Global law firm White & Case LLP has been recognized by the American Bar Association (ABA) with its 2019 Exceptional Service Award for the Firm's pro bono commitment to death penalty representation.
White & Case has been involved in six death penalty cases in the past six years, as habeas counsel, post-conviction counsel and amicus counsel. In this time, nearly 200 lawyers and staff across 14 offices have devoted almost 15,000 pro bono hours to these matters. The Firm's efforts on these six cases has resulted in, or significantly contributed to, three inmates—in Texas, South Carolina and Tennessee—being freed from death row. The Firm currently is seeking to exonerate two other death row defendants in Mississippi and Texas. Two of the six cases came as referrals from the ABA's Death Penalty Representation Project.
"Our Pro Bono practice highlights our commitment to justice around the globe, and our work on death penalty matters is some of the most important work that we do," said Jacquelyn MacLennan, White & Case partner and Global Pro Bono Practice Leader. "The death penalty is almost always imposed unevenly, and defendants frequently don't have the counsel they need. The ABA's award for our efforts is an important recognition that what our people do is crucial to pursuing equal justice for all."
In one ABA referral, White & Case received a case in May 2015 and faced a September 2, 2015 execution date for a death row defendant in Texas. The Firm worked against and around the clock to successfully persuade the State of Texas and the trial court overseeing the case to halt the execution pending DNA testing of certain evidence that had been in the state's possession for more than a decade. The White & Case team also proceeded in parallel with further investigation of the crime and a petition for clemency. Currently, the Firm is reviewing the results of the DNA testing and other evidence with experts and is monitoring the methodology and reliability of technology that the state has been using, to ensure that every avenue for challenging execution remains preserved.
In another case, the White & Case team acted as amicus counsel for a country whose dual-national is facing the death penalty in South Carolina. Our lawyers challenged the death sentence on the grounds that the defendant suffers from Partial Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (PFAS), a mental impairment tied to prenatal alcohol exposure. Since 2012, the Firm has been handling a post-conviction amicus briefing at all levels of the state process, reaching the South Carolina Supreme Court. There, the Court dismissed the petition as improvidently granted and the United States Supreme Court subsequently denied certiorari, leaving the death penalty in force. White & Case then turned to federal habeas action and took the innovative approach of filing an amicus brief in support of the defendant's habeas petition. The legal team's work focused on the client's PFAS and argued at the intersection of the sixth (right to counsel) and eighth (cruel and unusual punishment) amendments that the client's cognitive deficits were similar to those suffered by the intellectually disabled, and thus he was ineligible for the death penalty. The magistrate judge, the District Judge and a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit agreed with our arguments and vacated the client's death sentence. In an unusual move, the Circuit Court added the amicus curiae to the case caption, as its arguments had held sway. White & Case will continue to remain involved in the case as long as necessary.
The Exceptional Service Award will be presented to White & Case on September 19 at the Decatur House in Washington, DC during the ABA's Volunteer Recognition & Awards Dinner.
About the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Representation Project
The Death Penalty Representation Project is the American Bar Association's expert on issues related to the defense effort in death penalty cases. Since 1986 its singular focus has been to improve the quality and availability of legal representation for persons facing possible death sentences. As one of its primary goals, the Project seeks to expand the pool of lawyers willing to serve as pro bono counsel for death row inmates in post-conviction proceedings by recruiting volunteer attorneys to handle capital cases. The Project also focuses its efforts on domestic and international training and technical assistance to capital defenders, judges, and volunteer lawyers; systemic reform of capital counsel systems through litigation and other means; and education of the public and bar about the urgent need for reform of the death penalty system.
About White & Case
White & Case is a leading global law firm with lawyers in 44 offices across 30 countries. Among the first US-based law firms to establish a truly global presence, we provide counsel and representation in virtually every area of law that affects cross-border business. Our clients value both the breadth of our global network and the depth of our US, English and local law capabilities in each of our regions and rely on us for their complex cross-border transactions, as well as their representation in arbitration and litigation proceedings. To learn more about the Firm, our work on behalf of clients and our Global Pro Bono Practice, look at our Global Citizenship pages at www.whitecase.com.
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