Recent Pro Bono Matters

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Recent Pro Bono Matters

A sample of recent pro bono matters shows the broad reach of service provided by Kirkland lawyers. Read more about Kirkland's pro bono work in our 2015 Pro Bono Achievements Publication and 2014 Corporate Social Responsibility Publication.

CIVIL RIGHTS

Landmark Civil Rights Ruling

On October 7, 2013, following a six-week bench trial, Kirkland & Ellis LLP achieved a landmark victory in a pro bono civil rights case on behalf of The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education in its lawsuit against the state of Maryland for the state's failure to completely dismantle its formerly segregated system of higher education. In a historic, 60-page decision, Federal District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that Maryland has violated the constitutional rights of students at Maryland's four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by unnecessarily duplicating their programs at nearby white institutions, a practice that began during the era of de jure segregation.

The plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2006 and tried in 2012, are students and alumni from the four HBCUs: Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Kirkland tried the case with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights as co-counsel.

The district court found that the lack of unique, high-demand programs has a segregative effect at HBCUs and prevents the HBCUs from attracting students of all races. In addition, rather than work to build up the unique, high-demand programs that exist at HBCUs, the state of Maryland established competing programs at nearby white institutions, which caused the program enrollment at the HBCUs to plummet.

The judge ordered the parties to mediation to develop an appropriate remedial plan that would include creating unique, high-demand programs at the HBCUs, and transferring programs from the Traditionally White Institutions (TWI) to the HBCUs, including the "wide use of resources to enhance the quality of current and newly developed programs" at the HBCUs. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the court will schedule a phase II remedies trial.

COMMUNITY and ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Grameen America

Kirkland provides extensive counsel on general corporate matters, as well as fund structuring and other advice relating to capital-raising and deployment to Grameen America. Grameen America is a microfinance nonprofit organization that provides loans, savings programs, credit establishment and other financial services to entrepreneurs living below the poverty line in the United States. Grameen America is an offshoot of the Grameen Bank, headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Since 2007, the organization has made more than 3,000 micro-loans to financially challenged entrepreneurs. In addition to providing legal advice on all aspects of Grameen America's capital-raising efforts, Kirkland attorneys also serve on the Advisory Board of Grameen America, as well as on its Capital and Financing Subcommittee.

CRIMINAL DEFENSE

DNA and the Innocence Protection Act

Kirkland, in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University, represented Steve Fasano, who was convicted of bank robbery in 2006. Certain physical evidence worn by the thief during the crime (parts of the robber's disguise discarded after the heist) was never tested for DNA prior to trial. After Mr. Fasano's conviction was upheld, Kirkland agreed to represent him and petitioned for DNA testing under the federal Innocence Protection Act (IPA) — which was enacted in 2004, but had at the time never been successfully invoked. The Southern District of Mississippi rejected Mr. Fasano's testing petition, reading the IPA narrowly. In July 2009, at Kirkland's urging, the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision and ordered DNA testing of each piece of the physical evidence. The opinion is a landmark decision. It is the first published opinion granting a request for DNA testing under the IPA, it reads the statute expansively, and it rejects the government's argument that the otherwise strong case against Mr. Fasano was a sufficient basis to deny post-conviction DNA testing.

EDUCATION

Parent Trigger law

California's "parent trigger" law allows parents to force reform at failing schools through a petition signed by 51 percent of all parents whose children attend that school. In November 2011, after years of failed attempts at reform within the system, the parent union sought to reform Desert Trails Elementary School, which had been consistently ranked as the lowest-performing elementary school in its school district and in the bottom 10 percent of all California elementary schools. Kirkland achieved an historic victory on July 20, 2012, when a California court became the first in the United States to verify a "parent trigger" petition.

California's parent trigger law has inspired at least six other states to adopt their own parent-led reform models. The movement has been closely followed by the media in California and nationally. The July 20, 2012 decision was covered widely, including The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Reuters as well as local Los Angeles-area television stations FOX and CBS. It has also inspired a big-budget movie, "Won't Back Down," starring Maggie Gyllenhall, which opened in fall 2012.

