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Diane L. Houk Named Partner

ECBAWM is proud to announce that Diane L. Houk has been elected a firm partner, effective immediately.

A graduate of Columbia Law School, Houk began her career in the 1980’s representing plaintiffs in housing and employment discrimination cases in private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She served as General Counsel to a local fair housing organization during this time.

In 1991, Houk joined the United States Department of Justice in the Housing Section of the Civil Rights Division, where she would ultimately serve for 13 years innovating and litigating to combat housing segregation in communities from coast to coast. In 2000, Diane was named Special Litigation Counsel and, in that role, oversaw the Section’s land use and zoning work in the areas of race, national origin and religious discrimination.

By 2004, Houk was recognized as a national leader in the fair housing movement. She moved to New York City to found the Fair Housing Justice Center which has since grown to become a major force against housing discrimination in the New York City metro.

In 2009, Houk returned to private practice at ECBAWM. She has been central to the firm’s practice, profile, and culture. She has litigated – and won – dozens of landmark cases, including against Facebook, Redfin, and the Town of Eastchester, and continues to pursue cases for individual plaintiffs who face unlawful barriers to housing because of their race, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, and source of income.

“There are thousands of New Yorkers who have Diane Houk to thank for their very homes,” said ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. “And she has done all this by dint of sheer intellectual firepower, a relentless work ethic, toughness on a heroic scale, endless patience and persistence, and a stubborn and righteous insistence that landlords and their counsel obey the law.”

Article

Marjorie Taylor Greene TRO Application Fails; Challenge Seeking to Disqualify Her from Re-Election Will Proceed

Judge Amy Totenberg of the U.S. District for the Northern District of Georgia has denied Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene’s application for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order that, if granted, would have halted disqualification challenge proceedings against Rep. Greene and allowed her to be included on the ballot for the May 24 primary elections. In its 73-page ruling, the Court cited Rep. Greene’s “failure to cite persuasive legal authority or even include a developed legal argument” in holding that she “failed[ed] to establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”

The challenge to Rep. Greene’s re-election was filed by a group of Georgia voters in late March on 14th Amendment grounds – specifically, that Rep. Greene was disqualified under the Insurrectionist Disqualifications Clause of the 14th Amendment because she engaged in insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The instant lawsuit, Greene v. Raffensperger et al, was filed by Rep. Greene in an attempt to end the challenge to her candidacy without allowing it to proceed through Georgia’s established legal process.

The underlying disqualification challenge is scheduled to be heard by a state administrative law judge on April 22.

The group of Georgia voters are represented in Greene v. Raffensperger et al by ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Sam Shapiro, and Andrew Jondahl, along with co-counsel at Free Speech for People and Bryan Sells.

Related
“ECBAWM Represents Arizona Voters in Candidacy Challenges Under Fourteenth Amendment’s Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause”

Press
“Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene testifies for more than 3 hours in hearing on whether to disqualify her from seeking reelection,” CNN
“Effort to Remove Marjorie Taylor Greene from Ballot Can Proceed, Judge Says,” The New York Times
“Legal effort to remove Greene from Ga. ballot can proceed, judge rules,” The Washington Post

Article

ECBAWM Represents Arizona Voters in Candidacy Challenges Under Fourteenth Amendment’s Insurrectionist Disqualification Clause

ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, O. Andrew F. Wilson, and Nick Bourland, alongside counsel at Free Speech for People and Barton Mendez Soto PLLC, represent a group of Arizona voters in three separate lawsuits challenging the eligibility of Representatives Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, who are running for reelection to the United States House of Representatives, and Arizona State Representative Mark Finchem, who is running for Arizona Secretary of State, to appear on the 2022 primary election ballot.

The lawsuits, which were filed on April 7, 2022 in the Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County, allege that Gosar, Biggs, and Finchem are constitutionally disqualified from public office under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, also known as the Disqualification Clause, on the grounds that they helped facilitate the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the United States Capitol.

For more information on the Disqualification Clause lawsuits against Gosar, Biggs, and Finchem, please see Free Speech For People’s April 7, 2022 press release.

Press
“Legal Effort Expands to Disqualify Republicans as ‘Insurrectionists’,” The New York Times

Article

$20M Administrative Claim Filed Against BOP, Marshals Service for Tragic Covid-19 Death of 30-Year-Old Mother and Federal Prisoner Andrea Circle Bear

The family of Andrea Circle Bear, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has filed an administrative claim against the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) and the U.S. Marshals Service for her wrongful death. Ms. Circle Bear died in federal custody in Texas of complications from COVID-19 on April 28, 2020, four weeks after giving birth to her daughter. At the time of her death, Ms. Circle Bear she was serving a 26-month federal sentence for a non-violent conviction.

