Our Firm's Long-Term and Ongoing Commitment to Pro Bono and Public Service
Sutherland has a long and distinguished history of public service, beginning with the work of our founding partners, Bill Sutherland and Elbert Tuttle, on habeas corpus cases, including Johnson v. Zerbst, in the 1930's. The tradition of public service that they began continues today through the efforts of our lawyers and staff who provide civic leadership and pro bono legal representation to individuals and institutions within our communities.
We are proud that the pro bono and public service activities in which we engage are self-directed efforts of the lawyers and staff who choose to become involved, and that the firm provides a positive environment for these activities. The genuine interest in service shared by our partners, associates and staff encourages and fosters our participation in these activities and has created a tradition of service which sets us apart from other law firms.
The firm has adopted a policy of a minimum goal of an average of 50 hours per attorney per year to be spent on pro bono matters, in accordance with the recommendation of the American Bar Association. Sutherland is a signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge, a group of large law firms who have committed to contribute annually, at a minimum, an amount of time equal to 3% of billable hours to pro bono work. Sutherland is a founding member of the Pro Bono Institute which supports creative pro bono projects and systems.
How Do Our Pro Bono Matters Get Approved?
The pro bono work at Sutherland is administered by the firmwide Bar and Public Service Committee. The committee includes partners, counsel and associates and is responsible for encouraging and monitoring the firm's pro bono practice, screening and offering appropriate pro bono matters to the firm's lawyers and providing opportunities for all firm personnel to contribute to non-legal public service activities.
The Bar and Public Service Committee, practice group leaders and the Executive Committee are each involved in authorizing the representation. Much of our work comes through regular relationships with pro bono organizations, but any lawyer can bring a matter to our attention.
Whom Do We Serve?
The majority of our pro bono work over the past two years includes death penalty, traditional poverty law, not-for-profit, traditional civil rights, claims under Federal 9/11 Victim's Compensation legislation, criminal habeas corpus, criminal appeals, immigration appeals, immigration worker litigation, affordable housing, public benefits, representation of persons involved in domestic relations and child custody disputes, wills and probate.
A representative list of organizations that we provide pro bono legal services for include:
Pro Bono Highlights
- A Business Commitment (a project of the Business Law Section of the ABA) Washington Committee for Civil Rights & Urban Affairs Atlanta Legal Aid Society
- DC Bar Pro Bono Clinic/DC Bar Community Economic Development Project
- Georgia Legal Service Program
- National Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
- Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation
- Georgia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts
- Habitat For Humanity
Here are a few highlights of our pro bono work:
- On February 7, 2005, Sutherland filed a petition for habeas corpus and other relief on behalf of five Yemeni detainees. The petition, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, notes how "[e]ach of the Detained Petitioners is being held virtually incommunicado in military custody at Camp Delta...without basis, without charge, without access to counsel and without being afforded any fair process by which they might challenge their designation and detention." Because the U.S. government prevents lawyers from visiting Guantanamo detainees unless they have a pending case, Sutherland brought these cases through the detainees' relatives, who authorized the filings as "Next Friends" of the petitioners. Sutherland lawyers have since submitted security clearance forms that, once approved, will allow them to visit the detainees.
Since that time, Sutherland has also filed various other pleadings in the case, including a motion to show cause why habeas relief should not be immediately granted, a motion to preserve evidence, and a motion for notice of the government's intention to transfer the petitioners beyond U.S. jurisdiction - prompted by recent concerns the U.S. might ship them to other countries known to practice torture. At present, these and other motions remain pending.
- We brought a successful appellate challenge to a removal order obtained by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement against Wondemu G. Argaw, an Ethiopian national and a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Mr. Argaw was ordered removed after he returned from a visit to his father in Ethiopia carrying some khat, a plant whose leaves are chewed by the majority of Ethiopian men as a daily stimulant. In a matter of first impression, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that that was not a controlled substance under United States law.
- The Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and Sutherland filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of seven deaf individuals who sought treatment at Laurel Regional Hospital in Laurel, Md., who despite their specific and repeated requests were denied in-person qualified sign language interpreter services. For the first time, deaf patients were taking a hospital to court claiming that its provision of interpreters through inadequate video conferencing technology does not provide them with effective communication in critical medical situations. The plaintiffs allege that they were instead provided with inadequate video interpreting, cryptic notes or, most often, no communication at all.
- We represented the estates of Dana and Zoe Falkenberg, two minor children killed on 09/11/01 in the Pentagon crash, and secured large awards at the upper end of possible recoveries for their estates under the special master proceedings created by Congress.
- We closed the purchase of 17 acres of land on Freeman Drive in Athens/Clarke County for our client the People of Hope Cooperative (a nonprofit we created for the former residents of Garden Springs Trailer Park), and the transfer of that property to Athens Land Trust (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit) whose subsidiary Athens Land Trust Properties will hold title to the property and lease it at a nominal cost to the People of Hope for the development and operation of a trailer park for the former residents of Garden Springs. This is an important milestone in our work for the former residents of Garden Springs, but we will be involved in helping raise development funds and other legal work during the development and construction phases of the completion of the park for these entities, who were brought to us by our former NAPIL (now Equal Justice Works) Fellow, Skipper Stipemaas.
For more information on Pro Bono and Public Service at Sutherland, contact:
John H. Fleming (Partner, Atlanta)
© 2013 Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP