Pro Bono: Our Work
In partnership with Buried Alive Project, ArentFox Schiff helped secure the release of Tony Lewis, who was serving a life sentence for a drug offense in Washington, DC. After spending nearly 34 years in prison, Lewis was released on March 20, 2023.
Lewis’s case has generated national media attention, exemplifying life sentences without parole for non-violent drug offenses committed decades ago. After the US Supreme Court ruling in Concepcion v. United States, where the Court held that “the First Step Act allows district courts to consider intervening changes of law or fact in exercising their discretion to reduce a sentence pursuant to the First Step Act,” individuals with similar drug convictions and sentences have been successfully released nationwide.
AFS assisted the Buried Alive Project in filing the motion for Lewis’s release on February 3, 2023, which the government did not oppose. Judge Royce Lamberth in the US District Court for the District of Columbia agreed to reduce Lewis’s sentence to time served under the First Step Act of 2018.
ArentFox Schiff represented the Black Owners of Solar Services (BOSS) in securing a significant $6.3 million cooperative agreement awarded by the US Department of Energy (DOE). The agreement established a regional initiative to coordinate and train minority-owned businesses on accessing DOE funding, programs, benefits, services, and opportunities.
BOSS, the nation’s largest organization of African American energy professionals within the solar photovoltaic industry, aims to lead solutions that ensure sustained access to equitable opportunities in clean energy production, distribution, and storage for Black-owned businesses. The agreement with BOSS aligns with the DOE's Justice40 Initiative designed to foster parity in clean energy technology, promote the creation of clean energy enterprises, and generate clean energy jobs and training for disadvantaged and underserved communities.
ArentFox Schiff LLP secured a victory in its longest asylum case, representing Fécélé Nouko and her husband, Ake Kpata, Ivory Coast citizens who were politically and ethnically aligned with the losing faction in that country's 2010-2011 civil war. Fécélé fled in 2012 and applied for asylum in 2013, with her husband following in 2015. After failing to obtain asylum affirmatively through the US Customs & Immigration Service (USCIS) in 2016, the couple faced removal proceedings before the US Immigration Court in Chicago. Following a five-year wait, their asylum hearing took place over two days in February and November 2022, after which both Fécélé and Ake were granted asylum.
The AFS Team: Molly Wiltshire, Rachael Bryan, Kirstie Brenson, Michael Showalter
In the firm's first engagement with Kids In Need of Defense, the AFS team successfully argued guardianship for an indigenous, unaccompanied minor client from Honduras under her American godmother. Facing gang violence, violence against women, and religious and ethnic discrimination, the petition for guardianship enabled the client to seek Special Juvenile Immigration status, which allows vulnerable children to apply for lawful permanent resident status in the US immediately.
The AFS Team: Kelli Scheid Smith, Jodi Tai, Derek Ha, Patricia Rojas-Castro, Eitan Tani Berkowitz, Laura Carter
We represented a client in a matter involving sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, wrongful constructive discharge, and wage and hour violations against her former employer and physician. The AFS Health Care and Litigation team guided the client through the Medical Board reporting process and subsequently represented the client in a lawsuit claiming sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and various other labor and statutory violations. The case was settled in early 2023, resulting in a significant recovery for the client after pursuing the claim for over four years.
The AFS Team: Debra Albin-Riley, Doug Hewlett, Susanne Boniadi, Jessica B. Do, Carmen Dam, Katryn Smith
Through the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services (CVLS) clinic – which the firm has partnered with for more than 40 years - we represented a low-income client with four children in a contested divorce case that involved disputes related to child support, custody, and parental responsibilities, the division of marital property including real estate, the division of retirement and pension accounts, and the division of credit card debt.
Associate Alex Becker joined the case in 2022. After a contentious process for over a year (the case began in September 2021) and 256 hours of pro bono time, Alex negotiated a parenting plan and marital settlement agreement that both parties signed. In February 2023, the court entered the divorce judgment.
BHA v. Tashawna
We represented a mother and three children in a dispute with the Boston Housing Authority (BHA). Associate Benjamin Greene took the case in October 2018 as an Appeal of Summary Process judgment from a BHA unit. The client had several solid grounds for appeal (several of which involve important and somewhat novel issues regarding tenant rights). The week before the hearing, the BHA moved to dismiss the appeal because the client had been late on her rent payments. The client had applied to various organizations to help cover her rent when she had to unexpectedly begin early unpaid maternity leave, but the BHA would not cooperate with the organizations, so her rent coverage was delayed.
When the court sided with the BHA and ordered the appeal dismissed, Ben filed an appeal of the dismissal. Over the course of three years involving approximately 400 hours and three separate appeals – that included making novel claims, five oral arguments, and numerous motions - Ben worked with various aid organizations to get the client over $20,000 in funding to wipe out her rent arrearage. With the arrearage gone, Ben convinced BHA to dismiss all its claims with prejudice and give the client a new lease, which she entered into at the beginning of 2022.
The AFS Team: Benjamin Greene
Supporting Tenants Rights in Boston Housing Authority Cases
Chestnut Green Apartments v. Karen Flanagan
In November 2022, Associate Ben Greene took on an eviction matter in which the landlord had tried to evict our client based on her garden allegedly creating a fire hazard. Due to health issues and improper notice, the client missed the trial and had a default judgment entered against her. Ben stepped in when the client was seeking to appeal the denial of her motion to vacate the default judgment and the court had refused to stay her eviction past the first week in January 2023.
Ben filed a comprehensive motion that demonstrated why the court should reconsider both the denial of the motion to vacate the default judgment and also the stay pending appeal. As part of the motion, Ben also identified a subject matter jurisdiction issue, arguing it was fatal to the landlord’s case, which ultimately led to the landlord agreeing to settlement negotiations. Through negotiation and charitable funds, the client’s arrears were reduced by around $13,000 and there was a payment plan to repay the balance. The client was allowed to keep her potted garden in front of her unit. The eviction judgment was ultimately vacated and the case dismissed.
The AFS Team: Benjamin Greene