Thank you to everyone who joined us in celebrating our award winners and their organizations in their commitment to dismantle injustice and pursue lasting change.
The Wiley A. Branton Award
John A. Freedman
John A. Freedman has devoted his career to tackling critical civil rights litigation in the District and across the country. During his 23 years as a litigation associate and partner at Arnold & Porter, and since 2020 as the firm’s Senior Pro Bono Counsel, Mr. Freedman has litigated a wide swath of civil rights issues including racial discrimination in policing, barriers to employment, voting rights, and many more. In the past several years, he has led teams that successfully challenged the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the decennial census, the rescission of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, the rescission of the Central American Minors (CAM) program, race discrimination in the Prince George’s County Police Department, wage theft against undocumented construction workers, and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) criminal background screening policy. Also known for his voting rights work, he has successfully tried challenges to voting restrictions in Florida and partisan gerrymandering in Pennsylvania and Kansas.
Through countless cases on behalf of people facing discrimination, Mr. Freedman has emerged as a key leader in the DC pro bono and civil rights community. In addition to his work with the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, where he is longtime member of the Board and a former co-chair, Mr. Freedman has partnered with many other civil rights organizations including the national Lawyers’ Committee, the ACLU and many of its state affiliates, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project. He has been recognized by the National Law Journal as a “trailblazer” in Political Activism/First Amendment law. In addition to his voting rights and gerrymandering cases, Mr. Freedman’s recent work has focused on protecting vulnerable populations at risk from COVID-19, including patients at DC’s St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, persons detained in Maryland and Pennsylvania jails, and students with disabilities in several states, including Virginia’s schools.
The Alfred McKenzie Award
DC Justice Lab
In the summer of 2020, in the wake of one of the most graphic depictions of police violence ever publicized, demonstrations erupted around the globe demanding a new approach to keeping people safe. As a team of volunteers, DC Justice Lab immediately got to work turning protests into harm-reduction policies. Through the DC Police Reform Commission and District Task Force on Jails & Justice, it developed extensive recommendations for transforming the District’s criminal laws and community investments.
Now a team of seven staff members, DC Justice Lab is playing an important role as attorneys, teachers, and truthtellers. They drafted several bills currently before the DC Council that would broaden criminal record sealing, protect children from police searches and interrogations, and limit car chases. And, they helped move the city away from police responses to mental health crises. Their work has brought significant attention to the criminogenic effects of state violence and the importance of centering Black voices in policymaking.
DC Justice Lab’s agenda is grounded in the needs and demands of Black Washingtonians, carefully researched and drafted, and calculated to make our city safer, freer, and more equal. This year, DC Justice Lab chaired committees on the DC Police Reform Commission and the District Task Force on Jails and Justice, each of which published a blueprint to improve public safety through a harm-reduction approach. Their research figured prominently in the Commission’s recommendations to invest in non-police alternatives to behavioral health crises; to strengthen DC’s social safety net and decriminalize poverty; to expand community responses to gun violence; to protect young people from state violence; and to increase community oversight.
DC Justice Lab is also a sought-after presenter and took the lead on turning protests into proposals and turning proposals into policies. Their media strategy this year has helped change the narrative around criminal justice in the District.
The Vincent E. Reed Award
Digital Equity in DC Education
Digital Equity in DC Education is a parent coalition working to close the digital divide in Washington, DC and ensure that all DC Public Schools students have the technology tools needed for a 21st century education that prepares them for college and career.
The group started with two DCPS moms in 2018, and with the help of the ward education councils, grew into a city-wide coalition of parents representing school communities from across the city – all of which face the same technology challenges caused by insufficient District technology planning and funding.
During the past four years Digital Equity in DC Education has advocated to city officials for a funded comprehensive technology plan to provide computers for all DC Public School students, digital literacy training, robust IT support, and reliable high-speed internet to support learning in schools and at home.
