The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Proskauer Secures Asylum for Client Persecuted Based on Sexual Orientation

On February 5, 2021, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) granted asylum to our client, a gay man who suffered horrific violence based on his sexual orientation.  For their own homophobic reasons, the police in his country of origin refused to investigate the hate crimes that were committed against him.   Fearing for his life, our client fled to the United States.  Now that he has received asylum, he can live and work in the United States indefinitely.

The modern asylum system grew out of a reaction to the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust.  In 1951, the United Nations defined a refugee as any individual not able to return to his or her home country because of a well-founded fear of future persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.  The United States later signed onto this system, and in the 1990s, officially recognized that persecution due to one’s sexual orientation can qualify as a basis for asylum. Continue Reading

Proskauer Hosts Virtual DACA Legal Clinic

To grow up American in all ways but one – having proper documentation – is what it means to be a dreamer. Being undocumented renders one nearly incapable of functioning as a regular member of society. It means calling in sick during the day of a school field trip that asks you to bring a form of government ID. It means being unable to get a job to fund and pursue higher education. It means being ineligible for most healthcare benefits during a pandemic.

Last week, in partnership with The Door, we hosted a virtual Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinic to assist 10 pro bono clients with preparing their initial DACA applications. The DACA program provides eligible, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 with a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation, along with work authorization and the ability to apply for a social security number. Continue Reading

Pro Bono Spotlight: Ameelio.org – Bridging Financial Barriers for Incarcerated Individuals Trying to Stay in Touch with Loved Ones

Staying in touch with loved ones has become more important today than ever before. While technology offers many ways to stay in contact, incarcerated individuals face barriers to communication. Several prisons have paused in-person visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A phone call can cost up to $25, creating a financial burden for many families of the incarcerated. As the United States, which incarcerates more individuals than any other country, confronts the challenges of its criminal justice system, Proskauer’s pro bono client Ameelio, a nonprofit organization, is working to facilitate communication between incarcerated individuals and their families by removing cost barriers.

Ameelio’s Founder, Uzoma Orchingwa, explains below how he is finding innovative ways to keep people connected, no matter the cost.

Could you briefly explain how Ameelio works?

Ameelio serves as a technological bridge to the outside world for incarcerated individuals. We have three core products, our mobile application where loved ones can upload letters, postcards and photos for incarcerated individuals. Our second product is Letters for Organizations, where Ameelio helps organizations, like ministries, rehab groups, and educators send mass mail to prisons. Our third product is “Connect,” which is a videoconferencing tool we are launching in April 2021. Continue Reading

Proskauer Honors Public Service at the 13th Annual Golden Gavel Awards

Proskauer gathered for a firmwide virtual celebration, our 13th Annual Golden Gavel Awards ceremony on February 3, to honor those lawyers and staff members who went far above and beyond to contribute to the Firm’s pro bono, corporate social responsibility, and diversity & inclusion initiatives this year. This past year has been one of immense adversity and challenges. We thank and celebrate the following colleagues who rose to the occasion and made a difference for their communities. Continue Reading

Proskauer Provides Career Readiness Guidance to Veterans and Active Duty Military Spouses

Proskauer is a proud supporter of American Corporate Partners (ACP), a national nonprofit organization focused on helping returning veterans and active duty spouses find their next careers through one-on-one mentoring, networking and online career advice. Each year, Proskauer provides a group of highly committed volunteers who are paired with ACP protégés to offer ongoing guidance and mentorship in pursuing civilian careers.

For many that ACP serves, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the job application process have been particularly challenging. “Our veterans are stellar individuals, but they are at a disadvantage when applying for jobs right now,” said Timothy Cochrane, Senior Vice President at ACP. “Companies will hire back people they let go at the beginning of the pandemic or recent college graduates. Many of our veterans have little or no corporate experience. Translating military skills is the number one issue they confront when finding a new position and having a mentor makes all of the difference in the world.” Continue Reading

First Circuit Upholds Right to Secretly Record Police in Public

On December 15, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the grant of summary judgment in favor of our clients, holding the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute (Mass. Gen. L. ch. 272, § 99) unconstitutional when applied to secret recordings of police officers discharging their official duties in public spaces.  This decision is the first appellate-level decision recognizing First Amendment protection for this conduct.

The Massachusetts Wiretap Statute: This statute makes it a felony to secretly record oral communications, regardless of the other circumstances of the recording.  Our clients—two civil-rights activists in Boston and the plaintiffs in this case—challenged the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute as unconstitutional under the First Amendment as applied to secret recordings of police officers performing their duties in public.  While both plaintiffs have openly recorded law enforcement officials performing their duties in public, both believe secret recording would protect their safety and more accurately document police officers’ behavior in public.

The Decision:  The plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court against the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department and the District Attorney for the County of Suffolk, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief.  After successfully opposing the defendants’ motions to dismiss and engaging in significant discovery (including motion practice during the discovery phase and multiple depositions), the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.  The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of our clients, holding the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute could not constitutionally prohibit the secret audio recording of government officials, including police officers, performing their official duties in public.  The District Attorney appealed.

In an extensive 72-page decision written by Circuit Judge David Barron (and joined by retired Associate Justice David Souter, and Circuit Judge Bruce Selya), the First Circuit affirmed the District Court’s grant of summary judgment to our clients, finding that the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute violates the First Amendment by prohibiting the secret, nonconsensual audio recording of police officers discharging their official duties in public spaces.

The Impact:  Proskauer has long worked with the ACLU of Massachusetts to ensure government transparency and accountability.  The decision in this case will advance both of those goals not only by enjoining arrests and prosecutions for constitutionally protected activity in Massachusetts, but by establishing important appellate precedent to protect civil liberties throughout the United States.

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It was my privilege to lead the Proskauer team on this appeal, which included Partner John E. Roberts, and to lead the Proskauer litigation team at the District Court, which included associates Jim Anderson, Lucy Wolf, and Hena Vora.

Francis Lewis High School Makes Semi-Final Run in Moot Court Competition

For over 30 years, Proskauer lawyers have worked with students from Francis Lewis High School in Queens to help prepare them for moot court competitions. This year’s program was unlike any other with practices held over Zoom from living rooms and bedrooms across the City; and, instead of walking up to the lectern at the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse, a grand classical revival landmark in lower Manhattan, each student argued at home in front of a laptop. Despite the challenging situation, the competitors made it to the semi-finals of this year’s Metropolitan Mentor Moot Court competition for the first time in ten years. Continue Reading

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