PURSUING JUSTICE. IMPACTING LIVES.
PURSUING JUSTICE.
IMPACTING LIVES.

COVID-19 Work

“The pro bono representation provided by Sidley’s volunteers is invaluable to veterans who lack the resources to successfully apply for disability benefits on their own.”

— Rochelle Bobroff, Director of Pro Bono Program, NVLSP


“Thanks to Sidley’s critical support, we were able to join with other advocates … thereby defending the fundamental human rights of those seeking safety and protection in the United States.”

— Sabrineh Ardalan, Clinical Professor, Harvard Law School

“The Sidley team was invaluable to us throughout 2020 as we navigated and executed major milestones.“

— Caitlin Dolkart, Director of Capsule Global (the parent company of Flare)


“Thanks to Sidley’s critical support, we were able to join with other advocates … thereby defending the fundamental human rights of those seeking safety and protection in the United States.”

— Sabrineh Ardalan, Clinical Professor, Harvard Law School
“Our relationship [with Sidley] has been one of the mainstays of the charity’s success.”

— General Sir Nick Parker (KCB, CBE), Chair of RE:ACT Disaster Response

“... a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”

— From the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on behalf of the plaintiffs, a class of Detroit schoolchildren represented by Sidley

“The Equal Justice Initiative continues to be energized by the level of diligence, compassion, and skill that Sidley’s lawyers demonstrate in their death penalty cases.”

Randy Susskind, Deputy Director, Equal Justice Initiative


“I’ll forever be thankful for ... the team of experienced and caring professionals who championed my cause and earned my release.”

– Lebert Gordon, Sidley client, pictured here with Sidley Project Assistant S.J. Smith

“We are grateful beyond words for Sidley’s generosity and guidance.”

— Mary Colman St. John, Chief Financial & Administrative Officer, Aperture Foundation

Project Overview

2020 STAT: 16 OPEN CASES
2020 STAT: 16,000+ hours dedicated to helping immigrants
2020 STATS: 8,000+ hours | 135 matters
2020 STATS: 180+ clients | 55+ countries | 50,000+ hours

The global pandemic forced our society to adapt to a new normal amid a rapidly evolving situation. Our pro bono lawyers around the world collaborated to guide clients through complex and often unprecedented challenges related to COVID-19. Our work included handling compassionate release cases, advising small businesses, and helping clients manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE).

“The Equal Justice Initiative continues to be energized by the level of diligence, compassion, and skill that Sidley’s lawyers demonstrate in their death penalty cases. When other law firms are reluctant to take even one capital case, we point to Sidley’s Capital Litigation Project as the example of how it can be done successfully with many clients. Sidley’s commitment to fighting for fairness and due process on behalf of people who are on death row in Alabama has created optimism for everyone concerned about justice in Alabama.”

— Randy Susskind, Deputy Director, Equal Justice Initiative

“Sidley has partnered with NVLSP since 1986 and has consistently demonstrated excellence and a deep commitment to pro bono representation on behalf of our nation’s veterans. While many firms accept only a few pro bono referrals from Lawyers Serving Warriors® per year, Sidley has been eager to help dozens of veterans each year. The pro bono representation provided by Sidley’s volunteers is invaluable to veterans who lack the resources to successfully apply for disability benefits on their own. Furthermore, since many of the veterans applying for disability benefits suffer from debilitating mental health conditions or other cognitive impairments, the assistance of volunteer lawyers from Sidley is vital to enable disabled veterans to succeed with their claims.”

— Rochelle Bobroff, Director of Pro Bono Program, Lawyers Serving Warriors®, a project of the National Veterans Legal Services Program

In the opinion, the Sixth Circuit cited decisions by the Supreme Court underscoring “the critical importance of education.” The Sixth Circuit recognized that public education is “foundational to our system of self-governance,” and “a great equalizer, giving all children a chance to meet or outperform society’s expectations, even when faced with substantial disparities in wealth and with past and ongoing racial inequality.” For these reasons, the Court held, “a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”

— From the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on behalf of the plaintiffs, a class of Detroit schoolchildren represented by Sidley

Photo above: Flare. Photos below clockwise from top: Flare; Costa Rica Insect Company (CRIC); InspiraFarms; Victory Farms; InspiraFarms; Flare.

Photo above: Flare. Photos below from top to bottom: Flare; Costa Rica Insect Company (CRIC); InspiraFarms; Flare; InspiraFarms; Victory Farms.

Photo above: Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA) - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - 2day Eye 2 Eye (5) This Is My Heart, photographed by Adi Talwar. Photos below clockwise from top: Kilowatt Dance Theater; BCA - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - Cloud Head (In The Tomb 3D), photographed by Adi Talwar; BCA - Estelle Maisonett, The Bronx Is Not for Sale, photographed by Adi Talwar; Aperture Foundation - Roe Ethridge, Apple and Black Glove, 2020; Kilowatt Dance Theater; BCA - Longwood Youth Program May 2018.

