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OPENING UP THE COURTHOUSE DOORS

Our lawyers help hundreds of individual clients each year gain access to justice
they could not otherwise afford.

In the face of difficult economic times, the needs are serious and growing. Women need legal assistance to protect themselves from domestic violence. The persecuted need sophisticated representation to obtain asylum. Children too often face deportation “hearings” without legal defense or family support. Veterans need help to claim the benefits due them.

We cannot cure faulty procedures and we cannot defend everyone, but we believe it is our responsibility to make an honorable contribution. We are active in the US, London and several other offices in the classic pro bono activity of defending people with limited means facing serious legal challenges. In all our offices, we look for ways to help address the challenges relevant to that society’s legal system.


The classic pro bono case: representing individuals of limited means

These cases illustrate the striking litany of harms that only the law can redress, if not repair.

Lawyers in our Washington, DC office negotiated a highly favorable settlement in a child custody case before the DC Superior Court for a mother who was tricked into relinquishing primary physical custody of her four-year-old daughter to the child’s absentee father for nearly two years.

New York associate Damien Nyer and partner Jack Pace won a victory in a child support case in Bronx Family Court after more than a year of proceedings and a full trial. The Court found the delinquent father of a 6-year-old child in willful default of his support obligations and ordered him incarcerated for four months, an exceedingly rare step. After hearing the testimony of a private investigator retained by White & Case, the Court dismissed his claim that he suffered from mental issues and could not work.

"When we help an inMotion client obtain an order of protection or child support, we’re not only opening up the courthouse doors to a family in need, we’re training our lawyers how to use the tools of the legal profession to solve a difficult problem." —Jack Pace, Partner, New York, relationship partner for inMotion, which serves women in need of family law representation.

A team of three lawyers in our Los Angeles office gained asylum and work authorization for a Tutsi survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, who endured a grenade attack, beatings and poisoning perpetrated by extremist Hutus from 1994 until he left Rwanda in 2009.

A veteran represented by Maury Mechanick, counsel in our Washington, DC office, won a favorable decision from the US Veterans Administration on his longstanding disability claim, including a substantial payment retroactive to 2002. Our client had a number of debilitating medical conditions that significantly affected his ability to work.

Lawyers in Miami mediated a settlement ten times the state’s prior “final offer” for an inmate in a civil rights case alleging excessive use of force by three correctional officers.

In a project spearheaded by associate Amanda Cowell, lawyers in our London office staff a legal advice clinic serving the homeless clients of Whitechapel Mission.

Lawyers in our Istanbul office staffed a legal clinic for women and participated in a legal relief action program for Van earthquake victims, both organized by Istanbul Bilgi University.

Lawyers in Bucharest, Germany, Los Angeles and New York are handling claims for reparations to Holocaust victims.

In our New York office, counsel Jim Stillwaggon has for many years overseen a docket of challenging immigration and asylum matters that often provide our associates with their first opportunity to argue in court. In one case this year, Jim and a team of four associates obtained asylum and work authorization for a gay man from Mauritania whose sexual identity had been made public without his consent. He had been subjected to verbal abuse, interrogation and torture at the hands of the government, as well as death threats from his father and elders in his tribe.


A landmark school funding decision

We also look for opportunities to address systemic problems wherever possible. A team of 13 White & Case lawyers and legal staff led by partner Greg Little and associate John Rue helped the Education Law Center (ELC) win a landmark case requiring New Jersey to provide US$500 million in additional funding to support quality education for children in low-income communities statewide. The New York Times has described the long-running litigation, Abbott v. Burke, as the most significant education case since Brown vs. Board of Education. ELC, a New Jersey-based education advocacy group, served as class counsel for the children attending school in 31 of New Jersey’s poorest urban districts.

Abbott v. Burke was originally filed by ELC in 1981, leading to the first Abbott decision in 1985 and many follow-up decisions since. In 2008, a new school-funding law, the School Funding Reform Act, ended the special funding for children in the poor districts ordered in previous Abbott decisions and applied a single funding formula to every school district in the state. In 2009, at the state’s request, the New Jersey Supreme Court found the School Funding Reform Act to be constitutional, as long as the state provided adequate funding as defined by the formula. But the state failed to allocate the necessary funding for the 2010 – 2011 school year, and ELC sought a ruling from the court ordering full funding. White & Case filed an amicus brief on behalf of Disability Rights New Jersey and other disability rights advocacy organizations in support of the plaintiffs. Immediately after oral arguments on this motion, the court remanded the case to a trial court judge to make factual findings about the impact of the cuts. White & Case assisted ELC’s lead counsel on the eight-day trial by preparing witnesses, taking and defending depositions, preparing court filings and examining witnesses.


