Volunteers

Previous Award Winners

Each year the Project recognizes law firms and attorneys who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to providing high quality pro bono representation for indigent death row prisoners. The Exceptional Service Award honors the outstanding efforts of volunteer law firms. It was first presented at the Project's 20th Anniversary Celebration in 2006. The John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award recognizes individual attorneys who have demonstrated the kind of courage and commitment associated with Justice Stevens. Justice Stevens was the inaugural recipient of this award, presented to him at the Project's 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2011.

Attorney Keith Harrison, co-chair of the firm's Public Service Practice, accepts the 2019 Exceptional Service Award on behalf of Crowell & Moring LLP

Attorney Keith Harrison, co-chair of the firm's Public Service Practice, accepts the 2019 Exceptional Service Award on behalf of Crowell & Moring LLP

Past Recipients

Exceptional Service Award

Arnold & Porter - 2011
Bradley Arant Boult Cummings - 2012
Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal - 2013
Covington & Burling - 2006
Crowell & Moring - 2018
Dorsey & Whitney - 2011
Drinker Biddle & Reath - 2010
Dykema Gossett - 2009
Fish & Richardson - 2012
Fredrikson & Byron - 2011
Goodwin Procter - 2009
Hogan Lovells - 2017
Kaye Scholer - 2008
King & Spalding - 2006
Kirkland & Ellis - 2015
Jenner & Block - 2006 & 2016
Mayer Brown - 2007
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius - 2013
O'Melveny & Myers - 2017
Perkins Coie - 2015
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe - 2018
Quarles & Brady - 2014
Reed Smith - 2010
Rothgerber Johnson & Lyons - 2013
Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis - 2008
Sidley Austin - 2006 & 2014
Skadden - 2006, 2019
Steptoe & Johnson- 2016
White & Case - 2019
WilmerHale - 2007


Guiding Hand of Counsel Award

George H. Kendall - 2012
Denny LeBoeuf - 2013
Mark J. MacDougall - 2014
Megan McCracken & Jennifer Moreno - 2015
Hon. John Paul Stevens - 2011
Sylvia H. Walbolt - 2016
Arkansas Capital Habeas Unit - 2017
Gwendolyn C. Payton - 2018
Kelley J. Henry - 2019

2019

Skadden

Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, an international firm with 22 offices in four continents, has repeatedly demonstrated its commitment to pro bono service and death penalty representation. In 2006, the firm was one of the Project’s inaugural Exceptional Service Award winners. Since receiving that award, the firm has been unwavering in its commitment to advocacy on behalf of individuals facing the death penalty. In 2018 and 2019 alone, Skadden lawyers and staff devoted more than 4,000 hours to directly representing death row clients and hundreds of additional hours preparing amicus briefs in support of capital prisoners.

Skadden currently represents six men on death row, including Bobby James Moore, an intellectually disabled Texas prisoner who was convicted and sentenced to death in the early 1980s. When Skadden took on representation of Mr. Moore in 2015, the Texas courts routinely used unscientific stereotypes about persons with intellectual disabilities to determine whether a person was eligible for the death penalty. In analysis of Mr. Moore’s claim, the lower courts relied on this unscientific framework to support a finding that Mr. Moore was not intellectually disabled. Skadden persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, and in 2017, the Court struck down the unscientific method of analysis and ordered the Texas courts to reevaluate Mr. Moore’s intellectual disability claim using scientific standards. Mr. Moore’s first victory was short-lived, however; in 2018, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) again denied Mr. Moore’s claim, still relying on unscientific  standards to determine he did not meet the criteria for intellectual disability. Skadden again appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 2019 summarily reversed the CCA’s ruling as inconsistent with its prior opinion. This rare repeat success in the Supreme Court also represented a broader victory for all defendants and prisoners with intellectual disability who face the threat of an unconstitutional death sentence.

Together with the Innocence Project, Skadden also represents Texas death-row prisoner Rodney Reed, who is currently  scheduled for execution in November 2019. Skadden has worked on numerous state and federal proceedings on behalf of Mr. Reed, including two U.S. Supreme Court petitions for certiorari, multiple state and federal filings, and several evidentiary hearings. When an execution date was set for Mr. Reed in 2015, Skadden was instrumental in supporting DNA litigation and filing habeas applications that resulted in a stay less than two weeks prior to the scheduled execution.  Unfortunately, the CCA then found against Mr. Reed’s motion for expanded DNA testing, denying him access to testing of key evidence, including the murder weapon. With an execution date again pending, Skadden continues to fight to prove Mr. Reed’s innocence, most recently filing a § 1983 action seeking the DNA testing that has been denied by the state courts.

In addition to direct representation on individual cases, Skadden’s exceptional death penalty advocacy has extended to nearly every aspect of the judicial process, including preparing and submitting amicus briefs in support of other death row prisoners. In recent years the firm has drafted several pro bono amicus briefs on behalf of the ABA and other prominent organizations. The Project is proud to recognize the firm’s extraordinary and enduring contributions with this year’s Exceptional Service Award.

White & Case

White & Case, a global law firm with more than 40 offices worldwide, is recognized internationally as a leader for its commitment to pro bono. Over the past six years, the firm has dedicated nearly 15,000 hours to six pro bono death penalty cases, including two cases taken from the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project.

In 2015, White & Case took on the case of Joe Frank Garza from the Project after Mr. Garza’s then-counsel revealed a previously undisclosed conflict of interest. Mr. Garza is a Texas death row prisoner convicted of killing a local preacher in 2000. When White & Case assumed representation, Mr. Garza’s post-conviction appeals were presumed exhausted, and an execution date had been set. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the firm’s request for a stay, so White & Case had only 90 days to investigate new grounds for a legal appeal before the scheduled execution. Through diligent work on a tight timeline, White & Case discovered that none of the evidence relied on by the state implicating Mr. Garza had been subject to DNA testing. Less than a month before Mr. Garza’s execution date, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals withdrew the date and approved White & Case’s motion for post-conviction DNA testing. White & Case will continue representing Mr. Garza throughout the pendency of his legal appeals.

With Mr. Garza’s case still pending, White & Case again answered the Project’s call for help in 2018, when it agreed to represent Justin Underwood, a black man convicted of murdering a white woman in Mississippi in 1995. Faced with a decades-old case in a precarious procedural posture, the White & Case team dedicated 1,880 pro bono hours in less than a year to conduct a top-to-bottom review of Mr. Underwood’s case. Already more than 20 White & Case lawyers and legal services professionals have joined the fight on Mr. Underwood’s behalf, and they are currently preparing to file a petition for relief with the Mississippi courts.

White & Case’s extraordinary advocacy has also helped win relief for other individuals from their death sentences, including Charles Christopher Williams. Mr. Williams is a dual German-American citizen, and in 2012, the firm began working with Mr. Williams’ counsel to serve as amicus curiae on behalf of the Federal Republic of Germany—a role which it maintained through three levels of appeal. In its amicus briefs,White & Case addressed Mr. Williams’ Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (pFAS), a diagnosis which Mr. Williams’ trial counsel never presented to the jury. White & Case argued that Mr. Williams should be exempt from the death penalty due to his pFAS diagnosis for the same reasons that the Supreme Court has already exempted juveniles and the intellectually disabled from capital punishment. When the case was heard at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, White & Case won rare leave to participate in oral arguments as amici. Witnesses reported that “the momentum in the courtroom changed in favor of Mr. Williams“ when White & Case spoke, and the impact of their groundbreaking arguments was clear in the very favorable decision subsequently issued by the Fourth Circuit, which stayed Mr. Williams’ execution indefinitely. The court also included the amicus party in the caption of the case, which is rarely done.

White & Case’s remarkable representation exemplifies what it means to be a zealous advocate for death penalty clients, and the Project is proud to honor the firm’s commitment to justice in capital cases with this year’s Exceptional Service Award.

John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award Winner: Kelley J. Henry

Kelley Henry, Supervising Assistant Defender at the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Tennessee Capital Habeas Unit, has truly embodied the meaning of this award in her twenty-five-year capital defense career. Colleagues describe her not only as a fearsome litigator— one who conducted “the most devastating voir dire of an adverse witness” they had ever seen—but also as an extraordinary person committed on both a personal and a professional level to her clients.

Ms. Henry began her career in capital defense in Missouri and Arizona before joining the Tennessee Federal Public Defender’s Office in 2000. She was selected to lead the office’s capital habeas unit in 2009. Ms. Henry’s effectiveness as an attorney and communicator secured innumerable victories for her clients over the years and helped Tennessee remain in a moratorium for almost a decade. When the state recently decided to resume executions, Ms. Henry was immediately prepared to raise every possible challenge to save her clients’ lives. In July 2018, Ms. Henry represented 33 men on Tennessee’s death row in a challenge to the state's lethal injection protocol that received national attention. Although the three-drug execution protocol has been litigated around the country for years, experts hired by Ms. Henry’s team diligently developed new evidence that the anesthetic drug dissolves lung tissue, causing intense pain. While the lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful at halting the state’s resumption of executions, the evidence developed in that challenge has already been cited in other federal court rulings, and it will no doubt continue to have an impact on future litigation.

Alongside litigating the lethal injection challenge, Ms. Henry remained actively involved in seeking executive clemency for her clients. Her longtime client and friend, Don Johnson, was scheduled for execution on May 17, 2019. Ms. Henry mounted a massive clemency effort on his behalf—not only organizing Mr. Johnson’s faith community, friends, and the public around his bid for clemency, but also supporting two family members of the victim through their public forgiveness of Mr. Johnson. Even faced with the execution of her clients, Ms. Henry has not ceased in her powerful advocacy. Moments after watching Mr. Johnson be executed, Ms. Henry briefed the public in a live press conference to ensure that the world would know the lethal injection had caused her client torturous pain. In addition, “Kelley made sure [during this address] that Donnie the human being was acknowledged and remembered as well. She explained the reason Mr. Johnson sang hymns in the execution chamber: because spiritual songs comforted him.”

Ms. Henry is currently working alongside the national Innocence Project to represent the estate of Sedley Alley in an effort to prove his innocence. The Tennessee courts denied Mr. Alley’s motion for DNA testing in the days before he was executed in 2006 only to reverse that decision five years later. Ms. Henry is working closely with Mr. Alley’s daughter to bring this challenge, responsible for both litigating the complicated legal issues at play and honoring the interests of a woman who lost her father. In this, as in all her endeavors, she has been described as “a tireless and creative advocate,” who is “always working the case.”

Ms. Henry's courage, compassion and dedication set the example for others to follow. For her decades of tireless advocacy and focus on protecting the rights and dignity of her clients, the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project is proud to present Kelley J. Henry with the 2019 John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award.

2018

Crowell & Moring LLP

Crowell & Moring LLP, an international law firm with offices in seven cities worldwide, has continuously demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to pro bono service and death penalty representation. Almost twenty years ago, Crowell became the first firm in Washington, D.C., to elect a full-time public service partner. The firm has twice been honored as the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Firm of the Year, in recognition of its excellence in representation and contribution of more than 35,000 hours in pro bono legal services each year. Over the past 10 years, Crowell has contributed more than 25,000 pro bono hours on death penalty matters alone, totaling more than $11 million worth of attorneys’ time. 