Photo above: Bronx Council on the Arts (BCA) - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - 2day Eye 2 Eye (5) This Is My Heart, photographed by Adi Talwar. Photos below from top to bottom: Kilowatt Dance Theater; BCA - Sorinn Lillico, Dragged Through The Fire - Cloud Head (In The Tomb 3D), photographed by Adi Talwar; BCA - Estelle Maisonett, The Bronx Is Not for Sale, photographed by Adi Talwar; BCA - Longwood Youth Program May 2018; Kilowatt Dance Theater; Aperture Foundation - Roe Ethridge, Apple and Black Glove, 2020

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Overview

Europe Overview

2020 STATS: 4,100+ hours across Brussels, Geneva, and Munich
Our pro bono efforts in Europe have global reach and local impact. We help individuals and families who face significant barriers in obtaining access to justice. Our lawyers work with a range of organizations, from startup social enterprises to some of the largest charities in the world, focusing on enhancing community impact and strengthening the fundamental rule of law.

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Climate Action Network Europe

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s largest coalition on climate and energy issues. CAN Europe had concerns about reports of increased air pollution, largely attributed to emissions associated with coal-fired thermal power plants, in certain countries that are Contracting Parties of the Energy Community Treaty. Sidley advised CAN Europe on the Energy Community Treaty obligations requiring Contracting Parties to implement key EU legislation on industrial emissions and the available legal tools to enforce compliance with the relevant treaty obligations.

Gymnastics Ethics Foundation

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) and its president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former President of Switzerland, recently appointed Dorothee Schramm, partner in our Geneva office, as one of 12 members of the GEF Disciplinary Commission for the 2021–2024 term. In panels of three, the Disciplinary Commission holds hearings and decides on sanctions against coaches and judges for abuse of gymnasts and other violations of ethical rules on a global level. This prestigious pro bono appointment gives Doro the chance to uphold ethics and address abuse allegations in a sport where such allegations regularly make front-page news, including Sidley’s representation of middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

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Overview

UK Overview

2020 STATS: 8,300+ UK pro bono hours
Our pro bono program in London has expanded rapidly in recent years and focuses on access to justice, the rule of law, and assisting charities and social enterprises. We strive to find projects that have the biggest impact on our communities and match the interests and skills of our lawyers.

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DISABILITY REPRESENTATION

Children with Disabilities

During 2020, our lawyers obtained an additional 208 hours of care per week for families with disabled children through our involvement in LawWorks and Together for Short Lives’ Voices for Families project.

Working with Together for Short Lives, a UK-registered charity, Sidley helped obtain a successful outcome for a single mother with a disabled 18-month-old child. As a result of this assistance, the woman was provided with nursing care and nursing support seven nights a week, enabling her son to be discharged from the hospital and to return home to her and attend nursery school.

DISABILITY REPRESENTATION

Disability Benefits

During 2020, our lawyers recorded a 100% success rate in our representation of multiple clients in the Social Security Tribunal. At a time when poverty is increasing, people with a disability face many additional costs and higher unemployment rates. Personal Independence Payments can be a lifeline to the people that we assist through this project. The Sidley team comprises lawyers from across nearly all practice area teams in our London office.

Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) UK

KIND UK is a collaboration between four UK-based nonprofit organizations that specialize in children’s immigration and asylum law. KIND UK partners with Kids in Need of Defense in the United States, the leading national organization advocating for the rights of unaccompanied migrant and refugee children in the country. In 2020, Sidley London launched a partnership with KIND UK to provide advice and support to children and their families with uncertain or undocumented immigration status. Working closely with the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit, our lawyers help children to apply for British citizenship and be granted their full legal rights.

"We are delighted to have partnered with KIND UK in the provision of pro bono advice to children in their applications for British citizenship. There are many thousands of undocumented children living in the UK, many of whom know no other country as their home. We have a number of active cases already and we are starting to make a difference to the future of the children and their families."

— Sidley Partner Jade Williams-Adedeji


Bloomberg Partnership

A London team acted alongside co-counsel from Bloomberg’s Legal and Compliance Department to support the Fair Education Alliance (FEA), which is a coalition of over 200 organizations aiming to tackle inequality in the education system. The FEA required advice on preparing grant award documentation for its “Scaling Award” and inaugural “Intrapreneurship Award.”

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Overview

Asia Pacific Overview

2020 STATS: 1,800+ hours across our Asia Pacific offices
Sidley is deeply committed to aiding local Hong Kong charitable organizations and businesses in achieving their goals. In 2020, the Law Society of Hong Kong honored Effie Vasilopoulos with the “Gold Award” at its 2020 Pro Bono and Community Work Recognition Program. The annual awards recognize legal practitioners in Hong Kong who have made exceptional contributions to the community.

Effie received the award for leading Sidley’s team in connection with a number of pro bono projects, including the firm’s work in developing a new domestic private fund regime benefiting the private equity, venture capital, real estate, infrastructure, credit, and hedge fund segments of the market, which was enacted in August 2020 following a multi-year commission.

Sidley also helped establish and continues to advise Hong Kong-registered charity Help for Children (Asia) Limited. Help For Children is a global foundation that is strongly supported by the hedge, private equity, and wider alternative investment management sector. The foundation provides grants to the most effective child abuse prevention and treatment organizations in six countries, with the goal of making the world a safer place for children.

