Pro Bono Matters Category Detail

Civil Rights

Significant Litigation Victory in Texas Voter ID Case

Fried Frank helped secure a significant litigation victory in Texas v. Holder, the highly publicized lawsuit over Texas's voter ID law. The case was tried in July in federal court in Washington before a panel of two district court judges and a Court of Appeals judge. The decision was announced yesterday.

Fried Frank served as counsel, along with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to the Texas League of Young Voters Education Fund, an organization that registers young voters and seeks to empower young people to participate in the democratic process, as well as several of the League's student members. Under the Texas voter ID law, these students -- all of whom had valid state-issued student IDs -- would have been turned away from the polls because they lacked one of the few permissible forms of ID under the law. While other states with voter ID laws have specifically allowed state-issued student IDs as permissible forms of ID for voting, Texas's law excluded them.

The law, which was enacted in 2011, required pre-clearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Texas brought the lawsuit against the US Attorney General after the Department of Justice denied pre-clearance. Fried Frank's clients intervened in the case in order to ensure that the interests of students who sought to participate in the political process would be represented before the court.

The court's unanimous decision was that the law could not be pre-cleared under the Voting Rights Act. The court found that Texas failed to meet its burden of showing that the law would not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote of minority voters.

Fried Frank played an active role at trial and in the months leading up to it. At a critical moment in the trial, litigation associate Adam Harris cross-examined one of Texas's key expert witnesses, securing important concessions. In its decision, the court did not credit any of that expert's testimony and specifically noted -- as Fried Frank made clear during trial -- that the Texas legislature had rejected an amendment to the law that would have ameliorated its impact by allowing state-issued student IDs as an acceptable form of identification for voting.

Fried Frank Assists in Voting Rights Act Victory

Fried Frank lawyers are co-counsel with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and others in opposing the State of Texas's efforts to acquire federal preclearance for its congressional and state redistricting plans.  The Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force, the client, maintains that the plans enacted by the legislature unfairly deny Latinos the ability to elect candidates of their choice, even though Latinos comprised 65% of the state's intercensal population growth, more than any other single group.  In July, Texas filed a declaratory judgment action seeking preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act before a three-judge panel in the D.C. District Court.  In conjunction with MALDEF, Fried Frank attorneys drafted a successful motion to intervene and opposition to the Texas's motion for summary judgment.  The D.C. District Court denied summary judgment and is currently devising a trial schedule.  These victories against the proposed plans created the need for a federal court in Texas to draw a new set of redistricting maps, which are currently in effect.  The court-drawn congressional map restores two congressional districts with Latino majorities, and creates two more districts where Latino voters will significantly impact the election results.  The redrawn State House and Senate districts will also lead to greater minority representation.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Janice Mac Avoy

Fried Frank Wins Landmark Gay Rights Case

Fried Frank achieved a significant victory for pro bono client M.R. in the New York Court of Appeals on May 4, 2010.  The Court handed down a groundbreaking decision in Debra H. v. Janice R., holding that the nonbiological parent of a child born to a same-sex couple who had entered into a civil union in Vermont is the legal parent of the child under New York law.  Janice R.. M.R.'s biological mother, claimed that her former partner Debra H. could not be considered the child's parent where the couple entered into a civil union in Vermont before he was born and raised him together for four-and-a-half years before litigation was commenced. The Court's lengthy opinion contains various concurrences but was unanimous in the result, which is that Debra H. is M.R.'s parent and therefore may seek custody and visitation with him. The majority held that it would accord comity to the couple's civil union for the purposes of parentage; Vermont law provides that the nonbiological parent of a child born to a couple in a civil union is deemed to be that child's parent for all purposes. The case is now remanded for a hearing as to whether custody and visitation is in M.R.'s best interests.

Lambda Legal represents Debra H.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Jennifer L. Colyer

Amicus Brief 

On Friday, August 28, 2009 Fried Frank submitted an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of a group of civil rights organizations in Perdue v. Kenny A., which will be argued in October. The issue in the case is whether judges who preside over civil rights cases have the discretion to increase the initial “lodestar” attorney's fee calculation in the rare circumstance where the quality of an attorney's performance and the results obtained through litigation are truly exceptional. Our clients included the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU, the AARP Foundation, MALDEF, the National Urban League, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Disability Rights Network, the Alliance for Justice, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Jan Sysel

Equal Rights Center

Fried Frank represented The Equal Rights Center in a federal court litigation against Kettler, Inc., a regional multi-family housing developer, for alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In particular, the ERC alleged that Kettler was liable for failing to design and construct these properties in accordance with federal law so that they are accessible to the disabled. On August 19, 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton approved a final Settlement Agreement and Consent Decree in this matter. Under the Agreement and Decree, in addition to monetary payments, Kettler will make necessary retrofits to over a thousand individual units, and Kettler has entered into a 10-year commitment as a member of the ERC’s Multifamily Housing Resource Program. More information about the agreement can be found in the parties' press release.

