Baker Donelson Pro Bono: A Year in Review

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1 Baker Donelson Pro Bono: A Year in Review 2013

2 Justice is truth in action. Benjamin Disraeli A Letter from Lisa Borden, Pro Bono Shareholder Commitment to pro bono and community service has deep roots at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. Baker Donelson s attorneys strive every day to proudly carry on the legacy of Firm founders such as: Sen. Howard H. Baker, whose career in public service as a senator, presidential advisor and ambassador carried over to continuing pro bono service to organizations like the Nature Conservancy. The late Abe Berkowitz, an early civil rights advocate whose outspoken opposition to segregation in Birmingham in the 1950s and 60s was a direct contributor to the governmental changes that unseated racist Public Safety Commissioner Bull Connor. These lawyers set shining examples that continue to be embraced and exemplified by attorneys across Baker Donelson. I m grateful to be able to share with you just a few of the many ways in which Baker Donelson lawyers are putting truth in action, and helping bring a measure of justice to those in need. Lisa Borden Baker Donelson Pro Bono Shareholder Visit our blog or our website

3 By the Numbers nearly16,000 In 2013, baker donelson contributed hours of legal services to pro bono clients. over the last five years, we have devoted more than 67,000 5 hours to pro bono work. the value of those hours exceeds $20 million. Calculated at an average rate of $300. 3

4 Freedom has never been free. Medgar Evers Medgar & Myrlie Evers Institute Medgar Evers was the first field secretary for the NAACP in Mississippi. His assassination on June 12, 1963, galvanized the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi and was a turning point in the national Civil Rights movement. Mrs. Myrlie Evers, his widow, spent 30 years working to convict her husband s killer, and she served as national chair and president of the NAACP, gave the invocation at President Obama s second inaugural, and is a nationally recognized Civil Rights hero in her own name. Baker Donelson is proud to represent Mrs. Evers and the Medgar & Myrlie Evers Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization promoting racial reconciliation and justice. Over the past few years, a team of Baker Donelson attorneys led by Alan Moore of Jackson has assisted the Evers Institute in reorganizing and moving back home to Mississippi, creating and holding programs to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Medgar Evers assassination, and preserving the legacies of Medgar and Myrlie Evers by protecting intellectual property rights, handling the donation of important historical documents, and helping to plan for the permanent facilities that will house the Institute in Jackson. We continue to partner with Mrs. Evers and the Evers Institute in carrying out their mission to spread the message of equality and racial justice. Myrlie Evers-Williams and Alan Moore 4

5 Law without justice is a wound without a cure William Scott Downey HELPing the Homeless The fight against homelessness has become a common pro bono thread across Baker Donelson s offices. Beginning in 2006, we partnered with the Homeless Experience Legal Protection program (HELP), founded by Judge Jay Zainey (E.D. La.), to start regularly scheduled homeless shelter legal clinics in Birmingham, Memphis and Nashville. These clinics are part of a nationwide network that offers vital assistance for homeless people who are facing a wide range of legal obstacles that can prevent them from becoming housed, finding jobs or obtaining desperately needed public benefits. The clinics provide legal services inside the shelters, ensuring that individuals have access to the help they need. In addition to volunteering at the clinics ourselves, we coordinate volunteer lawyers from other law firms to ensure staffing of the clinics year round. Our attorneys also volunteer at the original HELP clinics in New Orleans and in Jackson, Mississippi, and we are currently working to expand the HELP shelter clinic program to at least ten additional cities. Through our work, an HIV-positive client suffering from an advanced case of AIDS won an expedited appeal of the denial of his social security disability benefit application, and was able to stop living in his car and obtain proper treatment. A woman who was in recovery from years of addiction had hundreds of dollars in fines for petty violations erased, and pending charges and warrants dismissed, allowing her to start her new job. A client who had been jailed for weeks over traffic fines was released, found work and regained custody of her children. Attorneys in our Birmingham and New Orleans offices have been instrumental in the creation of homeless court programs in those cities. These courts bring together the efforts of attorneys, court personnel, homeless service providers and the homeless themselves to fashion productive resolutions to cases that might otherwise hold the individuals back indefinitely. Through these specialized courts, individuals experiencing homelessness are offered the chance to dispose of charges many of which stem from the criminalization of homelessness without the threat of jail time or the burden of fines they cannot pay. 5