Crowell has taken on five capital cases from the Project since 1994, including Anthony Apanovitch, a man convicted of murder and rape in Ohio. By the time Crowell joined the case, Mr. Apanovitch had completed the regular appeals process, near the end of which it was revealed that the State had withheld exculpatory DNA evidence. Mr. Apanovitch was left with proof of innocence but no lawyer who could take this new evidence to the court and seek relief, and his case was in an extremely precarious procedural posture. The Project sent out a plea for help, and Crowell answered the call, assembling an extraordinary team of volunteer attorneys. Those lawyers persuaded the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing on Mr. Apanovitch’s petition for post-conviction relief based on new DNA evidence, while also skillfully navigating the complex procedural and factual history of the case. After the hearing, the judge ruled that the new DNA evidence excluded Mr. Apanovitch as the perpetrator of the rape and acquitted him on that charge, while also ruling that he was entitled to a new trial on the other charges. The judge ordered his release on bond, but the State appealed this decision. Crowell attorneys successfully argued in support of the trial court’s rulings, and in May 2016, the Ohio Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the decision, including the bond determination, allowing Mr. Apanovitch to be released from prison. Although the State has now appealed the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court, Mr. Apanovitch remains free on bond, and Crowell continues to fight to protect his rights. 

Crowell pro bono attorneys have also shown extraordinary commitment through their representation of Crosley Green, a Florida man sentenced to death in 1990 for a murder he has consistently maintained that he did not commit. After Crowell took on Mr. Green’s case, post-conviction investigation revealed that the jury had been mistakenly informed of Mr. Green’s juvenile criminal record during trial and that a key witness for the prosecution had subsequently recanted statements made at trial. After demonstrating these errors to the post-conviction court, Crowell secured a new penalty phase hearing for Mr. Green and subsequently represented him at the hearing where he received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. Despite having already won this remarkable victory, Crowell attorneys remained steadfast in their commitment to vindicating Mr. Green’s claim of innocence. Their continued investigation revealed potentially exculpatory evidence that was withheld by the State. This summer, Crowell won an extraordinary ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, which granted guilt-phase habeas relief to Mr. Green based on the State’s failure to turn over exculpatory police reports. The court’s order provides a limited window for the State to either retry Mr. Green or release him from prison; the State has sought a stay of the decision pending appeal.

In addition to their work on these and other individual cases, Crowell has also taken on systemic matters, including challenging Oklahoma’s lethal injection protocol in federal court and drafting an amicus brief on behalf of a group of pharmacologists in Glossip v. Gross, the last case raising method-of-execution issues to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Over the course of many years, Crowell & Moring has demonstrated an astonishing dedication to its death penalty clients and to improving the criminal justice system overall. The Project is proud to recognize the firm’s extraordinary contributions with this year’s Exceptional Service Award. 

"I was privileged to see in action the dedication and intellectual depth and breadth of the [Crowell] team, their commitment to Mr. Apanovitch as a person, their commitment to the highest ideals of what it means to be an attorney representing a client, and their commitment to the necessity of fairness in the criminal-justice system."

– Dale A. Baich, Supervisor, Capital Habeas Unit, Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP

Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, a global firm with over 25 offices world-wide, is widely recognized as a leader for its commitment to pro bono causes and social justice. On ten separate occasions, Orrick has been recognized by The American Lawyer as among the top-ten largest law firms for pro bono impact. Orrick’s lawyers contributed 105,000 hours to pro bono representation in 2017, and on average, Orrick attorneys perform 134 pro bono hours per year. 

Orrick’s leadership in pro bono work is evident in its commitment to death penalty representation. For example, since 2003, Orrick has represented Kevin Cooper, an African-American man convicted of four high-profile murders and sentenced to death in the early 1980s. In 2004, less than four hours before his scheduled execution, Orrick was able to convince the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to grant Mr. Cooper a stay based on the large amount of evidence the firm had amassed pointing to his innocence and casting significant doubt on the fairness of his trial. Although Mr. Cooper ultimately lost in the federal courts, his case prompted several sitting Ninth Circuit judges to sign a dissent saying, “The State of California may be about to execute innocent man.” 

Orrick next petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for relief. The Commission ruled in Mr. Cooper’s favor, finding numerous due process violations and that he had received ineffective assistance of trial counsel and suffered racial discrimination in prosecution. Since the Inter-American Court’s ruling, Orrick has been actively petitioning California Governor Jerry Brown to grant Mr. Cooper a reprieve from execution until an investigation can be conducted into remaining DNA evidence in the case. Recently, the governor’s office signaled an interest in ordering this DNA testing performed. Although it is not the firm’s only death penalty matter, Orrick has spent nearly 30,000 hours in attorney and staff time on Mr. Cooper’s case. 

Orrick has also sought to improve fairness in the administration of the death penalty through systemic legal challenges. In 2013, Orrick filed a complaint against the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Arizona Federal Public Defender Office and the California Habeas Corpus Resource Center, challenging a federal administrative rule that granted the U.S. Attorney General broad latitude to certify states for expedited review of federal habeas corpus appeals. Orrick won summary judgment and a preliminary injunction against finalizing the rule from a federal district court, which agreed with Orrick’s argument that the final rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act. This order, which prevented implementation of the rule for more than two years, was ultimately lifted by the Ninth Circuit when it reversed the District Court’s decision on standing grounds. Although the final rule is now in effect, an Orrick team has continued to represent the Arizona Federal Public Defender Office in related challenges. 

In 2016, Orrick attorneys filed a state constitutional challenge to Proposition 66, a California ballot initiative to expedite death penalty appeals for the largest death row in the United States. Orrick argued that the proposition violated numerous provisions of the federal and state constitutions. The challenge was brought just days after the 2016 election, and based on Orrick’s preliminary pleadings, the California Supreme Court stayed implementation of the initiative for nearly a year while the case was under consideration. Although a divided majority of the court ultimately upheld several of the challenged provisions, it also held that the initiative could not impose a mandatory time limit on the consideration of death penalty appeals, a significant victory for opponents of the proposition who feared that a mandatory timeline would severely undermine due process in capital proceedings.

Over the last 15 years, with exceptional skill and dedication, Orrick has been a leader in the struggle to protect the constitutional rights of capital defendants. In recognition of the firm’s outstanding contributions, the Project is thrilled to present Orrick with the Exceptional Service Award. 

“I write with great enthusiasm to support the nomination of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP for the 2018 American Bar Association Death Penalty Exceptional Service Award. The firm has demonstrated a deep and wide commitment, in cases affecting individual death-sentenced inmates, as well as systemic cases that affect all death row inmates in a given state. Orrick’s work in this arena demonstrates superior legal talent, coupled with an abiding commitment to justice.” 

—Linda Lye, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU of Northern California

John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award Winner: Gwendolyn C. Payton

For nearly two decades, Gwendolyn Payton has been a passionate advocate for pro bono death penalty clients and has helped to inspire countless others to donate their own time and skills to death-sentenced prisoners in need of counsel.

Ms. Payton received her law degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1996. Since 2003, she has represented capital clients at trial and in post-conviction proceedings and has devoted thousands of pro bono hours to three capital post-conviction cases, two in Texas and one in Louisiana, while also maintaining a full-time civil litigation practice. 

In 2003, after attending a recruitment meeting hosted by the Project and learning about the hundreds of prisoners on death row in need of counsel, Ms. Payton enthusiastically volunteered her time and skills to represent Louisiana death-row prisoner Quincy Broaden. Over the years, Ms. Payton and her team have developed numerous arguments for relief and submitted hundreds of pages of briefings and declarations on behalf of Mr. Broaden to the courts. Among other compelling evidence, Ms. Payton obtained a declaration from the lone eyewitness in the case claiming that he, and not Mr. Broaden, was responsible for killing the victims. The case is still moving through state habeas proceedings, though Ms. Payton and her team are hopeful that they will eventually secure a hard-fought legal victory for their client. 

In 2011, Ms. Payton began representing Howard Guidry, a death-sentenced prisoner in Texas, in habeas corpus proceedings. Ms. Payton took on the case even though it was in a precarious procedural posture and there were few obvious pathways to success. Her relentless investigation ultimately revealed crucial evidence that the State failed to disclose, which could have been used at trial to cast doubt on Mr. Guidry’s guilt. She filed a habeas petition with hundreds of pages of affidavits, listing multiple instances of State misconduct. Because of Ms. Payton’s extraordinary efforts, a federal district court stayed proceedings to allow Mr. Guidry to return to state court and present a number of new claims, including the State’s failure to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence. A petition raising those issues is currently pending in state court.

Most recently, Ms. Payton agreed to represent Roderick Harris, a death row prisoner in Texas. At the time she took on the case, Mr. Harris had an evidentiary hearing rapidly approaching and a legal team in dire need of assistance. Even though the court refused to grant a continuance when Ms. Payton took over representation, she immediately threw herself into Mr. Harris’ representation, flying down to Texas to begin preparation for the hearing over a holiday long weekend. This incredible dedication to a new pro bono matter – in a situation where many others might have simply walked away – is emblematic of Ms. Payton’s extraordinary commitment to all of her pro bono clients. 

In addition to her direct pro bono work, Ms. Payton has been a remarkable advocate for pro bono death penalty representation, both among colleagues at her own law firm, and within the Seattle legal community and beyond. She has helped the Project organize several recruitment meetings and enlisted the support of federal judges in recruiting new volunteer attorneys. Through these efforts, her enthusiasm and commitment to pro bono death penalty representation have had a positive and lasting impact that stretches beyond the incredible service she provides her own pro bono clients.

The Project is proud to recognize Ms. Payton’s enduring and passionate dedication to pro bono death penalty representation with this award.

“Gwendolyn has offered our client the fierce advocacy and dignity he so dearly deserves. . . . I have been blown away by Gwendolyn's dedication to fighting tooth and nail for our client, even when faced with considerable personal sacrifice and professional inconvenience due to a compressed litigation schedule. . . .Gwendolyn serves a great example of the pro bono service and lawyering ideals of our profession."

—Benjamin Wolff, TX Office of Capital & Forensic Writs 
 

"Given the significant challenges in Mr. Guidry's case, most attorneys would have made the 'reasonable' choice of declining the representation. Fortunately for Mr. Guidry, Ms. Payton was up for the challenge. . . . She took a situation that seemed hopeless and through her dedication gave Mr. Guidry realistic hope of obtaining relief. Ms. Payton's dedication and commitment to providing legal representation of the highest caliber despite the long odds exemplifies what I believe the ABA hopes to honor with this award."

—David P. Voisin, David P. Voisin LLP


 

2017

O'Melveny & Myers

O’Melveny & Meyers, 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 Arizona Federal Defender Office to bring challenge Arizona’s lethal injection protocol on behalf of six death-sentenced prisoners. The O’Melveny team convinced the federal district court to authorize significant discovery, including depositions of high-ranking corrections officials and executioners. Through the discovery, O’Melveny exposed several troubling aspects of Arizona’s execution protocol, including the state’s failure to screen or to train adequately 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.

O’Melveny has assisted with lethal injection challenges in other states as well. They partnered with the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Nevada to research several issues related to lethal injection, including litigation regarding Nevada’s laws regulating compounding pharmacies, violations of the new regulations governing compounding pharmacies under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and the constitutionality of unique features of Nevada’s lethal injection statute.

