WilmerHale was honored by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) with the organization’s 2021 Beacon of Justice Award for the firm’s pro bono efforts, especially for its work in furthering racial equity.
The firm was among two dozen firms honored at the NLADA’s June 9, 2021, virtual gala for pro bono work that centered on racial justice during 2020. NLADA said the firms recognized for their work engaged in a “a wide spectrum [of activities] from civil rights and special relief motions related to COVID that have racial significance, to advocates raising their voices and committing resources, to untangling systems that are inherently unjust.”
“WilmerHale is very proud of this award and of the longstanding commitment of our attorneys and staff to the cause of racial justice and equity,” said Mark Fleming, a partner and co-chair of the firm’s Racial Justice and Reform Initiative. “NLADA’s recognition highlights not only the good work that has been done and that is being done in fighting systemic racism in our legal system, but also the immense amount of work still to be done. We are honored to be striving in such good company.”
NLADA describes itself as “the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit association devoted to excellence in the delivery of legal services to those who cannot afford counsel.”
NLADA recognized WilmerHale, in part, for the firm’s significant efforts to reform the nation’s cash bail systems and policing.
On March 25, 2021, WilmerHale, along with co-counsel the Civil Rights Corps and the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, won a momentous California Supreme Court victory for pre-trial arrestees financially unable to post cash bail.
The case centered on Kenneth Humphrey, a Black man in his 60s with a history of substance dependence, arrested for allegedly robbing an elderly fellow resident of a senior home of $7 and a cologne bottle. Mr. Humphrey’s cash bail requirement was initially set at $600,000, and then at $350,000, but he was denied pretrial release because he did not have the financial resources to post either amount.
In a unanimous decision with potential national ripple effects, the California high court ruled that “the common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional.” Because of cash bail’s disparate negative impact on communities of color and the poor, the decision was an important victory for racial justice.
With the nation’s attention refocused in 2020 on the importance of police reform, WilmerHale lawyers advised the US Conference of Mayors’ Police Reform and Racial Justice Working Group on its August 2020 report, which provided guidance to the nation’s cities on improving police accountability, among other changes meant to end the injustices long experienced by Black Americans during police encounters. The report reflects contributions from dozens of WilmerHale lawyers.
The US Conference of Mayors valued the firm’s law enforcement reform experience, including work WilmerHale attorneys did in Chicago and Baltimore after the deaths of Laquan McDonald and Freddie Gray led each city to ask the US Department of Justice to evaluate their policing practices.