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John Minor Wisdom Award Given to Two Extraordinarily Deserving Recipients

Nancy Friedman Atlas

John Minor Wisdom Award Given to Two Extraordinarily Deserving Recipients
ssucsy via Getty Images

At the ABA Section of Litigation’s Annual Conference, held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Section bestowed the 2021 John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award on two exceptionally deserving recipients: Gibbons P.C. and Neal S. Manne. 

The John Minor Wisdom Award was established by the Section of Litigation in 1990. John Minor Wisdom was a scholar and jurist of the highest integrity whose tenure on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is best known for its recognition of the constitutional rights of all citizens. Each year the Section honors Judge Wisdom through the selection of outstanding individuals and firms to receive an award that bears his name. Recipients of the Wisdom Awards have made outstanding contributions to the quality of justice in their communities, ensuring that the legal system is open and available to all. 

Firm Award: Gibbons P.C.

Gibbons P.C., a multistate, full-service law firm headquartered in New Jersey, supports two highly regarded, active pro bono programs: the “John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest and Constitutional Law” and the “Gibbons Cares” pro bono platform. In any given year, 50–75% of Gibbons lawyers donate their time (a total of between 7,500 and 17,000 hours), talent, and dedication to pro bono clients.

 The renowned Gibbons Fellowship tackles a range of important national and statewide issues and provides the resources and continuity of personnel to pursue projects to conclusion, fully funding the employment of two Gibbons Fellows. Throughout its history, the Gibbons Fellowship has litigated some of the most significant legal issues of our time—from the death penalty to same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, the firm’s traditional pro bono program focuses on a few key areas of need in the firm’s local communities. Through the traditional Gibbons Cares pro bono platform, Gibbons seeks out and accepts volunteer federal and state court appointments while placing particular focus on where people in the communities are underrepresented, including expungement and reentry, domestic violence, asylum, trafficking, veterans’ issues, tenants’ rights, and special education. In doing so, Gibbons works with nonprofit organizations and corporate partners to widen their outreach.

In 2020, Gibbons launched the firm’s newest pro bono effort, a partnership with the “Small Businesses Need Us” initiative of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership (IFEL), to assist women and minority small-business owners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the initiative, volunteer teams comprising various specialties required for day-to-day business operations, including legal services, are matched with participating small businesses based on those organizations’ specific needs.

Individual Award: Neal S. Manne

Neal S. Manne, an outstanding trial lawyer in Houston, is a longtime managing partner of Susman Godfrey LLP, a multistate litigation boutique firm known for its handling of high-stakes cases. Despite Manne’s extremely active practice and the demands of managing his law firm, he devotes a substantial amount of time to pro bono cases. He has successfully challenged the constitutionality of Harris County’s misdemeanor cash bail system, won compensation for an exonerated death row inmate in the Texas Supreme Court, helped secure lifetime disbarment of another death row exoneree’s unethical prosecutor, helped Houston’s Alley Theater recover insurance proceeds after it flooded during Hurricane Harvey, and helped defeat an attempt by the State of Texas to bar resettlement of Syrian refugees. Earlier in his career he won a large judgment for Planned Parenthood after a seven-week jury trial against extremist organizations who had attempted to illegally block access to women’s health clinics.

Manne is just as active outside the courtroom, having served on the boards of directors of more than 20 nonprofit organizations. He was the founding board chair of Houston’s Center for AIDS and for many years chaired the board of the Texas Defender Service, a legal services organization that defends Texas prisoners charged with or convicted of capital murder. In addition, Manne and his wife Nancy (also a lawyer) created and fund the Manne Family Fellowships, which enable certain public interest organizations to hire recent law school graduates to assist with impact litigation.

Manne has received many accolades for his pro bono work and community service, including from the American College of Trial Lawyers, the University of Texas School of Law, the Anti-Defamation League, the Houston Bar Foundation, and the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Nominations for 2022

Nominations for the 2022 John Minor Wisdom Award will be accepted from late 2021 through February 2022. Please watch for details on the award webpage.