September 22, 2020

ABA Death Penalty Representation Project presents 2020 Volunteer Recognition Awards

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2020 – The American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project will celebrate the work of its volunteer attorneys and capital defender partners at its annual 2020 Volunteer Recognition & Awards program, Thursday, Sept. 24 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. ET.

This year’s event will be virtual and free to all. To register, click here.

This year’s John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award will be presented to Meaghan Vergow, a partner at the law firm O'Melveny & Myers, who has long been deeply committed to capital punishment work. Vergow’s efforts have broken new ground, including a case that culminated in a rare unanimous victory at the U.S. Supreme Court and that has helped ensure due process for countless other death row prisoners.

The Exceptional Service Award winners are the law firms of DLA Piper and Dorsey & Whitney. DLA Piper will be honored for its engagement in pro bono death penalty work for decades, representing death row prisoners in their individual cases in five states. The firm has also taken on a significant number of amicus briefs, clemency petitions, lethal injection matters and other research projects to support capital defenders. Dorsey & Whitney has taken pro bono capital cases for nearly 40 years. Beginning with Ernest Busby in 1985, whose sentence was reduced to life in prison, to Bruce Webster, who was found to be intellectually disabled by a federal district court in 2019, Dorsey lawyers and staff have fought tirelessly for the lives of their clients.

Speakers at the event will include ABA President Patricia Lee Refo, death row exoneree Sabrina Butler-Smith and actor Richard Schiff. Butler-Smith was a Mississippi teenager when she was convicted of killing her 9-month-old son, Walter, and sentenced to death. She was later exonerated of all wrongdoing after new counsel uncovered her son had had a rare chronic disease that caused his tragic death. She is one of only two women in the United States exonerated from death row. Schiff is an Emmy Award-winning actor and director who recently starred as defense attorney Marty Lumetta in “Clemency,” a film directed by Chinonye Chukwu that explores the emotional toll that the death penalty takes on all of those who are affected by it. Schiff won an Emmy for his role as presidential aide Toby Ziegler on the acclaimed drama “The West Wing.” The event will also include a special performance by slam poet Meaca Moore.

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