Since its founding over 90 years ago, Covington has had a strong commitment to public service. The firm encourages all of its lawyers to participate in pro bono work, and devotes significant resources to finding pro bono projects that reflect the diverse interests of its attorneys.
Much of Covington’s pro bono work reflects the firm's commitment to providing legal services to economically disadvantaged individuals and families in our surrounding communities. Our six-month rotation program reflects this commitment by allowing attorneys and staff to work at each of three DC-based legal service organizations -- Neighborhood Legal Services Program, the Children’s Law Center and Bread for the City.
Our pro bono program encompasses a wide range of areas, including freedom of expression and religion; civil rights and civil liberties; gay rights; family law; education; landlord/tenant; homelessness; employment; criminal and court-appointed cases; police misconduct; environmental law; fairness in government procurements and grants; intellectual property; veterans benefits claims, and nonprofit incorporation and tax. The firm is involved in systemic reform projects concerning DC's prisons, public housing, and mental health and juvenile justice systems. Our attorneys are doing an increasing amount of micro-finance and international human rights work. Through our pro bono program, associates have opportunities to play a lead role in representing indigent criminal defendants at trial, on appeal and in habeas proceedings in matters ranging from misdemeanors to capital cases.
The firm's pro bono program is managed by two full-time attorneys in DC and two part-time attorneys in San Francisco and New York who actively seek pro bono opportunities and match new matters with lawyers' interests.
- The American Lawyer magazine has ranked Covington’s pro bono practice among the top three firms for 17 of the past 21 years.
- Since 2003, the D.C. Circuit Judicial Conference has recognized those firms where at least 40% of the attorneys perform 50 or more pro bono hours during the previous year. Covington has achieved this so-called “40 at 50” benchmark each year. This year, 51% of the firm’s DC attorneys reported 50 or more pro bono hours.
- Law360 designated Covington as a 2012 Pro Bono Firm of the Year, noting that dedication to the responsibility of pro bono service “permeates culture of Covington.” Law360 previously named Covington as a 2010 Pro Bono Firm of the Year.
- National Law Journal - Pro Bono Hot List (2013)
- National Law Journal "Champions" - In each of the past three years Covington lawyers have been selected as "Champions" for upholding the profession’s core values through public service, pro bono efforts, and advocacy for civil liberties - Robert Long (2012); S. William Livingston (2011); Anthony Herman (2010).
- Legal Community Against Violence - Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year Award (2012).
- Chinese American Citizens Alliance - Champion of Justice Award - for facilitating the passage of legislation expressing regret for the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and other legislation that severely restricted the immigration of persons of Chinese descent (2012).
- Washington Lawyers’ Committee - Outstanding Achievement Awards - for work in the fields of DC Prisoners’ Rights and Disability Rights (2012).
- Innocence Project New Orleans - Outstanding Volunteer Counsel - for work to recover compensation for IPNO’s exonerated clients (2012).
- Kids in Need of Defense - Allegiance Award (2012).
- District Alliance for Safe Housing - Keystone Award (2012).
- National Legal Aid & Defender Association - Beacon of Justice Award - honoring “Innovative Public-Private Partnerships that Protect Equal Justice for All through Appellate Litigation” (2011).
- Sanctuary for Families - Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Award - for successful representation of a battered woman from West Africa seeking asylum in the United States (2011).
- National Veterans Legal Services Program - Senator Daniel Inouye Award presented to James McKay for his longstanding pro bono support of veterans (2011).
- The Foundation for Criminal Justice - Certificate of Honor - for Representation of National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers before the Supreme Court (2011).
- DC Appleseed - Pro Bono Partner Award - for “Outstanding Work to Revitalize the Anacostia River” (2011).
- Legal Aid Society of New York - Pro Bono Publico Award for Outstanding Service - for extraordinary commitment in an Alabama death penalty case (2010).
- City Bar Justice Center - Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Pro Bono Service - for work with low-income entrepreneurs through the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (2010).
- Children’s Law Center - Children’s Pro Bono Champion Award (2010).
- Human Rights Campaign - National Ally of Justice Award - for work on the DC Marriage Act (2010).
- The Federal Circuit Bar Association - Broadmoor Bench & Bar Award - for work related to the Association’s Veterans Pro Bono Programs (2010).
- United States District Court for the District of Columbia - Daniel M. Gribbon Pro Bono Advocacy Award (2010).
- Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence Legal Action Project - 20th Anniversary Honor Roll (2009).
- DC Mayor Fenty - Community Service Award (2009).
- The Nature Conservancy - Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Award (2008).
- In December 2008, Covington won asylum for a prominent Iranian journalist, Ms. S. In 2005, an Iranian court had sentenced Mr. S to death for his outspoken support of press freedom and women's rights. The sentence was reduced to three years on appeal. After serving one year, Mr. S was diagnosed with a serious illness, which prison authorities ignored for months before finally granting Mr. S leave to seek treatment. While on leave, Mr. S secured a US entrance visa and fled to the United States. With Covington's assistance, Mr. S applied for and obtained asylum based on the persecution he suffered on account of his political beliefs. After Mr. S's asylum application was granted, Covington successfully obtained humanitarian parole for Mr. S's wife, who had fled to Turkey but was denied a US visa. Humanitarian parole is a rare form of discretionary relief, which permits a foreign national to travel to and remain in the United States. The Covington team lobbied various Washington officials to establish that, in this case, there were unusual circumstances that warranted a grant of humanitarian parole. Mr. S was reunited with his wife in the United States in 2009.
- Though Iraq has faded somewhat from the news, between one and two million Iraqis remain refugees. Often fleeing from death threats by armed groups, many escaped to neighboring countries such as Syria, where they have tried to navigate the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) refugee and resettlement process without access to counsel. Working with the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at Yale Law School, several Covington attorneys are assisting three Iraqi refugees to appeal USCIS’s decision to reject their applications though they were deemed meritorious by the UN Refugee Agency.
Unaccompanied Immigrant Children
- The firm represents undocumented children who have escaped, often alone, abusive situations in their home countries. Through the KIND program (Kids in Need of Defense), our attorneys help the children remain in this country by seeking a form of immigration relief called SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status).
- We represent siblings J & A MJ, children who arrived in the United States unaccompanied from Guatemala. Their parents sent them to the United States after receiving death threats from Guatemalan gangs against the children. After arriving in Texas and staying in a detention facility for several months, J & A were evacuated from the facility due to Hurricane Ike, and sent to New York, to live with their sponsor, a family friend. The case is now pending before a New York immigration judge.
Children and Education
- Covington provides general corporate and employment advice to RUGMARK Foundation USA, a nonprofit organization working to end child labor in the carpet industry in South Asia.
- In August 2010, the firm contributed to a report published by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, entitled "The State of the District of Columbia Public Schools 2010: A Five Year Update."
- A favorable settlement that the firm obtained resulted in reforms to a North Carolina school system designed to prevent abusive treatment of special needs students.
- In a separate matter, the firm is advocating on behalf of incarcerated special needs youth in Maryland who are not receiving the rehabilitative special education services mandated by state law.
- In yet another case involving a Georgia school system, the firm is challenging the pattern of forcing troubled youth into “alternative” schools that are jail-like and provide no real education. These efforts are an attempt to curtail the “school-to-prison pipeline” problem facing this country’s low income minority youth.
- The firm has successfully concluded a child custody and adoption case in which we represented the prevailing parties pro bono for more than a decade. The child at issue, KT, was born in December 1997 with traces of cocaine in his system. As his biological parents showed little interest in caring for KT, care for the baby was provided by our clients, CM and ETS. They eventually were given temporary custody of KT in connection with a neglect case brought by the District against the biological mother. We filed a complaint for permanent custody on behalf of CM and ETS in September 1998. The biological father, who had never provided overnight care for KT, opposed the complaint. In July 1999, after a week-long trial, the trial court granted our complaint for permanent custody. The biological parents appealed. It took several years for the appeal to be fully briefed and argued and several more years for the Court of Appeals to issue a decision. Eventually, in W.D. v. C.S.M., 906 A.2d 317 (D.C. 2006), the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the permanent custody order and reopen the neglect case. Identifying an issue that had not been raised by either biological parent, the court ruled that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the custody complaint because it concerned a child who was already the subject of a neglect proceeding. The Court of Appeals’ decision in W.D. v. C.S.M. was controversial. In July 2007 the D.C. Council enacted legislation that effectively overruled the decision and made it clear that a trial court does have jurisdiction over a third-party custody complaint in circumstances similar to those of our case. In May 2007, as soon as the case was remanded to the trial court, our clients filed a petition to adopt KT, who by this time was almost 10 years old and was thriving in their care. In January 2008, the trial court held a show cause hearing on the adoption petition, and in July 2008 it issued a decree of adoption in favor of our clients. The biological father again appealed but repeatedly sought extensions of the briefing schedule, so the firm filed a motion to dismiss his appeal. In response, the biological father has decided to withdraw the appeal, thus ending the litigation.
