28 July, 2011 – Mayer Brown, a leading global law firm, announced the winners of its fifth annual Pro Bono Awards, which honor notable achievements of the firm’s lawyers, whose efforts continue to push the boundaries of pro bono service.
In 2010, Mayer Brown made outstanding pro bono contributions in matters related to criminal defense, social finance and civil rights. The firm also continued its efforts to support the work of numerous not-for-profit organizations and to build a culture of pro bono service in areas of the world in which it is less well-established.
“Mayer Brown regards pro bono as a critical component of the legal profession and an important factor in evaluating our true excellence as a firm,” said Mayer Brown Chairman Bert Krueger. “This year’s awards represent the varied, interesting and challenging projects the firm is undertaking as part of its longstanding commitment to helping those in need. We congratulate the winners and applaud their achievement.”
A complete list of the 2011 pro bono award recipients follows:
Office of the Year – New York
The New York office was honored for the tremendous strides it took in 2010, almost doubling the average pro bon hours per attorney from the prior year, and for the wide range of projects handled by the office. These projects included: representing the National Day-Laborer Organizing Network in a Freedom of Information Act litigation that directed national attention to the controversial Secure Communities Program; representing migrant farmworkers in a major human trafficking case; providing legal assistance to micro-entrepreneurs; representing individuals seeking asylum in the US; helping low-income individuals defend eviction matters and obtain social security disability benefits; and handling a death penalty case and a prisoner’s rights matter.
Practice Group of the Year – Litigation & Dispute Resolution, Los Angeles
Almost every lawyer in the Litigation & Dispute Resolution practice in the Los Angeles office participated in the firm’s pro bono program. The team provided pro bono assistance to a wide range of organizations, including: PILnet, a global network for public interest law; Americans United for Separation of Church and State; the Disability Rights Legal Center; MLA Partners Schools; and the HIV & AIDS Legal Services Alliance. Lawyers also assisted individuals facing eviction and sub-standard living conditions, and continued their efforts with the Alliance for Children’s Rights’ Adoption Project, through which, since 2001, lawyers in the Los Angeles office have helped facilitate the adoption of more than 200 children in foster care.
Pro Bono Lawyers of the Year – Thomas Durkin, Sarah Byrt, Charles Helleputte
Partners Thomas Durkin and Sarah Byrt and associates Mauricio España and Charles Helleputte each earned the distinction of Lawyer of the Year, awarded to attorneys who have shown a deep commitment to the firm’s pro bono program.
A Litigation & Dispute Resolution partner in the Chicago office, Mr. Durkin has devoted more than 2,100 hours to pro bono matters since he started with the firm in 1993. The majority of his pro bono work relates to indigent criminal defense, and he has been instrumental in initiating the firm’s Seventh Circuit Project. He has consistently participated in the Federal Defender Duty Day program of the federal district court, and has enlisted the participation of dozens of associates and summer associates in the program. Mr. Durkin served as Chair and then Co-Chair of the firm’s pro bono committee from 1996 through 2004.
Located in Mayer Brown’s London office, Intellectual Property partner Sarah Byrt is helping to make pro bono an integral part of the UK legal culture by encouraging lawyer participation in pro bono matters. She has provided legal assistance relating to copyright arrangements, trademark licenses and other IP-related matters for several not-for-profit organizations, such as the Fairtrade Foundation, People & Planet, Afghan Education Productions, Entrepreneurial Exchange and The Hive charity. Ms. Byrt also has been a member of the London office's Corporate Social Responsibility Committee since its 2007 inception.
New York Litigation & Dispute Resolution associate Mauricio España has consistently demonstrated a high degree of dedication to pro bono work. During his time at the firm, Mr. España has represented pro bono clients in asylum proceedings, immigration-detention proceedings, civil rights litigation, and the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund administrative proceedings. His devotion to pro bono is evidenced by his time commitment to two particular matters: he spent three years fighting to win asylum for two brothers who fled Colombia to avoid persecution by gangs and guerilla groups, and since 2008, he has litigated on behalf of a woman whose mentally disabled son was shot and killed by police officers. The litigation has led the New York police department to revise its protocols for dealing with individuals with mental disabilities. Mr. España has been a member of the firmwide and New York pro bono committees since 2008.
Brussels Tax Transactions associate Charles Helleputte has been a member of the firm's EU pro bono committee since 2009. He was our first non-US lawyer to become involved with the List Project to Resettle Iraqi Nationals, and helped secure asylum for an Iraqi who had been targeted by insurgents due to his work for the US government. Mr. Helleputte also develops pro bono and community service work, forging links with human rights organization Avocats Sans Frontières (Lawyers Without Borders). Other recent pro bono cases he has undertaken include assisting healthcare organization Marie Stopes International with its African expansion and helping Indian charity SKG Sangha set up a Belgian office.
Pro Bono Project of the Year – Social Finance Initiative
Mayer Brown’s work in social finance dates back to 2005, and is showing no signs of slowing down. In 2010, lawyers in New York, London, Hong Kong and Washington, DC, devoted 540 hours to social finance matters, helping to alleviate global poverty by providing services to clients in the microfinance and access to finance space. And last fall, Mayer Brown launched a Social Finance practice that includes attorneys from 11 offices around the globe. The engagements are generally sophisticated fund formations or capital markets projects and involve work across a number of jurisdictions, including Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, India, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
Pro Bono Matters of the Year
Claude Jones Death Penalty Matter – In 2010, Mayer Brown lawyers achieved a significant, first-of-its-kind victory for the Innocence Project, a litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted through, among other things, post-conviction DNA testing. Mayer Brown represented the Innocence Project and the Texas Observer magazine in an action to obtain a strand of hair used as the key piece of evidence in the conviction, and ultimate execution, of Claude Jones. DNA tests had not been performed on the hair during the trial or appeal. Arguing that the public had a right to know whether their public officials were properly performing their powers in death penalty cases, Mayer Brown successfully obtained the hair for testing, which was then shown not to belong to the executed defendant. Although the decision came too late to help Mr. Jones, the win is a significant victory for our pro bono client Innocence Project and its ongoing campaign to reform the rules governing the treatment of forensic evidence and help prevent wrongful convictions. The Claude Jones team devoted more than 1,300 hours to the matter.
Appleseed Unaccompanied Minors Project – Each year, more than 15,000 unaccompanied Mexican minors are apprehended by Customs and Border Protection as they cross the US-Mexico border: they are detained and then repatriated. In December 2008, the US Congress passed a law requiring appropriate screening prior to repatriation. Concerned that problems in the detention ad repatriation system were not being redressed, not-for-profit organizations Appleseed and Appleseed Mexico asked Mayer Brown to prepare a report about the effectiveness of the US law. The report issued in 2010 was the culmination of a two-year investigation in conjunction with three other law firms that involved conducting site visits in 14 locations in the US and Mexico, interviewing more than 130 minors and meeting US and Mexican officials, including the First Lady of Mexico. The report concluded that the law had failed to reduce the exposure of unaccompanied Mexican minors to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Lawyers in our Washington, DC, New York and Chicago offices were involved and the firm devoted more than 1,500 hours to the project.