On March 20, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic exploded around the nation and one week after the BOP had suspended all prisoner transfers that were not “required” or “mission-essential,” the federal government needlessly transferred Ms. Circle Bear, then seven months pregnant, over 800 miles from South Dakota to the FMC Carswell women’s prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

During the transfer and while at FMC Carswell, Ms. Circle Bear was confined in overcrowded and unsafe conditions that were ripe for COVID-19 transmission. The Marshals Service transported Ms. Circle Bear on a small plane with at least six other people and no masking, social distancing, pre-flight COVID testing, or any other safety measures. When she arrived at FMC Carswell, BOP housed her on the bottom bunk bed of a small cell with three other women with no masks or other PPE, one shared toilet and sink, and no soap.

Ms. Circle Bear first developed COVID-19 symptoms on March 26, 2020, six days after the transfer. BOP staff failed to provide her with prompt or adequate care for several days as her symptoms intensified. She was almost immediately intubated when BOP finally sent her to the hospital on March 31. Her daughter was born the next day by emergency c-section while Ms. Circle Bear was on a ventilator. Ms. Circle Bear died four weeks later without ever getting off the ventilator to meet her daughter.

The BOP and the U.S. Marshals Service’s indifference and recklessness in exposing Ms. Circle Bear to COVID-19 and failing to provide her adequate medical care caused her death and left her children motherless.

The BOP and U.S. Marshals Service must respond to the administrative claim within six months. If the claim is denied, Ms. Circle Bear’s family may proceed with filing a lawsuit.

Ms. Circle Bear’s family is represented by firm attorneys Katie Rosenfeld and Max Selver.

Press
“Fort Worth prison responsible for new mother’s COVID death, family says in $20M claim,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Blame the Justice Department for Andrea Circle Bear’s Death,” The New York Times

Article

Post-Release Supervision Class Action to Proceed to Damages Trial

In Betances v. Fischer, ECBAWM represents a class of over 3000 individuals who were administratively, unilaterally, and unlawfully sentenced to terms of post-release supervision (“PRS”) by New York State corrections and parole officials. The Plaintiff class was certified by the Court in 2015 and the Court subsequently granted summary judgment on liability to Plaintiffs, holding the Defendant State corrections and parole officials personally liable for violating Plaintiffs’ due process rights.

In advance of trial, the Defendant State officials moved to decertify the Plaintiff class on the basis that Plaintiffs’ general damages—which stem from the liberty Plaintiffs lost while on PRS or incarcerated for violating PRS—cannot be determined on a class-wide basis. In a March 14, 2022 decision, United States Magistrate Judge Robert W. Lehrburger denied Defendants’ motion to decertify the class and ruled that “the class should be maintained for the purposes of trial to determine damages for loss of liberty.”

In denying the Defendants’ decertification motion, the Court held that Plaintiffs’ lost liberty “is inherent in any unlawful detention and is compensable as general damages” and “can be determined on a class-wide basis.” The Court further determined that these common injuries “predominate over other, individualized issues” and can therefore be determined on a class basis at trial.

ECBAWM attorneys Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Nick Bourland, and Max Selver, and law clerk Julian Oppenheimer represent the Betances Plaintiff class.

Article

CNN Investigates Wrongful Conviction of Anthony Sims

The wrongful conviction of Anthony Sims for the 1998 murder of Li Run Chen is the subject of a recent investigation by CNN reporter Jeff Winter. Anthony has served 23 years in prison despite undisputed evidence that points to a different perpetrator altogether, and despite decades of wrongdoing by law enforcement officials in withholding substantial Brady material and evidence of Anthony’s innocence.

CNN’s detailed report presents the timeline of the crime, the initial investigation, trial, and current legal hearings on Anthony’s motion to vacate his conviction and dismiss all charges against him. It also recounts testimony from a new witness whose testimony directly implicates another individual and exonerates Anthony.

As previously established, Mr. Chen was killed by a single shotgun blast while working at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. Anthony has maintained throughout his arrest and incarceration that the murder was committed by his former friend Julius Graves – who was, conveniently, the single eyewitness to testify at trial that Anthony fired the fatal shot. In the current hearing on Anthony’s motion, however, Graves’ neighbor Rachel testified that the murder was committed by Graves because he was mad that Mr. Chen had touched Graves’ wife’s hand earlier that day. Rachel also testified that she saw Graves running out of the restaurant after she heard a shot, and that she called the police to tell them that Graves was the killer.

“On the basis of (Rachel’s) testimony alone, it’s plain that Anthony Sims did not receive a fair trial and his conviction should be vacated,” said Ilann M. Maazel, one of Anthony’s attorneys. “The jury never heard any of this evidence.”

ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. Maazel, Sam Shapiro, and Nairuby L. Beckles, along with attorneys Thomas Hoffman and Jonathan Hiles, represent Anthony Sims. More information about the case is available on the Free Anthony Sims website.

Article

ECBAWM Achieves $1.5M Settlement for Developmentally Disabled Individual Abused in New York State-Run Group Home

ECBAWM has obtained a $1.5 million settlement from the State of New York on behalf of M.F., a developmentally disabled resident of a New York State-run group home who experienced serial abuse by caretakers.

