Exceptional Service Award
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 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.
Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis
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.