Baker Botts Wins Veteran's Benefits Appeal in Pro Bono Case
Baker Botts announced a win for firm pro bono client U.S. Army veteran, Edward Liszewski, in his recent successful appeal of a decision made by the Board of Veteran's Appeals.
Baker Botts lawyers Jon Finelli and Christina Bogdanski represented Mr. Liszewski in challenging a decision from the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) that denied his claim for benefits pursuant to "service connection" for an injury that developed while Mr. Liszewski served as an airborne infantryman from 1971 to 1972 and has plagued him since. The Board initially relied on a medical conclusion from a VA medical examiner to override Mr. Liszewski's testimony as to his symptoms.
The Veterans Consortium Pro Bono Program asked Baker Botts to represent Mr. Liszewski in his appeal of the Board’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Following the filing of multiple motions and briefs over 16 months, the appellate court in December reversed the Board’s decision and remanded the matter for the Board to consider whether service connection is proper under a theory of continuity of symptomatology. Accordingly, the Board must now re-evaluate Mr. Liszewski’s claim based on the theory advanced in his appeal by Baker Botts.
Baker Botts Prevails in Ninth Circuit Appeal for Immigrant-Detainee
Baker Botts lawyers in our Washington, D.C., office prevailed in a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in pro bono representation for an immigrant-detainee facing deportation. The client, a lawful permanent resident with a U.S.-born child, is a Mexican immigrant who does not speak or understand English. He had been convicted of a Nevada offense for possession of a controlled substance. This led a federal immigration judge to deem him removable. Among the client’s problems was that he had missed a filing deadline for the Board of Immigration Appeals after mistakenly relying on an attorney from a legal services organization who had visited him at his immigrant-detainee holding facility. Following Baker Botts’ arguments, the U.S. Department of Justice took the unusual step of agreeing to remand to the Board for full consideration the merits in the case, which would specifically include consideration of three U.S. Supreme Court decisions that are favorable to the client and should provide a strong basis for vacatur of the immigration judge’s underlying removal order. The government also committed that it would not seek deportation of the client while the remand proceedings are pending. The Ninth Circuit granted the consent motion on July 28, 2015. This amounted to a complete victory for the client with respect to the issues before the Ninth Circuit.
Baker Botts Scores Victory for Private School in Property Tax Dispute
Baker Botts lawyers scored a pro bono victory for a private nursery school against the Travis Central Appraisal District in an administrative dispute regarding the school’s entitlement to a private school property tax exemption. The district’s lawyers challenged both the School’s status as a non-profit school and its entitlement to a tax exemption for any portion of the property, since the entire property was not used “exclusively” for school purposes. Our lawyers prevailed and a three-member panel determined that the school met private school requirements and granted a tax exemption. The decision entitles the school to substantial savings in property taxes in future years, as well as a refund of property taxes the school paid under protest in the past five years ─ an amount (with interest) that totals tens of thousands of dollars.
19-Year-Old Pro Bono Client Obtains Asylum
Jose, now 19 years old, left his native country of El Salvador and came to the United States in 2013 due to ongoing mistreatment and harassment by members of his community. After being arrested shortly after crossing the U.S. border, he was sent to His House Children’s Home in Miami, FL while the government initiated proceedings to deport him to El Salvador. He was released into the custody of his uncle, who lives in Houston, pending the results of the proceedings.
Baker Botts lawyers in the Houston office took on the client’s case at the request of Immigration Equality. In July 2015, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) approved the client’s request for asylum.
Baker Botts lawyers continue to represent Jose to dismiss the current proceedings in Immigration Court and to help him obtain certain benefits which he is now entitled to as a result of his asylum status. Additionally, the team will represent Jose in the submission to USCIS of his petition for permanent residence. If this petition is successful, he will be able to remain in the United States for the rest of his life without risk of deportation or a forced return to the people who mistreated him.
The Baker Botts team included Leah Burcat (Associate, Global Projects), John M. Craven (Associate, Global Projects) and R.J. Malenfant (Associate, Global Projects), along with invaluable support from Brian Finch (Associate, Global Projects) and Raquel Arango (Paralegal, Global Projects).
Baker Botts Achieves Pro Bono Victory in Child Custody Case
On February 8 and 9, 2016, Baker Botts successfully represented pro bono client Marcus Newman, Sr. in his effort to gain custody of his son. In the case Newman v. Bellinger, 2014 DRB 1083, Baker Botts represented plaintiff Marcus Newman, Sr. (the child's father) against defendant Christina Bellinger (the child's mother) and third-party intervenor Frontis Marie Bellinger (the child's grandmother) in seeking custody of his son. After being incarcerated for a portion of the child's life, Mr. Newman turned his life around and wanted to provide a stable home for his son in North Carolina. After a two-day bench trial at the D.C. Superior Court, the judge awarded full custody to Mr. Newman.
The Baker Botts Team included Tanya Gillis (Associate – IP), Peter Farrell (Associate – Tax), David Frankenfield (Associate – Corporate), and Julia Guttman (Partner – Litigation), all of the Washington D.C. office.
