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KaiserDillon Records Banner Pro Bono Year

KaiserDillon’s Year in Pro Bono Work

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic (and at times in response to it), KaiserDillon attorneys logged hundreds of pro bono hours in 2020, often securing life-changing victories for their clients.

KaiserDillon attorneys were honored to provide pro bono representation to clients in a variety of matters, ranging from post-conviction work in criminal cases to campus disciplinary representation to an asylum case to filing an amicus brief in the Supreme Court.

This work is at the heart of KaiserDillon’s mission as a firm—to provide quality, client-centered representation for people who are often at their most difficult moments.

Here are some highlights of KaiserDillon’s 2020 pro bono work and achievements:

Compassionate Release

The attorneys at KaiserDillon stepped up to help individuals incarcerated during the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged jails and prisons nationwide.

KaiserDillon attorneys took on four compassionate release cases in 2020. They were proud to partner with Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the Washington Lawyers Committee on these important cases.

Scott Bernstein, Jade Chong-Smith, Amelia Schmidt, and Emily Voshell, along with partners Jon Jeffress and Matt Kaiser, represented four incarcerated individuals in compassionate release cases in federal court and D.C. Superior Court.

Through associate Jade Chong-Smith’s tireless efforts a D.C. Superior Court client won compassionate release and returned home to his family in November, just in time for the holidays. That client had served nearly thirty years in prison and suffered from serious health conditions. In a true testament to Ms. Chong-Smith’s advocacy, the court found that the client was not a danger to the community and returned him to what the court called “his large and supportive family.” Partner Matt Kaiser worked with her on the case.

Counsel Emily Voshell won compassionate release for her terminally ill client serving a life sentence in federal court with the help of Partner Jon Jeffress. At oral argument, the district court judge commented that he had never granted a motion for compassionate release, but he was granting this one. The client was overjoyed to return to his family after decades apart, and relieved to escape Butner, one of the prisons hit the worst by COVID-19.

Counsel Scott Bernstein also fought for compassionate release for a client who sought out Jon Jeffress after failing to secure representation by the federal defender. Though the motion in federal court was ultimately denied, it was denied without prejudice, and the client’s family was extremely grateful for all of Mr. Bernstein’s help.

Finally, counsel Amelia Schmidt recently started working on KaiserDillon’s fourth pro bono compassionate release case of the year with Matt Kaiser.

And, finally, Matt Kaiser has been working with the Washington Lawyers Committee since June to coordinate the Committee’s efforts with pro bono lawyers across D.C. on these important compassionate release cases.

(and, if you’re reading this and would like to do a compassionate release case, please check out the training and sign up at Compassionate Release Clearinghouse. 

Campus Disciplinary Cases

KaiserDillon knows how earth-shattering a disciplinary finding can be for a college student. That’s why KaiserDillon committed pro bono hours and multiple attorneys to fight for students who could not afford lawyers in campus proceedings.

KaiserDillon represented three students pro bono in campus disciplinary matters in 2020. Legal fellow Lynn Gilbert and counsel Chris Muha, both supervised by Justin Dillon, represented these college students facing serious consequences based on misconduct allegations.

Ms. Gilbert successfully cleared an undergraduate student’s name in a Title IX investigation, saving her client from expulsion. She helped her client gather, review, and effectively use over three hundred pages of evidence in his defense. As a result, the client was able to craft a statement and a response to the investigation report, which showed that the allegation against him was false. The client was found not responsible, which allowed him to retain his scholarship and remain in school.

This fall, Ms. Gilbert took on a second pro bono case for a student, also facing expulsion. She has already poured hours into that case, and her client is extremely grateful.

Mr. Muha is also currently representing a student pro bono, who is facing serious consequences as a result of an erroneous disciplinary finding against him.

Maryland Client serving Life Sentence for Crime Committed as a Juvenile 

Counsel Courtney Forrest continued her excellent work on behalf of her client who is currently serving a life sentence for a Maryland state court case. Ms. Forrest submitted an extensive parole memorandum (with over 50 exhibits) on behalf of her client. That memo explained why her client, who has been in prison for 30 years for a crime he committed the day he turned 16, has undergone a tremendous transformation, despite his very difficult upbringing. Ms. Forrest met with the parole commissioner on behalf of her client and is expecting a parole hearing soon.

Asylum Case with Tahirih Justice Center

Associate Norm Anderson and counsel Amelia Schmidt, with the help of partner Jen Short, partnered with Tahirih Justice Center to represent a woman seeking asylum. Mr. Anderson and Ms. Schmidt hit the ground running, meeting with their client and working to gather critical evidence for her asylum case. Paralegal Diana Castillo worked with Tahirih Justice prior to joining KaiserDillon and has been instrumental in assisting Mr. Anderson and Ms. Schmidt as they prepare for their client’s hearing.

Supreme Court Amicus Brief

Counsel Chris Muha and partner Bill Pittard wrote an amicus brief on behalf of Republican and Democratic centers for bipartisan governance in two high-profile Supreme Court cases, Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG.

The brief, filed on behalf of the Lugar Center and the Levin Center at Wayne Law, addressed Congress’ power to investigate wrongdoing in the executive branch. Mr. Muha and Mr. Pittard argued that the Court should preserve an important congressional tool: the use of “case studies”—investigations into suspected wrongdoing by individual persons—to inform itself regarding broad legislative needs.

Galen Baughman

KaiserDillon also continued its work on behalf of Galen Baughman, an activist who was wrongly found to be a sexually violent predator in a jury trial in 2019. Emily Voshell fought for and gained Mr. Baughman’s release this August. Bill Zapf, Jon Jeffress, and Emily Voshell also spent hours working on Mr. Baughman’s petition for appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which was filed this past November. Bill Zapf and Jon Jeffress also coordinated with multiple amicus writers to file three briefs in support of Mr. Baughman’s petition. Oral argument on the petition is anticipated in early 2021.

New Pro Bono Coordinator

Finally, Emily Voshell has taken on the role of pro bono coordinator for the firm as an effort to make pro bono easier for firm attorneys.

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It is a privilege to be a lawyer and to be able to bring about a positive change in someone’s life. KaiserDillon attorneys are honored to have fought for their pro bono clients and causes in 2020 and look forward to continuing that work in 2021!