ENVIRONMENT

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA)

Kirkland attorneys in our San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago offices currently represent the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), assisting the group in defending thousands of rights of way across federal land from being claimed by the state of Utah, that may lead to development of roads across wilderness areas and thus jeopardize conservation efforts in the state.

SUWA is the only independent organization working full-time to preserve Utah's remaining desert wild lands from unnecessary road construction, rampant off-road vehicle use and other threats to Utah's wilderness-quality lands.

In approximately 30 related cases in federal district court in Utah, the state of Utah and numerous counties are suing the federal government to quiet title to 12,000 purported rights of way across federal land, claiming that they are all public highways. Concerned that the federal government would not adequately defend these cases and will not sufficiently protect conservation interests, SUWA asked Kirkland to intervene and defend against the state trying to take over these routes.

Kirkland is currently involved in two of the cases focused on two of the most important Utah counties for conservation purposes: Grand County (the location of Arches National Park) and Garfield County (in which the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is located).

EXPANDING INTERNATIONALLY

Equity for Africa

Kirkland's London office provides advice in relation to structuring and setting up a fund in conjunction with Equity for Africa (EFA). Founded in 2003, the organization aims to reduce poverty by financing sustainable employment-intensive business growth in northern Tanzania. EFA provides flexible financing at affordable rates, helping to build the pool of sustainable employment and strengthening the pipeline for further growth. EFA has been making "transition investments" of $2,000 to $75,000 in equipment to help very small businesses make the transition to the next stage. To continue fulfilling these objectives, EFA is setting up its first for-profit fund, in which Kirkland is involved.

HOUSING

Assisting Victims of Hurricane Katrina

In February 2009, Kirkland, working with co-counsel from the Mississippi Center for Justice (MCJ), brought suit against the city of Waveland, Mississippi, on behalf of eight individuals who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina. The eight had each received modular homes — known locally as "Mississippi Cottages" — from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), the state counterpart to FEMA. MEMA created a program through which residents could purchase their cottages at a small price and remain in them permanently. However, placement of the cottages first had to be approved by their local government. The city of Waveland refused to issue new building permits to cottage residents, claiming that the cottages did not qualify as modular housing. After suit was filed, the city gave up on that argument but passed an ordinance imposing other restrictions. The Kirkland/MCJ lawsuit challenged the city's actions as arbitrary, capricious and violative of Mississippi statutory law, as well as the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Mississippi and federal constitutions. Following hearings before a local judge, city officials agreed to settle the case in favor of the cottage residents.

IMMIGRATION

National Immigration Forum

The National Immigration Forum (NIF) and Kirkland worked together on a pro bono project to provide ongoing, real-time analysis of the numerous amendments to the Senate immigration reform bill (S. 744) debated on the Senate floor in June, 2013. NIF is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. For 30 years, the Forum has worked to advance federal immigration solutions through its policy expertise, communications outreach and coalition-building work, which forges alliances of diverse constituencies to build consensus on the role of immigrants in America. The Forum focuses on four priority concerns: immigration reform and workforce needs, integration and citizenship, borders and interior enforcement, and state and local immigration developments. Today, the Forum is among the country's premier nonprofit organizations advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.

In just two weeks, Kirkland attorneys provided NIF with close to 200 amendment summaries, typically turning summaries around within 24 hours. These summaries were instrumental in helping the Forum to provide vote recommendations to senators and to educate and inform a myriad of constituencies.

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS

Muslim Advocates

Kirkland partnered with San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates to help support its national Muslim Charities Accreditation Program, an initiative arranged in conjunction with the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. A 501(c)(3) established in 2005, Muslim Advocates urges improved transparency in the finances of nonprofit organizations and, to that end, hosts training seminars for nonprofits representing a variety of underserved communities. Their goal is to enhance the knowledge and ability of nonprofits to meet the demands of governance and regulatory compliance and to build and strengthen partnerships between the government and disaffected communities. Kirkland helped prepare resource guides for nonprofits concerned with these issues, including best practices for nonprofit governance and tips for tax-exempt status maintenance.

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