Pro Bono Team Wins Asylum for Honduran Nationals
K.P., who identified as Garifuna, an afro-indigenous minority in Honduras, had been the victim of domestic violence and sex trafficking in Honduras and Guatemala. Unable to obtain police protection due to her status as a Garifuna woman, K.P. fled Honduras in May 2014 to escape continued abuse at the hands of her former domestic partner and threats from a member of the MS-13 gang. She arrived in the United States in July 2014. After nearly a year of work against tough odds, on August 12, 2016, Baker Botts associates John Craven (Associate, Global Projects), R.J. Malenfant (Associate, Global Projects), Cynthia Castillo (Associate, Litigation), and Leah Burcat (Associate, Global Projects) succeeded in winning a grant of asylum in the Houston Immigration Court for K.P. and her young son. DHS subsequently waived its right to appeal. Other members of the team were Kevin Keenan (Partner, Global Projects), Raquel Arango (Paralegal, Global Projects) and Monica Santiago-Petway (Secretary). All team members are in the Houston office. The case was referred to Baker Botts by the Tahirih Justice Center.
Baker Botts Associates Ashley Roberts and R.L. Pratt Win Asylum for Iraqi Pro Bono Client
Baker Botts first-year associates Ashley Roberts and R.L. Pratt of the Washington office succeeded today in winning a grant of asylum in the federal Immigration Court in Baltimore for a pro bono client fleeing sectarian violence in Iraq.
The client, a Sunni Muslim, was targeted by Iranian-backed Shiite militias in his native town of Basra. After suffering multiple threats and an attempted kidnapping by the Shiite militia Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), he fled Iraq through Turkey and arrived in the United States in November of 2015. Since that time, he has been kept in a detention facility in Frederick County Maryland, until today, when he was released following the Court’s grant of asylum. DHS has waived its right to appeal.
Other members of the team were Washington partner Ryan Bull, Washington Senior Paralegal Yana Makarova, and Washington partner Ginger Faulk, who served as supervising partner for the case. The case was referred to Baker Botts by the CAIR coalition.
Miriam Moskowitz Fights to Clear Name in McCarthy Era Conspiracy Conviction
Miriam Moskowitz sought to clear her name 65 years after being convicted on McCarthy-era conspiracy charges brought against her in an atomic espionage case. While researching her case in preparation to release a tome on her experiences as a victim of the "Red Scare," Ms. Moskowitz found unsealed grand jury testimony in her case which revealed inconsistencies that called into question the prosecutor’s decision to not release testimony would have provided evidence to clear her of all charges.
Baker Botts New York lawyer Robert Maier (Partner, Intellectual Property) filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis - an archaic legal remedy of last resort used to reopen a case to resolve fundamental errors. Rob argued that matter before Judge Hellerstein in 2014; although Judge Hellerstein denied the petition, it garnered much positive press for Ms. Moskowitz and helped her along the path in her fight to clear her name, a fight that continues today.
Baker Botts Partners with CLSEPA
The Palo Alto office recently partnered with Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (“CLSEPA”) to represent clients in its asylum cases at San Francisco Immigration Court. With the support and guidance of CLSEPA, Baker Botts associates have teamed up to provide legal assistance to immigrants in and around East Palo Alto, where two-thirds of the population is Latino or Pacific Islander. Currently, eight associates represent three asylum-seekers and their children.
The cases are in their early stages, but the participating associates are eager to provide high-quality representation to immigrants who fear that persecution would await them if they were to return to their home countries.
The Baker Botts team in the Palo Alto office: May Eaton (Associate, Intellectual Property), Tina Yang (Associate, Intellectual Property), JB Schiller (Associate, Intellectual Property), Thomas Mathew (Associate, Intellectual Property), Jason German (Associate, Intellectual Property), Clark Wilkes (Associate, Corporate), Karina Smith (Associate, Litigation), Jon Swenson (Partner, Intellectual Property).
Death Row Inmate Granted New Hearing
A Texas court granted Linda Carty, who has spent more than 10 years on death row, a new hearing to assess recently uncovered evidence in her case.
The hearing, granted by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, will review evidence that the key witnesses in Ms. Carty’s trial gave false testimony on the witness stand as a result of intimidation and threats from the prosecutor.
The Baker Botts team, led by Michael Goldberg (Partner, Litigation), a Houston and New York based trial partner, unearthed this evidence. Baker Botts is handling the appeal in a pro bono capacity in this case.
“The entire Baker Botts team is thrilled that Linda will finally have her first real transparent day in court,” said Mr. Goldberg.
“We are looking forward to working with the District Attorney to do an open, fair and transparent investigation. We hope the District Attorney’s office will not look at this as a win or lose issue. We hope we can all just be concerned with making sure that there was and will be a fair trial,” added Mr. Goldberg.
Over the past 11 years over 130 lawyers and para legal staff have worked on this case.
Currently the lead members of the team include Houston and Austin lawyers: Michael Goldberg (Partner, Litigation), Gail Foster (Special Counsel, Litigation), Coleson Bruce (Senior Associate, Global Projects), Katherine Brooker (Associate, Litigation), Devi Chandrasekaran (Associate, Environmental) and Carole Moffatt (Medical Specialist, Litigation).
