Giving Together for Equal Justice
The American justice system is a wondrous and complex entity that ably serves thousands of Americans. But no system is perfect, and the simple fact is that some people in this country are left behind by the law. Robins Kaplan LLP attorneys and staff members give tirelessly of themselves to make sure that the under-represented receive their day in court.
Since 2009, more than 6% of the firm's total billable hours have been contributed to pro bono legal services. In 2012, we spent more than 26,930 hours on various cases, including protecting single mothers against violence, exonerating the falsely accused, and protecting and defending those who had no one else fighting for them.
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The following stories are examples of how our pro bono work has changed lives:
- Our client, a mother of two from Minnesota, suffered terrible abuse and violence from her husband while living in his native Peru. Fearing for her safety and that of her children, she fled to Minnesota. Hoping to retrieve necessary personal documents, she returned to her apartment in Peru. Her husband found her there, beat her, and attacked her with a knife. After her escape, the husband continued to threaten her. He also filed a petition to have his children returned to him in Peru under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. We worked with one of the world’s leading experts on the causes and effects of domestic violence to develop our client’s case to have her children remain with her. After a two-day evidentiary hearing and several rounds of briefing, the judge found that the children were at grave risk of physical or psychological harm if returned to their father in Peru. Our client and her two children can now permanently stay safely in Minnesota.
- We obtained the grant of an asylum petition for a client from Uganda on the grounds of her sexual orientation. In recent years, Uganda has had an escalation of intimidation and persecution of openly lesbian and gay individuals. Our client was well-established in Uganda before abruptly leaving everything and everyone she knew to escape death threats, abduction, an arson attack of her store, and two vandalism attacks on her home. We filed an asylum petition on her behalf and submitted extensive documentary evidence of the conditions in Uganda and of the persecution she had endured. The petition was granted and our client can now live safely in the United States.
- We filed a Second Circuit Court of Appeals amicus brief on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center and 8 other leading immigrant and civil rights amici around the country. The brief was filed in support of a petition by the Latino Justice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund to appeal the Southern District of New York’s decision to deny class certification in a Fourth and Fifth Amendment challenge to warrantless home raid practices by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New York. As counsel for amici curiae, we argued that the District Court’s opinion misapplied the Supreme Court’s recent holding in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes to create unprecedented obstacles for civil rights plaintiffs seeking class certification.
- We represented a tenant in a dispute with his landlord due to unresolved problems with pests. After an argument with the property manager about her unwillingness to address the issue adequately, the property manager filed an eviction proceeding against our client for violating a lease provision that prohibits tenants from using threatening language and obnoxious behavior with complex management. The complex sought our client’s immediate eviction, which would have severely impacted our client’s ability to find alternative housing. After an unsuccessful mediation session, the case went to trial. The judge found that our client’s conduct did not rise to the level that would have violated the lease provision and that the complex had wrongfully terminated the lease. The judge denied the complex’s effort to evict our client and permitted our client to terminate his lease.
- We represented a father and son who had repair work done to their home after a hail storm. The general contractor they hired had failed to pay for the materials he used to make the repairs. When our clients decided to move, they learned that the material supplier had placed a lien on their home as a result of the general contractor’s failure to pay for the materials. We tracked down the general contractor, who had since changed the name of his company. After the contractor reneged on a plan to pay an agreed-upon settlement, we filed suit against the contractor and his company. After the filing of the suit, the contractor agreed to pay 80% of the outstanding balance.
- Minneapolis Swims is a nonprofit whose mission is to bring swimming education to children. We represented the organization in its efforts to save the last indoor public pool in Minneapolis, located in the Phillips neighborhood. That neighborhood — home to over 12,000 children, most of whom belong to racial minority groups and live in low-income housing — has startlingly high rates of accidental drowning. The pool’s existence was essential in ensuring that neighborhood children had the opportunity to learn how to swim. Without funding to repair the pool, the parks department almost laid it to rest by filling it with concrete. For over a year, we worked with the Board Director to obtain funding from the state to restore the pool. The Director turned the issue into one of civil rights and the legislature listened. The pool was included in the bonding bill which set aside funding to repair and reopen it.
- We represented a nurse diagnosed with leukemia in a disability coverage appeal. The insurer paid our client’s disability coverage until she received the good news that her cancer was in remission, at which point the insurer immediately terminated her coverage. Despite the remission, our client still must take her oral chemotherapy medications for the rest of her life and continues to suffer the same side effects as she did before the remission. She is unable to work even though she is now deemed “healthy.” The disability insurance payments were her only source of income. In the early stages of the appeal, the insurer reversed its decision and reinstated full coverage. The client, who was on the brink of homelessness and unable to pay any bills, is now able to remain in her apartment and return to eating three meals a day, something she had stopped doing when the insurer terminated coverage.
- We represented a grandmother who sought visitation rights with her grandson after the boy’s mother died and his maternal aunt — whom we had previously represented — lost custody to the child’s father. At the Court’s urging, the parties submitted the matter to the Court in writing in lieu of trial. Despite the father’s position that an award of visitation to a grandparent is unconstitutional, and his position that any amount of visitation would interfere with his parental rights, the Court awarded our client monthly and holiday visitation with her grandson. This result will ensure that the child is able to continue his relationships with the maternal side of his family.
