Dinsmore & Shoal



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
Dinsmore & Shohl (171)


Dinsmore & Shoal won habeas relief for the second time last year for a Cincinnati man on death row for the 1983 murder of his neighbor. Bill Joe Sowell had waived his right to a jury trial after his defense counsel assured him that the three-judge panel adjudicating the case wouldn't seek the death penalty. Confident that Sowell was safe from the death penalty, his attorney called six witnesses whose direct examination The Am Law Pro Bono 100totaled only thirty-four pages of transcripts during the brief trial. The panel convicted Sowell in October 1983 and sentenced him to death the following month.

Dinsmore & Shoal, led by litigation partner Mark Vander Laan, won a writ of habeas corpus relief in federal district court (Southern District of Ohio) in 2001. Dinsmore, along with counsel from the Ohio public defenders office, successfully argued that Sowell's jury waiver was not knowing and intelligent and that his counsel was ineffective. Three years later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned the writ.

In March 2008 the district court granted conditional habeas relief on Sowell's sentencing phase. The Dinsmore team, which has devoted more than 1,000 hours to the Sowell case, presented 11 arguments in support of habeas corpus, including that Sowell had been deprived of effective counsel during the sentencing phase, that there were cumulative errors in the admission of evidence and misconduct by state officials. District court judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. granted relief on the claim that Sowell's original defense counsel failed to present an adequate mitigation case, ignoring evidence that the defendant was abused and neglected as a child, for instance. The court gave the State of Ohio 180 days to commute Sowell's sentence to life or grant a new sentencing hearing. The State is appealing the decision to the Sixth Circuit.

—Amy Kolz | July 1, 2009

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