We are also active in the cancer impact investment field, partnering with clients and industry contacts to establish investment funds that raise and deploy capital for companies and projects that are developing innovative research and treatment options for cancer prevention and cures, particularly in relation to pediatric cancers.

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Overview

Civil Rights Overview

Our pro bono practice has had a longstanding commitment — both firmwide and in our local communities — to promoting civil and human rights and social justice. We are dedicated to devoting our time and resources to these matters, using our legal skills to ensure a just and fair society and accelerate the societal change necessary to reach that goal.

Section 1983 work
Sidley’s Section 1983 practice — suits for violations of citizens’ civil rights — has been a fixture of our pro bono practice for many years in trial courts in New York, California, and Illinois; in the appellate courts; and at the United States Supreme Court. The firm represents numerous clients seeking redress for violations of their constitutional rights, including victims of police misconduct and violence, individuals whose rights have been violated while detained in jails, and prisoners deprived of medical care, held in inhumane conditions, or subjected to prison violence. The firm litigated more than 20 active Section 1983 matters in 2020, amounting to approximately 11,300 pro bono hours on behalf of our clients.

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Successful Resolution of COVID-19 Religious Liberty Dispute

In May 2020, Sidley secured a major policy change from Minnesota officials to allow houses of worship to reopen on the same terms as businesses as the state relaxed its COVID-19 shutdown orders. Working together with co-counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Sidley team represented Minnesota Catholic and Lutheran leaders whose churches could not hold services with more than 10 people, even though businesses including restaurants, bars, and shopping malls were permitted to reopen. The policy change allowed Minnesotans to attend public worship services as long as they observed the same physical-distance and hygiene requirements that applied in other public places. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order reflecting the terms of the settlement.

The victory came just three days after Sidley and Becket wrote a letter to Governor Walz on behalf of the churches, urging him to reconsider the state’s unconstitutional restrictions on religious gatherings, which were far harsher than the restrictions imposed on commercial activity. “This unequal and unfair treatment violates the Churches’ cherished constitutional freedoms,” the letter said, “and, more importantly, hobbles unconscionably their pastoral mission.” A Wall Street Journal editorial about the letter observed that “[i]t’s hard to see how under any reading of the First Amendment the Mall of America can be allowed to reopen while churches must keep their doors closed to all but a handful.”

Disability Rights Victory

After three years of intense litigation, Sidley obtained a major victory in the field of disability rights when a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio granted final approval to a settlement agreement between the State of Ohio and firm client Disability Rights Ohio. The class action was brought on behalf of thousands of disabled persons in Ohio who continue to live and work in segregated institutions, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and contrary to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Olmstead decision. The agreement obligates the state to offer more vigorous “options counseling” for individuals currently housed in, or heading toward, medium and large residential institutions; funding for community housing and employment placements; and $24 million in capital housing assistance over the next two years. The agreement also establishes criteria by which future funding and placement levels are to be determined.

Clemency Petition Milestone

In June 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he was granting clemency to 61-year-old inmate Freddie Harris pursuant to a petition submitted by Sidley in October 2018. The matter was primarily handled by Yasir Latifi, now a Sidley alumnus, who said of his representation of Mr. Harris: “From our first conversations, it was clear that Mr. Harris had turned his life around during his incarceration, including mentoring others. It was an honor to assist with his clemency application.” This development was a huge milestone for the firm’s pro bono program in New York, as this is the first decision on any of the firm’s clemency applications in the state and one of the first for a nationwide state-focused clemency initiative, the NACDL/FAMM State Clemency Project. The project has submitted approximately 120 petitions from New York lawyers, nearly all of which remain under consideration.

Groundbreaking Forensic Evidence Case

A team of Sidley lawyers helped secure a groundbreaking ruling from a New Jersey appellate court protecting the rights of criminal defendants to understand and challenge the state’s evidence against them. In a case of “first impression” in New Jersey, the Appellate Division in State v. Pickett held that an expert witness presenting evidence produced by TrueAllele, a black-box probabilistic genotyping program, must disclose the source code and other proprietary materials to the defendant for scrutiny.

Sidley represented computer science professors Jeanna Matthews and Mats Heimdahl as amici curiae in the case, and filed a brief explaining that TrueAllele — like any other complex software program — almost certainly contains undiscovered flaws that can only be identified by a thorough review of its source code. The court’s opinion relied heavily on Sidley’s brief and oral argument. As the court noted, Drs. Matthews and Heimdahl argued that the “reliability of the TrueAllele software cannot be evaluated without full access to ‘executable source code and related documentation,’ something that no one to date has seen. They contend that doing so is not only prudent, but essential to determining whether TrueAllele operates as Cybergenetics claims, which is fundamental to any fair, legitimate, and impartial assessment of reliability.” Agreeing with this reasoning, the court concluded that, without access to the source code, a defendant “is relegated to blindly accepting” the developer’s claims regarding TrueAllele’s reliability. “Hiding the source code is not the answer,” the court continued. “Intellectual property law ... was never meant to justify concealing relevant information from parties to a criminal prosecution.”