- Covington currently is handling a total of 13 capital cases: seven in Alabama, two each in Mississippi & Florida, one in Georgia, and one in Tennessee. The firm traditionally has represented clients during the post-conviction phase. More recently, it has turned its resources to the direct trial and direct appeal stages. William Wiley has been on death row in Mississippi since 1982.
- After nearly 30 years on Mississippi’s death row and after 17 years of representation by Covington, Mr. W no longer faces a death sentence. The firm represented Mr. W in the mid-1980s and secured a reversal of his second death sentence in 1992, after the first had been overturned. Represented by other counsel, Mr. Wiley was subsequently sentenced to death for a third time. When he was facing an imminent execution date in 1998, the firm took on his case again and has represented him for the last dozen years. In November 2010, the firm won a Fifth Circuit appeal, affirming the lower court’s holding that Mr. W is mentally retarded and cannot be executed.
- In one case, the firm represents Mr. M in his appeal of his conviction for capital murder in the death of a police officer. Mr. M, a young father with no prior criminal record and no history of criminal activity, was asleep in his half of a small duplex home in Prentiss, Mississippi, on December 26, 2001. Local police officers arrived shortly before midnight to serve search warrants at his home and that of the adjoining duplex apartment. Mr. M awoke, and believing that the police officers were intruders, he loaded his weapon and lay at the foot of the bed on which his infant daughter lay sleeping. A police officer kicked in the exterior door leading directly to the bedroom, and Mr. M shot and killed the police officer who entered his home. Represented by another lawyer, he was tried for the murder of the police officer, convicted and sentenced to death. In September 2006, the trial judge agreed with Covington’s argument that Mr. M’s trial counsel provided ineffective assistance during the sentencing phase of the trial, and vacated the death sentence. The trial court later re-sentenced Mr. M to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Covington appealed Mr. M’s conviction, challenging the legal sufficiency of the evidence, and raising a host of other issues, including challenges to the trial court’s jury instructions and venue rulings, as well as its decisions concerning the legality of the search warrant and the admissibility of speculative expert testimony from a discredited forensic pathologist. The Mississippi Court of Appeals heard oral argument on June 4, 2009 and ruled 6-2 that Mr. M is entitled to a new trial. The firm hopes to be back in the courtroom soon to seek an acquittal on grounds of self-defense, using new evidence which was unavailable during Mr. M’s first trial.
- In another case, Mr. S was sentenced to death in 1994 after being convicted of first-degree murder of a Florida police officer. We filed a motion for post-conviction relief, on the grounds that Mr. S' trial counsel provided ineffective assistance at various points during his trial. Between February 2003 and July 2006, we represented Mr. S in two separate multi-day evidentiary hearings on certain of his ineffective-assistance claims. In July 2007, after two rounds of briefing and two oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court, the Court unanimously vacated Mr. S’ convictions and sentence, on the grounds that his trial counsel’s errors deprived Mr. S of his constitutional right to adequate representation at the guilt/innocence-phase of his trial. As a result, Mr. S is no longer on death row. We are currently assisting the Capital Litigation Unit of the Miami Office of the Public Defender in defending Mr. S on remand.
- In November 2008, the firm resolved longstanding wrongful death and “deliberate indifference” claims on behalf of two clients against the District of Columbia and its officials. The claims arose out of inmate-on-inmate stabbings at the D.C. Jail in December 2002, when the facility was severely understaffed and overcrowded. One client’s son was stabbed to death by another inmate while awaiting trial on non-violent offenses. When the attack occurred, only one guard was in a cellblock housing 150 prisoners, in violation of the Jail’s self-described "critical minimum" staffing level. Two days later, the other client was attacked under similar circumstances. The case settled following four years of grinding discovery. T he Covington team and co-counsel developed a factual record showing that staffing levels often were below official “critical minimums,” and that high-level corrections officials were warned repeatedly yet failed to address the situation. According to the press, the settlement was the largest amount the District ever has agreed to pay in a prisoner wrongful death case. The litigation also spurred significant improvement in the conditions at the jail. The lawsuit and surrounding public attention led to the implementation of a number of overdue jail reforms -- including a pretrial inmate classification system, 24-hour video surveillance, and a new inmate population cap.