Pro Bono Win for the New York Public Interest Research Group ("NYPIRG")

On Thursday, July 23, 2009 District Court Judge Lewis A. Kaplan (Southern District of New York) granted summary judgment in favor of the Trustees of CUNY and the President of Brooklyn College in a First Amendment case of first impression. The decision is a big victory for NYPIRG, who we represent in the matter. The plaintiffs, represented by Jones Day, were three university students who were seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, alleging that the student fee funding mechanism through which NYPIRG receives funds at CUNY and Brooklyn College is facially invalid because it uses a popular referendum and therefore results in "compelled speech" for those students who disagree with NYPIRG's views.

Fried Frank submitted an amicus curiae brief on NYPIRG's behalf, arguing that because a refund or opt-out was available to plaintiffs, there was no constitutional violation. After 90 minutes of oral argument on the parties' cross motions for partial summary judgment, Judge Kaplan ruled from the bench, adopting NYPIRG's language and position in dismissing almost all of plaintiffs' claims. The sole remaining claim, an as applied challenge to fiscal exemptions at CUNY and Brooklyn College, was not addressed in NYPIRG's submission.

Del Rio-Mocci v. Connolly Properties, Inc.

Fried Frank successfully advocated on behalf of immigrant communities in New Jersey and protected access to housing for undocumented persons. The Firm, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and other leading civil rights organizations, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, CATA The Farmworkers’ Support Committee, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey in Del Rio-Mocci v. Connolly Properties, Inc., No. 08-2753 (D.N.J.). This test case was brought by anti-immigrant groups, pursuant to the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), seeking to impose criminal penalties for harboring undocumented persons on landlords who lease apartments to undocumented immigrants. The amicus brief urged the Court to dismiss the harboring claim because renting apartments to tenants regardless of their immigration status does not contravene federal or state laws, and landlords are not trained or qualified to conduct immigration status determinations. Last Wednesday, the Court dismissed the harboring claim. Adopting many of the arguments raised in the amicus brief, the Court found that renting apartments to undocumented persons with the purpose of making a profit does not violate the anti-smuggling laws. This outcome will have a direct impact on protecting access to housing in immigrant communities across the country.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Janice Mac Avoy

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Fried Frank and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law represented the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights on a pro bono basis in filing an amicus curiae brief on the side of the petitioner in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville (No. 06-1595). On January 26, 2009, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Crawford, holding that a federal anti-discrimination law protects employees from retaliation when they cooperate with internal investigations of harassment.

Fried, Frank, the ACLU and MALDEF Support Immigrants' Right to Housing

Fried Frank, along with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project, the ACLU of New Jersey, and the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice filed an amicus curiae brief in Del Rio-Mocci v. Connolly Properties, Inc., No. 08-2753 (D.N.J.). This case, filed by the Immigration Reform Law Institute – an organization that has sponsored anti-immigrant municipal housing ordinances throughout the country – alleges that by renting apartments to undocumented immigrants, landlords are in violation of federal statutes which impose criminal penalties for harboring undocumented persons. The amicus brief urges the court to reject the claims presented, arguing that a determination in plaintiffs’ favor will impermissibly require landlords to engage in immigration status determinations, and will inevitably result in unlawful discrimination against immigrants, including U.S. citizens and lawful residents. The amicus brief was filed on behalf of leading organizations that represent the interests of, and provide services to, immigrant communities in New Jersey, including: the New Jersey Institution for Social Justice, the New Jersey Immigration Policy Network, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, CATA – The Farmworkers’ Support Committee, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Janice Mac Avoy

Pro Bono Victory for Restaurant Workers

Last month, in conjunction with the Asian American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (AALDEF), Fried Frank successfully settled a case on behalf of several restaurant workers in New York City who were paid well below minimum wage, in some cases, around $2 an hour, for over three years. The settlement provides for all back wages owed during the term of the workers' employment.

