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On September 22, 2010, the Death Penalty Representation Project held its 24th Anniversary and Volunteer Recognition Event in Houston, Texas to honor the outstanding pro bono contributions of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Reed Smith LLP. Attendees heard from Ray Krone, the 100th person exonerated from Death Row in the United States, and from this year’s award winning law firms. Attorneys, advocates, and law students from the Houston area and across the country joined us for the awards ceremony and reception.
Each year pro bono firms are nominated by their colleagues for exceptional service to prisoners on Death Row. This year, the Project gratefully recognizes the work of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and Reed Smith LLP.
Drinker Biddle & Reath
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP has a long and dedicated commitment to death penalty representation in many different contexts. The firm’s contribution includes representation of death-sentenced prisoners in Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, and Alabama, and a commitment to systemic litigation to reform fundamental problems in the death penalty system. In 1997, the Philadelphia office won Alabama Death Row prisoner William “Bo” Cochran a new trial in which he was ultimately acquitted of the murder charge and set free. Bo was a special guest at the Houston awards celebration with the Drinker Biddle team.
The firm 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 which was cited in the majority opinion granting relief to the defendant. This was the sixth amicus brief filed by Drinker Biddle in the United States Supreme Court in the last 10 years.
Drinker Biddle has also focused much of its work on issues relating to the professional responsibility of lawyers who represent clients in capital cases, and conflicts of interest by those prosecuting capital cases. The scope and breadth of its work, touching so many aspects of a system in need of reform, demonstrates why the firm is deserving of one of this year’s Exceptional Service Awards.
Since Reed Smith began working on death penalty cases twenty years ago, the firm has won relief for four of its death-sentenced clients. Its commitment to death penalty representation has only strengthened over the years. More than thirty five lawyers from Reed Smith’s offices currently represent seven capital defendants in state and federal post-conviction proceedings in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. These cases require litigating some of the most difficult and procedurally complex issues in death penalty jurisprudence.
Notably, the firm accepted several urgent cases in which little time remained before the statute of limitations would run and the clients would default on their appeals. The firm devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to preserving their clients’ rights to state and federal judicial review.
Reed Smith is also developing innovative and aggressive litigation strategies to address the unique practice of “judicial override” in Alabama. The juries in their Alabama clients’ cases voted against the death penalty and in favor of life in prison without parole. But Alabama permits trial judges to overrule the jury recommendation and impose death sentences. Reed Smith’s long-standing commitment and invigorated approaches to problems like these made it a clear choice for one of this year’s Exceptional Service Awards.