2017 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Dinner

Thank you to everyone who made the 2017 Volunteer Awards Dinner a huge success!

We were honored to present awards to Hogan Lovells, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, and the Arkansas Capital Habeas Unit for their dedication and service to capital defense, and were humbled listening to their meaningful experiences of representing their clients on death row.

Keynote speaker Isaiah McCoy gave a powerful speech explaining the impact that capital defense counsel have on the lives of their clients.

Event Media


Video (Keynote Speech)

Program Booklet

Every fall, the Project celebrates volunteer lawyers at its Volunteer Recognition & Awards Event. Pro bono firms are nominated by their colleagues for exceptional service to death row prisoners and honored with the Exceptional Service Award.

The Project is proud to present the 2017 Exceptional Service Awards to Hogan Lovells and O'Melveny & Myers.

The Project also recognizes the extraordinary efforts of individual lawyers with the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award, which was first presented to Justice Stevens in 2011. This year, the award was presented to the six lawyers from the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender Office for the Eastern District of Arkansas: Scott Braden, Julie Vandiver, John Williams, Jamie Giani, April Golden, and Jason Kearney.

Exceptional Service Awards

Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells, a top global firm with 51 offices world-wide, has demonstrated its commitment to social justice and pro bono work many times over. As a part of their normal work duties, Hogan Lovells asks all their associates to volunteer at least 25 hours of their time each year, adding up to over 100,000 annual hours of pro bono work firm-wide. Over 100 attorneys have worked on behalf of the Clemency Project, through which they represented five non-violent drug offenders whose sentences were commuted by President Barack Obama.

Hogan Lovells’ commitment to capital defense work began in 1987 when the firm agreed to represent John Ferguson in Florida. In October 2012, after filing more than 30 briefs, appearances in six different courts, and four oral arguments, the Hogan Lovells team secured a stay of execution for their client. Hogan Lovells devoted more than 20,000 hours to this case over the course of the firm’s 25-year representation. Although ultimately unsuccessful in their final challenge to Mr. Ferguson’s execution, the firm extended his life and developed a close relationship of trust with him that gave him comfort in his final days.

Read full bio here.

O'Melveny & Myers LLP

O’Melveny & Myers, an international law firm with 15 offices worldwide, has displayed exceptional commitment to compassionate and zealous death penalty representation. Over 70 percent of their associates participate in pro bono projects and all are encouraged to volunteer at least 50 hours of pro bono service each year.

In 2007, O’Melveny partnered with the Capital Habeas Unit at the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona to challenge Arizona’s lethal injection protocol on behalf of six deathsentenced prisoners. The O’Melveny team convinced the federal district court to authorize significant discovery, including depositions of high-ranking corrections officials and executioners. Through this process, O’Melveny exposed several troubling aspects of Arizona’s execution protocol, including the state’s failure to screen or adequately train its execution team members. O’Melveny’s efforts ultimately persuaded the Arizona Department of Corrections to amend its lethal injection protocol to include safeguards and procedures beyond those prescribed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Baze v. Rees.

Read full bio here.

John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award

Arkansas Capital Habeas Unit

The lawyers of the Capital Habeas Unit (“CHU”) of the Federal Public Defender for the Eastern District of Arkansas have dedicated their lives to representing indigent defendants on death row. Through a multi-faceted team approach, the CHU provides its death-sentenced clients with the highest level of legal representation and takes pride in treating its clients with dignity and respect.

The work of the Arkansas CHU became national news recently when Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson sped up execution timelines to execute eight death row prisoners before the state’s supply of an execution drug expired. The six attorneys from the CHU represented—or assisted in the representation of—all eight of the death-sentenced prisoners whose execution dates were set for an eleven-day period in April of this year. The CHU provided direct representation for four of the eight defendants: Don Davis, Jason McGehee, Bruce Ward, and Marcel Williams.

Governor Hutchinson set the execution schedule in February 2017. The CHU immediately responded by filing litigation in Arkansas trial courts, the Arkansas Supreme Court, and at all levels of the federal system. In fewer than two months, counsel for the eight men—led by the CHU—drafted over 100 filings including method-of-execution litigation; clemency presentations; legal challenges to the clemency process; claims related to their clients’ competency; and substantive claims in habeas proceedings. As a result of their dedication and determination, the CHU was able to stay the executions of four of the eight men.

Read full bio here.

Keynote Speaker

The Project is honored to welcome former Delaware death row prisoner Isaiah McCoy to provide keynote remarks at the Awards Dinner.

After being sentenced to death, Mr. McCoy was represented on appeal by pro bono lawyers Herbert Mondros of Margolis Edelstein and Erek Barron of Whiteford Taylor Preston. Their exceptional advocacy on Mr. McCoy's behalf persuaded the Delaware Supreme Court to reverse both the conviction and sentence based on errors in jury selection and numerous instances of egregious prosecutorial misconduct. Mr. McCoy was subsequently acquitted at a retrial in January 2017, making him the 157th person exonerated from death row since 1973.

You can read more about his case on the National Registry of Exonerations website.