O’Melveny has also volunteered extraordinary time and resources in three capital cases in Texas: Michael Toney (2007), David Jackson (2009), and Carlos Ayestas (2017).

In 1999, a fellow prisoner attacked David Jackson in a federal facility in Beaumont, Texas. In self-defense, Mr. Jackson and another prisoner killed the attacker. Mr. Jackson was later released from federal custody, but in conjunction with Mr. Jackson’s guilty plea to a 2004 bank robbery committed after he was released, prosecutors sought the death penalty for the 1999 prison attack. Absent the 2004 bank robbery, the 1999 killing would not have been eligible for the death penalty. Mr. Jackson is the only inmate in the history of the Federal Death Penalty Act to be placed on death row for events occurring after the “capital” crime. In 2013, O’Melveny succeeded in vacating Mr. Jackson’s death sentence and obtaining a life sentence after the federal government admitted to withholding evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland. In exchange for the government’s confession of error, Mr. Jackson agreed to accept a new sentence of life in prison and to forego pursuing any additional post-conviction claims. This was the first time that the federal government had ever settled a federal death penalty case in habeas proceedings.

Currently, the O’Melveny team is representing Steven Nelson and Carlos Ayestas. Steven Nelson was convicted and sentenced to death in 2012. Mr. Nelson’s trial counsel knowingly presented an expert who testified that Mr. Nelson was a “psychopath.” Carlos Ayestas was sentenced to death after prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty, based at least partially on the fact that Mr. Ayestas was not a U.S. Citizen. The O’Melveny team has assisted with litigation related to funding for federal habeas teams under 18 U.S.C. § 3599 in both Mr. Ayestas’ and Mr. Nelson’s cases. They drafted a successful petition for certiorari on behalf of Mr. Ayestas asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review how funding decisions are made, and the Court is scheduled to hear arguments on October 30, 2017. O’Melveny & Meyers has consistently demonstrated extraordinary dedication to their pro bono death penalty clients, and the Project is proud to recognize this achievement with the Exceptional Service Award.

“To say that Meaghan VerGow and her team have devoted enormous resources to these cases is an understatement. Their talent, dedication, and financial support have proved invaluable and they have forever changed the lives of the clients with whom they work. . . . O’Melveny epitomizes the type of volunteer, pro bono firm that the ABA seeks out – dedicated, talented, thoughtful lawyers who fight to ensure that the death penalty is fairly applied. I can’t think of a better recipient for this year’s Exceptional Service Award.”

—Kate Black, Director of Communications & Special Projects and Sr. Staff Attorney, Texas Defender Service

Hogan Lovells

Hogan Lovells, a top global firm with 51 offices world-wide, has demonstrated their 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 seven weeks of work, more than 30 briefs, appearances in six different courts, and four oral arguments, Hogan’s 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 by almost a year and developed a close relationship of trust with him that gave him comfort in his final days.

In April 2017, Hogan Lovells responded to an emergency request from the Project to assist in the challenge to Arkansas’ lethal injection protocols after the state scheduled eight executions to take place in just ten days. Additionally, Hogan Lovells assisted the ACLU and the Innocence Project in making a lastminute bid to halt the execution of Ledell Lee, one of the eight Arkansas deathrow prisoners. Although ultimately unsuccessful in saving Mr. Lee’s life, Hogan Lovells heroically stepped in and provided Mr. Lee with peace of mind knowing he had zealous advocates fighting to protect his rights to the very end.

Most recently, Hogan Lovells stepped up to represent TaiChin Preyor, a death-sentenced prisoner in Texas, in an eleventh-hour appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Preyor’s previous post-conviction counsel who handled his original appeal was underqualified for the case and was advised by a disbarred lawyer. With little time remaining, a Hogan Lovells pro bono team went to work filing dozens of pages of motions and sought a delay from the Texas’ governor in order to utilize funds a federal court awarded Mr. Preyor to pursue a clemency request. Ultimately the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal and the state of Texas executed Mr. Preyor at the end of July. Although ultimately unsuccessful, Hogan Lovells' work called national attention to the glaring problems with defense representation that still infect our criminal justice system.

Over many years and through several high-profile cases, Hogan Lovells has demonstrated an extraordinary dedication to their clients and to improving the criminal justice system, and the Project is proud to recognize this achievement with the Exceptional Service Award.

“The depth and qualify of work produced by Hogan in this exceptionally truncated time period was truly remarkable. Liz agreed to take primary responsibility for researching and drafting the legal claims for two of our most important filings . . . her team continued to volunteer to draft additional pleadings, including the litigation around the State’s request to examine Mr. Lee on his next-to-last-day on earth, appeals, and petitions of certiorari.”

“Without the help of Liz and the firm, I simply would not have been able to file all of the claims we needed to file. Together we were able to give Mr. Lee the dignity he deserved by treating his life as highly valuable. We fought hard for him, and it mattered.”

—Cassandra Stubbs, Director, ACLU Capital Punishment Project

“Hogan Lovells, in addition to all of the other great death penalty work they are doing around the country, has completely broken the mold in cases like TaiChin Preyor’s, both in undertaking it at this dire late state and in jumping in with all hands and feet to get the work done in such an intensely time-sensitive context. This is the very definition of ‘exceptional service,’ for which we are truly grateful.”

—Jim Marcus, Professor, UT Austin Law School

John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award Winner: All six members of the Arkansas Capital Habeas Unit: Scott Braden, Julie Vandiver, John Williams, Jamie Giani, April Golden, and Jason Kearney

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 11-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 Arkasnas 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.

Scott Braden attended Oklahoma City University School of Law and has been practicing since 1982. He has represented capital clients at trials and in state and federal post-conviction proceedings. Mr. Braden has worked with the Federal Public Defender System since 1996 and has been Chief of the Capital Habeas Unit for the Eastern District of Arkansas in Little Rock since 2009. The CHU currently represents 22 clients, 20 in Arkansas, 1 in Nebraska, and one client on federal death row.

Julie Vandiver is an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the CHU. There, she represents Arkansas death-sentenced prisoners in habeas corpus challenges in federal courts and in ancillary proceedings in state court. A native of Washington State, she moved to Arkansas in 2008 to work at the CHU following her graduation from the University of California Hastings College of Law. Ms. Vandiver also serves on the Board of the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the Steering Committee for the UALR Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System Research Project, and the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Commission.

John Williams received his law degree from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2012 and joined the CHU as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in September 2015. At the CHU, he has worked on federal habeas corpus proceedings for death-sentenced prisoners and on litigation in state and federal court challenging Arkansas’s lethal-injection protocol. Before joining CHU, Mr. Williams clerked for Gilbert S. Merritt on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jamie Giani is an Assistant Federal Defender in the CHU. Since joining the CHU in May of 2016, Ms. Giani has represented death-sentenced prisoners in habeas corpus challenges and related litigation in federal courts. After graduating from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2010, she clerked for federal district court Judge Robert T. Dawson for sixth months. She then clerked for federal district court Judge P.K. Holmes, III for almost six years. Both judges preside over the Western District of Arkansas.

April Golden joined the CHU as a Research and Writing Specialist in March 2017, approximately one month before the first of eight scheduled executions. She received her law degree from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law in 2003. Upon graduation, Ms. Golden clerked for federal district court Judge Stephen reasoner and then spent ten years at the Arkansas Supreme Court, serving as a law clerk to four Arkansas Supreme Court justices and staff attorney. Immediately prior to joining the CHU, Mr. Golden was a capital/conflicts attorney with the Arkansas Public Defender Commission.

Jason Kearney is a Research and Writing Specialist with the CHU. Mr. Kearney joined the CHU in Sept 2015. Since joining, he has represented numerous death-sentenced clients in federal habeas proceedings, Arkansas state post-conviction proceedings, clemency proceedings, and in the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals. Prior to joining the Federal Public Defender Office, Mr. Kearney maintained a successful solo practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he represented both accused and convicted persons at the trial, appellate, and post-conviction stages.

2016

Jenner & Block

For decades, Jenner & Block has shown extraordinary dedication to providing pro bono death penalty representation across the United States. The firm’s tradition of committed defense work continues to shine in the dozens of cases, amicus briefs, and advocacy roles to which Jenner & Block attorneys have dedicated their time, resources, and skills.

Albert E. Jenner, Jr., and his Jenner & Block team, set the stage for the firm’s commitment to death penalty representation with his winning argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968 in Witherspoon v. Illinois. As a result of that case, more than 350 death sentences were vacated.

Jenner & Block lawyers have continued to represent many indigent persons facing execution, including in the landmark Supreme Court case involving their client Kevin Wiggins. That decision set new precedent for capital cases involving whether defense counsel’s performance met constitutional standards.

In 2006, the Project honored Jenner & Block’s commitment to capital defense with this Award. Since then, the firm has continued to achieve incredible results, taking on at least 22 new capital cases, many in challenging jurisdictions including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. The firm took on three new pro bono death cases last year alone.

Jenner & Block’s commitment to its clients is unwavering. For example, in 2006, the Project asked the firm to take the Texas post-conviction case of Hector Torres Garcia. Jenner & Block secured reversal of Mr. Garcia’s death sentence in December 2015 and negotiated a plea deal in exchange for a life sentence in February 2016. In another lengthy case, the firm represented Jimmie Urbano Lucero, who had also been sentenced to death in Texas. Raising a host of mental health issues and ineffective assistance of counsel claims in post-conviction proceedings, the firm eventually won a re-sentencing hearing and persuaded the State to drop its death penalty request.

More recently, the firm fought for almost five years to save the life of client Larry Lee. In 2011, the Southern Center for Human Rights referred Mr. Lee, who was facing re-trial in Georgia, to

Jenner & Block. When the team convinced the trial court to exclude unreliable evidence at the re-trial, the State voluntarily dismissed its case outright, after Mr. Lee had spent more than 20 years on death row.

Other lives have recently been saved. Kevan Brumfield was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Louisiana in 1995, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court, in Atkins v. Virginia, banned execution of intellectually disabled individuals. Jenner & Block took his case in 2014 at the certiorari stage, convinced the Court to grant review, presented oral argument, and won remand in June 2015. The firm then persuaded the Fifth Circuit to uphold the district court’s intellectual disability finding in December 2015.

Jenner & Block has been instrumental in challenges to state lethal injection procedures in California, Missouri, Virginia, and Kentucky. The firm argued Baze v. Rees before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008. Further, due in part to its representation of Michael Angelo Morales and Albert Greenwood Brown, no executions have been carried out in California for more than 10 years based on constitutional issues raised surrounding the state’s lethal injection protocol.

The firm also displays dedication to justice in capital cases through involvement with numerous death penalty organizations, including the Project, the Death Penalty Information Center, Northwestern University School of Law’s MacArthur Justice Center, and the John Howard Center, among others. It has filed amicus briefs on behalf of the American Bar Association, the Innocence Project, Veterans for America, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Jenner & Block sets a high bar for pro bono death penalty representation, and the Project is honored to present the firm with the Exceptional Service Award in recognition of its remarkable contributions. As Caroline Peoples, a former client, observed, “The day the lawyers took my case changed my life. Until that day, I did not know I was worth fighting for.” Through the years, Jenner & Block’s work has saved or changed the lives of hundreds of its pro bono clients.

