Landmark Victories In Two Pro Bono Cases
In a groundbreaking fraud case in the federal court in Brooklyn, Barkley v. Olympia Mortgage Company, the Chairman of our firm, Chris Jensen, acted as trial counsel with attorneys from the South Brooklyn Legal Services in an action against a real estate company and its owner, as well as appraisers, mortgage lenders and attorneys who sold more than 150 poorly renovated homes at inflated prices to first time African-American homebuyers in several neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
After a three-week trial, the jury returned a verdict on all counts of fraud, deceptive consumer practices and conspiracy to defraud, and awarded more than $1 million in damages in favor of eight plaintiffs. This was the first case of its kind against property flippers and subprime lenders who preyed on first-time home buyers during the housing boom by luring them into buying dilapidated houses at exorbitant prices with unaffordable mortgages. The case garnered national attention as an important precedent for similar actions that are being brought against other real estate speculators and subprime lenders across the country. As a result of his volunteer efforts in this important trial, the Legal Services Corporation of New York City gave Chris Jensen its Pro Bono Leader Award for 2011.
In another victory for Chris and our firm, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated the 1984 murder conviction of Edward Lee Elmore in South Carolina. With the support of the firm, Chris has been representing Elmore for the past 20 years in habeas corpus proceedings in the South Carolina state and federal courts. Elmore, a semiliterate mentally retarded man with no previous felony record, was sentenced to death in 1984 and was waiting execution on death row in South Carolina until 2010 when Chris and his local counsel were successful in establishing at a trial held in the Broad River correctional institution in Columbia, South Carolina, that Elmore was mentally retarded. Under a United States Supreme Court decision in 2002 holding that it was cruel and unusual punishment to execute someone who is mentally retarded, the Court released Elmore from death row and resentenced him to life imprisonment.
However, Chris continued to pursue a federal habeas corpus action to establish Elmoreâ€™s innocence and the failure of the South Carolina courts to provide Elmore with a fair criminal trial. In 2011, in a divided 194-page opinion in Edward Lee Elmore v. Jon Ozmint, Director, South Carolina Department of Corrections; Henry McMaster, Attorney General, State of South Carolina, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the murder conviction on the grounds that Elmore had been denied a fair trial and was ineffectively represented by his trial attorneys. The Fourth Circuitâ€™s opinion was based on new forensic evidence that had been introduced in the habeas corpus trial that Chris handled as the lead attorney in 1995.
The 20-year long battle that was fought by Chris and his local counsel Diana Holt to overturn the unjust conviction of Elmore is the subject of a book published this month by Random House titled "Anatomy of an Injustice" by Ray Bonner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. On February 29, 2012, the New York City Bar Association will be holding a Program on the Elmore death penalty case featuring a talk by Ray Bonner about his new book.
These two important pro bono victories were the subject of articles in the New York Law Journal and other legal publications, including a New York Law Journal article titled â€œIntellectual Property Attorney Faced Unfamiliar Challenges in Death Case,â€œ and a New York State Bar Association article titled â€œPro Bono Volunteers Help Achieve Justice for All.â€
We look forward to sharing more pro bono success stories with you in 2012 and in the years to come.