Success on Behalf of D.C. Family

A Sidley team in D.C. obtained a successful settlement in a landlord-tenant case that was referred to the firm by the Legal Aid Society of D.C. and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center. The client was facing eviction for withholding rent after her landlord failed to repair a significant water leak in the ceiling of her apartment. Under the settlement, the landlord agreed to hire a contractor to remediate the water and mold damage, waive several months of rent, repair other housing code violations, and place the client’s family in a hotel until the repairs were completed. The client and her family will be able to remain in their home.

Wildlife Justice Commission

Climate Action Network Europe

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s largest coalition on climate and energy issues. CAN Europe had concerns about reports of increased air pollution, largely attributed to emissions associated with coal-fired thermal power plants, in certain countries that are Contracting Parties of the Energy Community Treaty. Sidley advised CAN Europe on the Energy Community Treaty obligations requiring Contracting Parties to implement key EU legislation on industrial emissions and the available legal tools to enforce compliance with the relevant treaty obligations.

Gymnastics Ethics Foundation

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) and its president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former President of Switzerland, recently appointed Dorothee Schramm, partner in our Geneva office, as one of 12 members of the GEF Disciplinary Commission for the 2021–2024 term. In panels of three, the Disciplinary Commission holds hearings and decides on sanctions against coaches and judges for abuse of gymnasts and other violations of ethical rules on a global level. This prestigious pro bono appointment gives Doro the chance to uphold ethics and address abuse allegations in a sport where such allegations regularly make front-page news, including Sidley’s representation of middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

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Overview

Racial Justice Overview

Racial justice issues captured headlines throughout the summer of 2020. Sidley assisted with the defense of protestors and is participating in joint programs with other firms to explore ways in which legal action might address racial injustice and other diversity issues. Sidley has a long history of pro bono success and of partnering with various civil rights and other organizations focused on combating racial injustice. We reiterate our commitment to continue to use the power of our collective voices and resources to deepen and extend the work we are already doing to combat racial injustice and to advance the fundamental principles of equality, inclusion, and justice.

Visit the links below to learn more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion:
Sidley’s Message of Solidarity
Sidley Stands Against Anti-Asian Violence
Sidley Joins ACLU Campaign Against Discriminatory Policing Practices

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#WhileWeBreathe: A Night of Creative Protest

The Greater Los Angeles office provided pro bono legal representation to develop #WhileWeBreathe: A Night of Creative Protest, a one-night-only event to benefit civil rights organizations. This event evolved as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists and allies were looking for ways to get involved at a time when the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery brought greater attention to social justice issues.

Ensuring Just Policing Practices and School Admissions Policies

Sidley represents the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts as part of the Living While Black on Campus – Massachusetts Colleges/Universities Initiative. Through this initiative, ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts created the Racially Just Policing Model Policy, which focuses on providing best practices to be used, in the first instance, by higher education institutions in Massachusetts and their campus police departments. The policy will be used as a model for all colleges and universities nationally in the quest to ensure just policing practices are implemented and to reduce incidents of racial profiling on college campuses. Sidley’s Boston and New York offices contributed to the model policy.

“Sidley had the distinct honor of assisting ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts with its Living While Black on Campus – Massachusetts Colleges and Universities Initiative,” said Sidley counsel Doreen Rachal. “ACLU has created an impactful mechanism — the Racially Just Policing Model Policy — that, when implemented by higher education institutions nationally, will inevitably change the landscape and help to address the unjust experiences of staff, students, and guests of color who have been targets of racial profiling on campuses from coast to coast. The Model Policy provides a phenomenal and thoughtful framework that will certainly provide meaningful opportunities to address racial profiling and will hopefully help to eradicate a primary area of concern that has had an extraordinary daily impact on people of color throughout the United States.”

“The Model Policy provides a phenomenal and thoughtful framework that will certainly provide meaningful opportunities to address racial profiling and will hopefully help to eradicate a primary area of concern that has had an extraordinary daily impact on people of color throughout the United States.”

— Sidley Counsel Doreen Rachal

Sidley also represents the NAACP Boston Branch along with several other community organizations and individuals in a matter seeking to uphold an interim admissions plan for Boston’s highly selective public high schools. The interim plan allows for students across the City of Boston to compete for an opportunity to attend one of these schools and promotes geographic, neighborhood, and racial diversity. The plaintiff in this matter alleged that the interim plan is unconstitutional because the defendants considered race as a factor when developing the plan. The District Court judge in Massachusetts recently issued a decision upholding the interim plan as constitutional and finding that the policy is rationally related to a compelling government interest — diversity. The matter is currently before the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

“We proudly represent the defendant intervenors in this matter,” Rachal said. “The recent decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals and the District of Massachusetts relating to the Boston Public School District’s interim admissions plan has provided students across the City of Boston opportunities to compete for spots at the highly selective schools. These are historic decisions that support the use of race as a factor when governmental bodies develop policies without triggering strict scrutiny review. These decisions will have a positive impact on education equity in Boston and throughout the United States for years to come and will have a life changing impact on students throughout the City of Boston.”