Steptoe & Johnson

Steptoe & Johnson has been a leader in providing high-quality capital pro bono representation for more than 15 years. The firm has represented prisoners facing death sentences in both state and federal court across the United States and has repeatedly answered the Death Penalty Representation Project’s calls for help, taking on some of the Project’s most challenging cases.

Steptoe recently achieved an extraordinary result for one of its death-sentenced clients, Chauncey Starling, who was convicted in the shooting deaths of a man and a little boy in a Delaware barbershop. The Project recruited Steptoe to represent Mr. Starling in his state post-conviction proceedings. The State had failed to disclose key exculpatory information to defense counsel, rendering his already questionable representation all the more problematic. After years of investigating the facts, an extensive two-week evidentiary hearing, and preparation of hundreds of pages of briefing for the trial and appellate courts, Steptoe convinced the Delaware Supreme Court to overturn Mr. Starling’s conviction on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct. Shortly before Christmas 2015, Mr. Starling was granted a new trial.

Steptoe has remained committed to death penalty representation despite the heartbreaking loss of Teresa Lewis, who was executed for the murder-for-hire of her husband and stepson. The crime was actually masterminded by one of Ms. Lewis’s co-defendants, who took advantage of her dependent personality disorder, prescription drug addiction, and borderline intellectual disability; and though the co-defendants were the actual shooters, they received life sentences while Ms. Lewis was put to death. Steptoe began representing Ms. Lewis at the Virginia state post-conviction stage, and as the result of Steptoe’s exemplary advocacy, the firm secured an evidentiary hearing—one of only five such hearings ever granted by the Virginia Supreme Court. Though Ms. Lewis ultimately lost her state and federal post-conviction appeals, her Steptoe attorneys never left her side and never stopped fighting on her behalf.

Steptoe’s heroic efforts on behalf of Ms. Lewis helped generate national and international attention on the injustices that plagued this case. The story of Steptoe’s representation was featured in a book of “success stories” published by the Project in 2012. It served as an extraordinary example of how zealous and committed advocacy can itself be a victory, providing invaluable hope and comfort to the client. As Rob Lee, Executive Director of the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, observed, the Steptoe attorneys “cared not only for their client, but also for the person whose fate was entrusted to them, and who became their friend.” Mr. Lee further noted that “[i]t is a tribute to the mettle of Steptoe professionals that they have not shied away from the grisly challenges of post-conviction representation in death penalty cases, but have continued their commitment.”

Steptoe remains an inspiration in its acceptance of challenging cases and its creative approaches to capital defense. The firm filed an innovative petition for relief with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Orlando Hall who was sentenced to death in the federal system. The petition raised claims of ineffective assistance of his trial counsel as well as challenges to the racially discriminatory way in which the death penalty is administered in the United States. Steptoe next accepted the Pennsylvania resentencing representation of Scott Blystone, taking on the enormous challenge of investigating, locating, and marshalling mitigation evidence and witnesses for an offense that occurred more than 30 years ago. The firm is also representing Jimmy Davis and Melvin Davis (unrelated) on Alabama’s death row. In addition to sharing a common surname, both clients had unrefuted alibis that their attorneys failed to properly investigate and present to the jury. Both also had readily available, compelling mitigation evidence that their lawyers overlooked. DeMontrell Miller, another Steptoe client, is on death row in Texas. He was convicted of murder based on flawed scientific evidence regarding the time of the fatal injury, which went unchallenged by defense counsel. In preparing the federal habeas petition, Steptoe attorneys consulted with six medical experts, each of whom independently determined that the opinions of the State’s experts were unsound; most of the experts further concluded that the injury occurred at a time that would exclude the client as the perpetrator.

And most recently, in August 2016, a team from Steptoe accepted another case from the Project, despite what others saw as an impossibly short deadline. The prisoner was only days away from forever losing access to any federal court review, which would virtually guarantee his execution, when Steptoe answered the call for help. Because of Steptoe’s intervention, there is renewed hope that enormous injustices in that case may finally be corrected.

Time and again, lawyers from Steptoe have demonstrated an enduring commitment to advocate for those most in need of quality representation. In all, Steptoe has donated nearly 30,000 hours of its attorneys’ time and resources representing the firm’s capital clients. Steptoe’s work has consistently brought profound change in the lives of its clients and in the criminal justice system as a whole.

John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award Winner: Sylvia H. Walbolt

The Project is proud to present the 2016 John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award to Sylvia Hardaway Walbolt in recognition of her unparalleled commitment to pro bono service and death penalty representation. In addition to her extensive pro bono practice, Mrs. Walbolt also operates a full-time commercial practice as a Shareholder at Carlton Fields in Tampa, Florida. Throughout a legal career spanning more than 50 years, Mrs. Walbolt has served as a role model for other attorneys and a passionate advocate for her pro bono clients.

Since 1998 Mrs. Walbolt has personally represented three death row prisoners. Her work on behalf of Florida death row prisoner William Kelley exemplifies her extraordinary commitment to her pro bono cases. In 2005, Mrs. Walbolt responded to the Project’s call for help to assist Mr. Kelley with a motion for DNA testing. She then assembled a team that tackled not only DNA issues but also claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and prosecutorial misconduct, and she led the filing of Mr. Kelley’s petition for certiorari at the United States Supreme Court. When that petition was denied, Mrs. Walbolt remained fully committed, filing multiple successive petitions for relief, each one requiring intense commitment of time and development of creative legal arguments. Although she long ago exceeded the scope of what the Project asked of her, Mrs. Walbolt has never paused in her commitment to advocating for Mr. Kelley, and she continues to lead the remarkable legal fight on his behalf.

Mrs. Walbolt has also aided international and national organizations in filing amicus briefs in death penalty cases. Her brief on behalf Krishna Maharaj, a British citizen convicted of murder in Florida, helped draw the Florida Supreme Court’s attention to international criminal justice standards. In addition, she has long been an active participant in organized bar work that promotes the administration of justice in areas such as judicial nominations, jury reform, and standard jury instructions. She was also instrumental in establishing, and subsequently chaired, the Access to Justice Committee of the American College of Trial Lawyers. She was a longstanding member of the Board of Directors of the Lawyers’ Committee for the National Conference for State Courts and an inaugural member of the Florida Innocence Commission.

The impact of Mrs. Walbolt’s commitment to pro bono representation extends not only to those cases that she has worked on directly, but also to generations of lawyers in whom she has instilled a passion and respect for pro bono service. She continues to encourage young attorneys to take on all types of pro bono matters and works side-by-side with them as a mentor. Mrs. Walbolt embodies the spirit of the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award, and the Project is grateful for this opportunity to recognize her incredible contributions. We thank her for her extraordinary dedication to her own pro bono cases, for her commitment to promoting access to justice, and for serving as a guiding light to the entire legal profession.

During my tenure as President of the ABA (2000-2001), I was able to use the bully pulpit that comes with the office to call for a moratorium on executions until such time as the well-known and increasingly documented systemic problems in the administration of capital punishment could be addressed by state legislatures and the courts. Several courageous Governors did implement a moratorium, but the real work was done by entities such as this and of course through the commitment of pro bono lawyers such as Sylvia Walbolt . . . Her work in these areas has not only saved lives, but has also informed and inspired the larger community to action.

– Martha Walters Barnett, Former ABA President and Partner at Holland & Knight

I won’t pause to discuss what the award selection committee no doubt already knows about Sylvia’s more than half-century-long career, about the many well-deserved recognitions of her dedication to pro bono capital defense work and the administration of justice generally, and about the excellence of her appellate and other post-conviction work on behalf of justice for countless clients. If only there were more lawyers like her, our successes in the long twilight struggle against unjust execution would be far more frequent.

– Laurence H. Tribe, Professor of Constitutional Law Harvard Law School and Carl M. Loeb Professor at Harvard University

Sylvia is legendary . . . She is called upon for advice by the most experienced lawyers and members of our judiciary daily. She lives every day as a lawyer to whom JUSTICE is the lodge pole of every waking moment. It would be impossible to overstate her importance to the mission of competent, effective, consistent, and committed work in death penalty cases. The mission of the Florida Bar Foundation is to provide leadership and funding for justice in Florida. Sylvia is simply the one person who carries that flag into battle every single day . . . and lives to model the obligation to Equal Justice Under Law.

– Bruce Blackwell, CEO and Executive Director of Florida Bar Foundation

2015

Kirkland & Ellis

The international law firm of Kirkland & Ellis has demonstrated exceptional commitment to providing high-quality pro bono death penalty representation, with some of the firm’s most senior and accomplished attorneys leading the way. The example of firm leadership is now reflected in the work of hundreds of Kirkland partners, associates, and support staff who have provided pro bono assistance to prisoners on death row.

In 2000, two Kirkland leaders—then-firm chair Tom Yannucci and former Solicitor General Kenneth Starr—took on the case of Robin Lovitt in Virginia. While Mr. Lovitt’s case was pending on direct appeal, a courthouse clerk had destroyed all the physical evidence in the case—evidence which potentially could have been used to prove Mr. Lovitt’s innocence through DNA testing. The team won a rare stay of execution for Mr. Lovitt from the U.S. Supreme Court and presented the case for clemency to then-Governor Mark Warner. Kirkland secured a remarkable victory for their client when it persuaded Governor Warner to grant clemency to Mr. Lovitt—the first and only capital clemency grant during his administration.

The firm’s work on the Lovitt case set the example for several other cases to follow. Since then, Kirkland has worked on additional cases in Alabama, Virginia, Florida, and Texas. The Texas case is another example of Kirkland’s exceptional commitment to even the most daunting pro bono challenges.

In 2006, the Project asked Kirkland to take on the case of Max Soffar, who has been on Texas’s death row since 1981. Mr. Soffar had twice been convicted and sentenced to death based solely on a confession given after 26 hours of unrecorded interrogation. By the time the ABA approached Kirkland, the case already had an extensive and complex procedural and factual history. Undaunted by this challenge, Kirkland agreed to represent Mr. Soffar and launched a full investigation into the facts of the 25-year-old crime and Mr. Soffar’s troubled background. Through their efforts, Kirkland’s pro bono attorneys uncovered significant new evidence to support Mr. Soffar’s claims of innocence, including compelling new testimony that points to the identity of the real perpetrator of the crime. Mr. Soffar is terminally ill with liver cancer, but his volunteer attorneys continue to fight on his behalf. They are currently mounting a national press campaign and appealing for compassionate release so that Mr. Soffar may spend his remaining days with his family.

The Project is proud to present the Exceptional Service Award to Kirkland & Ellis in recognition of the firm’s unwavering and inspirational commitment to justice.  

