Bloomberg Law
Free Newsletter Sign Up
Login
BROWSE
Bloomberg Law
Welcome
Login
Advanced Search Go
Free Newsletter Sign Up

Pro Bono Innovators 2022 Honoree Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison

Nov. 2, 2022, 11:24 AM

Your firm’s key matters included the US Supreme Court caseDobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and a victory  in Sines v. Kesslercase (along with Kaplan Hecker & Fink and Cooley)  scoring the $26 million verdict for clients injured at the 2017  “Unite the Right” rally. How did your firm strategize on how to approach these matters? 

The first three years we litigated the pre-viability abortion ban at issue in Dobbs were straightforward: It was facially unconstitutional according to every court (including the Supreme Court) to rule in the last half-century. By unexpectedly granting certiorari last year, the court signaled its willingness to dismantle the entire body of relevant case law Americans have long relied on. We thus had to approach briefing and argument like driving a car expecting the wheels to fall off.  

Sines v. Kessler was not an ordinary civil litigation because the defendants were a ‘who’s who’ of the White supremacist movement in 2017. That impacted all aspects of case strategy, including how we approached document collection, depositions, and trial. For example, one of the most difficult aspects of the trial was strategizing about how best to combat the defense strategy of desensitizing the jury to their hateful and violent rhetoric and conduct.

What were the most innovative aspects of these matters in your view? And who took the lead on driving innovation with the work? 

In Dobbs we challenged the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week gestational ban on abortion. But the 15-week ban was only one small part of Dobbs. The heart of the case was a novel challenge to Mississippi’s entire regime of abortion restrictions and regulations, brought to establish that courts can consider the cumulative burdens of anti-abortion laws on access to care. We took the lead and, together with co-counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights and 10 experts, laid the groundwork to show how these laws work together to thwart access. 

Regarding Sines, in hoping to hold accountable the leaders of the White supremacist movement for planning the violence that occurred in Charlottesville, we alleged a conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and similar Virginia statutes. This was a relatively novel use of the 150-year-old law.

Tell us more about the impact of the matters on the local, national, and/or global level. 

It would be impossible to overstate the devastating effect of Dobbs—on people who can become pregnant, our society, our economy and our humanity—which is why Paul, Weiss has been working nonstop since before the decision came down to mitigate those harms.  Just one example: We co-lead New York’s Pro Bono Task Force with Attorney General Letitia James, partnering with dozens of national law firms and nonprofits to assist pregnant people and health-care providers.

On a local level, Sines played a critical role in helping the Charlottesville community generally, and our nine plaintiffs specifically, to heal after the violence of August 11-12, 2017.  On a national level, it helped expose the growing scourge of violent White supremacy in the United States and has served as a model for lawsuits against those involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection.  Those cases, like Sines, allege an illegal conspiracy under the KKK Act.

Can you share more about your team’s ultimate success in Sines and its work in Dobbs? 

In the Sines matter, our team’s passion and persistence were integral to our success. We were determined to get justice for the plaintiffs and to hold the defendants accountable for the violent conspiracy they planned in the months before August 11-12, 2017. Despite the defendants’ yearslong effort to thwart the justice system by willfully disobeying court orders, we persisted.

Through extensive motion practice, we gained access to the documents and information we needed to take the case to trial and won both monetary and evidentiary sanctions along the way. Once we reached trial, we aggressively crossed the defendants with copious evidence of their agreement to commit violence and wreak havoc in Charlottesville.

Before the Supreme Court took the Dobbs appeal, [where the high court overruled Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, holding that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,] we twice successfully secured temporary restraining orders against Mississippi’s gestational bans and the Fifth Circuit affirmed both.

Take us back to the time Sines was resolved. What did you do to celebrate?  

Because of Covid, our plaintiffs were not permitted to be in the courtroom with us when the jury returned its verdict and awarded them $26 million in damages. After we won, the legal team returned to our hotel war room where the plaintiffs had gathered to watch the verdict over videoconference. They formed a receiving line in front of the door to the war room and cheered, high-fived, and hugged each member of the legal team. We spent the rest of the day celebrating our hard-fought win with our brave clients.

Responses by Paul, Weiss partners Alexia Korberg and Jessica Phillips. 

With assistance from Kibkabe Araya

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lisa Helem at lhelem@bloombergindustry.com; MP McQueen at mmcqueen@bloombergindustry.com