- In a lawsuit against officials of the California prison healthcare system and prison doctors, the firm is representing a former prisoner who gave birth while incarcerated. The doctors who treated the client failed to perform a routine test for vaginal strep infection and, as a result, her otherwise healthy baby died. The plaintiff’s claims against California prison officials are based on the Eighth Amendment, and she is bringing medical malpractice and related claims against prison and private doctors and officials.
- The firm recently obtained $1.88 million in settlements in a section 1983 case in Louisiana for our pro bono client Mr. B, who served nearly 20 years in prison for a rape that he did not commit. The case arose out of events in 1984 in Covington, Louisiana, where Mr. B was picked up by the local police in an investigation of a burglary. Despite having no evidence to link him to a rape that had occurred several days before, the Covington police questioned him about the rape, took blood and hair samples from him, and asked him to take part in a lineup as a "filler." The victim, who testified that she had not had a good opportunity to observe her assailant because it was dark and he was wearing a mask, picked Mr. B out of the lineup. Mr. B was arrested days later, after the state crime lab issued serology tests purportedly linking him to the rape. He was convicted of aggravated rape and given a life sentence. In 2004 post-conviction proceedings, Mr. B obtained a DNA test that eliminated him as a suspect in the rape, and he was released from prison. In late 2005, we brought suit against the City of Covington, three police officers, and a state crime lab technician. Years of discovery and litigation over a claim of qualified immunity ensued. The turning point came in the spring of this year. As we pressed forward with discovery, the City moved to continue the June 2009 trial date so it could bring in new counsel. We opposed, arguing that Mr. B had been deprived of his day in court for too long. The court granted the continuance, but only on condition that defendants not file any motions for summary judgment on qualified immunity. T his gave us a clear path to trial, and the City’s insurer stepped up with an offer to settle for its policy limits of $1.1 million, with an additional $300,000 to be paid by the City over ten years. A settlement with the State for an additional $480,000 followed shortly thereafter. Combined with an award of $177,000 in a related state court compensation action, the total monetary recovery for Mr. B is over $2 million.
- In response to the U.S. Parole Commission’s expedited scheduling of more than 500 remedial parole hearings, a battery of Covington attorneys mobilized to provide representation to D.C. Code offenders incarcerated in federal prisons around the country. The Commission’s move came in response to the ruling in Sellmon v. Turner, 551 F. Supp.2d 66 (D.D.C. 2008), in which Judge Huvelle ruled that the Commission’s practice of applying Federal parole guidelines, rather than the District of Columbia parole guidelines in force as of the prisoner’s date of offense, constituted an impermissible ex post facto extension of the term of imprisonment. Given a second chance to make their case for parole, the hundreds of D.C. offenders eligible under the Commission’s rules faced the daunting task of putting together their parole cases for Commission consideration under the newly applicable parole guidelines. Twenty Covington attorneys answered a call for help from the D.C. Prisoners’ Project of the Washington Lawyers’ committee, and thus far have represented 18 prisoners at 10 correctional facilities around the country before Parole Commission hearing examiners.
- In November 2008, the firm resolved longstanding wrongful death and “deliberate indifference” claims on behalf of two clients against the District of Columbia and its officials. The claims arose out of inmate-on-inmate stabbings at the D.C. Jail in December 2002, when the facility was severely understaffed and overcrowded. One client’s son was stabbed to death by another inmate while awaiting trial on non-violent offenses. When the attack occurred, only one guard was in a cellblock housing 150 prisoners, in violation of the Jail’s self-described "critical minimum" staffing level. Two days later, the other client was attacked under similar circumstances. The case settled following four years of grinding discovery. The Covington team and co-counsel developed a factual record showing that staffing levels often were below official “critical minimums,” and that high-level corrections officials were warned repeatedly yet failed to address the situation. According to the press, the settlement was the largest amount the District ever has agreed to pay in a prisoner wrongful death case. The litigation also spurred significant improvement in the conditions at the jail. The lawsuit and surrounding public attention led to the implementation of a number of overdue jail reforms -- including a pretrial inmate classification system, 24-hour video surveillance, and a new inmate population cap.