“In more than 20 years of representing indigent death-sentenced inmates, I have never encountered a firm that has provided more sustained, high quality, and committed representation.” —Robert E. Lee, Executive Director, Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center

“I want to commend Andrew Horne and his entire team for their commitment to justice. The clemency petition they submitted was one of the best I’ve ever seen and was novel for having been argued on the grounds of terminal health issues. . . . That Kirkland & Ellis supported the team to the hilt in this lengthy and costly effort is indeed impressive—and well deserving of the ABA Death Penalty Exceptional Service Awards.” —Mark White, Governor of Texas, 1983-1987

“The two greatest gifts that post-conviction counsel can give a death row prisoner are zealous representation and the recognition of that prisoner’s humanity. Kirkland & Ellis LLP has given both to an extraordinary degree in the case of Max Soffar, an innocent man on Texas’ death row.” —Katheryn Kase, Executive Director, Texas Defender Service

Perkins Coie

Perkins Coie, a global law firm with 19 offices, has shown an exceptional commitment to death penalty representation over the last twelve years, taking on five death penalty cases in four states. Its extraordinary efforts on behalf of its clients have resulted in two evidentiary hearings, a stay of execution, and new sentence of life in prison.

To tackle these complex cases, Perkins Coie assembles a flexible team of attorneys that are often recruited to the cause by their colleagues within the firm. Explaining his motivation to take on such difficult capital cases, one attorney said: “We need to give these guys, for the first times in their lives, really quality representation, making the system do its job and giving them every opportunity to have their story told because it never gets told otherwise.”

Nowhere is this need to give prisoners a voice greater than in Alabama, which does not provide lawyers to indigent death row prisoners for their post-conviction appeals and does not have a public defender system. Despite these challenges, Perkins Coie has taken on two cases in Alabama in recent years. In both cases the jury sentenced the defendant to life in prison, but the judge in each case overrode the jury’s vote, sentencing the defendant to death. Perkins Coie’s work in Alabama helps to fill a crucial gap in the criminal justice system, bringing to light errors both in individual cases and on a systemic level. Their work has included multiple evidentiary hearings and petitions for relief in both state and federal court, with more than 50 Perkins Coie attorneys and staff members contributing their time and expertise to these cases. Without their assistance, two Alabama death row prisoners would have been in real danger of being executed before the completion of their appeals. Instead, they are now receiving zealous representation from a team of lawyers that fight to ensure full and fair review of their cases in the courts. 

Perkins Coie has also taken on cases in Washington state, Texas, and Georgia, providing assistance at every level of the post-conviction process. In Washington, the firm took the case of death row prisoner Darold Stenson to assist with a challenge to the state’s lethal injection protocol. Just eight days before Mr. Stenson’s scheduled execution, the team won a stay. The lethal injection case then proceeded to the Washington Supreme Court, prompting the state to revise its execution protocol. After this substantial victory, Perkins Coie continued representing Mr. Stenson and discovered that the prosecution withheld key evidence from Mr. Stenson’s defense team during trial. In light of this egregious misconduct, the Washington Supreme Court reversed Mr. Stenson’s capital murder conviction. Thanks to Perkins Coie’s steadfast advocacy on his behalf, Mr. Stenson is now serving a life sentence.

For the past 15 years, a team of lawyers from the firm’s Madison office, in conjunction with the Georgia Resource Center, has been representing death row inmate Marion Wilson in state and local habeas proceedings. The team is currently preparing arguments in response to the 11th Circuit’s decision to rehear the appeal en banc. And in the firm’s newest death penalty case, a team of lawyers from the firm’s Los Angeles office is representing Texas death row prisoner Ker’Sean Ramey. They are now preparing to file a federal habeas petition.

Perkins Coie has demonstrated an extraordinary dedication to their clients and to improving the criminal justice system, and the Project is proud to recognize this achievement with the Exceptional Service Award.

“By fighting for fairness and due process so zealously on behalf of [their clients], Perkins Coie has created a great deal of optimism for everyone concerned about justice in Alabama’s courts—lawyers and clients alike. Perkins Coie is a leader among national law firms representing death row inmates here in Alabama.”

—Randy Susskind, Deputy Director, Equal Justice Initiative

Megan McCracken & Jennifer Moreno

The Project is proud to present the 2015 John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award to Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno for their years of leadership, guidance, and expertise in lethal injection litigation across the United States. 

In 2007, Megan and Jen joined the Lethal Injection Project of the Death Penalty Clinic at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Since that time, they have been the moving force behind lethal injection litigation in the United States.  In addition to their work on landmark Supreme Court cases such as Baze v. Rees and Glossip v. Gross, they have provided legal assistance to countless other prisoners and legal teams, including numerous pro bono teams referred by the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project. Megan and Jen have now worked directly in 29 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., Oklahoma, California, and Arizona. There they have secured major victories such as successful challenges to California’s execution practices under the Administrative Procedures Act and to the practice of importing lethal injection drugs from foreign countries in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. As a direct result of their work, death row prisoners in multiple states have been spared from executions using untested drugs and experimental procedures.

Megan and Jen’s impact extends beyond the numerous cases they have worked on directly. During the course of the Baze litigation, Jen created a website to provide information on the case to news outlets and litigators. Today, the site is maintained as a lethal injection information clearinghouse with critical litigation resources for attorneys across the country. Megan and Jen have also conducted numerous training sessions for capital litigators, have lead the defender community in the development of litigation strategies, and have written extensively about the subject in publications, providing a critical voice to the national conversation about how we execute people in the United States. Their work has been instrumental in raising awareness of these issues among lawmakers and the public, often serving as the voice of the defender community in the wake of botched executions and major court decisions. Their efforts have resulted in greatly increased scrutiny of the lethal injection process in recent years and made several states much more reluctant to use experimental execution protocols.

No other two individuals have had such a far-reaching and significant impact on capital litigation in recent years. Their work has touched countless lives and has been instrumental to the provision of high-quality representation in capital cases all over the country. The Project is proud to recognize their unique and extraordinary contributions with this award.

“Megan and Jen are the nation’s leading experts on legal challenges to lethal injection methods. . . . Megan and Jen are not merely academic experts . . . they are full time litigators. They are on call when an execution occurs almost anywhere in the country, responding to last minute and even post execution requests for urgent help, no matter the hour.” —Natasha Minsker, Center Director, American Civil Liberties Union of California.

“It is impossible—and frightening—to imagine what lethal injection litigation would look like without Megan and Jen. . . . The last few years have demonstrated the critical importance of the work that Megan and Jen do. It is not an exaggeration to say that the meaning of the Eighth Amendment is at stake. There could be no better time to acknowledge all that they have done to defend it.” —Gerald “Bo” King, Staff Attorney, Federal Defender Program, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia

“[Lethal injection] work has been valiantly fought by creative, passionate, and intelligent people working in multiple states—but it has been the efforts of two attorneys that have so often served as the spearhead for individual state-centered efforts and national clearinghouse efforts. Since 2007, Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno have relentlessly and tirelessly brought their creativity, legal knowledge, factual knowledge, and good humor to teams representing death-sentenced prisoners across the country.” —Dale Baich, Supervisor, Office of the Federal Public Defender for the District of Arizona, Capital Habeas Unit

2014

Sidley Austin LLP

Sidley Austin, a global law firm with 18 offices, has made a truly remarkable commitment to justice for death row prisoners in Alabama. In 2005, Sidley partnered with the Project and the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama (EJI) to create its Capital Litigation Project to provide representation to death-sentenced prisoners in Alabama without counsel.

Alabama is one of the only jurisdictions in the country that has no state-funded mechanism for providing lawyers to death row prisoners once a conviction and death sentence are affirmed on direct appeal. State officials have said publicly that prisoners can represent themselves on appeal. As a consequence, dozens of prisoners facing a death sentence have almost no hope of securing the assistance of a competent lawyer or litigating against the trained attorneys general who sought their executions. Sidley Austin recognized this breathtaking injustice and resolved to make a difference on a large scale. Working with EJI attorney Randy Susskind, more than 100 Sidley attorneys and staff have donated over 110,000 hours to representing 21 clients pro bono in their death penalty appeals.

One of their first clients was William Ziegler. Mr. Ziegler was convicted of murder in 2001. Throughout the course of his trial, Mr. Ziegler maintained his innocence but was denied even the most basic defense by his ineffective attorneys and was sentenced to death. Upon taking his case, Sidley attorneys conducted an extensive factual and legal investigation. In 2010, the Sidley team presented evidence and the testimony of more than 20 fact witnesses and experts during a week-long evidentiary hearing. On November 12, 2012, in a 217-page order, an Alabama circuit court granted Mr. Ziegler relief on multiple grounds—including finding that the State had committed Brady violations by suppressing exculpatory evidence, that Mr. Ziegler had received ineffective assistance of counsel throughout his trial and direct appeal, and that two jurors had engaged in misconduct by failing to honestly answer questions during voir dire. The court concluded that “[u]nder any analysis, this Court cannot say that Ziegler received a fair trial . . ..” Although the State subsequently appealed the order granting Mr. Ziegler a new trial, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unanimously affirmed the decision for relief in May 2014.

The tremendous effort in Mr. Ziegler’s case is emblematic of the firm’s commitment to this important work. Sidley’s unprecedented investment of time, resources, and energy has been an inspiration to other law firms, given hope to all prisoners on Alabama’s death row, and provided life-saving assistance to the all of the firm’s death-sentenced clients. Sidley’s lawyers have also repeatedly assisted the Project’s recruitment efforts in cities around the country. In recognition of Sidley Austin’s rare and extraordinary commitment to protecting the rights of death-sentenced prisoners in Alabama, the Project is proud to honor the firm with its 2014 Exceptional Service Award.

Quarles & Brady LLP

Quarles & Brady, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based law firm, has answered the Project’s call for assistance on multiple occasions. But something else makes this firm special. Quarles & Brady has repeatedly taken some of the most difficult and urgent cases for which counsel was needed. Quarles has filed amicus briefs in death penalty cases and provided representation to prisoners in six capital cases in four different states, almost all of them in precarious procedural postures or with imminent deadlines. In 2012, the firm accepted TWO urgent matters on the same astonishing day, replacing near-defeat with a new, fighting chance for justice.

Quarles & Brady attorneys have worked on death penalty cases throughout the United States and are currently litigating two cases—one in Florida and another in Pennsylvania. Quarles believes that collaboration within the firm and with experienced capital defenders has been key to providing high quality legal representation to clients on death row. The firm therefore typically forms teams of lawyers across its eight offices to support each case, evidencing a firm-wide commitment to this important work. To date, more than 37 Quarles attorneys and many more staff members have dedicated over 16,000 hours to working on pro bono death penalty cases.

A team of remarkable Quarles & Brady attorneys is currently representing Jacob Dougan. Mr. Dougan was convicted and sentenced to death in Florida in 1975 for the murder of a hitchhiker. Partnering with experienced capital defender Mark Olive, the Quarles team won a reversal of both his conviction and death sentence. The grounds for relief included findings of ineffective assistance of counsel. The state has appealed this ruling and Quarles continues to fight for justice for Mr. Dougan.

Quarles’ dedication to its death penalty clients is further exemplified by the case of William Van Poyck. A group of Quarles attorneys led by partner Jeff Davis and Mark Olive diligently represented Mr. Van Poyck for over 21 years. During that time the Quarles team conducted a ten-day evidentiary hearing, made two trips to the Florida Supreme Court, argued twice before the Eleventh Circuit, and filed eight petitions to the United States Supreme Court. Throughout its many years of representation, Quarles’ support for Mr. Van Poyck never flagged. At the end, Mr. Van Poyck’s team of lawyers fought for him under the intense pressure of an expedited execution warrant schedule until he was executed on June 12, 2013.

