Kirkland & Ellis



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Kirkland & Ellis (7)


After two years of litigation, Kirkland & Ellis, led by partner Robert Cohen, is nearing a settlement with the city of New York over conditions at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn. The firm, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union and Mental Hygiene Legal Service, sued the city (which runs the hospital) in 2007 in Brooklyn federal court, claiming that psychiatric patients there were The Am Law Pro Bono 100being abused and subjected to unhealthy conditions. Problems at the facility came under more intense scrutiny a year later, when a videotape captured patient Esmin Green dying on the floor of an emergency waiting room without any medical intervention, and the tape later became public.

The video came to light as a result of a tactical decision by the Kirkland lawyers and their cocounsel. Soon after Green's death, the city informed them of the tragedy, and they immediately asked for any videotapes. The lawyers debated whether to release the horrifying tape to the media, concerned about the affect on the victim's family. Cohen believes they made the right decision to make it public. "When I went to Ms. Green's funeral, her family and friends were thankful that the tape was released."

After Green's death, Kirkland won a preliminary injunction requiring the city to implement several reforms, including checking on patients every 15 minutes in the emergency center, and creating a search committee to find a new executive director. Cohen has been assisted mainly by associates David Flugman and Michael David Reisman.

The lawsuit prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Brooklyn hospital. Last January the government issued a report detailing substantial violations of federal law at the facility. "It confirmed the allegations in our complaint," says Cohen.

(In May the city entity that runs the hospital agreed to pay Green's family $2 million. Kirkland was not involved in that settlement.)

Although the case is ongoing, with negotiations that include the Justice Department, Cohen says he's encouraged by changes so far. "There has been a nearly complete overhaul of the senior leadership at the facility since [Green's] death. We are very pleased with the progress."

Because of his work on this case and other pro bono matters, Kirkland named Cohen its pro bono partner of the year for 2008.

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