Law Firm Antiracism Alliance

Sidley is a founding member of the Law Firm Antiracism Alliance (LFAA), a partnership between several private law firms established in June 2020 to identify and dismantle structural racism through large-scale pro bono projects that seek to change laws and policies that perpetuate racial injustice. Sidley lawyers and staff are actively involved in moving LFAA’s mission and efforts forward. To date, more than 20 Sidley lawyers have signed up for at least one of LFAA’s 16 working groups. For Sidley, our allyship with LFAA and support of its work is an extension of our longstanding commitment and work to address racial and social justice issues.

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Overview

Supreme Court Overview

Sidley’s Supreme Court pro bono program has been representing clients for many years. Our pro bono presence in the Supreme Court is well reflected in our body of work. Committed to pro bono at the highest level, we have taken on many civil and criminal cases that have resulted in precedent-setting decisions and made a lasting impact on our clients.

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Northwestern Supreme Court Clinic

Sidley’s partnership with Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law gives students the opportunity to work on cases pending before the Supreme Court. Third-year law students are supervised by Sidley lawyers in researching and drafting briefs in cases at the petition stage and on the merits. The students also monitor lower court decisions to identify potential candidates for petitions for writs of certiorari. Sidley partners Carter Phillips and Jeffrey Green serve as the Northwestern Supreme Court Clinic’s directors, along with Northwestern faculty member Sarah O. Schrup.

In 2020, the Clinic filed 9 petitions for a writ of certiorari, 9 reply briefs, 2 briefs in opposition, and 3 briefs as amicus curiae. Students also contributed to briefing on the merits, including 3 briefs for petitioner, 3 reply briefs, and 1 brief for respondent.

A Landmark Decision on Behalf of Detroit Schoolchildren

Sidley obtained a landmark victory on behalf of a class of Detroit schoolchildren who have been denied their fundamental right of access to literacy. In an historic decision, the Sixth Circuit held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution confers a fundamental right of access to literacy, and held that the Detroit schoolchildren stated a claim that they were deprived of this right. This groundbreaking decision is the first time a court has held that there is a fundamental federal right of access to literacy, and has been described as “the most momentous circuit court decision in the field of education in decades.”

The class action, originally filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, was brought against Michigan’s then-Governor Rick Snyder and state education officials. That court dismissed the complaint, on the ground that the schoolchildren failed to state a claim because there is no fundamental right to a defined minimum level of education by which they can attain literacy. On April 23, 2020, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ due process claim, and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Sidley partner Carter Phillips, who argued the appeal, said, “The court in Cincinnati took a bold step today in recognizing a fundamental constitutional right of access to literacy and in doing so has given hope to the school children in Detroit who were so neglected for so long.”

The Sidley team worked together with co-counsel Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project, and Professor Evan Caminker of the University of Michigan Law School, who said, "This is an extraordinary legal ruling. The court recognized that both historically and today, access to a basic minimum education supporting literacy is an extraordinary prerequisite for full participation in our constitutional democracy."

“The court in Cincinnati took a bold step today in recognizing a fundamental constitutional right of access to literacy and in doing so has given hope to the school children in Detroit who were so neglected for so long.”

— Sidley Partner Carter Phillips

In the opinion, the Sixth Circuit cited decisions by the Supreme Court underscoring “the critical importance of education.” The Sixth Circuit recognized that public education is “foundational to our system of self-governance,” and “a great equalizer, giving all children a chance to meet or outperform society’s expectations, even when faced with substantial disparities in wealth and with past and ongoing racial inequality.” For these reasons, the Court held, “a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”

“Today’s decision will help ensure that future schoolchildren are not burdened with the stigma of illiteracy, but instead benefit from — in the court’s words — the ‘great equalizer’ of a basic education," said Sidley partner Tacy Flint. "I’m honored to represent the plaintiffs in this case, who have fought for and deserve the chance to learn, and to work alongside all the lawyers on this outstanding team.”

In recognition for the outstanding quality of Sidley’s work and the service that the firm has given to their clients, Public Counsel previously awarded Sidley its 2019 Public Counsel Pro Bono Award.

Voting Rights Brief

On July 6, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of so-called “faithless elector” laws, which penalize or remove presidential electors who fail to vote for the candidate they have pledged to support. Sidley filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of the Campaign Legal Center and Issue One in support of the states in the two cases before the Court: Chiafalo v. State of Washington and Colorado Department of State v. Baca.

Supreme Court Brief on Behalf of Prisoners Convicted by Non-Unanimous Juries

Sidley filed an opening merits brief in the Supreme Court in defense of the rights of prisoners in Louisiana and Oregon who were convicted by non-unanimous juries under state laws the Supreme Court invalidated earlier in 2020. In April, the Supreme Court recognized that non-unanimous jury rules in Louisiana and Oregon offended the Constitution and were rooted in discrimination based on race and religion; however, the Court left open the question of whether those already in prison as a result of non-unanimous jury verdicts could challenge their convictions in federal habeas proceedings. Sidley now urges the Supreme Court to hold that prisoners convicted by non-unanimous juries should have a path to a new trial.

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Wildlife Justice Commission

Climate Action Network Europe

Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe is Europe’s largest coalition on climate and energy issues. CAN Europe had concerns about reports of increased air pollution, largely attributed to emissions associated with coal-fired thermal power plants, in certain countries that are Contracting Parties of the Energy Community Treaty. Sidley advised CAN Europe on the Energy Community Treaty obligations requiring Contracting Parties to implement key EU legislation on industrial emissions and the available legal tools to enforce compliance with the relevant treaty obligations.

Gymnastics Ethics Foundation

The Gymnastics Ethics Foundation (GEF) and its president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former President of Switzerland, recently appointed Dorothee Schramm, partner in our Geneva office, as one of 12 members of the GEF Disciplinary Commission for the 2021–2024 term. In panels of three, the Disciplinary Commission holds hearings and decides on sanctions against coaches and judges for abuse of gymnasts and other violations of ethical rules on a global level. This prestigious pro bono appointment gives Doro the chance to uphold ethics and address abuse allegations in a sport where such allegations regularly make front-page news, including Sidley’s representation of middle-distance runner and two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya.

IMPACT LITIGATION

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Against the Odds, Sidley Teams Bring Hope to At-Risk Prisoners During Pandemic

Sidley’s long-standing pro bono advocacy has meant the difference between life and death for many at-risk clients, including individuals in the U.S. prison system. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed a serious threat to this underrepresented population, many of whom suffer from preexisting health conditions and lack the ability to practice social distancing.

In an effort to secure early release for as many medically vulnerable prisoners as possible, Sidley helped launch the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse COVID-19 Project, a national undertaking in collaboration with advocacy organizations FAMM, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.

“This project required an astonishing amount of work from lawyers and staff across the firm under the leadership of pro bono counsel Mark Herzog, who dedicated long hours to it,” said senior counsel Jim Arden.

As the pandemic spread, a cross-office Sidley team of 140 lawyers, paralegals, summer associates, and secretaries worked together, albeit remotely, to help FAMM process the influx of compassionate release applications. FAMM determined that as of December 2020, Sidley had screened over 5,500 applications for compassionate release nationwide and helped place nearly 2,000 cases with federal public defenders and pro bono counsel, leading to more than 1,000 motions for compassionate release and the freedom of 176 individuals.

“This would simply not be possible without your commitment, enthusiasm, and leadership,” said Mary Price, General Counsel at FAMM. “Thank you with all my heart for being such outstanding partners and colleagues of the first order.”

Maritza Garcia, a paralegal with Sidley’s Litigation group, helped spearhead the screening process, ensuring that none of the applications fell through the cracks. The unprecedented nature of the situation required the team to be agile and resourceful, Garcia said. “We quickly realized that some applicants were in a much more unfortunate situation than others, so we revised our review procedures to tier them out,” she said.

“This would simply not be possible without your commitment, enthusiasm, and leadership. Thank you with all my heart for being such outstanding partners and colleagues of the first order.”

— Mary Price, General Counsel, FAMM

Sidley’s lawyers filed more than 25 applications in federal court that secured the release of prisoners from facilities across multiple states. One Sidley team represented an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) in Cumberland, Maryland who suffered from chronic asthma and was at a high risk of severe illness or death if he had contracted COVID-19. Arrested for a nonviolent crime committed in his 20s, he focused on earning his GED while serving his 20-year sentence. Facilitating his release was a tremendous relief for all involved, said Litigation associate Heidi Savabi. “Ruben was grateful to be out of harm’s way and to be able to finally live with his partner for the first time in many years,” she shared.

Sidley client Ruben Canini, pictured here with his partner

Mallika Balachandran, an associate with the Litigation group who worked with the same client, added: “Ruben put a lot of effort into his case himself — collecting important information, organizing the facts, and writing very persuasive letters not only to us, but to the judge directly.”

Sidley’s Clearinghouse Project teams also succeeded in obtaining the release of two vulnerable inmates at FCI Elkton in Ohio, which experienced one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S. prison system during the summer of 2020, and on behalf of a defendant incarcerated at Greenville FCI in Illinois who was battling cancer, as well as diabetes and obesity.

“It was evident from all of the families that we spoke with throughout the process that they are used to being overlooked by the system,” said associate Isaac Wall, a member of the firm’s M&A practice, who represented a client at Greenville. “It was very fulfilling to help people who had lost all hope.”

Sidley’s COVID-19 litigation work has resulted in victories on behalf of prisoners around the country, as well as vulnerable individuals held in custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). To read more about compassionate release cases that Sidley teams have handled in collaboration with other legal services organizations, please visit the Political Asylum and Immigrants’ Rights project page of the Pro Bono Highlights microsite.


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FEATURE SECTION

Partnering for a Brighter Future: How Sidley Works With Pro Bono Client Helena to Tackle Global Issues

Mission-driven organization Helena is busy disrupting the way society has approached its most complex problems. Harnessing the backgrounds of its accomplished members — among them Nobel laureates, four-star generals, and social activists — the five-year-old nonprofit has already successfully engineered global projects addressing climate change, democratic reform, and infrastructure security.

