Jones Day

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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
95
Jones Day (4)
42.1
48.7
35.6

 

Court fights over water access might seem like a relic from the Old West. But Jones Day spent seven weeks last summer litigating over water—in twenty-first-century Ohio.

The Am Law Pro Bono 100The clients were 67 residents of Coal Run, a mostly African American community on the outskirts of Zanesville. For decades, Zanesville and Muskingum County officials had denied Coal Run access to public water lines. In 2002 the residents filed a complaint with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. A year later, the commission backed their complaint, finding probable cause of race-based discrimination, and the city finally relented, 47 years after water lines were first laid in the area.

As the water started to flow in Coal Run, residents were in court, determined to hold city and county officials responsible for years of discrimination. They filed suit in federal court in Columbus in November 2003, alleging that the city and county had violated the Fair Housing Act and Title VI, as well as various state statutes, and requesting compensatory damages to be determined at trial.

"This was just old-style racism," says John Relman, the Washington, D.C., civil rights lawyer who filed the suit. "The city and county came up with one excuse after another, but when they argued that they didn't know these residents wanted water, what they were really saying was that this community just didn't matter."

Jones Day joined the case pro bono in fall 2004 at the request of the Washington Lawyers Committee to assist with the discovery process, which included taking depositions from all 67 plaintiffs, as well as city and county officials. Former Jones Day associate Kerstin Sjoberg-Witt spent weeks in Zanesville hunting through garages at the city water department and digging through water authority offices for documents dating back 20 or 30 years. She also was the only Jones Day lawyer to sit on the four-person trial team. (Sjoberg-Witt has since left the firm to become legal director of the Ohio Legal Rights Service.) All told, 31 Jones Day partners, associates, and legal assistants spent over 8,100 hours working on the Coal Run case.

The seven-week jury trial included testimony from all the plaintiffs, as well as city and county officials and public water experts. Coal Run residents described hauling water from a local water treatment plant to store in cisterns. "We were hearing about people scooping bugs out of the water and pouring bleach in to sanitize it," says Jones Day partner Shawn Organ, the Columbus office's pro bono coordinator. "People were saying that the first time they had running water was when they went to college."

After two weeks of deliberation, the jury found the defendants liable for all of the residents' discrimination claims and awarded $10.9 million in damages, to be distributed to residents according to how long they'd lived in Coal Run. The case later settled on appeal for $9.6 million. "The verdict was incredible, but the award was the icing on the cake," says Sjoberg-Witt. "They're finally getting something they can use to invest in their future."

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