- The firm recently obtained $1.88 million in settlements in a section 1983 case in Louisiana for our pro bono client Mr. B, who served nearly 20 years in prison for a rape that he did not commit. The case arose out of events in 1984 in Covington, Louisiana, where Mr. B was picked up by the local police in an investigation of a burglary. Despite having no evidence to link him to a rape that had occurred several days before, the Covington police questioned him about the rape, took blood and hair samples from him, and asked him to take part in a lineup as a "filler." The victim, who testified that she had not had a good opportunity to observe her assailant because it was dark and he was wearing a mask, picked Mr. B out of the lineup. Mr. B was arrested days later, after the state crime lab issued serology tests purportedly linking him to the rape. He was convicted of aggravated rape and given a life sentence . In 2004 post-conviction proceedings, Mr. B obtained a DNA test that eliminated him as a suspect in the rape, and he was released from prison. In late 2005, we brought suit against the City of Covington, three police officers, and a state crime lab technician. Years of discovery and litigation over a claim of qualified immunity ensued. The turning point came in the spring of this year. As we pressed forward with discovery, the City moved to continue the June 2009 trial date so it could bring in new counsel. We opposed, arguing that Mr. B had been deprived of his day in court for too long. The court granted the continuance, but only on condition that defendants not file any motions for summary judgment on qualified immunity. This gave us a clear path to trial, and the City’s insurer stepped up with an offer to settle for its policy limits of $1.1 million, with an additional $300,000 to be paid by the City over ten years. A settlement with the State for an additional $480,000 followed shortly thereafter. Combined with an award of $177,000 in a related state court compensation action, the total monetary recovery for Mr. B is over $2 million.
Right to Counsel
- In 2008, the Second Circuit issued a decision in favor of the firm’s pro bono client, Mr. R, reversing the district court's judgment and reinstating Mr. R’s Section 1983 claims for false arrest and malicious prosecution. In the early 1990s, a New York state court dismissed criminal charges against Mr. R, including for attempted murder, after the alleged victim failed to appear at trial. Mr. R subsequently filed a Section 1983 action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York against Suffolk County and several county officials, alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. Although the District Court initially concluded that Mr. R’s circumstances warranted the appointment of pro bono counsel -- because he was indigent, because his claims had sufficient merit, and because his incarceration (on unrelated convictions) hindered his ability to develop his case -- it abandoned its effort to secure counsel for Mr. R after two private attorneys declined the representation (one of whom declined due to a conflict). Mr. R proceeded to trial pro se, and the District Court dismissed his claims after he failed to present any evidence. The Second Circuit appointed Covington to represent Mr. R in his appeal and unanimously adopted most of our arguments, holding that (1) the District Court erroneously concluded that Mr. R's indictment created a presumption of probable cause for purposes of the false arrest claim; (2) the District Court erroneously concluded that the dismissal of the criminal charges did not constitute a "favorable termination" for purposes of the malicious prosecution claim; and (3) the District Court erred in failing to appoint pro bono trial counsel. The court vacated the judgment and remanded for appointment of pro bono trial counse.
Guantanamo Bay Detainees
- We currently represent fourteen men detained at the United States Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Most of the men have been detained for approximately eight years and none have been charged with any crimes. Following the decision by the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush, 128 S. Ct. 2229 (2008), holding that the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus extends to detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, we are challenging the legality of our clients’ detentions in habeas proceedings in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Of the seven cases that have gone to merits hearings thus far, Covington has won four, lost two, and is awaiting a decision in one other. Two prior clients were released without a hearing.
- The firm has been involved in the Guantánamo related litigation for the last six years. In addition to the on-going habeas corpus proceedings, our efforts have included: bringing cases for review of enemy combatant classification decisions in the D.C. Circuit under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005; challenging the destruction of CIA torture tapes in federal court; filing amicus briefs and coordinating the amicus effort in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 548 U.S. 557 (2006); filing amicus briefs in support of Supreme Court review in Moussaoui v. United States, 382 F.3d 483 (4th Cir.), cert denied, 544 U.S. 931 (2005); challenging the government’s practice of redacting information from documents given to security-cleared habeas counsel; and challenging the abusive medical and living conditions that the detainees experience at Guantánamo.