So when COVID-19 began wreaking havoc around the country, Helena’s team didn’t hesitate to enter the fight to save lives, partnering with a team of Sidley’s lawyers, led by David Grinberg, to help them navigate uncharted legal territory. Executive Director and COO Sam Feinburg reached out to Helena’s network, and within two days tracked down several hundred million units of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, and gowns.

As was tragically the case with others in similar pursuit around the country, various types of profiteers intercepted some of the PPE orders Helena had placed. In other instances, the orders became mired in bureaucracy, preventing them from reaching hospitals and first responders. True to form, Helena designed a way to entirely bypass those obstructions by raising $19 million to purchase medical supplies directly, beating nefarious actors seeking to sell it at the highest price. The organization then re-sells the equipment at cost and efficiently routes it to medical providers.

To make sure the PPE made it into the right hands, Helena also created a brand new digital platform, the COVID Network. The Network tracks thousands of hospitals and nursing homes across the country and maps their demand for supplies against local factors like the poverty rate and prevalence of co-morbidities. Helena — and users of their platform like the U.S. Army and Air Force — then use this data to help decide where to send supplies.

We recently caught a few minutes with Feinburg to find out more about Helena’s history of tackling pressing social issues and how, together with Sidley, they are effecting meaningful change with the COVID-19 Response Project.

Executive Director and COO Sam Feinburg
What inspired the creation of Helena?

My friend and classmate at Yale, Henry Elkus, came up with this incredible idea to build an institution that has the ability to move the needle on the world and help solve important problems. There are gaping holes in society’s response to major events, and there is a need for new types of institutions to be able to meet them. We are very proud of the progress we’ve made.

Through our COVID-19 Response Project, we have distributed almost 20 million units of PPE to frontline workers, including an order that I’m told was the first batch of surgical masks that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was able to receive.

When your team began developing the project, what legal concerns were top of mind?

Here we are in an emergency situation, buying and shipping medical supplies and signing up government entities onto a platform that matches medical needs in real time. We have no idea what type of liability this opens us up to, what kind of data privacy and protection provisions we should have in place. Sidley helped us understand the regulatory limits, the types of supplies we should avoid purchasing and how to structure the purchasing, as well as the types of agreements we should sign with hospitals and suppliers.

What made Sidley the right choice to work with Helena?

We had worked with other pro bono law firms in the past, and there is a marked difference in terms of the seriousness with which Sidley takes the work, the quality and rigor of response, and the caliber of people who are our points of contact. That means an enormous amount.

Within hours of our first email to David Grinberg about the COVID project, we were on the phone with a dozen Sidley partners from a variety of subject-matter areas across the country who were incredibly responsive and gave high-quality answers to every single one of our questions.

Can you talk a bit about Helena’s other projects and how they have made an impact?

Absolutely; our first project supported the launch of the world’s first-ever carbon capture factory to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and trap it underground in a way that’s economically viable.

Our next project, “Shield,” addressed the fragility of the electrical grid and its vulnerability to failure due to cyber attack and solar weather. We helped pass legislation in California and an executive order federally to improve the protection of the grid.

In 2019, Helena’s “America in One Room” project brought together 526 people from across the country with wildly opposing political beliefs that ended up being an unprecedented moment in American political science. We held three days of dialogue to demonstrate that even people from the most diametrically opposed backgrounds can change their opinions when given the opportunity to have deliberate discussion, and released the resulting data to the world, including in a special section of The New York Times.

How do you anticipate the COVID project will evolve in the months ahead?

It seems that we are far from out of the woods yet. There are likely to be continued PPE shortages and a second wave of infections, especially as we see variances in how states choose to reopen and in how people practice social distancing and other behaviors that slow the spread of disease. Our goal is to expand adoption of the COVID Network to get more hospitals, suppliers, and spotters onto the platform, so that when the second wave comes and shortages persist, we can respond as effectively as possible.

While we’ve been working our butts off to try and get supplies to hospitals as quickly as we could, having the support from a firm with not only expertise in multiple legal areas, but also the speed and responsiveness to spring into action across every single one of those areas has been a complete godsend. We are deeply grateful for Sidley’s support.

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INDIVIDUAL ASYLUM CASES

CLINIC WORK

INDIVIDUAL COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

After 35 Years in Prison, Compassionate Release Granted

In 2020, Sidley won the release of client Lebert Gordon after 35 years in prison. Mr. Gordon was imprisoned at age 21 in 1985. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals initially appointed Sidley to represent Mr. Gordon in a complicated post-conviction matter, but after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Sidley moved for Mr. Gordon’s release under D.C.’s Compassionate Release law in light of Mr. Gordon’s excellent prison record and heightened health risks associated with the pandemic. The United States Attorney's Office strongly opposed the motion, but the judge agreed with Sidley’s arguments and granted release. Mr. Gordon now lives with his wife in Pennsylvania and will continue a writing career begun during his incarceration.

