White & Case

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Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
39
White & Case (6)
68.5
84.0
52.9

 

White & Case took on the pro bono representation of Aaron Lee Jones, an inmate on Alabama's death row, in 1991. Litigation partners Vincent Fitzpatrick and Heather McDevitt handled Jones's The Am Law Pro Bono 100defense right up until he was executed by lethal injection in May 2007.

Afterward, Fitzpatrick and McDevitt, together with senior associate Stephanie Cohen, were asked by the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative to represent two additional death row cases, those of Willie McNair and James Callahan. The firm also acted as cocounsel with the Southern Center for Human Rights for another inmate, Darrell Grayson. The work on those cases led them to challenge Alabama's method of execution by lethal injection as cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

While Fitzpatrick and McDevitt pursued the cases in Alabama, two Kentucky death row inmates challenged lethal injection as a means of execution before the U.S. Supreme Court (as states awaited the Court's decision, executions across the United States were effectively put on hold between September 2007 and May 2008). In April 2008 the Court ruled that Kentucky's lethal injection procedures were constitutional.

Although the Supreme Court ruling was a considerable blow, on the eve of the Callahan and McNair challenges, the Alabama attorney general's office announced a change in the execution procedure to include additional safeguards. Although McNair, Callahan, and Grayson were eventually executed, McDevitt insists that the hard work was worth it. "All I can say is that these guys were grateful," she says. McDevitt admits that given the Supreme Court's Kentucky decision, challenging lethal injection as a means of execution will be difficult in the future, but she insists that in Alabama it could still be done at the direct appeal stage or immediately after. However, that typically occurs before large law firms get involved in handling a death row case.

On the Jones case McDevitt and Fitzpatrick estimate that White & Case attorneys spent more than 14,000 hours from 1991 to 2007, pro bono, on his defense. "A case like that is a large commitment," says McDevitt. "I don't want to put big firms off from handling this work, but they need to be aware of what's involved."

—Richard Lloyd | July 1, 2009

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