U.S. Supreme Court Practice
- Through Covington’s pro bono program, associates have opportunities to play a lead role in representing indigent criminal defendants at trial and on appeal. In 2008, such an opportunity landed an associate on the biggest stage - the Supreme Court of the United States. The associate presented oral argument with support from the head of the firm's appellate practice. The case presented three issues: whether the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated when police entered a home without a warrant after an informant wearing a wire indicated to officers outside that he had purchased illegal drugs; whether the officers’ entry violated a clearly established constitutional right, such that the officers are not entitled to claim immunity from suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and whether the Supreme Court should overrule its decision in Saucier v. Katz. It is so rare for an associate to argue before the Supreme Court that the event became a front page story in Legal Times.
- The firm is co-counseling with the Urban Justice Center in representing three former nail salon workers in wage and hours claims brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act and NY state statutes, against the owners of two nail salons in Long Island, NY. The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, alleges that the salon owners and operators failed to pay our clients overtime compensation, spread of hours compensation, and minimum wages. The complaint also alleges retaliation against our clients, asserting rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as age and race discrimination for submitting a labor complaint. The civil suit is proceeding in parallel with prosecution of the salons and their owners by the National Labor Relations Board.
Race and Ethnicity Discrimination
- Covington recently assisted the Chinese-American community to secure a historic victory in the Senate concerning Chinese immigrants who endured decades of discrimination under federal law. On October 6, 2011, the Senate passed by unanimous consent Senate Resolution 201, which expresses regret for a series of legislative measures passed between 1879 and 1904 that severely restricted the immigration of Chinese persons to the United States and violated the civil rights of Chinese immigrants already living in America. The centerpiece of these measures, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, prohibited state and federal courts from naturalizing any person of Chinese descent, thereby denying Chinese immigrants the ability to vote and participate in the US political process. The laws were repealed in 1943, but largely as a military measure to strengthen the China-United States alliance during World War II, without recognizing the civil rights violations that occurred as a result of the laws. The firm spearheaded the year-long effort to help gain congressional support, serving as pro bono counsel to the 1882 Project, a coalition of Asian-American groups that includes the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, the Committee of 100, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Council of Chinese Americans and OCA, and that also enjoys support from national civil rights organizations.
- The firm is representing the NAACP in potential litigation against Hamburger Joe's, a restaurant located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, relating to that restaurant's violations of public accommodations laws during Black Bike Week.
- The firm is serving as co-counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights for the plaintiffs in a federal class action lawsuit against the City of New York and the New York City Police Department that challenges as racial profiling and otherwise unconstitutional the stop-and-frisks of Blacks and Hispanics in the City in recent years (Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al.).
- Covington worked with lawyers from various other law firms, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc. to represent indigent Latino residents of unincorporated pockets of Stanislaus County in a lawsuit alleging that the City of Modesto and Stanislaus County discriminated against the plaintiffs on the basis of race in the provision of basic municipal services. In 2009, the case was on appeal at the Ninth Circuit after the plaintiffs' claims had been disposed of in a series of summary judgment orders in 2008. In early 2010, the Ninth Circuit issued a lengthy opinion restoring the majority of the plaintiffs' claims.
Discrimination Based on Religious Belief
- The firm is representing the Sikh Coalition in its effort to ensure that TSA’s new policy requiring the secondary screening of airport passengers wearing bulky items of clothing, including the Sikh turban, does not unreasonably discriminate against members of the Sikh faith.
Gay and Lesbian Rights
- The firm represented several same-sex couples and three supportive non-profit organizations in litigation over proposed ballot measures that would have restricted the marriage rights of same-sex couples in the District of Columbia. The proposed ballot measures were a response to the passing of legislation providing equal access to marriage to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. Before the legislation became law, opponents of marriage equality proposed several ballot measures to the D.C. Board of Elections in an effort to overturn the Council’s acts by limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples.
- Covington recently played a role in challenging the constitutionality of California Proposition 8, which amended the California Constitution and eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry. Several same-sex couples sought to strike down Proposition 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, before Chief Judge Vaughn Walker in the Northern District of California. At the beginning of trial in this case, the plaintiffs asked Covington to file an amicus brief addressing the adverse psychological consequences of discrimination on gay men and women and their children. Covington secured the consent of a number of prominent social sciences organizations and, in early February, filed an amicus brief on their behalf.
- The firm handled a lengthy trial to advance the cause of gay rights in an important case involving a child visitation dispute between two lesbians who had ended their relationship. The firm represented Ms. K against her former partner, Ms. M, over the daughter the women raised together but only Ms. M formally adopted. The issue on remand was whether "exceptional circumstances" existed warranting a grant of visitation to Ms. K, a legal "third party." After an eight day trial, the court ruled that "exceptional circumstances" existed warranting visitation, but that visitation was not in the child's best interest because Ms. M's objection to visitation was causing the child significant anxiety.