6 Without equal access to the law, the system not only robs the poor of their only protection, but it places in the hands of their oppressors the most powerful and ruthless weapon ever created. Reginald Heber Smith, Justice and the Poor, 1919 Advocating for Seniors Imagine facing the threat of eviction from your home for failing to comply with an order entered in a case in which you were not a party and never had an opportunity to be heard. Attorneys in Baker Donelson s Orlando office are working tirelessly to prevent the wrongful eviction of more than 80 senior citizens in Naples, Florida, on these very grounds. Our clients live in the Naples Estates Mobile Home Park, where they own their mobile homes and rent their lots from the park owner. They are mostly retired and living on fixed incomes, and include many veterans and people with disabilities. In 2007, the park owner raised the residents rent by an unreasonable 46% in retaliation for a suit by the homeowners association to enforce a right of first refusal to purchase the park. Most residents were unable to pay the exorbitant increased rent. The park owner filed a declaratory action asking the court to find that the rent increase was reasonable, but named only the homeowners association as class representative for the residents. A class was never certified, and the individual residents were never provided with an opportunity to be heard in the rents case. In 2013, the court entered an order in the rents case, requiring all residents, even though they were not parties to the lawsuit and were not part of the proposed class, to deposit in the Court Registry the entire amount of the rent increase from 2007 through The Order also provided that if a resident didn t pay, the resident waived all defenses to an eviction action. Some residents didn t pay because they simply could not afford to do so, and the park owner began filing eviction actions in late Eviction summons were served on the residents during the 2013 holiday season. Most of the residents also could not afford to hire an attorney, and faced imminent eviction. Baker Donelson stepped in to provide pro bono representation to prevent residents from being turned out of their homes during the holidays. We argued that evicting the residents based upon an order in the rents case, a case in which they were never parties and were not given an opportunity to be heard, would wrongfully deprive them of their due process rights. Baker Donelson attorneys won a major victory for our clients on February 13, when the court denied the park owner s Motion to Strike the residents affirmative defense in the eviction cases. We will now be able to assert our clients defenses to retaliatory efforts to force them from their homes. 6

7 Extreme justice is often injustice. Jean Racine Municipal Courts/Debtors Prisons What do you imagine happens when a poor person receives a traffic ticket but can t afford to pay the fine? In cities and towns across the Southeast, indigent defendants in traffic and misdemeanor cases are not just saddled with fines they cannot possibly pay. They are sucked into an abyss: probation, administered by a private company charging a monthly fee of $35 or more, on top of the fines they already could not pay, often leading to charges of probation violation and, incredibly, jail time. Just ask our client Richard Garrett, whose speeding ticket wound up costing him almost a year in jail, and a debt that the City of Harpersville, Alabama, claimed totaled nearly $10,000. In our class action lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Garrett and many other poor people who had been similarly treated, the trial court labeled Harpersville s practices a judicial extortion racket and a modern day debtor s prison. Harpersville quickly closed down its court. Shockingly, the practice of charging poor people probation fees, and even jail fees, and locking them away over offenses that were never supposed to involved jail time, is not limited to Harpersville, or even to Alabama. It is widespread, and adds another twisted layer to the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States. Baker Donelson attorneys are actively investigating and opposing the improper imposition of fines, probation fees and jail time on the poor across our footprint. 7

8 Thou shalt not ration justice. Learned Hand Helping Nonprofits Put Their Resources to Work in the Community Nonprofit organizations are often the lifelines of charity and justice in our communities. Many of the nonprofit organizations that champion vital causes do so with shoestring budgets, making it difficult to meet the many legal needs that arise. To help eliminate such gaps, we established the Baker Donelson Nonprofit Institute. BDNI offers nonprofit board training and a legal compliance review to help organizations identify and address important legal issues. BDNI has provided these services to dozens of organizations across the Southeast, from social entrepreneurs to literacy organizations, disability rights advocates and providers of legal services for the indigent. BDNI services can be provided one-on-one, and are also sometimes offered in a group training session, such as a June 2013 event in Knoxville, Tennessee, that was attended by more than 50 representatives of area nonprofit organizations. Beyond BDNI, our attorneys provide vital advice and counsel to nonprofit organizations in a wide variety of contexts. During the past year, we advised homeless service organizations on guidelines for sheltering homeless youth, represented a domestic violence protection organization in a grant funding crisis, helped a disability rights organization acquire property for a new facility, and defended a community arts organization in employment litigation, just to name a few. Our attorneys are committed to helping nonprofit organizations meet their legal needs so they can devote their valuable resources to helping those in need. Death Penalty Advocacy Attorneys across Baker Donelson s offices have joined the fight for justice in the capital punishment arena. Several of our offices are representing inmates in post-conviction litigation challenging the constitutionality of their convictions and sentences, and we have won new trials and sentences for several of our previous death row clients. In Alabama, Roy Williams won relief from his death sentence, and James Harrison was granted a new trial. In Tennessee, Christopher Davis also won relief from his sentence at the trial court level, and our attorneys continued to successfully represent him in appeals by the state. In addition to post-conviction litigation cases, we are seeking clemency for a Tennessee inmate, and challenging the legality of Texas lethal injection procedures. We frequently represent amici in supporting inmates in capital litigation at the United States Supreme Court. Our brief for a group of former Alabama appellate court justice and bar presidents in the case of Cory Maples v. Alabama was instrumental in regaining Mr. Maples right to appeal his conviction and sentence after Alabama courts found he had defaulted on those rights following the abandonment of his case by post-conviction counsel. Our Summer Pro Bono Fellows also had the opportunity to get involved in addressing capital punishment by assisting The Advocates for Human Rights in researching and preparing a memorandum on the death penalty as torture that was presented at an international human rights conference. 8

