Aiding Inmates Jailed Under a Racist, Jim Crow-Era Law Two states in the U.S.—Louisiana and Oregon—have long had a shameful distinction: They’ve both allowed criminal conviction by non-unanimous juries. The intent was to disempower minority jurors and deprive people of color of a fair trial. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court finally threw out these laws as unconstitutional, and future defendants will no longer be subject to them. But what about the thousands of victims of this decades-long discrimination who are still behind bars? Davis Wright Tremaine has joined with partner organizations in both states to help repair the injustice. In Louisiana, we’re collaborating with the Promise of Justice Initiative in seeking postconviction relief for these inmates—more than half of whom are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. Twenty-six DWT attorneys and six paralegals are helping litigate and conducting legal research on prospective cases. To optimize impact, we have also recruited lawyer participants from several of our largest clients, including Facebook, JPMorgan Chase, and Bloomberg. Will Friedman, counsel in our Washington, D.C., office, helped spearhead the project by bringing the Promise of Justice Initiative to our attention and making the necessary introduction. The teams are currently representing 12 clients and have devoted more than 530 hours to the effort so far.
In Oregon, we’ve also partnered with Lewis & Clark Law School’s Criminal Justice Reform Clinic to represent five Oregon inmates sentenced on the basis of nonunanimous jury verdicts. A dozen DWT attorneys have so far devoted more than 330 hours to the work. The Oregon State Bar New Lawyers Division recognized Olivier Jamin, an associate in our Portland office, for his leadership in this effort, honoring him with the 2020 Advancing Diversity Award. A third group of DWT lawyers, led by San Francisco partner Allison Davis, pursued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that sought to make last year’s ruling retroactive. Our team filed an amicus brief on behalf of 14 former state and federal prosecutors in Louisiana, who argued that “‘finality’ is not the highest goal of our criminal justice system: Justice is.” The Court heard arguments in November and in May issued a ruling that they would not make their previous decision retroactive in a habeas proceeding.