As set forth in the lawsuit, for years, M.F. was subjected to constant abuse by staff members while in residence at the Union Avenue IRA in the Bronx, run by New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD). Union Avenue staff testified that M.F. was constantly covered in bruises throughout their stay, and staff also witnessed colleagues subjecting M.F. to physical abuse, inhumane confinement, and forced feedings. In spite of the heinous abuse they witnessed, not one staff member or supervisor reported the abuse to law enforcement, the state’s abuse hotline, or M.F.’s family.

The lawsuit also revealed that the State failed M.F. by turning a blind eye to reports showing systemic abuse at Union Avenue and failing to train staff and supervisors on incident reporting.

The New York Times previously reported on this case and the conditions at Union Avenue in Episode 27 (“The Promise”) of The Weekly.

M.F. is represented by Ilann Maazel and Max Selver.

Press
“NY To Pay $1.5M To End Group Home Resident Abuse Suit,” Law.com

Article

ECBAWM Obtains $8 Million Settlement for Wrongful Conviction Under Queens DA Richard Brown

ECBAWM, together with co-counsel Thomas Hoffman and Joel Rudin, has reached a settlement of $8 million with the City of New York on behalf of Kareem Bellamy, a man who was wrongfully convicted in 1995 and served more than 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

Kareem Bellamy was an innocent man charged by the Queens District Attorney’s Office for a 1994 murder in Far Rockaway, NY. During the criminal investigation, the prosecution and/or police came into possession of exonerating evidence that they did not disclose to Mr. Bellamy and fabricated evidence to implicate Mr. Bellamy. The prosecution also engaged in misconduct during Mr. Bellamy’s trial by making inflammatory comments while speaking to the jury. These civil rights violations were part of a pattern of the Queens District Attorney’s Office under District Attorney Richard Brown that has recently come to light and has formed the basis for multiple wrongful conviction claims against the City of New York.

After the New York state court released Mr. Bellamy based on new evidence showing his innocence, Mr. Bellamy sued the City of New York for the constitutional violations that led to his wrongful imprisonment. During this lawsuit, ECBAWM and co-counsel uncovered a document from Richard Brown to top aide Jack Ryan stating, “Jack, I think we’ve been getting away with this sort of thing for a long time.”

Mr. Bellamy was represented by Earl Ward, Ilann M. Maazel, and Marissa Benavides, as well as co-counsel Thomas Hoffman and Joel Rudin.

Article

ECBAWM Challenges Dismissal of 118 Plaintiffs’ Sex Abuse Claims Against The Ohio State University in the Sixth Circuit, Five Amicus Briefs Filed in Support of Plaintiffs

On February 2, ECBAWM filed opening briefs in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the District Court’s decision to dismiss cases Snyder-Hill v. OSU and Moxley v. OSU as untimely. The two cases, in which ECBAWM represents 118 plaintiff-survivors, bring Title IX claims on behalf of men who survived sexual abuse by OSU physician Richard Strauss from the 1970s to the 1990s and did not know of OSU’s role in facilitating that abuse until a whistleblower came forward in 2018. The briefs argue that the trial court erred in dismissing the claims of these survivors on the basis that they should have brought their claims when the abuse happened, because no plaintiff knew OSU enabled Dr. Strauss’ predation and most did not know that Dr. Strauss’s medical exams were actually sexual abuse.

On February 9, five organizations and scholars filed amicus briefs, or “friend of the court” briefs, in support of the appeals. The organizations and scholars include the National Crime Victim Law Institute, Child USA, Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), Women’s Sports Foundation, civil procedure law professors, psychology and psychiatry professors, and the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC). A link to and a short summary of each brief is below:

RAINN, et al:  This brief explains how schools often place their own interests ahead of student-survivors, how they may protect their interests by misleading student-survivors and not providing evidence, and how the District Court erred by not recognizing these obstacles to a sexual abuse survivor’s ability to obtain evidence of a school’s role in enabling abuse.

Psychology Professors: This brief explains some of the reasons why people do not recognize sexual abuse as such at the time it happens, and that people can still suffer serious short-term and long-term harm even when they don’t recognize what they suffered was sexual abuse.

NCVC:  This brief explains the challenges that medical patients face in recognizing sexual abuse in the physician-patient context and described numerous examples of doctors misusing the trust patients place in them to abuse patients.

NWLC, Women’s Sports Foundation, et al:  This brief explains the challenges that student-athletes face in recognizing acts of sexual abuse in the context of college athletics.

Civil Procedure Professors:  This brief explains the history of Title IX and the proper use of the federal discovery rule to analyze when plaintiffs should have discovered their claim.

The Snyder-Hill and Moxley plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM’s Ilann M. MaazelDebra Greenberger, and Marissa Benavides, along with Scott Elliot Smith LPA and Public Justice.

 

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