The American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project held its 2021 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Program Sept. 23, honoring the pro bono efforts for exceptional service to death row prisoners.
During the virtual event, the 2021 Exceptional Service Award went to the law firms of Greenberg Traurig and Munger, Tolles & Olson.
Greenberg Traurig has spent decades answering the call for pro bono death penalty defense. The firm’s dedication can be seen in its response to numerous last-minute requests for assistance in cases with an active execution warrant, as well as in its response to the crisis that unfolded in the federal death penalty system just as COVID-19 began to spread around the country.
Munger, Tolles & Olson has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to pro bono work through its skillful litigation of complex systemic issues affecting death row prisoners, including longstanding efforts to challenge lethal injection protocols that are developed improperly or could cause unconstitutional levels of pain and suffering. The firm also has shown an exceptional willingness to assist even those accused of the most heinous crimes, recognizing that in such cases the need for vigorous and excellent representation is at its highest.
The Death Penalty Representation Project also recognizes the extraordinary efforts of individual lawyers with the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award. This year’s honoree is Cornell Law School professor Sandra Babcock, who has dedicated her entire career to defending the rights of individuals sentenced to death. Babcock also has trained countless lawyers in the United States and Africa, consulted with scores of defense teams, and drafted resource materials and manuals that are now required reading for capital counsel.
ABA President Reginald Turner gave opening remarks at the ceremony and highlighted the importance of death penalty representation. “People facing the death penalty often test our commitment to justice and fairness more acutely than most clients,” Turner said. He added that the awardees “inspire our profession and bring us closer to a more just world.”