“After three and a half decades of receiving inadequate representation to undo the injustice in my case and regain my freedom, I’ll forever be thankful for the pro bono representation of attorneys Jeffrey T. Green and Joshua Moore and project assistant Sarah Jackson ‘SJ’ Smith, the team of experienced and caring professionals who championed my cause and earned my release. They made the difference without whom my success would have continued to be fleeting. My family and I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincerest thanks and gratitude to each of you and the entire firm for your magnanimous pro bono representation.”

— Lebert Gordon, Sidley client

INDIVIDUAL COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

Compassionate Release for Sidley Client in Texas

Working in coordination with the COVID-19 Compassionate Release Clearinghouse and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Sidley obtained compassionate release for an inmate incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Fort Worth, Texas. The Sidley client is a double amputee, which requires him to use a wheelchair, and suffers from several medical conditions that placed him at severe risk of contracting COVID-19 while incarcerated at the FMC. On November 17, 2020, Judge Reed O’Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas granted the client’s motion, which Sidley negotiated to be unopposed by the government, and reduced his remaining sentence of four years to time served with a period of home confinement.

“I would like to thank Stephen Chang, David Sillers, and everyone at Sidley Austin LLP that worked so diligently on getting my compassionate release approved. I am a double amputee with high risk for COVID-19, and I was in Ft. Worth Federal Medical Center where COVID-19 had infected over half the institution. The BOP declined my compassionate release as well as my application for the CARES Act, but Stephen and David were able to get my motion unopposed and approved through the courts. I am so thankful to have had the benefit of working with these guys. They are the best.”

— Courtney Wilkinson, Sidley client

Fighting for the Rights of International Graduate Students

The firm is representing a class of international graduate students in California whose status in the United States was jeopardized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In July 2020, ICE issued a federal order that would initiate deportation proceedings against those who take classes exclusively online during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit, filed in the Central District of California, seeks injunctive relief and an order vacating the policy so that international students can continue their education while maintaining the best practices when it comes to public health.

The Sidley team is working together on the federal lawsuit with co-counsel from Public Counsel; Evan Caminker, professor of law and dean emeritus of the University of Michigan; and Mark Haddad, Sidley alumnus and lecturer in law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

Supporting Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

The firm’s New York office provided pro bono assistance to small business owners through Start Small Think Big, Inc.’s COVID-19 Pro Bono Collaborative Project clinic and through the New York City Bar Justice Center’s Lawyers for Good Government Clinic. In both partnerships, Sidley provided limited representation remote consultations with small business owners on a variety of topics. This included discussing rights under commercial leases and preparing clients to negotiate with their landlords, and providing education and advice with respect to financial resources available to small businesses, including the Paycheck Protection Program, Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and expanded unemployment insurance.

Additionally, Sidley was one of the original 10 firms to join the Small Business Legal Relief Alliance (SBLRA), which comprises some of New York’s leading law firms and legal services organizations. SBLRA was created in response to the economic devastation impacting New York’s small business community as a result of the pandemic, and provided legal advice on a variety of issues, including tax, contractual issues, and labor and employment matters.

In November 2020, Sidley lawyers in New York partnered with lawyers from the JPMorgan Chase Legal Department for a remote pro bono clinic, as part of JPMorgan Chase’s Pro Bono Week, through the New York City Bar Association’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP). During the NELP clinic, teams met with local entrepreneurs seeking legal advice. This partnership is part of the firm’s Corporate Responsibility and Pro Bono Programs and was spearheaded by lawyers in the firm’s New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. offices.

Manufacturing Client Evolves Its Business to Save Lives

During the pandemic, our client found an innovative way to use its design and engineering capabilities — specifically, its knowledge of seals, forced air, and ventilation — to create personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline workers treating COVID-19 patients.  

In connection with this public health effort and on a pro bono basis, Sidley helped guide the client through unfamiliar governmental regulations and procedures, including those newly created in the wake of COVID-19. The Sidley team advised on complex U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and compliance, Emergency Use Authorizations and Guidance related to COVID-19, and FDA interface with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Sidley’s pro bono effort also involved advising the company on related tax and international trade matters.

Helping Supply the National Health Service With PPE

A London Life Sciences team represented a small-scale, nonprofit manufacturer in supplying reusable protective gowns to frontline National Health Service workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sidley team helped the manufacturer overcome regulatory challenges due to the absence of appropriate standards for this innovative product. This matter necessitated collaboration with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the British Standards Institute.

Turn2us

The London Employment team supported Turn2us, an anti-poverty charity helping people in financial need gain access to welfare benefits, charitable grants, and other financial help. Turn2us has seen a 600% increase in the demand for their services during COVID-19. Sidley helped Turn2us on a number of matters, including advising on the distinction between volunteers and workers, furloughing employees under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and new legislation on the carryover of annual leave amid COVID-19. We also reviewed and updated Turn2us’ employment and contractor agreements to ensure they are compliant with new legislation and provide adequate protection to the charity, allowing them to take on contractors to meet the growing need for their services.

LA Represents

The Greater Los Angeles office joined LA Represents, a coalition of law firms, bar associations, and lawyers that are providing pro bono COVID-19-related legal services. Sidley’s work has included helping tenants, domestic violence victims, and low-income individuals with employment, consumer debt, and bankruptcy matters.

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