As part of its mission to raise awareness about the impact and importance of The Legal Aid Society, Proskauer’s Associates’ Campaign for Legal Aid organized a special event on wrongful convictions featuring Elizabeth Felber from Legal Aid’s Wrongful Conviction Unit, Jason Flom, a renowned criminal justice reform advocate, and Jimmy Dennis, an exoneree who served 25 years on death row for a crime he did not commit.
The idea that individuals with a felony conviction should be barred from voting for at least some period of time is widely accepted across the United States. But when you consider that current laws arose out of explicit racial animus following the Civil War and the end of slavery; when you look at the disproportionate effect the practice has had on people of color; and when you weigh the arguments in favor of disenfranchising millions of Americans – it becomes apparent that states should revisit this issue as part of broader criminal justice reform efforts and broader calls to address systemic racism.
Currently, over five million Americans who otherwise qualify to vote cannot do so as the result of a felony conviction.
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.
Many immigrant families in the U.S. live with the fear that their loved ones will be detained on very short notice during Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids. Just this week, a Proskauer pro bono volunteer answered a call to the Immigration Helpline from a woman seeking help after her undocumented husband was arrested and detained by officials she feared were immigration officers. She did not know why he was taken, where she could go to see him, and whether he was going to be incarcerated or deported.
Unfortunately, this caller’s experience is commonplace under U.S. immigration policy. In July 2019, the federal government announced nationwide ICE raids targeting immigrant families in major U.S. cities. At the time, the President characterized the coordinated raids as a “major operation,” threatening to send undocumented and other removable immigrants into detention and out of the country. Shortly after the President’s announcement, Proskauer pro bono attorneys and staff sprung to action, working through the weekend, to answer calls from immigrants fearing these raids.
Proskauer honored its lawyers and staff who have made significant contributions to the Firm’s pro bono and corporate social responsibility programs this year at its 11th Annual Golden Gavel Awards ceremony on January 22. The following is a list of recipients alphabetically by project.
Protecting Voting Rights
These attorneys and paralegals ensured that a team of more than 150 volunteers from Proskauer and partnering corporate clients would be ready and able to answer nearly 2,000 calls over two days from voters in five states during the 2018 mid-term elections. This effort was part of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law non-partisan “Election Protection” hotline program, which strives to ensure that all U.S. citizens can exercise their right to vote.
Proskauer’s Private Client Services lawyers in the Firm’s Boca Raton office have a wide range of experience in trusts and estate planning, and wanted to give back to the community in a meaningful way. With this intention, we formed a partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County…
In a crowded federal building earlier this month, against a backdrop of innocent child laughter and knowing adult tears, among joyful embraces and somber reassurances, a Proskauer client heard the last three digits of his alien registration number echo off the anxious faces around him, and he made his way to the window from where the voice rang. Seconds later—composing himself before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) official on the other side of the glass—his fate came: “Congratulations, you have been granted asylum in the United States.”
Only six months after Immigration Equality, a leading LGBTQ immigrant rights organization, referred this client to us, Proskauer successfully secured his right to remain in the United States indefinitely as an asylee, away from the persecution he had faced in his native country.