- Working with co-counsel National Center for Lesbian Rights, the firm obtained a settlement on behalf of a lesbian couple and their 9-year-old daughter. When the parents had taken their sick child to a California emergency room, the hospital staff allowed only one parent to stay with her, forcing the other parent to remain in the waiting room. In contrast, hospital staff allowed both members of a heterosexual couple to stay their child in the emergency room.
- The firm's Women's Forum launched an initiative to represent immigrant women in asylum, trafficking and Violence Against Women Act cases.
- The firm provided advice regarding the viability of requesting an investigation by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice into the practice of shackling pregnant women at state and local penal institutions, and helped the Rebecca Project design a survey to collect information from women who have been shackled while pregnant.
- In 2000, Congress passed the Equity in Contracting Act, authorizing a women-owned small business procurement program. In 2005, Covington brought suit on behalf of the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce against the Small Business Administration for unreasonable delay in implementing the program. Denying the government's motion to dismiss for lack of standing, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a strongly worded 38-page opinion, stating “that the [SBA had] invaded concrete and particularized procedural rights of the [Chamber's] members and [had] sabotaged, whether intentional[ly] or not, the implementation of a procurement program which would have, and will, likely benefit the businesses they represent." The Court retained jurisdiction to monitor the SBA's progress in implementing the program. On the eve of issuing a proposed final rule, the agency withdrew it, a pattern that it had repeated over the years. The Court, at our request, held a hearing in November 2007 to address the agency's reversal, and entered an order requiring an Office of Management and Budget official to appear at a status conference if the program was not finalized by January 2008. Since then, the agency has promulgated a final rule and a proposed rule for comment, and the Court continues to monitor the agency’s progress. Simultaneous to these efforts, the firm has counseled with respect to a Congressional hearing on SBA proposed regulations, and passage of legislation that would reaffirm the establishment, on an expedited basis, of a women’s small business procurement program.
- In Robertson v. United States ex rel, the firm's appellate litigators pulled out a come-from-behind victory in the U.S. Supreme Court. The issue in the case was whether it is constitutional to allow a victim of domestic violence to bring a criminal contempt proceeding for violation of a protective order. We came into the case as pro bono counsel for the victim of the domestic violence after the Supreme Court granted the petition for certiorari and re-framed the issue in a way that suggested the Court was poised to rule against our client. Covington persuaded the Court to dismiss the case as "improvidently granted." The Court’s closely-divided vote dismissing the case left the D.C. Court of Appeals' decision in our client's favor as the final decision in the case.
- In a matter referred to the firm by Bread for the City, Covington recently scored a victory for the April House Tenants Association, a group formed by long-term low and moderate income tenants when their landlord received an offer to buy their apartment complex. With help from Covington, April House sought to exercise its right of first refusal under D.C.'s Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act (the "Act"), which grants a registered tenant organization the opportunity to purchase the building in which its members reside before it may be sold to a third party. Although the District of Columbia recognized April House as the only rightful tenant organization, a real estate developer purported to create a rival tenant entity by purchasing "tenant rights" from several individual tenants. The rival entity then filed suit in D.C. Superior Court against April House, the District, and the building owner, seeking a declaration that the rival entity had acquired the right of first refusal under the Act. The trial court dismissed the suit with prejudice, adopting our argument that the unregistered rival entity lacked standing under the Act. In October 2009, the D.C. Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, concluding that the trial court did not even have subject matter jurisdiction to consider the rival entity's claims.
- The firm submitted an amicus brief filed in the Eleventh Circuit on behalf of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in support of the City of Atlanta’s position that Georgia firearm licensees should not be allowed to bring guns into certain areas of airports. The Court found in favor of the City. In addition, the firm provided advice on the requirements for standing and the legal merits of challenging a new Montana law that purports to exempt "Montana-made" guns from all federal gun laws.