9 Wherever a man turns, he can find someone who needs him. Albert Schweitzer Baker Donelson Atlanta Legal Aid Cancer Collaborative Atlanta Legal Aid s Cancer Legal Collaborative helps low-income individuals who are suffering from cancer and other terminal illnesses to address legal problems that can often further complicate their health woes. Cancer Legal Initiative volunteer attorneys provide free legal assistance to enable these clients to focus on treatment and wellness rather than distracting legal problems. Since January 2012, our Atlanta office attorneys and staff have partnered with the Cancer Legal Initiative to perform weekly screening of individuals who have contacted the Initiative s hotline with issues ranging from landlord-tenant, consumer debt and denial of benefits to divorce/child custody, employment discrimination and estate planning. Staff members conduct the initial telephone interview to obtain background information to determine income eligibility. Volunteer attorneys conduct a follow-up interview to drill down on the details of the legal problem and assist the Initiative in obtaining volunteer counsel for the client. Our Atlanta attorneys often answer that call as well. To date, we have assisted individuals with estate planning, creditordebtor issues, and landlord-tenant issues, among others. The Cancer Legal Initiative project has been as big a benefit to our Atlanta office as it has to the clients we ve served. The devoted volunteers, both attorneys and staff, have been overwhelmed by the sense of teamwork and fulfillment they have experienced in helping clients grappling with both legal matters and serious illness. 9

10 Pro Bono Award Winners Firm-wide Award: Alan Moore Jackson Last year s Firmwide Pro Bono Award was given to Alan Moore (Shareholder, Jackson) for his work with Mrs. Myrlie Evers, a civil rights activist and widow of Medgar Evers, and the Medgar & Myrlie Evers Institute. Alan brought together a team of Baker Donelson attorneys across several offices to perform a wide variety of pro bono legal services for Mrs. Evers and her organization. Under Alan s direction, a non-profit organization originally formed in Oregon was relocated to Mississippi, renamed and reorganized, and made ready for the beginning of a year of commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of many historic events in the civil rights movement. Atlanta: Kevin Stine Kevin Stine took home the Atlanta Pro Bono Award last year for his work with the Atlanta Legal Aid Cancer Legal Initiative Project. Kevin s desire to bring a cohesive pro bono project to the Atlanta office led him to discussions with Atlanta Legal Aid about this great program in which the organization focuses on the sometimes unique legal needs of low income individuals suffering from life threatening illnesses, including cancer, Lou Gehrig s Disease, and HIV/AIDS. Through Kevin s sustained efforts, both attorneys and staff received training from Atlanta Legal Aid and then began to volunteer every week to work with prospective clients. Birmingham: Chervis Isom Chervis Isom was the winner of Birmingham s Pro Bono Award last year for both a civil rights-related matter and for an innovative urban renewal effort that has the potential to grow well beyond Baker Donelson s Birmingham office. Chervis organized a nonprofit, Four Spirits, and brought in like-minded people to bring to fruition a permanent memorial to the four little girls who died in the September th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. Chervis provided the legal work for the bidding process for a sculpture, wrote a contract with the winning sculptor and handled negotiations with the City of Birmingham for placement of the memorial in the park adjacent to the Church. Chervis is also invested in the plight of a north Birmingham neighborhood called Norwood. Once a thriving spot, Norwood is now in the heart of a low-income area dotted with abandoned and blighted houses. Through his work with neighborhood activists and Birmingham s mayor, and through his expansive knowledge and research in the area of real estate law, Chervis has formed a unique coalition that will soon bring a test case to rid the Norwood community of blighted buildings. 10

