Baker & McKenzie



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Baker & McKenzie (2)


Baker & McKenzie has been representing Abayomi Adediji, an American citizen from Nigeria, charged with first-degree murder in Cook County, Illinois, for three years. There's nothing unusual about a big firm taking on a criminal case, except that this one is being run by two tax lawyers: The Am Law Pro Bono 100partner Robert Walton and associate Jacklyn Pampel of the Chicago office.

Members of Baker's large tax controversy practice, Walton and Pampel usually go to court on behalf of big corporate clients. Yet, criminal pro bono is so well established in Baker's tax controversy department that its members have even handled death penalty cases, says the firm's pro bono director Angela Vigil, who's also assisting on the Adediji matter.

Baker & McKenzie started representing Adediji in 2006, when he sued in federal court in the northern district of Illinois, alleging poor prison conditions (the case was settled). At about the same time, Adediji had been handling his own appeal on a murder conviction. (He was convicted of a murder that resulted from an armed robbery.) After he successfully obtained a new trial for himself, Walton and Pampel stepped in to handle his retrial.

Adediji's case is expected to go to trial this summer. One of the firm's key arguments will target the reliability of confessions that result from police interrogations. Though "we're not saying that the police did anything wrong [during the interrogation]," Vigil argues that Adediji's statement of guilt was still unreliable because the whole interrogation technique was flawed. Even approved interrogation techniques can lead to false confessions, says Vigil. For example, certain interrogation techniques break an individual's defenses, so much that "people confess to things even if they didn't [commit the crime]," she says. "The police are trained in techniques that are aimed at eliciting certain statements." And the fact that Adediji is an immigrant is "relevant," because he might not fully grasp the interrogation process, says Vigil.

Though Vigil admits that this type of novel challenge to the criminal system is not what most tax lawyers deal with, she says the attorneys are more than prepared for the job: "Persuasive advocacy is applicable in many settings." Besides, she adds, "they go to trial more than most litigators."

—Vivia Chen | July 1, 2009

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