- We handle regular requests for assistance on projects for The Nature Conservancy ("TNC"). The firm has advised on multiple series of Latin American debt for nature swaps and provided advice in connection with TNC’s efforts to explore projects in India and Micronesia. We have assisted TNC with various organizational/regulatory issues, and advised on intellectual property issues involving TNC’s research efforts and collaboration with public agencies, universities and private parties. The firm also has provided research and advice on treaties and national laws concerning IP rights of indigenous peoples and IP advice on the patentability of technology developed during TNC projects. Finally, the firm is providing assistance in designing a FCPA compliance program for TNC's international efforts, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region and providing research about liability issues related to controlled burn sites.
- The firm advises the Coalition for Rainforest Nations on policy initiatives undertaken in the global climate change negotiations. The principal aim of the Coalition is to represent the views of its member governments in support of the inclusion of credits for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in the global climate change regime. The Coalition currently has the support of the Governments of Bangladesh, Belize, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Congo, Colombia, Costa Rica, DR Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Fiji, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Thailand, Uruguay, Uganda, Vanuatu and Viet Nam.
- The firm is working with DC Appleseed to restore the Anacostia River.
International Media Law
- On behalf of the Professional Media Program of the International Research and Exchange Board, Internews, the International Center for Journalists, the Center for Global Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School, and the Global Internet Law Project (a joint venture of Internews and the Center for Democracy and Technology), we have undertaken substantial media law reform efforts in some 30 countries. We have commented on and advocated changes in media laws in Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa. We have traveled to meet with members of various parliamentary bodies and have advocated changes in favor of free expression, even-handed regulation of broadcast media, effectiveness of freedom of information legislation, and fairness of defamation legislation. Countries have included East Timor, Iraq, Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, Bosnia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Slovakia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Turkey, Indonesia and Mongolia. We also have conducted workshops for journalists and policymakers in a dozen countries. We are currently assisting with respect to media law projects involving Rwanda, Bahrain, Yemen, Somaliland and Jordan.
- An associate with the firm’s London office traveled to Beijing to assist the International Paralympic Committee's (IPC) at the 2008 Paralympic Games, which took take place between 6 and 17 September 2008. The associate advised the IPC on matters relating to anti-doping rule violations and assisted the IPC in ensuring that its Doping Control Programme was compliant with the IPC Anti-Doping Code, the World Anti-Doping Code and the provisions of the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games’ Doping Control Guide. The associate assisted the IPC with procedural issues that arise at the anti-doping rule violation hearings and arbitrations that will be set up and run at the Paralympic Village. The firm continues to deal with anti-doping cases involving a British swimmer and a Russian power lifter and to advise the IPC on issues relating to classification, a complex system of ensuring that athletes compete in the appropriate disability class.
- In relation to an engagement with Public International Law and Policy Group, associates from the D.C. office traveled to Tanzania to discuss human rights issues with members of Tanzanian government and civil society organizations in a three-day workshop on international human rights standards for the protection of marginalized groups.
- Since 2002, the firm has provided a variety of transactional legal services to FINCA International, a nonprofit that makes micro-loans to small groups of individuals in underdeveloped countries, the vast majority of whom are women, for the purpose of starting or expanding their businesses. In 2008 the firm assisted FINCA in the incorporation of FINCA (UK), a company limited by guarantee, in the United Kingdom, and the subsequent successful registration of FINCA (UK) as a charity with the Charity Commission of England and Wales. In 2009 the firm assisted FINCA with a contract dispute, and continued to provide advice in the following areas of law: corporate governance, international tax and finance, banking regulations, government contracts and insurance, drafting and review contracts between FINCA International, Inc. and service providers around the world, and advice on the possible reincorporation of FINCA International, Inc.'s United States entity under Delaware law.
- Following the disastrous Haiti earthquake, Covington attorneys worked with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights to support the Haiti Aid Accountability Project (HAAP). Established by several international aid organizations, HAAP is a one-year project to promote the long-term sustainability of recovery and rebuilding efforts in Haiti through a human rights-based approach to international aid. Covington lawyers are advising the RFK Center on how to implement a rights-based approach, including surveying community-based complaint mechanisms and evaluating extraterritorial human rights obligations of the United States when it acts as a donor state, including the extent to which the United States must respect the economic, social, and cultural rights of foreign aid recipients.
- The firm continues to bring insurance claims on behalf of Katrina survivors.
- The firm represented Mr. B, a low-income debtor, in a Chapter 7 adversary proceeding in Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York. The debtor is a 64-year-old mentally disabled man seeking to discharge his student loans. The firm defeated the defendants’ motions for summary judgment and on the day trial was set to begin, the parties reached a settlement that was highly favorable to Mr. B.