For repeatedly coming to the rescue when so many others did not, the Project is proud to honor Quarles & Brady with the Exceptional Service Award for its courageous and inspirational commitment to justice.

“I have worked on hundreds of capital post-conviction cases, dozens of which have had ‘real’ execution dates. I have never seen a fi rm devote more resources, personnel, and time and energy to a case ‘under warrant’ than this Quarles and Brady team devoted. . . . Quarles & Brady provided exceptional services to Mr. Dougan and to Mr. Van Poyck and is richly deserving of being considered for the ABA Exceptional Service Award.” – Nomination letter from Florida capital defender Mark E. Olive

Mark J. MacDougall

The Project is proud to present the 2014 John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award to Mark J. MacDougall for his unique commitment to providing outstanding legal representation in capital cases in South Carolina.

Mark is a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld where his practice is focused on white collar criminal litigation. For more than a decade, Mark has worked pro bono with South Carolina public defenders to represent persons facing the death penalty in that state. Since 2006, Mark has volunteered over 1,720 hours of his time serving as trial counsel in death penalty cases. He has handled six capital cases and led teams of Akin Gump lawyers that have dedicated an additional 10,512 hours to pro bono death penalty work.

Mark took on his first capital case in 2001. Together with local counsel Bill Nettles and Jim Morton, Mark represented Bobby Lee Holmes in his trial for capital murder charges in York, South Carolina. The trial court denied the defense team’s efforts to introduce evidence that a third party was responsible for the crime. After Mr. Holmes exhausted his state court appeals, Akin Gump took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won a unanimous ruling to vacate Mr. Holmes’ conviction and sentence. Two years later, Bill, Jim and Mark persuaded prosecutors to withdraw the death notice in Mr. Holmes’ case. Mr. Holmes entered a plea of no contest and received a life sentence.

In his two most recent capital cases, Mark and his colleagues successfully fought to avoid death sentences for their clients. In South Carolina v. Jenkins, in tandem with Greenville Chief Public Defender John Mauldin, Mark and three Akin Gump associates convinced prosecutors to withdraw the death notice before the trial began. Last October in South Carolina v. Earnest Daise, Mark joined with Bill McGuire and Casey Secor of the Capital Trials Division of the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense in obtaining a unanimous trial verdict of life for their client—the first unanimous life verdict in a South Carolina capital trial since 2001. Mark and his colleagues, once again in collaboration with the State Commission on Indigent Defense, are preparing for trial in South Carolina v. Stephon Carter—a capital case currently scheduled to begin in January 2015.

Below are a few excerpts from the many letters written in support of his nomination for this award.

“Mr. MacDougall’s pro bono advocacy has brought dignity to indigent people facing the death penalty and honor to the field of capital defense. The example he sets for those who do this work is an infectious manifestation of all that is good in the law.” – Casey M. Secor, Trial Attorney at the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, Capital Trial Division

“It would be difficult to find a more selfless and dedicated pro bono lawyer than Mark. It would also be difficult to imagine a better example and role model for younger attorneys. Mark embodies so much of what we all aspire to be, and much gratitude is owed to Mark by so many.” – William S. McGuire, Chief Attorney at the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, Capital Trial Division

“Mark’s clients are not the only beneficiaries of his extraordinary commitment to the public interest. Through his work, Mark has taught an entire generation of Akin Gump associates the value of pro bono work.” – Steven H. Schulman, Pro Bono Partner at Akin Gump and President of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel

2013

Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, LLP and Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP

The Project is proud to honor the law firms of Carrington, Coleman, Sloman & Blumenthal, LLP and Lewis Roca Rothgerber LLP with the Project’s 2013 Exceptional Service Award for their decades of pro bono representation and their outstanding work representing Manuel Velez, a Texas man wrongfully convicted of capital murder. These two small firms joined forces to create an unbeatable team of litigators who fought for Manuel over five years. In 2013, the team succeeded in overturning Manuel’s conviction and death sentence and won him a new trial. The firms’ unique partnership, relentless efforts, and dedicated relationship with Manuel and his family are among the many reasons they are deserving of recognition.

Carrington Coleman and Rothgerber are business litigation firms, headquartered in Dallas and Denver respectively, that employ fewer than 75 attorneys. Both firms have been representing death-sentenced prisoners in Texas for decades, often securing relief for their pro bono clients. In 2008, at the Project’s request, lawyers from both firms agreed to combine their expertise and resources to form “Team Velez.”

Manuel Velez’s nightmare began on Halloween in 2005, when the infant son of a woman living with him stopped breathing. Although the child was immediately taken to the hospital, medical personnel were unable revive him. State officials then charged Manuel and the child’s mother with capital murder. The mother pled guilty to a ten-year sentence in exchange for her agreement to testify against Manuel. At his trial, prosecutors portrayed Manuel as a “baby-killing coward.” His trial attorneys did nothing to alter that picture. They failed to present basic mitigating evidence about Manuel or challenge the testimony of the State’s medical experts who testified that the child died of injuries that could only have occurred two weeks before his death, when Manuel was living in the home.

By the time both firms began working on his case, Manuel had developed a deep distrust of lawyers. His first trial counsel had accepted monthly payments from Manuel’s family for nearly two years before seeking to withdraw from the case on the grounds that he was unqualified. He did not return the family’s money. Manuel’s replacement lawyers rarely visited him and then failed to call medical experts or primary witnesses to testify on Manuel’s behalf. Team Velez had a great deal of work to do from the very beginning simply to convince Manuel that they were on his side. They invested a considerable amount of time with him and his family, ultimately forming close relationships while also investigating the complicated legal and factual issues in the case.

The firms conducted the investigation that trial counsel never even started, securing medical records and contacting the neuropathologist who analyzed the child’s brain tissue for the State. At Team Velez’s request, the pathologist conducted further analysis on the tissue samples and concluded that the child had sustained a brain injury much earlier than government experts had testified at trial—critically, when Manuel was living in another state.

In December 2012, Team Velez presented their evidence in a lengthy evidentiary hearing during which the State prosecutors publicly disparaged them as “high-priced, suited attorneys.” But on April 2, 2013, the court recommended that Manuel’s conviction be overturned and that he be given a new trial, which Team Velez is currently preparing to handle. That order is awaiting affirmance by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. In total, 33 lawyers, ten paralegals, and 13 summer law clerks dedicated more than 11,000 hours to Manuel’s case. As Manuel’s sister Elmita wrote, the lawyers who committed their time, energy, and resources “have done wonders for his case” and “give us all comfort and hope.”

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

The Project is proud to honor Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP for its exceptional commitment to pro bono death penalty representation over the past two decades. Since 1988, the firm has devoted more than 55,000 hours of legal personnel time to its work on behalf of individuals on death row. Through their dedicated efforts, volunteer attorneys at Morgan Lewis have won victories for their death-sentenced clients that include a life sentence, a new sentencing hearing, a new trial, and a full acquittal and release from death row.

In 1988, the firm agreed to represent John Thompson, who was convicted of the murder of a prominent New Orleans hotel owner three years earlier. The court found John eligible for the death penalty because of a previous armed robbery conviction. For more than a decade, Morgan Lewis vigorously represented John in state and federal courts. Then, just weeks before he was scheduled to be executed in May of 1999, Morgan Lewis uncovered evidence withheld from the defense that conclusively proved John’s innocence in the armed robbery case. Further investigation revealed evidence of his innocence that the State had improperly withheld during the murder trial. The court ordered a new trial, where the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict after just 35 minutes of deliberation. John was finally released after 18 years in prison, 14 of those years on death row.

Morgan Lewis’s dedication to John did not end at his exoneration. The firm devoted almost 8,000 additional hours to obtain compensation from the State and won a $14 million judgment, although this award was later narrowly reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court over a lengthy dissent by four justices.

John is just one of many individuals who have received exceptional pro bono representation from Morgan Lewis. The firm has represented death row prisoners from virtually every region in the country, and its list of successes continues to grow. The most recent victory came just weeks ago when Texas abandoned pursuit of the death penalty against Cathy Henderson.

Cathy was convicted of capital murder for the death of an infant in her care, which she maintained was an accident. A State expert testified at trial that the injuries were deliberately inflicted. When Morgan Lewis took Cathy’s case in 2005, her appeals were nearly exhausted. The team immediately started an investigation and obtained new evidence showing that the trial expert’s opinion was based on flawed science. Just two days before Cathy’s scheduled execution, Morgan Lewis won a new hearing. At that hearing, volunteer attorneys presented evidence from more than ten experts, including forensic pathologists, biomechanical engineers, and pediatric neurologists, and the State’s expert recanted his trial testimony. The judge recommended a new trial, which was ordered in 2012. In September 2013, the State announced that it would no longer seek the death penalty in her case.

Currently the firm is working on four active death penalty cases, including one class-action suit challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s lethal injection procedures. During the past 25 years, pro bono capital punishment practice has become a cultural cornerstone of the Philadelphia-based firm.

Denny LeBoeuf

The Project is proud to honor Denny LeBoeuf as the 2013 recipient of the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award for her lifelong commitment to providing the highest quality legal representation for persons on death row.

Denny is currently the Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. She has been a capital defender for more than 25 years, representing persons facing death at trial and in post-conviction in state and federal courts. Denny also serves as the Director of the ACLU’s John Adams Project, assisting in the defense of capitally charged Guantanamo detainees. In New Orleans, Denny focused on improving the quality of legal representation post-Katrina as Chair of the Orleans Parish Public Defenders Board and coordinated the reform and restoration of indigent defense. She was the founding director of the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana and founding co-director of the Center for Equal Justice in New Orleans.

Denny works closely with the Project, actively assisting with recruitment efforts and providing invaluable guidance and training to the Project’s volunteer law firms. She also participated in developing the 2003 ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases.

But Denny’s remarkable talent, dedication, and courage is best demonstrated by the heartfelt praise of her friends and colleagues. Below are a few excerpts from the many letters written in support of her nomination for this award.

“Denny possess[es] an unparalleled combination of qualifications: encyclopedic knowledge of both the case law and the social science critical to capital defense; fearlessness, to face down the massive power of the State and a sometimes unsympathetic public; patience and tenacity, to endure what can be decades-long battles for justice; humor, for coping, and to bolster the spirits of client and colleagues; strength, to lift a damaged human being and help him learn the remaining value of his life; and the creativity and open mind needed to unearth and weave together the stories of humanity, dignity, and struggle running through our clients’ tragic lives.” – Staff of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project

“I can’t say enough about the goodness, dedication, and smartness (legal-smart, people-smart, philosophical-smart and politics-smart) of my friend, Denny. Nor have I ever met an attorney who treats clients with greater compassion and dignity and who personally possesses more integrity and spiritual wisdom than Denny LeBoeuf. Hands down, she has been my best teacher of law.” – Sister Helen Prejean

“Denny’s talent, creativity, and intellectual rigor in capital litigation are exceeded only by her willingness and desire to bring the rest of the legal community along with her in the battle for human rights in our courtrooms. The heavy burden she carries is lightened by her keen sense of humor, her community of friends and supporters who share her goals, and her belief that all people can and do strive for a better life.” – Scharlette Holdman, Ph.D., Executive Director, Center for Capital Assistance

“Denny has exemplified what it means to be a lawyer in America for the past three decades through her representation of the condemned. . . . Denny’s professional life has literally brought the Constitution to life for her clients throughout the country. She is held in very high regard by all of her colleagues who would cheer at the top of their lungs if she were honored with the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award.” – George H. Kendall, Director, Squire Sanders Public Service Initiative

For these reasons and many others, the Project congratulates and thanks Denny for her many years as a champion for the men and women on death row.