Fried Frank Defends the Rights of Individual Holders of the Elm City Resident Card

Fried Frank successfully defended, on a pro bono basis, the rights of individual holders of the Elm City Resident Card in proceedings before the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission. The Elm City Resident Card is a municipal identification program implemented to increase public safety and access to local services in New Haven, Connecticut. All New Haven residents are eligible to apply for the Card regardless of their immigration status. Opponents of the identification program and anti-immigrant groups sought to obtain the names, addresses and photographs of all applicants for the identification card to help militant vigilantes identify, target and "hunt down" cardholders, particularly immigrants. Fried Frank represented the Association of Cardholders of the Elm City Resident Card; Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots community organization; and a class of cardholders who wished to maintain the confidentiality of their personal identifying information to avoid harassment and violence. The successful defense of the identification program will have a direct impact on the implementation of similar identification programs in cities across the country, including San Francisco, New York and Miami.

Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center

Fried Frank joined Lambda Legal and Workers' Rights Law Center of New York in representing the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center to appeal the City of Kingston, New York's denial of its application for a charitable exemption from real property taxes. The Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, a non-profit organization run by volunteers, offers educational forums, support and counseling groups, and publications for the Hudson valley LGBTQ community, entitling it to a non-profit property tax exemption under New York Real Property Tax Law. In March 2007 Kingston's assessor denied its application, claiming the Center did not warrant exemption. An appeal to the Board of Assessment Review was denied, leaving the Center with a bruising, discriminatory tax bill. In February 2008 the Center successfully settled its lawsuit against the City of Kingston with an agreement and court order stating that the Center's activities do meet the legal requirement for a tax exemption.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Jennifer L. Colyer and Janice Mac Avoy

Advocating for Marriage Equality in New York

In 2005 and 2006, Fried Frank represented a group of amici in Hernandez v. Robles and its companion cases as they progressed through the Appellate Divisions, and in the New York Court of Appeals.  Plaintiffs in the Hernandez case were represented by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., and urged the Court to hold that denying same sex couples the right to civil marriage was unconstitutional under the New York State constitution.  The amici that the Firm represented were a collection of clergy, congregations and other religious organizations who advocated for the right of same-sex couples to enter civil marriage.  Our clients were from a broad range of faiths, and believed that civil marriage should be open to all, while individual faiths and congregations within those faiths could choose whom to marry within their own religious traditions.  In 2005, the Court ruled against the plaintiffs in the three cases, but Fried Frank believes that the efforts of all parties and counsel in the cases raised consciousness of the issues surrounding marriage discrimination in New York, and may yet beget a legislative solution.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Bonnie Steingart and Jennifer L. Colyer

Marriage Equality Cases

In 2006 the Firm represented a group of clergy, congregations and religious organizations as amici curiae in three marriage equality cases in various New York appellate courts.  A majority of the New York Court of Appeals ultimately decided not to find a right to civil marriage for same-sex cases, but Fried Frank continues to support the struggle and is confident that justice will prevail in the end. 

Attorneys working on this matter:
Jennifer L. Colyer and Bonnie Steingart

Human Rights First (HRF)

Founded upon the belief that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance and violence, Human Rights First (HRF) is an organization dedicated to providing protection for people at risk.  Working in collaboration with HRF and a group of judges and lawyers on an amicus curiae brief, Fried Frank fought for the rights of Jose Padilla, the first US citizen since World War II detained on Presidential order as an enemy combatant.

In 2004, the United States Supreme Court decided Mr. Padilla's case along with two others and held that US citizens detained as enemy combatants are entitled to access to counsel and to challenge the factual basis for their detention before a neutral decision-maker.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Robert E. Juceam

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)

The New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) is New York State's largest student-directed consumer, environmental and government reform organization.  Fried Frank has represented NYPIRG for more than 15 years in connection with First Amendment litigation regarding the enforcement of mandatory student fee assessments in the face of student dissent about the use of those fees.  The Firm is currently representing NYPIRG in a litigation defending the method of funding for recognized student organizations at SUNY-Albany.  The plaintiffs claim that their student group's exclusion from a referendum on funding allocation was viewpoint-based, and the case includes viewpoint-discrimination and equal protection claims.

Attorneys working on this matter:
Alexander R. Sussman

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