital juries be given the means to give full considerations and effect to mitigatingabout a defendant's mental health problems and abusive childhood.

Furthermore, while the firm believes thatdeath penalty defendants on appeal is vital, of equal importance to the firm is the work on death penalty cases at the trial level. Win there and the,appellate process can be avoided. Mayer Brown recently represented four trial level death penalty cases andproud to say that none of the defendants received the death penalty.


Covington & Burling is currently handling nine capital cases: three in Alabama, two in Mississippi, two in Florida, one in Maryland, and one in Virginia. Three cases are at the initial trial stage, four are post-conviction, and in two cases the death sentences were reduced to life.

A recent development in one of the post-conviction cases has given Covington’s client, Merrit Sims, cause for optimism after serving 12 years on Florida’s Death Row. The state Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, granted Mr. Sims an evidentiary hearing to determine whether his trial counsel’s performance was constitutionally deficient for failing to object to certain evidence, which the Court held was “clearly prejudicial.” With a fresh evidentiary record on this issue, Mr. Sims now has a chance to persuade the Court that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance and to obtain a long-awaited new trial.

Jenner & Block has been deeply committed to the ABA's Death Penalty Representation Project since its inception. The firm has represented dozens of Death Row prisoners on a pro bono basis, beginning with Witherspoon v. Illinois, in which the Supreme Court issued a decision that cleared Death Rows across the country.

The firm most recently helped reaffirm the importance of effective assistance of counsel with an amicus brief in Wiggins v. Smith. The firm also challenged on behalf of a Texas prisoner the constitutionality of executing minor felons. Currently, Jenner & Block represents two men on Texas' Death Row through the Project, and we are involved in litigation in several states challenging the constitutionality of execution by lethal injection.

A Jenner & Block partner was Co-Chair of the Illinois governor’s acclaimed Commission on Capital Punishment and another subsequently defended the governor's blanket clemency orders when they were challenged before the Illinois Supreme Court.

King & Spalding has worked on more than a dozen pro bono death penalty cases since 1996. The firm has represented Exzavious Gibson in the appeal of his initial habeas corpus hearing in the Georgia courts since 1997. Gibson, a borderline mentally retarded Death Row prisoner, had to represent himself in habeas proceedings involving complex ineffective assistance of counsel issues. In Bennett v. Georgia, a Georgia state trial court overturned Bennett’s capital murder conviction and death sentence in 1998, a decision later affirmed by the Georgia Supreme Court.

In another case, the firm represented a severely mentally ill Death Row prisoner in habeas proceedings, and then successfully represented his estate in a lawsuit against Georgia prison officials for damages in connection with the lack of mental health treatment that led to his death. The firm has represented Charles Raby, a Texas Death Row inmate, since 2001. In Raby, the Texas Court of Appeals for the first time reversed a lower court’s decision on post-conviction DNA testing. The firm is currently representing seven other Death Row inmates in post-conviction habeas proceedings in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Eastern District of Virginia, Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia state court.

While Sidley has representedindividuals on Death Rowover the past decade, in 2005,the invitation of the ABA and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Sidley undertook a-wide death penalty project. With the assistance of the ABA, Sidley partnered with the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama and subsequently undertook the representation of 16 Alabama Death Row inmates. Over 90 lawyers, including partners, counsel and associates, along with legal and project assistants, volunteer their time to these cases. Sidley’s lawyers have already dedicated thousands of hours to these cases. The firm has also committed substantial resources to the death penalty project and hired an in-house pro bono lawyer to coordinate its representation of Death Row prisoners.

Since 1985, Skadden has demonstrated a deep commitment to representing Death Row prisoners in post-conviction proceedings. The firm’s attorneys have worked on over 25 capital post-conviction matters, including four post-conviction cases and two amicus briefs placed by the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project.

With the exemplary assistance provided by Skadden attorneys throughout the country, Death Row prisoners in several states have obtained retrials and have had their death sentences and/or convictions overturned. In 1993, for example, Skadden’s Washington lawyers obtained the release of Federico Macias, a prisoner on Death Row in Texas. After securing habeas relief in the Fifth Circuit, the firm prepared for a possible retrial. After Mr. Macias’s attorneys presented their evidence, the grand jury decided not to reindict him.

Lawyers from Skadden’s New York office are currently working with the Innocence Project in preparation for the retrial of Kennedy Brewer, a prisoner on Mississippi’s Death Row.