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2017 Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service

MacArthur Justice Center lawyers Sheila A. Bedi, Vanessa del Valle and Alexa Van Brunt, as well as co-counsel Alan Mills, Executive Director of the Uptown People's Law Center are the recipients of the 2017 Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service. 

The award was presented Wednesday, May 24, 2017 by the U.S. District Court in conjunction with the Chicago Chapter of the Federal Bar Association.

The four were selected in recognition of their work on behalf of Illinois parolees routinely denied their constitutional rights and re-imprisoned for alleged parole violations without a fair hearing. The federal class action, which was filed in 2013, ended this year with a settlement that guarantees attorneys be provided to eligible parolees. The settlement also provides that all parolees will receive key due process protections, including being informed of the evidence being used against them, the right to present a defense on their behalf and written findings at each stage of the process.

2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award to Four MacArthur Justice Center Attorneys

Four attorneys with the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center have been named recipients of the 2016 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award presented by Public Justice, the national non-profit firm pursuing high impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice.

Katie Schwartzmann

Part of a team of lawyers recognized for their litigation work aimed at ending money bail practices, the four are Katie Schwartzmann, Co-Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office in New Orleans; Eric A. Foley, a staff attorney in New Orleans; Cliff Johnson, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center’s office at the University of Mississippi School of Law; and Jacob Howard, staff attorney at the office at Ole Miss Law.

Eric A. Foley

Schwartzmann and Foley filed a class action suit against Ascension Parish, a suburban community between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Within days of the filing, the district court granted a temporary restraining order requiring the release of the named plaintiff. Shortly after that victory, they negotiated a settlement with the Parish Court, replacing money bail with release without bail for most misdemeanor offenses.

Cliff Johnson

The tireless work of Johnson and Howard in Moss Point — a small city in Jackson County, Mississippi — helped bring an end to the practice of jailing impoverished people for up to a week while they wait to appear in court on misdemeanor cases. The MacArthur Justice Center also recently settled a case against the City of Jackson that resulted in the elimination of money bail in misdemeanor cases there.

Jacob Howard

The award from Public Justice also recognized Alec Karakatsanis of Equal Justice Under Law for his national leadership, which included serving as co-counsel on both MacArthur Justice Center cases. In 2015, Karakatsanis filed a federal lawsuit in Montgomery, Ala., “making his client the first person to file a systemic challenge to the American money bail system on equal protection and due process grounds since the rise of mass incarceration more than 30 years ago. Shortly after, the Department of Justice filed a landmark Statement of Interest, agreeing that a person in jail on a money bail she cannot afford, and without an inquiry into her ability to pay, is unconstitutional.”

Other team members receiving the Trial Lawyer of the Year award included Matthew Swerdlin of Birmingham, Ala.; J. Mitch McGuire of McGuire & Associates in Montgomery, Ala.; William M. Dawson of Dawson Law Office in Birmingham, Ala.; Thomas B. Harvey and Michael-John Voss of ArchCity Defenders in St. Louis, Mo.; and William P. Quigley of New Orleans, La.