11 Pro Bono Award Winners (cont.) Chattanooga: Sara McManus Sara McManus routinely works with the residents and non-residents at Orange Grove Center and their families on various matters. She helps establish conservatorships, sets up special needs trusts, and provides other estate planning for parents of the special needs children who cannot afford to hire an attorney. In addition, Sara is assisted a woman in an innocent spouse case with the Internal Revenue Service. This pro bono client was the victim of domestic violence, and in addition to inflicting that kind of harm, her ex-husband also got them into trouble with the IRS. Houston: Bobbie Stratton Last year, Bobbie Stratton was a moving force in getting the Houston office involved in KIND - Kids In Need of Defense - an organization that provides pro bono representation to unaccompanied children in the immigration court system. She was the first in the Houston office to accept a case from KIND. Bobbie also ventured into the death penalty arena last year, joining a team of attorneys to challenge the State of Texas efforts to avoid releasing critical documents and information about the State s lethal injection protocol and practices. Bobbie spearheaded the work of the Houston team, which also included Brad Chambers, Lee Wilson and Jessica Hinkie. Jackson: Zachary Busey Zachary Busey wasted no time getting involved with pro bono work through the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Program. Over the course of the year, Zachary handled several cases through MVLP, including one that involved multi-state jurisdictional issues and two marriages with no intervening divorce. As a result, Zachary has something many newer associates wish they had - some serious court time! 11

12 Pro Bono Award Winners (cont.) Johnson City: Jim Janaitis Veering well away from his day-to-day practice, Jim has made it his mission to become the go-to guy for adoptions with Legal Aid of East Tennessee. In his first few forays into the world of adoptions, Jim worked with more senior attorneys to learn the ropes, then ventured out on his own to handle several more. Among several cases he has handled was the adoption by a couple of their young grandson. This adoption had some particularly interesting issues relating to providing notice and getting the consent of the homeless father, but once that was resolved the adoption proceeded smoothly. The couple had been trying to complete the adoption for years, and had even been assigned another pro bono attorney who let the matter sit for a year, so they were very grateful when everything was finalized. Now, Jim says he tries to keep at least one adoption file open at all the times. Knoxville: Kaci McRee Kaci McRee has been helping a local group of professionals incorporate and apply for tax exempt status as a 501(c)(3). It is comprised of professionals (engineers, surveyors, contractors, etc.) who find other organizations to partner with to provide services. The first project they undertook was to send a group to the Ulpan Valley in Guatemala to help a local organization install underground water pipelines to deliver clean drinking water to the community. They also teach the local residents how to maintain the waterlines, so they can be self-reliant after the volunteers have left. They want to put special focus on helping out around Knoxville and surrounding areas, and one of their next projects is partnering with the Appalachia Service Project, which has picked a home to helped rehabilitate. Kaci met with the initial group who came up with the idea and walked them through the process of becoming a corporation and how to become a 501(c)(3). Since the initial meeting, they have incorporated, formed a board of directors, elected officers, and adopted bylaws. They have held several fundraising events where Kaci helped them with small legal issues that have arisen regarding their pending application to the IRS. 12

13 Pro Bono Award Winners (cont.) Mandeville: Matt Emmons As a first-year associate, Mandeville s Matt Emmons proved himself a true pro bono believer. Matt did not let the pressures of his first year as a lawyer keep him from pitching in to do good! He dove right in, providing pro bono representation to a client who was victimized by the fraud and shoddy work of a contractor who was supposed to perform substantial repairs on her damaged home. Memphis: Kavita Shelat Kavita s special mission is to help immigrant women gain asylum in the United States, and so far she has successfully tried the cases of two women from South America. One of her clients fled gang violence and religious persecution in her native El Salvador as a teenager. After speaking out against the gangs at school and seeking to lead other students to follow Christian values instead, the client was terrorized and her family threatened. Since arriving in the U.S. seven years ago, she has supported herself by cleaning houses, learned to speak English and pursued her education by taking night classes to become a nursing aide. There is nothing more satisfying than helping somebody who is working so hard to improve her own life, says Kavita. Nashville: Jim DeLanis In 2013, Jim continued his longtime devotion to the Nashville Humane Association - his position on the board of the organization has evolved over the years so that Jim serves as de facto general counsel to the Association. In that role, he gets many Baker Donelson attorneys involved to handle most of the Association s needs, from corporate and transactional work to litigation. Jim also took on an additional role last year, serving as chair of the capital campaign for Legal Aid of Middle Tennessee and Upper Cumberlands. With Jim s guidance, Legal Aid had record-breaking success. Jim reminds the community that we all benefit when people who lack counsel get the legal help they desperately need. And they do need representation, says Jim, because our justice system does not work if people who really need lawyers do not have them. 13

