On September 19, 2019, the Project will celebrate its pro bono volunteers and capital defender partners at the 2019 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Dinner. This annual event brings together pro bono lawyers, capital defenders, academics, criminal justice experts, and Project supporters for an evening celebrating excellence in capital defense representation.
Keynote Speaker: Lawrence S. Krasner
This year, the Project is delighted to welcome Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner as the keynote speaker for the event. Mr. Krasner represents one of a rising tide of progressive prosecutors who are committed to reducing reliance on incarceration and diminishing racial disparities in the justice system. An outspoken critic of the death penalty, Mr. Krasner has described the capital punishment system in Pennsylvania as racially biased, arbitrary, and discriminatory against the poor. In July 2019, his office took the unusual step of submitting a brief to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of a death-sentenced prisoner. The brief asked the court to strike down the state’s death penalty as unconstitutional, arguing that
[w]here a majority of death sentenced defendants have been represented by poorly compensated, poorly supported court-appointed attorneys, there is a significant likelihood that capital punishment has not been reserved for the “worst of the worst.” Rather... Pennsylvania’s capital punishment regime may very well reserve death sentences for those who receive the “worst” (i.e., the most poorly funded and inadequately supported) representation.
The dinner will also feature the presentation of awards to two outstanding pro bono law firms, Skadden and White & Case, and one individual lawyer, Kelley J. Henry, along with a special Project leadership award for longtime Project champion Ronald J. Tabak.
Exceptional Service Award Winner: Skadden
Skadden, which is a rare repeat-winner of this award, currently represents six prisoners on death row, including Texas death-row prisoner Bobby Moore. Mr. Moore, who is intellectually disabled and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, was forced to seek relief from the U.S. Supreme Court twice in two years after lower courts applied an unscientific method for assessing intellectual disability to determine that he was in fact eligible for execution. In 2017, Skadden lawyers won a critical victory from the Court with a ruling that definitively struck down the Texas courts’ framework for evaluating intellectual disability. In 2018, Skadden successfully protected Mr. Moore’s constitutional rights again, when the Supreme Court issued a rare per curiam reversal of the lower courts’ continued failure to heed the instructions set out in the 2017 victory. This skillful litigation and commitment to their client is emblematic of Skadden’s approach to pro bono death penalty representation.
Exceptional Service Award Winner: White & Case
White & Case has represented six death-sentenced prisoners in the past six years, devoting tens of thousands of hours to their cases. One of those prisoners, Kimberly Cargill, is one of the few women on death row in the United States. Ms. Cargill was sentenced to death for killing her son’s babysitter in 2012, although the cause of death could not be determined. The medical examiner who ruled the death a homicide was not board-certified at the time, and her conclusions were unsupported by forensic evidence. White & Case lawyers have developed extensive evidence supporting arguments that Ms. Cargill’s constitutional rights were violated at trial and in state habeas proceedings, and that the courts failed to consider critical evidence that the babysitter likely died of natural causes stemming from her known epileptic disorder. White & Case is currently litigating the case in federal courts, fighting to obtain habeas relief and prevent a patently unjust execution.
Guiding Hand of Counsel Winner: Kelley J. Henry
The Project will present the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award to federal public defender Kelley Henry. The Guiding Hand of Counsel Award was first presented to Justice Stevens in 2011, and ever since it has been presented to a lawyer that exemplifies Justice Stevens’ courage and commitment to protecting the rights of the accused. Ms. Henry is a Supervising Assistant Federal Defender at the Capital Habeas Unit for the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Tennessee. For 25 years, she has been a leader in the field of capital defense, providing exceptional, client-centered representation to individuals on death row. She has also been at the forefront of a critical systemic challenge, representing 33 men on Tennessee’s death row as lead counsel in a challenge to the state's lethal injection protocol. In that litigation, her team developed proof that the use of midazolam as an execution drug causes extraordinary suffering, and this evidence has been critical in lethal injection litigation throughout the country that seeks to block states from using torturous execution protocols in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Leadership Award Winner: Ronald J. Tabak
This year, the Project will also present a special Leadership Award to Ron Tabak, special counsel at Skadden. Mr. Tabak has served as a committee member and advisor to the Project since its inception thirty years ago and was instrumental in the Project’s creation as an ABA entity. In the years that have followed, he has remained committed to the Project’s work, helping guide policy positions, recruitment efforts, and assisting with the development of the ABA Guidelines for capital defense—all in addition to his remarkable work directly assisting death sentenced prisoners. He has also mentored and trained scores of other pro bono attorneys and capital defenders. Through his lifelong efforts, Mr. Tabak has dramatically elevated the quality of representation provided to capital defendants and has touched countless lives.
The Project is deeply grateful to all of the award winners for their dedication to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable individuals in the criminal justice system. Their efforts, along with the efforts of all our volunteer lawyers and defender partners, are critical to ensuring fairness and due process in capital cases. We hope that you will join us on September 19 to celebrate their remarkable contributions.
Tickets are on sale now! Visit the event page to learn more.