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Old 01-07-2003, 02:15 PM
softheart softheart is offline
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Default Ill Law Firm.

Jan. 7


Jenner & Block: death penalty pros ---The Chicago firm takes cases that
are notoriously hard to find volunteers for.

Of all the people in need of pro bono lawyers, perhaps no group is more
compelling than those on death row. But the high cost and years of
commitment required for death penalty cases make them the hardest to
place. Dozens of people on death row have no lawyers. In Alabama alone,
there are 40.

The law firm Jenner & Block of Chicago has taken a leadership role in
addressing the need for counsel in capital cases. It currently is
handling four cases and also has contributed its legal expertise in other

"Jenner & Block stands out among the firms doing good work," said Robin
Maher, director of the American Bar Association's death penalty project.
"Every time I've asked for their assistance, they've come through."

High court case

One of the firm's most prominent cases is on behalf of Kevin Wiggins, a
Maryland man who was convicted of drowning a woman in her bathtub in
September 1988. Jenner partner Donald Verrilli Jr. and associate Lara
Flint are arguing that Wiggins received ineffective assistance of
counsel. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case in March.

Verrilli has been on the case for a decade. He said, "It has been clear
to me since the day I started working on the case 10 years ago that
Wiggins did not receive the kind of vigorous defense that any client
whose life is on the line should receive."

Like many Jenner lawyers doing such work, Verilli has handled 2 other
capital cases as principal counsel. He said his experience as a clerk to
the U.S. Supreme Court handling last-minute stay requests led to his
commitment to the work. "There was so much unfairness that I felt
compelled to spend some of my career on [changing] that," he said.

Jenner attorneys are also working on 3 Illinois death row cases in which
they are seeking clemency from Governor George Ryan. Litigator Terri
Mascherin is handling 1 of those cases, on behalf of Willie Thompkins.
Mascherin has represented Thompkins, who was convicted of a double
homicide, since 1990. "I do it because I think it's part of every
attorney's obligation to give something back," said Mascherin. "I can't
imagine a group more in need."

Jenner & Block attorneys have also written a number of amicus briefs in
death penalty cases and have contributed to related cases.

Partner Thomas Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney for the city of Chicago,
co-chaired Ryan's Commission on Capital Punishment, which earlier this
year issued a report that was highly critical of the use of the death
penalty in Illinois.

The firm's attorneys have also handled a number of murder defense cases.
In May, an Illinois appellate court agreed to vacate, based on new
eyewitness testimony, the murder convictions of Henry Johnson and Juan
Johnson, after the brothers had spent the past 10 years in prison.

'Special commitment'

So why is the firm so focused on criminal defense, and particularly death
penalty cases? "There has to be a special commitment to the capital cases
because of the consequences," said Anton Valukas, a member of the firm's
policy committee.

He notes that Jenner has a long history of involvement in criminal
defense work. Its chairman, Jerold S. Solovy, was an attorney on
Witherspoon v. State of Illinois, 319 U.S. 510, a landmark case that
challenged prosecutors' practice of striking jurors who had scruples
against the death penalty. The 1968 ruling resulted in the resentencing
of hundreds of people on death row.

The firm's pro bono work is not limited to criminal defense. It is
working with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund to get U.S. Supreme
Court review of the constitutionality of same-sex sodomy laws. Lawrence
v. Texas, nos. 14-99-00109-CR and 14-99-00111-CR.

It has also filed an amicus brief on behalf of more than 30 corporations,
supporting the constitutionality of the University of Michigan Law
School's affirmative action admissions policy.

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