In March 2020, when the pandemic forced DCPS to quickly shift to distance learning, the school system had more than 16,000 new computers on hand due to the technology investment for which Digital Equity in DC Education had successfully advocated the prior year. More recent accomplishments include working with DC Councilmember Janeese Lewis George to propose the DCPS Technology Equity Act of 2021, and successfully advocating for the school system to fund computers for teachers, improve internet speeds and infrastructure in school buildings, begin replacement of outdated classroom technology, and invest in the refresh of student computers.
The group, led by parents from different wards—Grace Hu, Melody Molinoff, and Alexandra Simbana—works closely with teachers, school staff, and the ward education councils. They have no paid staff and no corporate donors. They are simply moms and dads making some good trouble.
The Roderic V.O. Boggs Award
Howard B. Jacobson
Howard B. Jacobson has served since 2004 as pro bono General Counsel for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee. In this capacity, Howard provides a broad range of legal services. He assisted the Committee in negotiating its new office lease, advised on benefits and tax matters, assisted in resolving complex personnel issues, oversaw the revision of the Committee’s personnel handbook, provided guidance on regulatory and governance issues, and served as a counselor and sounding board to the executive director and chief operations officer on far too many questions to count. Howard’s contribution, while often hidden from view, has been essential to the success of the Committee for nearly 20 years.
Howard has an active practice as a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. He works extensively to provide tax advice for distressed, insolvent, and bankrupt companies and their creditors and to clients on business transactions. Howard also counsels exempt organizations, including public charities and private foundations and advises Native American Indian tribes, as well as lenders to, and investors with tribes, on tax issues specific to the tribal governments, their business activities and their members, including taxable and tax-exempt financing transactions.
From 2020 to 2022, Howard was recognized by The Best Lawyers in America for his work in tax law. He was also named on Turnarounds & Workouts’ Top Bankruptcy Tax Specialists List in 2017, 2018, and 2020.
Howard received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, and his law degree from Harvard Law School. Prior to joining Akin Gump, he served as attorney-adviser for Chief Judge Theodore Tannenwald Jr., of the US Tax Court, and practiced with a tax specialty firm. He is active in community affairs and is a past president of the Epilepsy Foundation of the National Capital Area.
The Outstanding Achievement Awards
Arnold & Porter | ACLU of Maryland
Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association NCR, et al. v. Prince George’s County, et al.
Black and Latinx police officers of the Prince George’s County Police Department have been subjected to discrimination for decades. Officers who stood up against racism in the Department or biased policing in the community were subjected to often career-ending retaliation. Arnold & Porter, along with the ACLU of Maryland and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee represented the United Black Police Officers’ Association, Hispanic National Law Enforcement Association, and a group of Black and Latinx officers in hard-fought litigation to end these discriminatory practices. After four years of litigation, the case concluded in an important settlement. The settlement provides for injunctive relief that will address both workplace discrimination and promote equitable and constitutional police practices. In addition, our clients received compensation for the discrimination they experienced.
Beveridge & Diamond, P.C.
Equal Rights Center, et al. v. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, et al.
Despite that Walter Reed serves veterans, military personnel, and dependents, often with serious disabilities, not all bathrooms at the facility are accessible to people who use a wheelchair. Our client, Mr. Sylvester Fiers, a military dependent, could not navigate the bathroom in the base commissary with his wheelchair. More than a year of pre-litigation efforts to resolve the issue were unsuccessful and in May of 2018, Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. and the Committee sued Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on behalf of Equal Rights Center and Mr. Fiers. The hospital resisted making necessary changes for nearly four years of litigation. The lawsuit finally settled in January 2022 with modifications to the bathrooms at issue and an independent review of accessibility throughout the campus.
Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP | ACLU of Virginia | disAbility Law Center of Virginia| Arnold & Porter
Christopher Seaman, et al. v. the Commonwealth of Virginia, et al.
No child should have to risk their lives to go to school, but for immunocompromised students during a global pandemic, this right has been threatened. Executive Order 2 and Senate Bill 739 strip Virginia school districts of the ability to provide accommodations for students with disabilities by banning schools from using community masking as a COVID-19 prevention strategy. In response, the ACLU of Virginia, Brown Goldstein & Levy, the disAbility Law Center of Virginia, and Arnold & Porter filed suit together with the Committee on behalf of the parents of 12 students with disabilities. In March 2022, the US District Court granted a preliminary injunction that prohibits the enforcement of EO2 and SB739 in each of our client’s school districts and provides a blueprint for any parent of a student with disabilities to assure their school district can make accommodations for their child. We continue to fight on behalf of these parents and students to ensure every student has equitable access to education.
Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC
Park 7 Tenant Union, et al. v. Park 7 Residential LP, et al.
The District of Columbia is facing a wave of gentrification that is displacing residents from historically Black neighborhoods and communities. In addition to gentrification, historically Black neighborhoods continue to face deteriorating conditions in existing buildings, significant safety concerns, and other discriminatory or unlawful practices. A powerful tool to combat these systemic issues is for tenants to come together and collectively address their problems with landlords. In 2021, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC and the Committee brought the first case to protect the right. Park 7 tenants had been attempting to organize for years, only to have their efforts disrupted by the landlord and their leaders subject to retaliation. We sued the landlord and in a first-of-its-kind settlement, secured a consent decree that will protect the ability of Park 7 tenants to exercise their collective power.
Crowell & Moring LLP | Neighborhood Legal Services Program
Robert Evans, et al. v. Bozzuto Management Company, et al.
Housing subsidies provide essential access to decent and affordable housing for thousands of District residents. In addition, they are an important tool to reduce racial housing segregation. Discrimination by landlords against subsidy holders violates District law. DC residents with housing subsidies will now have an easier time securing housing in the District’s tight housing market. Mr. Robert Evans, a DC resident, receives a housing subsidy through Housing Counseling Services (HCS), a non-profit serving low-income DC residents. In his search for an apartment, Mr. Evans was told that the rent for a voucher holder was higher than the rent for the same unit if the person did not use a voucher making the unit inaccessible to him. This is illegal source of income discrimination. In 2020, Crowell & Moring LLP, the Neighborhood Legal Services Program, and the Committee filed suit on behalf of HCS and Mr. Evans against Bozzuto Management Company and the owner of the building. We achieved a favorable summary judgment ruling, and the case settled with agreements designed to eliminate discriminatory barriers to housing subsidy holders.
Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
Jose Carlos Alfaro, et al. v. Gali Services Industries, Inc., et al.
When Gali Services Industries, Inc. discontinued its business in 2018, they terminated workers’ employment without notice and failed to pay their employees’ wages, accrued leave, or benefits for weeks of work prior to the business closing. On behalf of 330 Gali Services’ former employees, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP and the Committee filed suit in 2018. In October 2021, the court issued a default judgment of $742,430 in unpaid wages, overtime, and other damages. We continue to represent our clients to enforce the judgment against the employer.
Fish & Richardson
Evangeline J. Parker v. Reema Consulting Services, Inc.
Evangeline Parker rose rapidly through the ranks at Reema Consulting Services, achieving promotions from her position in the warehouse to Assistant Operations Manager. Her rise was cut short when she was bombarded with gender stereotyping and sexual harassment. Her co-workers started a vicious rumor that she was “sleeping her way to the top” and subjected her to horrible treatment. When Ms. Parker stood up against the harassment, she was fired. On behalf of Ms. Parker, Fish & Richarson and the Committee filed suit. In 2019, the team won a precedential opinion from the Fourth Circuit on the issue of sex stereotyping, and in December 2021, Ms. Parker prevailed in a jury trial, winning significant compensatory and punitive damages. Ms. Parker plans to invest in her own trucking company called “Ma’am’s Trucking,” for which she is applying for licensing as a minority-owned business.
Murphy Anderson PLLC | Public Justice Center
Torray Baylor, Antonio Dorsey, Kevon McDonald, Kym Thornton, et al.