Jesuit Volunteer Corps Regional Organizations Merge to Form National Jesuit Volunteer Corps
Baker Botts has long provided pro bono corporate and tax counsel to Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), the largest Catholic lay volunteer program in the country.
In one instance, Baker Botts lawyers donated approximately 1,000 hours in connection with a major strategic transaction for JVC. Through a series of mergers and combination transactions, the non-profit corporations that ran the JVC combined their operations into one national entity. As a result, JVC was thereafter able to provide its services even more efficiently to those in need. Specifically, Jesuit Volunteer Corps: East (Pennsylvania), Jesuit Volunteer Corps: South (Texas), Jesuit Volunteer Corps: Southwest (California), and Jesuit Volunteer Corps: Midwest (Michigan) merged with and into Jesuit Volunteer Corps (D.C.). Additionally, Jesuit Volunteer Corps became the sole member of and entered into a services agreement with Jesuit Volunteers: International, Inc. Each of these corporations is a Section 501(c)(3) organization.
JVC is a national and international program based on four core values: social justice, simple living, community, and spirituality. JVC attracts volunteers to commit one to two years of their life, typically following college graduation, to work with social service organizations that JVC supports. JVC provides group housing accommodations for JVC volunteers, and a small stipend to JVC volunteers for their service. JVC volunteers commit to serve where the need is greatest, to work with people who are marginalized by society and to live in apostolic community with other JVC volunteers. In all, about 300 JVC volunteers each year work in the United States and in seven countries around the world. Hundreds of grassroots organizations across the country count on JVC volunteers to provide essential services to low-income people. JVC volunteers work for and with people who are homeless or unemployed, refugees, people with AIDS, the elderly, street youth, abused women and children, the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled.
Baker Botts Partners with Neighborhood Centers Inc.
Baker Botts has assisted Neighborhood Centers Inc. (Neighborhood Centers) with several governance and organizational matters, including advising Neighborhood Centers on non-profit governance practices. Baker Botts has also aided in the restructuring of Neighborhood Centers and several of its subsidiaries, including the merger of Neighborhood Centers’ social services organizations for senior citizens, to better facilitate the services Neighborhood Centers provides to the Houston community.
Neighborhood Centers is the largest charitable organization in Texas and strengthens emerging neighborhoods in the greater Houston area by providing resources, education and connection to more than half a million people each year through a network of over 70 services sites.
Lawyers from the firm's corporate, real estate and tax departments have donated over 415 hours to serving Neighborhood Centers on a pro bono basis.
The Baker Botts team from the Houston office: Justine Robinson (Associate, Corporate), Claire Fernandez (Associate, Global Projects), Kim Schlanger (Partner, Global Projects), Chuck Campbell (Special Counsel, Tax) and Robert Caine (Paralegal, Corporate).
Baker Botts Partners with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)
Following multiple incidents of assault and abuse by men in her family and after receiving death threats from a certain gang in her hometown, a 13 year old girl fled her native El Salvador and traveled alone to the Texas border. After being arrested at the border, she was placed into a detention center while the government initiated proceedings to deport her back to El Salvador and the conditions she had fled.
Because she was a minor, she was later released to her mother in Houston, pending the results of the proceedings. Brian, David, and Raquel Arango worked diligently on behalf of the client at the request of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). With their help, the client submitted a robust application for asylum in 2013 and also submitted an application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
In April of 2014, the team was happy to learn that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) had approved the client’s request for asylum. Shortly thereafter, the team successfully moved to dismiss the government’s removal proceedings without prejudice in a U.S. Immigration Court. Finally, in June of 2014, the team also secured Special Immigrant Juvenile Status for the client. The team additionally worked with KIND to enable the client to obtain certain benefits to which she is now entitled as a result of her asylum status. The team continues to represent the client with the submission to USCIS of her petition for permanent residence. If this petition is successful, the client will be able to remain in the United States for the rest of her life without risk of deportation or a forced return to the people who abused her.
Baker Botts Partners with Second Servings of Houston
Second Servings of Houston is a growing non-profit organization that rescues excess prepared food from hotels, cafeterias, retailers and other regulated food businesses and delivers it safely and promptly to approved charitable meal providers. As Houston’s only prepared food rescue organization, Second Servings of Houston is addressing both hunger relief and waste reduction in a new and innovative way.
Using a simple “pick-up and same-day delivery” model that minimizes costs and maximizes food safety has proven successful in the organization’s 18-month pilot program. Second Servings of Houston notes that almost one in five people in Harris County face daily food insecurity. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has stated that 31% of food is discarded at the consumer and retail levels. It is therefore essential that communities find a way to redirect surplus food from landfills to those in need. Second Servings of Houston was created to do just that.
Baker Botts’ Houston office assisted Barbara Bronstein, the founder of Second Servings of Houston, in forming the non-profit entity, assembling the initial board of directors, establishing general corporate governance guidelines and obtaining the organization’s non-profit tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service.
For more information about Second Servings of Houston, please click here.