2012

George H. Kendall

The Project is proud to present the 2012 John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award to George H. Kendall for his life-long commitment to ensuring justice for the men and women on death row. In addition to personally representing more than 40 death row prisoners, George has mentored young pro bono fellows, served as an advisor to defense attorneys at non-profit organizations, taught courses at law schools, and recruited volunteer attorneys from private law firms to donate their time and skills on behalf of death row prisoners.

George’s tireless work on behalf of death row prisoners began 32 years ago as a young attorney in private practice in Washington, DC, when he and Stephen Bright agreed to represent an indigent Georgia death row prisoner. In 1983, he became a staff attorney at the ACLU Capital Litigation Project in Atlanta, Georgia. He then served as Senior Counsel of the Criminal Justice Project at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City for more than 15 years. In 2003, George joined Holland & Knight, where he mentored pro bono fellows in the Chesterfield Smith program, a program that permits associates to take prominent roles in pro bono matters. Today, George’s work continues at the Squire Sanders Public Service Initiative, which brings the resources and credibility of an international law firm to address access-to-justice issues through pro bono litigation, policy reform, and public education.

In the early 1980s, George was one of the first individuals to advocate for the creation of the ABA Death Penalty Representation Project. Since then, he has been an invaluable resource for private attorneys who accept the challenge of representing death-sentenced prisoners. George’s work has been chronicled in books, a documentary, and in the memoirs of a Louisiana death row prisoner who won his freedom after 44 years as a result of George’s advocacy. Since 1988, George has also worked closely on cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court each term.

Writing in support of his nomination, a colleague described George’s “unflagging confidence in the greater good of humanity [that] heartens his colleagues and clients alike.” For these reasons and many others, the Project honors George as the 2012 recipient of the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award, first awarded to Justice Stevens in 2011.

 

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP

Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP, a Birmingham, Alabama-based firm, has made a unique commitment to ensuring that death-sentenced prisoners have access to high-quality legal representation. Since 1988, the firm has filled multiple roles in the post-conviction process, acting as lead counsel for five death row prisoners and serving as local counsel for out-of-state volunteer law firms representing another 17 individuals on death row in Alabama.

The contributions of Bradley Arant are particularly meaningful because Alabama is one of the few states where counsel is not appointed for death row prisoners in state post-conviction proceedings. In its recent decision in Maples v. Thomas, the United States Supreme Court noted the many difficulties inherent in Alabama’s administration of the death penalty, including its almost total reliance on out-of-state volunteer lawyers to provide representation in state post-conviction proceedings.

Years ago, as the Project ramped up its work in Alabama, Bradley Arant made the strategic decision that a firm in Alabama could better serve as active local counsel on a number of cases, rather than taking on additional death row clients on its own. By serving as actively engaged local counsel and providing on-the-ground assistance to volunteer law firms from around the country, Bradley Arant has made it possible for more than a dozen death row prisoners without counsel to receive high-quality legal representation in their post-conviction proceedings. More than 40 of the firm’s current attorneys have generously devoted their time and skills to death row matters. For the past decade, the firm has devoted over 1,000 pro bono hours annually to death penalty work. Three of the firm’s clients have been removed from death row due to the firm’s efforts. The firm continues its representation and support for another 16 individuals. Most recently, the firm won a new trial for Victor Stephens and was able to negotiate a plea deal that resentenced him to life in prison.

The Project is proud to honor Bradley Arant with the Exceptional Service Award for its courageous and inspirational work and for providing volunteer legal services where help is needed most.

Fish & Richardson P.C

Fish & Richardson PC, an intellectual property and patent litigation firm, has demonstrated a serious and valuable commitment to providing pro bono assistance in death penalty cases around the country. Despite the economic uncertainties that have affected the legal market since 2008, Fish has increased its efforts in recent years to ensure justice for death-sentenced prisoners.

Since the firm’s involvement in death penalty work began five years ago, Fish has provided representation for seven death-sentenced prisoners, each in a different jurisdiction. In addition, Fish has assumed a leadership role in death penalty representation by spearheading recruitment efforts and coordinating advocacy events.

In 2007, Fish undertook a major revamping of its pro bono program, institutionalizing the role of pro bono within the firm and giving its attorneys full credit for hours spent on approved pro bono matters. As a result, Fish has seen an approximately ten-fold increase in the average number of pro bono hours per attorney, including efforts on death penalty cases. The firm mobilized a dedicated group of attorneys to commit significant time and skills to these matters. It has also fully supported this commitment by allocating ample resources and providing institutional backing, with death penalty work as the centerpiece of its pro bono program. During the first five months of 2012, hours spent on death penalty cases accounted for 22% of the firm’s total pro bono hours.

The firm’s in-house expertise has made it possible to handle matters in multiple jurisdictions and staff cases with attorneys, paralegals, and litigation support staff from six of its 11 U.S. offices. More than 30 attorneys have devoted over 6,400 hours to representing death row prisoners over the past five years, with the additional support of paralegals, litigation support analysts, and librarians from around the country.

In recognition of the scope and breadth of Fish & Richardson’s commitment, the Project is proud to honor the firm with the Exceptional Service Award.


2011

Hon. John Paul Stevens

When Justice John Paul Stevens retired from the United States Supreme Court on June 29, 2010, he was the third longest-serving justice in the history of the Court. During his lengthy tenure Justice Stevens authored many opinions expressing concerns about injustices in the administration of the death penalty, including racial bias, limitations on the courts’ abilities to correct constitutional violations, and lack of access to competent counsel. He has been described as a “champion of the powerless” in recognition of his advocacy for the rights of criminal defendants, including those on death row.

In Murray v. Giarratano, Justice Stevens dissented from the 1989 decision holding that there is no right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings, stating “it is fundamentally unfair to require an indigent death row inmate to initiate collateral review without counsel’s guiding hand.” The American Bar Association has long agreed with Justice Stevens, and the work of the Death Penalty Representation Project and its thousands of volunteer attorneys has been inspired and sustained by his words and actions throughout his distinguished tenure at the Court. We are also indebted to Justice Stevens for his support of pro bono service, which he has long championed. Writing in a 2000 article for the Chicago Bar Association, he said “I remain convinced that the principal rewards that are available to the best lawyers in our profession are intangible rather than monetary…[T]here is no substitute for pride in a job well done and knowledge that your talent and training have served others badly in need of help.”

Since his retirement from the Court, Justice Stevens has continued to be an influential voice for the most vulnerable members of our society and for changes that will give meaning to our Constitutional protections. In gratitude, and for his lifetime commitment and dedication to justice for death row prisoners, the Death Penalty Representation Project is very proud to honor Justice John Paul Stevens with its 2011 Guiding Hand of Counsel Award.

Arnold & Porter

Arnold & Porter’s pro bono program has long been defined by its commitment to representing unpopular clients. As part of this commitment, Arnold & Porter has worked on behalf of numerous death row inmates over the years. The firm currently represents two death-sentenced prisoners in Pennsylvania and one in Georgia and has dedicated more than 50,000 hours to pro bono death penalty representation work.

Arnold & Porter currently represents Troy Davis in Georgia. Mr. Davis’s case has attracted national and international attention due to strong evidence of actual innocence. After Mr. Davis’s other legal remedies had failed, Arnold & Porter convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to consider his original petition for habeas corpus—something that had not happened in nearly 50 years. The firm has obtained three stays of execution for Mr. Davis and is currently seeking clemency from the Georgia governor.

Arnold & Porter also represents two death row prisoners in Pennsylvania: James Dennis and Henry Daniels. Over the past 13 years, volunteer lawyers have briefed and argued numerous appeals before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, presented evidence at multiple evidentiary hearings, and interviewed and investigated hundreds of witnesses. Stuart Lev, a federal defender in Pennsylvania, wrote in support of the firm’s nomination and said, “the legal teams [at Arnold & Porter] . . . have developed extraordinary relationships with their clients . . . [though] this is often no easy task. But the legal teams have made this a priority in their representation . . . and have devoted incredible time and energy to maintaining and preserving their attorney client relationships.”

The firm’s commitment to post-conviction capital representation includes past death penalty work in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina on six matters beginning soon after the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Arnold & Porter has also submitted numerous amicus briefs in death penalty cases, including Maples v. Thomas, Panetti v. Quarterman, Hood v. Georgia, United States v. Martinez, and Thanos v. Maryland.

The Project shares Arnold & Porter’s commitment to providing skilled, dedicated representation to the most unpopular members of society and commends the firm for all it has done to seek justice for its clients.

Dorsey & Whitney

Dorsey & Whitney has long been a leader in both pro bono death penalty representation and in education about the problems with capital representation. Over the past 25 years, the firm has represented 8 individuals on death row in states such as Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas—far from its principal office in Minnesota. Dorsey attorneys are also frequent guest speakers at schools and in the legal community about their cases. The firm is a co-sponsor of the “Advocates’ Death Penalty Project Speaker Series,” which provides free seminars on topics related to capital punishment, including volunteer death penalty work.

Dorsey is currently representing three individuals on death row. One of these individuals, Andre Thomas, is profoundly mentally ill. After being incarcerated in Texas, he removed both of his eyes, and he is now housed in a special unit reserved for those with severe mental illness. Dorsey attorneys have spent nearly 9,000 hours on Mr. Thomas’s case, working to expose constitutional errors that occurred at his trial and to tell the humanizing story of his past. Dorsey also represents an intellectually disabled prisoner in Pennsylvania, Wilfredo Ramos. In 2010, volunteer attorneys from Dorsey succeeded in showing that, because of his disability, Mr. Ramos was ineligible for execution under Atkins v. Virginia. Although the firm has already saved Mr. Ramos’s life, Dorsey continues to represent him as they seek a new trial based on the ineffectiveness of his trial counsel.

Dorsey attorneys have achieved a number of other victories on behalf of their former death row clients. They succeeded in obtaining life sentences in cases involving issues such as ineffective assistance of counsel, erroneous jury instructions, and violation of consular rights. For one client, they convinced the Oklahoma governor to grant clemency, an increasingly rare occurrence. For another client, Dorsey attorneys persuaded the United States Supreme Court to hear his appeal. The Court issued an important ruling requiring the automatic reversal of jury verdicts based on erroneous instructions regarding reasonable doubt.

The Project is proud to recognize Dorsey for its long history of commitment to educating the bar and the public about the problems with the administration of the death penalty and also for its dedication to providing the highest quality representation to indigent death row prisoners.


Fredrikson & Byron

For nearly 25 years, Fredrikson & Byron has made a unique commitment to representation of death-sentenced prisoners in Louisiana. Its 250 attorneys draw inspiration from Robert F. Kennedy, who is quoted on the firm’s webpage: “As long as a man is handicapped before the bar of justice because of his poverty, our task as lawyers is not done.”