14 Pro Bono Award Winners (cont.) New Orleans: Jan Hayden Jan Hayden has devoted hundreds of hours to helping pro bono clients, including individuals referred by the Pro Bono Project of New Orleans, and vital nonprofit organizations like Second Harvest Food Bank, a leading hunger and poverty fighting organization in southern Louisiana. Jan currently serves as chair of the Pro Bono Project, and she also serves on the grant committee of the Louisiana State Bar Foundation, the largest state funder of legal aid. She is well recognized in the community for her dedication to pro bono service, receiving the 2009 LSBA Pro Bono Publico award and being recognized by New Orleans CityBusiness in its 2010 Leadership in Law class. Washington, D.C.: John Calender John finished out his service as office managing shareholder in D.C. in style, managing to combine his practice in antitrust, government investigations and commercial litigation and management of a busy law office with his longtime support of the Community for Creative Non-Violence. CCNV is the largest homeless shelter in the nation, and houses, clothes, feeds and protects thousands of people each year, offering education, job training, medical help, rehabilitation, and myriad other services to help the homeless get off the streets. John s pro bono representation of CCNV has covered the waterfront, from day-to-day operational advice to litigation. His trusted advice and service are part of what makes the shelter a haven for so many people in need. 14

15 Our Office Locations Washington, D.C. MD KY VA Nashville Huntsville TN Tri-Cities Knoxville NC Memphis AR Jackson Chattanooga Atlanta Birmingham SC TX Houston LA Baton Rouge AL MS Montgomery Mandeville New Orleans Macon GA Tallahassee FL Orlando OFFICE LOCATIONS Fort Lauderdale Birmingham, Alabama 1400 Wells Fargo Tower th Street North Birmingham, AL Fax Montgomery, Alabama 614 South Hull Street Montgomery, AL Fax Washington, D.C. 901 K Street, N.W. Suite 900 Washington, D.C Fax Fort Lauderdale, Florida 100 S.E. Third Avenue Suite 2626 Fort Lauderdale, FL Fax Orlando, Florida 200 South Orange Avenue Suite 2900 Orlando, FL Fax Tallahassee, Florida 101 N. Monroe Street Suite 925 Tallahassee, FL Atlanta, Georgia Monarch Plaza 3414 Peachtree Road, N.E. Suite 1600 Atlanta, GA Fax Macon, Georgia Gateway Plaza 300 Mulberry Street Suite 201 Macon, GA Fax Baton Rouge, Louisiana Chase North Tower 450 Laurel Street 20th Floor Baton Rouge, LA Fax Mandeville, Louisiana 3 Sanctuary Boulevard Suite 201 Mandeville, LA Fax New Orleans, Louisiana 201 St. Charles Avenue Suite 3600 New Orleans, LA Fax Jackson, Mississippi Meadowbrook Office Park 4268 I-55 North Jackson, MS Fax Chattanooga, Tennessee 1800 Republic Centre 633 Chestnut Street Chattanooga, TN Fax Huntsville, Tennessee One Courthouse Square Huntsville, TN Fax Knoxville, Tennessee 265 Brookview Centre Way Suite 600 Knoxville, TN Fax Memphis, Tennessee First Tennessee Building 165 Madison Avenue Suite 2000 Memphis, TN Fax East Memphis 6060 Poplar Avenue Suite 440 Memphis, TN Fax Nashville, Tennessee Baker Donelson Center Suite Commerce Street Nashville, TN Fax Tri-Cities, Tennessee/Virginia 100 Med Tech Parkway Suite 200 Johnson City, TN Fax Houston, Texas 1301 McKinney Street Suite 3700 Houston, TX Fax Alabama Florida Georgia Louisiana Mississippi Tennessee Texas Washington, D.C. The Rules of Professional Conduct of the various states where our offices are located require the following language: THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT. Ben Adams is Chairman and CEO of Baker Donelson and is located in our Memphis office, 165 Madison Avenue, Suite 2000, Memphis, TN Phone No representation is made that the quality of the legal services to be performed is greater than the quality of legal services performed by other lawyers. FREE BACKGROUND INFORMATION AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC ProBonoReport_2014

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