- We obtained an order for protection for a domestic violence victim after a contested evidentiary hearing in Ramsey County. Our client had been in an extremely abusive relationship. After an unsuccessful abuse prosecution, our client required a protection order to escape further abuse. Even though 12 petitions for orders for protection had been filed against him by 10 different women over the past 18 years, the abuser still challenged our client’s petition. We served requests for admission regarding the abuser’s history of domestic violence and sought to take his deposition. He pled the Fifth Amendment to all deposition questions and also refused to respond to the requests for admission. We then filed and won motions to preclude the abuser from testifying and to deem admitted the unanswered admissions. With our client’s testimony and the adverse inferences from discovery, the court granted our client’s petition for a two-year order for protection.
Our Pro Bono Committee
Our firm’s Pro Bono Committee, headed by Patrick Arenz, helps our attorneys find opportunities for pro bono work. The committee monitors the nature and extent of our pro bono services offered to the community, recognizes the many individuals who volunteer for pro bono work, and provides formal supervision and training for our firm lawyers.
Youth Law Initiative
The Youth Law Initiative is our firm-wide pro bono project devoted to safeguarding the legal rights of children and teens. Children can be victims of abuse, homelessness, or neglect; or they can simply be facing a system they do not understand. They are often unrepresented when facing dramatic changes in their lives. Through the Youth Law Initiative, our attorneys work to ensure the legal protection of children and teens while striving to protect their rights and dignity. Each office focuses on the needs of youth in the local community.
Firm attorneys represented a pregnant teenager in a judicial bypass proceeding. Georgia, like most states, requires parental notification or consent if a pregnant minor wishes to terminate her pregnancy. Pursuant to Supreme Court precedent, Georgia law provides that this requirement may be waived through a judicial finding that the minor is mature enough to make the decision or that it would not be in the minor’s best interest to tell her parent. Her mother had previously told her she would be kicked out of the home if she were to become pregnant. The mother had a history of being emotionally unstable and getting into physical altercations with family members, and she had forced the client’s brother from the home when he impregnated his girlfriend. We counseled the client on the judicial bypass process and the client testified in juvenile court, where her petition was granted.
We represented a boy who sought lawful permanent residence in the United States. The boy had fled an abusive, impoverished home in southern Mexico. The Department of Homeland Security detained him and transferred him to Massachusetts. We obtained an order declaring the boy under the care and protection of the juvenile court due to the non-viability of reconciliation with his parents. We then obtained Special Immigrant Juvenile status from the United States Customs and Immigration Services for the boy. With that status, the federal immigration court in Boston granted his application for adjustment to lawful permanent residence and the boy has now successfully transitioned to a Boston area high school.
The Los Angeles office worked on 20 cases for the Alliance for Children’s Rights, an organization committed to protecting the rights of impoverished and abused children and youth so they have safe, stable homes, health care, and the education they need to thrive.
Service Examples: Attorneys in the Los Angeles office represented the great aunt of two young boys to recover past due public benefits totaling nearly $24,000. Both boys were prenatally exposed to drugs and over the years had multiple medical diagnoses. The boys’ mother could not provide adequate care for her sons who were placed with and ultimately adopted by their great aunt. As a foster care parent, the great aunt was entitled to greater public benefits and financial assistance necessary to provide adequate care for the boys, including much needed medical and educational assistance. Our team was able to obtain all outstanding benefits requested on behalf of both boys, without the necessity of a formal administrative hearing.
We helped obtain increased county benefit payments to a mother of a boy who had developmental and behavioral issues. The boy was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He also developed breathing problems and was later admitted to an intensive treatment program. We persuaded the court to require the county to increase benefit payments prospectively and retroactively to the time the boy entered the treatment program.
Minneapolis attorneys worked on 16 individual matters and gave more than
570 hours of service to clients directed to the firm by the Children’s Law Center, a legal advocacy organization for youth in the foster care system. Minneapolis attorneys have provided representation to Guardians ad Litem in juvenile-protection cases for over ten years, including representing the Guardian ad Litem in a matter that involved an 18-month-old girl whose parents had a history of significant drug abuse and domestic violence. After a three-day trial, the judge ordered that the parents’ rights to the child be permanently terminated and the girl now lives in a safe home with a new family.
More Service Examples: We represented the caregiver of a 9-year-old boy in a deportation matter. The boy was a legal permanent resident of the United States, as was his mother, when his step-grandfather killed his mother and shot the boy multiple times. The boy, who was 4 years old at the time, had no other blood relative living in this country. His grandmother entered the country legally to be at his bedside, but at the point her legal stay ended, the Department of Homeland Security began proceedings to deport her. For the past 5 years, we have fought to prevent deportation of the grandmother who is so critical to the boy’s well-being. We were able to obtain a grant of prosecutorial discretion, which enables her to remain here and care for her grandson.
We represented a 13-year-old girl whose mother passed away in 2003. Since then, her grandmother has had sole physical and legal custody of her. During the initial custody determination, the putative father did not seek custody and gave up a request for visitation rights but then - years later- petitioned for adjudication of paternity, legal custody, and visitation rights. He also wanted our client to submit to genetic testing to establish his paternity. Our client adamantly opposed submitting to the test, did not want the petitioner in her life, and wanted to remain in the physical and legal custody of her grandmother. We intervened in the family court proceeding, outlining our client’s objections to her forced submission to genetic testing. Without even filing a response, the petitioner relented, agreed to dismiss the petition with prejudice, and further agreed to a no-contact order with our client.