The firm agreed to represent its first pro bono death row client, Dobie Williams, in 1987. For the next twelve years, Fredrikson lawyers fought on behalf of Mr. Williams, twice obtaining a stay when he was just hours away from execution. After years of work, the team won a reversal of his sentence, but an appeals court overturned that decision in 1999, and Mr. Williams was executed later that year.

Within one year of Mr. Williams’ execution, Fredrikson took a second death penalty case in Louisiana. Damon Thibodeaux was convicted and sentenced to death solely on the basis of his confession, which occurred after a lengthy and coercive interrogation. Between 2001 and 2007, the Fredrikson team uncovered an extraordinary amount of evidence that supported Mr. Thibodeaux’s claim of innocence. As a result, the district attorney has now directed resources into a new investigation.

Throughout their representation, Fredrikson attorneys have demonstrated personal dedication to Mr. Thibodeaux. Attorney Steve Kaplan has engaged in weekly phone calls with Mr. Thibodeaux and has developed strong relationships with his family. Barry Scheck, Co- Director of the Innocence Project, said that Mr. Kaplan “exemplifies everything good about lawyers and humans. When you look up the word mensch in your legal dictionary, his picture is there.”

Fredrikson recently agreed to represent another Louisiana death row prisoner, Michael Wearry, who is intellectually disabled. The firm’s aggressive litigation strategy has already resulted in an impressive evidentiary record for Mr. Wearry’s appeal.

The Project joins Mr. Scheck and many others in commending Fredrikson & Byron for its decades of seeking justice for Louisiana death row prisoners.


2010

Drinker Biddle & Reath

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP is particularly proud of its long and dedicated commitment to death penalty representation in many different contexts. Two aspects of this work give our firm special pride. First, the firm’s commitment to these difficult engagements finds its wellsprings not just in the original firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath, but also from the several firms that have combined with us in recent years. Indeed, the integration of these firms into Drinker Biddle & Reath has been so successful in part because of the shared commitment to this important pro bono work of those who have joined us along the way – a commitment that has broadened and deepened as we’ve grown.

The second aspect of Drinker Biddle & Reath’s death penalty representation work of which we are proud is the many different forms our contributions have taken. Certainly nothing has been more important than our undertaking individual collateral proceedings on behalf of those languishing on death row, the victims of  ineffective representation and other constitutional violations that call into question the integrity of the justice system’s real commitment to due process.

At the present time, Drinker Biddle & Reath’s San Francisco office is handling Brittany Holberg’s post-conviction proceedings in Texas, our Florham Park office isrepresenting Emmitt Taylor in Louisiana, and the Philadelphia office is representing Tommy Lee Waldrip on federal habeas in Georgia. Most famously, the Philadelphia office represented William Cochran, a death row inmate in Alabama. Mr. Cochran was granted a new trial at which he was acquitted of the murder charge. Today he is a free man.

Because so many of the issues that arise in death penalty representation are endemic to the present system, the firm has committed to systemic litigation that might reform these fundamental problems. Through the firm’s Barbara McDowell High Impact Pro Bono Initiative, the firm is partnering with the Death Penalty Representation Project and Mississippi lawyers on Knox v. Mississippi, a civil lawsuit focusing on the systemic failures of the State of Mississippi which have prejudiced many death-sentenced prisoners.

Drinker Biddle & Reath has also prepared United States Supreme Court amicus briefs on behalf of the American Bar Association, ethics professors and others in individual cases that presented significant death penalty representation issues. Most recently, Drinker Biddle & Reath filed an amicus brief in Holland v. Florida. This was the sixth amicus brief filed by Drinker Biddle & Reath in the United States Supreme Court in the last 10 years.

Drinker Biddle & Reath has focused much of its work on issues relating to the professional responsibility of lawyers who represent clients in capital cases, including playing an important role in the development of the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. The firm has also addressed the conflicts of interest that arise in any certification of State Capital Counsel Systems by State Attorneys General or the Department of Justice.

Reed Smith

Reed Smith has been representing inmates on death row for twenty (20) years. The firm’s attorneys are doing this work in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Alabama, and are currently representing seven men on death row.

In the 1990’s a team of Reed Smith Pittsburgh lawyers saved the life of Pennsylvania inmate Lawrence Christie in post-conviction proceedings. Mr. Christie’s death sentence was modified to life in prison without parole after Reed Smith showed that his trial counsel had failed to present the available mitigation evidence.

Reed Smith began representing another Pennsylvania death row inmate, Bradley Martin, in state post-conviction proceedings in 2000. At an evidentiary hearing on multiple claims of prior counsel’s ineffectiveness, the trial court heard a dozen witnesses, vacated Mr. Martin’s death sentence, and ordered a new sentencing hearing. The state appealed but the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed in August 2010.

In 2007 Reed Smith merged with Sachnoff & Weaver, a Chicago firm with a long history of death row representations in Illinois, at one point handling three cases simultaneously. One of those representations, that of inmate Samuel Morgan, began in 1995 and is an active Reed Smith case today. The Sachnoff lawyers had obtained a reversal of the client’s death sentence from the Illinois Supreme Court. On remand, Reed Smith lawyers asserted a claim of actual innocence, now the subject of federal habeas proceedings.

Reed Smith New York lawyers began our fourth death penalty representation in 2007 representing William Kuenzel, an Alabama death row inmate. On appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Reed Smith obtained a reversal and reinstatement of the habeas petition, with a direction that, on remand, the district judge consider Mr. Kuenzel’s claim of “actual innocence”. This was significant because the 11th Circuit has not yet squarely held that the actual innocence exception applies to excuse a procedural bar under Section 2244(d).

Late in 2008, Reed Smith took on four additional death penalty representations in Alabama. The firm’s appearance on behalf of these men came because each was only weeks away from losing all access to a judicial review of their claims. Each of these four Alabama cases shared a procedural defect that helped compel Reed Smith to step in. The juries in each case had voted against the death penalty for life in prison without parole. However the trial judges had invoked Alabama’s ‘judicial override’ procedure to overturn these life sentences and imposed death sentences instead.

Reed Smith has also handled clemency proceedings in death penalty cases. In Virginia in 2005, the firm appeared at the 11th hour for inmate Robin Lovitt, whose execution was imminent. Reed Smith lawyers arranged a face-to-face meeting with Governor Warner on the day of the scheduled execution. The Governor granted the clemency petition, sparing Lovitt’s life.

 

 


2009

Dykema

Dykema has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to capital pro bono legal service. The firm strives to make things right in the lives of people who otherwise might have no help and is fully committed to using its resources in support of capital pro bono efforts. During the past 20 years Dykema has worked on three Georgia deathpenalty cases and the firm’s professionals have donated more than 5,265 hours of time.

Robert Newland was the firm’s first case in 1988. The primary issue in Mr. Newland’s case was ineffective assistance of counsel during the guilt and penalty phases. Through extensive investigation, Dykema attorneys discovered that Mr. Newland’s trial counsel had failed to uncover significant mitigating evidence including childhood trauma and severe brain injuries. For more than 20 years, Dykema lawyers advocated on Mr. Newland’s behalf, taking the case from the state court through the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and clemency proceedings. When appeals and clemency were denied, Mr. Newland was executed on March 19, 2009 – more than 20 years after the firm’s engagement began.

Dykema assumed responsibility for David Perkins’s case in 1999. After obtaining a stay of execution in 1999, Dykema completed the record and discovered improper juror communications with the judge. The volunteer attorneys also uncovered a wealth of mitigating evidence that was not presented at trial. In addition, they obtained hard-to-access medical records, conducted juror interviews, investigated jailhouse snitches,tracked down physicians as expert witnesses, and investigated claims of prosecutorial misconduct. Members of the team have traveled to Georgia six to eight times each for investigation, depositions, and court appearances. They continue to represent Mr. Perkins and have developed a comprehensive plan for pursuing federal habeas corpus relief.

Dykema took its third Georgia case in 2007, representing Jimmy Meders. Sinceaccepting the case from the Death Penalty Representation Project two years ago, Dykema lawyers from Los Angeles have made frequent trips across the country to visit their client in Georgia, interview witnesses, and prepare for an evidentiary hearing that created a record of the errors at trial. Dykema lawyers have discovered critical exculpatory evidence and evidence of state misconduct. The firm has invested over 2,700 hours in the case and is currently preparing post-hearing briefing. A decision in the case is expected by year end.

Dykema has demonstrated its commitment to the principle that the practice of law, especially by a large commercial firm, is a privilege that carries with it profound societal responsibilities. Dykema is one of this year’s Exceptional Service Award recipients because of its outstanding dedication and commitment during the past two decades. Congratulations to all the Dykema lawyers and staff who have helped make a difference for the men and women on Georgia’s Death Row.

Goodwin Procter

Goodwin Procter LLP prides itself on its commitment to the rights of Death Row inmates. For more than 15 years the firm represented three clients on Death Row and wrote an amicus brief challenging the constitutionality of lethal injection in Baze v. Rees.

In January 2008 Kenneth Richey, convicted of setting a fire that killed a child in 1986, walked off Ohio’s Death Row a free man thanks to the efforts of a team of more than 50 Goodwin lawyers and staff who spent 16 years fighting to prove his innocence. Richey was scheduled to be executed in 30 days when Goodwin accepted his case from the Death Penalty Representation Project in 1992. Working with a private investigator and consulting with several of the top arson experts in the country, Goodwin was able to cast sufficient doubt on the state’s arson case and ultimately convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that Mr. Richey had received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. When the state’s own experts said they could not testify at a retrial that there was credible scientific evidence of arson, a deal was quickly reached that secured Mr. Richey’s release.

Goodwin agreed to represent James Earl Walker, who was convicted of capital murder in Alabama on questionable evidence, just months before the deadline to file his post-conviction petition. A team immediately traveled to Alabama to interview witnesses and jurors and sift through court, educational, and medical records. The state filed motions to dismiss, but the court allowed Mr. Walker’s strongest claims, including multiple claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and juror misconduct, to survive, granting a full evidentiary hearing to be held later this fall.

Goodwin also represents Joseph Hooks, convicted of murder and robbery in Alabama in 1984. The judge sentenced Mr. Hooks to death, despite the jury’s recommendation of a life sentence. After extensive investigation and pre-hearing proceedings, the firm represented Mr. Hooks in appeals to the Alabama Circuit Court and Supreme Court of Alabama and is currently preparing to file a federal habeas petition in federal court.

Goodwin also agreed to work with The Anesthesia Awareness Campaign, Inc., a nonprofitorganization working to prevent “anesthesia awareness,” the phenomenon that affects some patients who remain mentally alert while under full anesthesia. This phenomenon is the same one that has affected Death Row prisoners during lethal injection, causing some to experience extreme pain and suffering before being executed. More than 150 hours of pro bono time were spent preparing an amicus brief which was filed at the Supreme Court in connection with a challenge to lethal injections in Baze v. Rees.

Goodwin Procter is one of this year’s Exceptional Service Award recipients because of its outstanding dedication and commitment for over fifteen years. Congratulations to all the Goodwin lawyers and staff who have helped make a difference for the men and women on the nation’s Death Rows.


2008

Kaye Scholer

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 LLP

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.


2007

WilmerHale

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

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.

 


2006

Covington & Burling

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

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

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.


Sidley Austin

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.


Skadden

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.