Low-wage workers are frequently subject to practices that deny them their lawfully earned pay, sometimes through direct wage theft or by misclassification as private contractors. Murphy Anderson PLLC, Public Justice Center, and the Committee settled a case in April 2021 alleging unpaid wages and employment discrimination against a construction company. Approximately 250 workers are eligible for payments under the terms of the settlement, which totals approximately $1,050,000 for the workers. The employer also agreed to make changes to certain employment practices. When the Committee’s Workers’ Rights Clinic had a transition in leadership, Murphy Anderson PLLC also stepped in to oversee the provision of legal advice to workers, and allow the Clinic to continue providing essential services for workers across the DC metro region. Murphy Anderson’s work made a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of workers facing wage theft, discrimination, sexual harassment, sick leave violations, wrongful termination, collateral consequences of an arrest or conviction, and other workers’ rights violations and barriers to employment.
Steptoe & Johnson LLP
Marvin Gutierrez v. Keith Lewis, et al.
Encounters between limited-English speaking people and police can often result in unnecessary or excessive violence due to racial bias and language barriers. Mr. Marvin Gutierrez, a limited-English speaker, attempted to be a good Samaritan and chased after a drunk driver who had totaled several cars in Mr. Gutierrez’s neighborhood. New Carrollton police officers commanded Mr. Gutierrez to stop, which he did. He did not understand and could not comply with other commands given to him in English to get on the ground. Although he did not resist, told the officers that he did not speak English, and posed no threat to the officers or others, the officers beat him severely, even after he was restrained and in custody. Steptoe & Johnson LLP and the Committee represented Mr. Gutierrez in his Constitutional action and successfully achieved a significant settlement to compensate him for his injuries.
Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP | School Justice Project
Charles H., et al. v. District of Columbia, et al.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, DC Public Schools has provided inaccessible, inadequate, and inconsistently delivered work packets in lieu of classes to 40 students with special education needs who are incarcerated at the DC Jail. As a result, these students received virtually no instruction and no mental health counseling or other services in violation of federal education law. In response, Terris Pravlik & Millian LLP, School Justice Project, and the Committee filed suit and in June 2021, a federal judge entered a preliminary injunction ordering the District to provide these students with special education and related services in conformity with their Individual Education Plans within 15 days. In February 2022, a federal court found the District in contempt of the preliminary injunction. We continue to advocate on behalf of the students at the DC Jail to ensure they are provided the education they deserve.
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Wiley A. Branton was a tireless advocate for civil rights and equal justice throughout his entire career—as a private practitioner in Arkansas, a leader of federal agencies in Washington, and a Dean of the Howard University School of Law. The Wiley A. Branton Award is annually bestowed upon members of the legal community whose careers embody a deep and abiding commitment to civil rights and economic justice advocacy.
Dean Branton started his career in private practice in Arkansas in the 1950’s, representing African-American criminal defendants in often racially charged prosecutions. Working with Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, he took on some of the most significant civil rights cases in the South, including the representation of the Freedom Riders in Mississippi, who were arrested for desegregating public transportation and public accommodations.
Among his most notable cases was the litigation that desegregated the Little Rock public schools. It was Dean Branton’s injunction that led to President Eisenhower calling out federal troops to escort African-American students to school. From 1962 to 1965, he led the Voter Education Project in Atlanta. During the three years he was at the helm, the project registered more than 600,000 African Americans to vote.
President Lyndon Johnson appointed Dean Branton to lead the President’s Council on Equal Opportunity and then to work on the implementation of the Civil Rights Act as special assistant to the United States Attorney General. In 1967, he became executive director of the United Planning Organization, the District of Columbia’s anti-poverty agency. Two years later, he directed the social action program of the Alliance for Labor Action.
From 1978 to 1983, Mr. Branton was dean of Howard University Law School. During his tenure at Howard, he dedicated himself to the training of the next generation of civil rights advocates.
Following Dean Branton’s death in 1988, his friend Justice Thurgood Marshall remembered him as a great man who “believed in people and believed in what was right.’’
Wiley Branton was an inspiration to everyone who had the privilege of knowing and working with him. He personified the legal profession’s ideal of pro bono service that is at the heart of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee’s missionThe Wiley A. Branton Award was first bestowed by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee in 1989. It takes its name from Wiley A. Branton, Sr., an extraordinary man whose life embodied civil rights advocacy of the highest order.