Taking on criminal appeals

This year we sought to increase our criminal appeals work in the US, and our lawyers quickly saw success in the courtroom. New York partner Dave Hille led a team of eight associates and legal staff to a criminal appeals victory in a case referred by The Legal Aid Society. In October, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department vacated our client’s criminal conviction of attempted petit larceny and attempted criminal possession of stolen property for her alleged theft of cash from a New York convenience store.

At the trial, which was handled by Legal Aid lawyers, the only evidence linking our client to the alleged theft was an edited video surveillance tape of the store’s cash register area and speculative testimony from the store’s owner, who was not present at the time of the incident. The White & Case team argued on appeal that the conviction was based on legally insufficient proof and against the weight of the evidence, and that the storeowner’s subjective conclusions about the contents of the security footage should not have been allowed. The Appellate Division unanimously reversed our client’s conviction and vacated the judgment against her.

This year we also formed a relationship with the Innocence Project, which works to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and to reform the criminal justice system to prevent abuses. A team of five lawyers submitted an amicus brief on the reliability of cross-racial eyewitness identification in a case before the Washington State Supreme Court.


Innocence Network UK: White & Case is first law firm to join

White & Case is the first law firm to partner with the University of Bristol Innocence Project, which launched the Innocence Network UK six years ago to undertake casework, research and advocacy in the area of wrongful convictions. Prior to White & Case joining, the program had relied exclusively on pro bono assistance from faculty, staff and students at approximately 30 UK universities. Supported by partners John Reynolds and Robert Wheal, our team currently includes eight associates and six trainee solicitors. The team has decided to begin by assisting in the case of a man who has spent 30 years in prison after originally being sentenced with a recommendation from the Lord Chief Justice that he should serve “no more than 8 – 9 years.”

“I read an article about the Innocence Network UK, and it looked to me that it would fulfill the wish of our lawyers—litigators, in particular—to engage in pro bono projects that make the most of their legal and forensic skills, as well as contribute to a valuable cause. The enthusiasm with which this has been taken up by our lawyers has proved me right.” —John Reynolds, Partner, London


Advising crime victims in Stockholm

This year, our Stockholm office introduced an innovative new program that shows how law firms can support the effectiveness of criminal courts even in societies where legal aid is well funded by the government. Led by partner Rikard Wikström, our Stockholm office has launched a pro bono project called Advokater för Upprättelse or Lawyers for Redress, which was developed in consultation with the Support Center for Young Victims of Crime. The Support Center’s award-winning programs, in which law student volunteers counsel children who are crime victims, have spread throughout Sweden. Our project will focus on crime victims between 20 and 35 years of age. Our lawyers will work with crime victims to inform them about the Swedish legal system and provide other non-legal, procedural advice. To date, two partners and 18 associates have volunteered to work on the project.



HELPING HOSPITAL WORKERS REFER PATIENTS IN NEED


White & Case partnered with Community Pediatrics at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and Volunteers of Legal Service to create SocialNeedsRx, www.socialneedsrx.org, a comprehensive referral database of legal, social and medical services in New York City. The website, hosted by Pro Bono Net, contains more than 230 listings of city, state and federal government programs, as well as community-based organizations providing these services. White & Case had published this information annually since 2007 in booklet form. The website also provides advice on how to be an effective advocate, and contains sample letters and other tools families can use to request services. White & Case will continue to update the website. The project has been managed by associate Irina Yevmenenko for almost six years, with more than 20 associates working on it during that time. It arose through our partnership with Volunteers of Legal Service and Community Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, where we have run a legal clinic for pediatric patients for many years.

“With its annual caseload of more than 300,000 matters, The Legal Aid Society takes on more cases for more clients than any other legal services organization in the United States.”
Steven Banks,
Attorney-in-Chief,
The Legal Aid Society

PICTURED LEFT
Detail of a courthouse door in Hamburg, Germany.