Legal Aid Society Hosts 2017 Pro Bono Publico Awards
Seated, left to right: David Hille, Partner, White & Case LLP and Legal Aid Society Board Member; New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore; Louis O’Neill, Pro Bono Director & Counsel, White & Case LLP; and Patrick Rickerfor, Global Pro Bono Manager, White & Case LLP. Standing from The Legal Aid Society, left to right: Seymour W. James, Jr., Attorney-in-Chief; Richard J. Davis, Chair, Board of Directors; Blaine (Fin) V. Fogg, President; Louis S. Sartori, Director, Pro Bono Practice.

The Legal Aid Society held its 2017 Pro Bono Publico Awards program last night at The Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan honoring over 40 private law firms that assisted the Society with major law reform cases, individual client representations and other initiatives over the past year providing assistance to vulnerable New Yorkers. New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore presented the awards.

White & Case LLP received the 2017 Honorable Jonathan Lippman New York Pro Bono Publico and Public Service Law Firm Award for their work on homeless rights, housing and defending the Sixth Amendment’s protection of the right to counsel:

Ensuring Reasonable Accommodations for Homeless People with Disabilities

In 2014, White & Case became actively involved in bringing Butler et al. vs. City of New York, a federal class action case challenging disability-based discrimination in the City’s homeless shelter system. There are over 60,000 people sleeping the City’s shelter system each night, and a high proportion of them have difficulties as a result of a disability. For some, it’s a simple thing such as needing an air conditioned room to fend off asthma attacks or mitigate respiratory illnesses; or having a place to plug in an oxygen tank. For others it involves people who can’t walk being left stranded on upper floors of buildings with no working elevators. The City's emergency shelter systems do not currently comply with numerous New York State statutes and federal civil rights laws governing accommodations of individuals with disabilities.

Partner Paul Carberry, along with Associates Evelyn Fanneron, Jade Harry, Pauline Muto and Erin Smith, worked alongside the Society’s Homeless Rights Unit and in August of 2017 were able to secure a settlement with the City on behalf of a class of individuals who have a disability and who currently live in shelter, who will seek shelter in the future, or who tried to access shelter on or after May 14, 2012. The settlement will result in the City changing its policies, practices, and facilities to make them more accessible to people with disabilities who need reasonable accommodations. It will also require Department of Homeless Services to train its staff on the rights of people with disabilities, as well as making it easier for disabled individuals to request reasonable accommodations in shelter. This settlement is groundbreaking and will not only improve living in shelter for the over 42% of residents who are disabled, but also for their friends and families who will see improvements in services and access as a result.

Preserving Attorney-Client Confidentiality in Arraignments

In September 2015, the new Staten Island Courthouse opened replacing existing civil and criminal courthouses that were long ago outpaced by the demands of today’s legal community. One of many long awaited needs were private interview booths for counsel to speak with detained clients awaiting arraignment in criminal court. With the opening of the new courthouse, The Legal Aid Society discovered that the City of New York installed and was ready to operate video cameras within the private attorney-client interview booths. White & Case worked with the Criminal Defense Practice to quickly assess and evaluate the best options to successfully end this Sixth Amendment violation of the right to counsel. As co-counsel with the Society, White & Case renewed Legal Aid’s prior federal case before the Eastern District, Grubbs v. Safir, to obtain a temporary order ceasing recordings. Then, when NYC Law Department unilaterally decided to increase the use of the video cameras, White & Case returned to Court obtaining a full cease order.

In January 2017, the Department of Corrections (DOC) moved to end the full cease order triggering discovery demands. DOC quickly withdrew their application and White & Case discovered why: the DOC had violated the full cease order on several occasions by turning the video cameras on. Legal Aid and White & Case returned to court, this time to file a contempt motion against the City and the DOC. White & Case argued the contempt motion and the City’s motion to vacate the cease order before the Court and we await the Court’s decision.

In addition to the above, The Legal Aid Society also issued the following awards:

Public Interest Law Leadership Award
Joseph S. Genova, Esq. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP

Immigration Hotline
Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton / Davis Polk & Wardwell / Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison / Proskauer Rose / Shearman & Sterling / Simpson Thacher & Bartlett /
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom

Corporate Volunteer Assistance
American International Group / EisnerAmper / KPMG US

Outstanding Advocacy in Defense of the Accused
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton / Davis Polk & Wardwell / DLA Piper /
Kirkland & Ellis Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe / Winston & Strawn

Dozens of other laws firms and hundreds of individuals were also honored for their invaluable contributions helping the Society serve low-income New Yorkers. (See attached program)

“Our success serving the vulnerable in New York City on issues involving housing, immigration, access to benefits and other critical legal services areas is greatly enhanced through our pro bono partnerships,” said Seymour W. James Jr. Attorney-In-Chief of The Legal Aid Society. “This award ceremony recognizes all the firms, attorneys and staff that had a hand in some of our major victories over the past year bringing much needed seismic change to broken systems. Congratulations, and thank you to everyone for their in invaluable contributions making our city a more fair and just place.”

“In New York, we are making demonstrable progress in closing the justice gap, with 37 percent of civil legal needs of low-income New Yorkers now being met − up from 20 percent in 2010. This significant reduction would not have been possible without the volunteer efforts of the countless lawyers, law firms and corporations who have stepped up to the plate to increase free legal representation for low-income New Yorkers. I extend my gratitude to this year’s Pro Bono Publico Awards recipients for their outstanding service, and to the Legal Aid Society for its vital role in helping bridge the justice gap,” said New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.

“White & Case is so proud to partner with The Legal Aid Society on important cases that help ensure access to justice for low income and vulnerable New Yorkers,” said White & Case partner David Hille, a member of the Legal Aid Society Board of Directors. “We are honored to receive this award for our pro bono work and share it with our dedicated colleagues at the Society.”