The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Proskauer Files Amicus Brief Urging Protection for Low-Income Tenants of Color Amidst COVID-19 and Impending Eviction Crisis

As documented in numerous studies, the brunt of COVID-19’s impact has fallen most heavily on racial and ethnic minorities who have suffered higher hospitalization and mortality rates as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment as a consequence of the virus and government efforts to contain it. As a result, many low-income tenants—Black and Latinx, disproportionately—are having difficulty paying their rent.

In New Jersey, hundreds of thousands of residents, including a disproportionate number of minorities, face this grim reality and may soon become at risk of eviction. One July 2020 study predicted that approximately 450,000 households—40% of all New Jersey renter households—would be unable pay rent in August, and that nearly half of Black New Jersey renter households would be unable to do so—a higher percentage than for any other race or ethnicity. It is estimated that between 400,000 and 560,000 New Jersey renter households are at risk of eviction, which is forecasted to culminate in New Jersey with an estimated 600% increase from pre-COVID-19 levels. Continue Reading

Election Protection 2020: Preparing Voters for Election Day

For the past 14 years, Proskauer has partnered with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in its Election Protection initiative, a nonpartisan project mobilizing law firms, law schools, in-house counsel, and other members of the legal community to ensure every vote is counted fairly and equally.  Proskauer will again host a national call center to provide comprehensive voting information, as well as monitor election-related issues.

Countdown to Election Day: Making Your Voting Plan

In the midst of a pandemic and with less than a month until Election Day, every American must have a plan to ensure their vote is cast.  If you choose to vote in person, locate your local polling place online or through the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline, arrange for transportation, and no matter how long the wait may be: stay in line.  Make sure you know your polling place’s hours, and bring the documentation your state requires.  Review your employer’s policies regarding taking time off to vote, and arrange for childcare, if necessary. Continue Reading

Proskauer Ramps Up Election Protection Efforts

Election Protection is a nationwide nonpartisan coalition, spearheaded by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, working to ensure that every voter is able to exercise their right to vote. Election Protection runs a national call center where any voter in the United States can dial (866) OUR-VOTE to immediately be connected with a trained volunteer who can answer anything from questions about where to vote and what ID voters need to bring to the polls to how to address broken machines, voter intimidation or other issues arising at a voting location.

Since 2006 Proskauer has been participating in Election Protection running call centers and providing hundreds of volunteer lawyers from senior partners to first-year associates, and even in-house counsel from clients. Proskauer associates Jason Madden and Seth Fiur have been spearheading the Firm’s recent Election Protection efforts and we caught up with them recently to learn more about how the Firm is preparing to support Election Protection leading up to and including Election Day this November:

Continue Reading

Advocating for Transgender, Intersex, and Gender Nonconforming People’s Equal Access to Homeless Shelters

Nearly one-third of transgender individuals experience homelessness at some point in their life, and 70% of those who have stayed in a homeless shelter have reported some form of mistreatment, including harassment and refusal of service, due to their gender identity.  Transgender individuals are significantly more likely to end up homeless than the general population because they often face rejection by their family members and discrimination in employment and housing.  The levels of discrimination and income inequality are even higher for transgender women of color, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the rates of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness among the transgender population.

On September 22, 2020, Proskauer pro bono attorneys filed a public comment letter on behalf of The National LGBT Bar Association and Foundation urging the withdrawal of a Proposed Rule issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would severely harm homeless transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals by allowing federally funded homeless shelters to discriminate against them on the basis of their gender identity.  The Proposed Rule would eliminate key non-discrimination protections previously afforded to transgender shelter-seekers under HUD’s 2016 Equal Access Rule and would permit single-sex shelters to turn away transgender, intersex, and gender nonconforming individuals if the shelter operator determines that the individual is not of the same “biological sex” as the other shelter residents. Continue Reading

Ten Years for a Second Chance? New York’s Sealing Statute Lags Behind Other States

In 2018, Proskauer highlighted the importance of a New York law that gives those with criminal convictions an opportunity to build a better life. New York Crim. Proc. Law § 160.59 (“CPL 160.59”) allows persons convicted of certain crimes to apply for their criminal record to be sealed upon meeting two requirements: (1) at least ten years have passed since their release from prison; and (2) a record of two or fewer criminal convictions only one of which can be a felony.  Once sealed, these records are inaccessible to the public and through routine background checks, such as those used by landlords and employers. Though CPL 160.59 has provided some with a needed second chance, it has excluded far too many people.

Many other states have implemented their own laws permitting criminal records to be sealed — in 2019 alone, 31 states and D.C. enacted bills creating, expanding, or streamlining conviction record sealing, set-asides, or expungement. New York was one of those states, reforming the system by automatically sealing drug convictions for now decriminalized offenses, as well as sealing certain pending matters where there has been no activity in the past five years.  Nevertheless, New York did not take the opportunity to expand the scope of CPL 160.59 and thus it remains severely underused compared to original estimates. Continue Reading

Proskauer Represents Forensic Scholars in Successful Amicus Brief Overturning Wrongful Conviction After 40 Years

On August 24, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, sitting en banc, reinstated defendant Ronnie Long’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging his rape conviction more than four decades earlier.  Proskauer filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Mr. Long on behalf of some forty leading scholars who specialize in forensic science, emphasizing the grave impact of the prosecution’s repeated failures to disclose all the forensic evidence in the case.  The Fourth Circuit agreed, and now Mr. Long is expected to be released imminently.

Over forty years ago, Mr. Long was accused of committing a rape and burglary that he has consistently maintained he did not commit.  Relying heavily on the victim’s identification testimony, and the asserted “honesty” of law enforcement who investigated the crime, a jury found Mr. Long guilty of first-degree rape and first-degree burglary.  He was sentenced to life in prison, and his conviction was upheld on appeal.  As the result of continued litigation over the span of many decades, however, a steady stream of suppressed evidence concerning the crime, neither disclosed to the defense nor presented to the jury, came to light. It included lab-test results demonstrating that Mr. Long was not linked to the crime scene; medical evidence taken from the victim that unaccountably went missing; and, most recently, 43 latent fingerprints lifted from the scene, none of which matched Mr. Long.  It also became plain that the detectives who investigated the crime lied at trial about the evidence suppression. Continue Reading

Another Public Health Crisis: The Intersection of Gun Violence & COVID-19

As COVID-19 ravages communities across the United States, another serious public health crisis is also escalating: gun violence. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization and longtime Proskauer partner dedicated to ending gun violence, has been examining the impact of COVID-19 on the gun violence epidemic, as well as making important recommendations.

In a recent report, Everytown found that there was a major spike in gun sales between March and May of 2020 in comparison to previous years, as well as a corresponding rise in gun deaths. As a result of these sales, there has been a corresponding sharp increase in requests for background checks, which puts immense stress on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Everytown notes that the primary and most dangerous consequence of this strain on resources is the so-called “Charleston loophole.” While federal law mandates that licensed gun dealers run a background check on any prospective gun buyer, this loophole allows any purchaser, even one with an incomplete background check, to proceed by default with their gun purchase if three business days have elapsed since the background check request was submitted – the technicality through which Dylann Roof was able to secure a firearm to kill nine Black churchgoers in South Carolina. As a result, a significant number of gun sales (potentially over 90,000) have been processed during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic thus far without complete background checks. Continue Reading

LexBlog