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ECBAWM Defeats Motion by White Nationalists to Silence Civil Rights Group Supporting Charlottesville Lawsuit

Following the hateful, violent, white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, a group of community members who were injured filed a federal lawsuit against the hate groups and leaders who organized the violence, seeking compensatory and injunctive relief. Integrity First for America (IFA), a non-profit civil rights organization, is supporting the litigation, including security costs for plaintiffs and their counsel. The court in this case just rejected defendants’ attempt to silence IFA and plaintiffs, after ECBAWM filed an opposition on IFA’s behalf.

Three defendants in the case filed a motion asking the court to issue an order forbidding the plaintiffs and their counsel from making any extrajudicial public statements about this case. They also asked the court to include IFA — which is not a party to the case — in the gag order, specifically forbidding IFA from carrying out its core, constitutionally protected mission, which is to advocate around and raise funds to pay for security and logistics for the plaintiffs and their trial team. The petitioners offered no evidence or legal authority in support of their position, despite the fact that they asked the court for a prior restraint on the First Amendment rights of plaintiffs, their counsel, and a non-party.

On behalf of Integrity First for America, ECBAWM filed a memorandum of law in opposition to petitioners’ motion. As explained in the filing, “Petitioners are not concerned about the impact of pre-trial publicity on the venire pool; rather, they are seeking to use the powers of this Court to prevent IFA from raising money, which will be used to keep Plaintiffs and their lawyers safe and to support the trial in Charlottesville later this month.”

The court has now agreed with ECBAWM and denied defendants’ motion to silence IFA in its entirety.

ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Noel León, along with Matthew W. Evans of Gravitt Law Group PLC, represent IFA.

For more information on Integrity First for America and the Charlottesville lawsuit it’s supporting, please visit www.IntegrityFirstForAmerica.org or contact press@integrityfirstforamerica.org.

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ECBAWM Joins Anthony Sims Legal Team

ECBAWM is proud to join the legal team of Anthony Sims, a man who has served 23 years after being wrongfully convicted of the 1998 murder of Li Run Chen.

Mr. Chen was killed by a single shotgun blast while working at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. Undisputed evidence pointed to a different perpetrator altogether. In addition, for decades, law enforcement withheld substantial Brady material and evidence of Anthony’s innocence. As a result, Anthony filed a motion to vacate his conviction and to dismiss all charges against him. The District Attorney’s Office has not joined the motion and a hearing is scheduled to begin on October 14.

ECBAWM attorneys Ilann M. MaazelSam Shapiro, and Nairuby 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.

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19 ECBAWM Attorneys Named to 2021 Super Lawyers Lists

The firm is pleased to announce that 19 of its attorneys have been named to the 2021 Super Lawyers lists.

Firm partners Richard D. Emery, Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Jonathan S. Abady, Earl S. Ward, Ilann Margalit Maazel, Hal R. Lieberman, Daniel J. Kornstein, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Debra L. Greenberger, and Sam Shapiro were named 2021 Super Lawyers.

Firm partner Zoe Salzman and associates Emma Freeman, David Berman, Scout Katovich, Andrew Jondahl, Nick Bourland, Ananda Burra, and Vivake Prasad were named 2021 Super Lawyers Rising Stars.

The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found on the Super Lawyers website.

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ECBAWM Partners with The Intercept on FOIA Project

ECBAWM recently partnered with non-profit investigative news organization The Intercept to compel access to public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The project was born out of the need Intercept’s global journalists have for access to documents and their frustration with red tape and delays. When journalists are unable to timely access government records, stories are unable to be written and the public’s ability to be informed is jeopardized.

To date, ECBAWM has filed three lawsuits against the federal government on behalf of The Intercept, seeking to compel the National Institutes of Health to release information about a potential conflict of interest involving an American doctor who is part of the World Health Organization’s investigation into what caused the coronavirus pandemic, seeking the release of information relating to force-feeding procedures on a detainee at a border immigration facility by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, and seeking information that the U.S. Department of State has refused to release about a citizen journalism group covering abuses during the Syrian civil war.

“There’s nothing like an Article III federal judge with life tenure, looking down from the bench at lawyers and saying ‘you have to do this’ to make things happen,” said ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr.

Through litigation, ECBAWM aims to ensure that government records are provided to reporters when they need them, while also helping the courts understand the need for timely access.

“In each of these cases, the hope is that there’s broader change and that the agencies start being more responsive,” said ECBAWM partner Debra L. Greenberger. “But there’s also the specific result in the cases, which is we get to know information that we want to know.”

You can read more about ECBAWM’s work with The Intercept in Law360’s interview with Celli and Greenberger.

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JJ Velazquez’s Sentence Is Commuted After Fighting for His Freedom for 23 Years

On August 17, 2021, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo commuted the sentence of ECBAWM client Jon-Adrian (“JJ”) Velazquez. Mr. Velazquez has maintained his innocence ever since he was wrongfully convicted in 1998 for a murder he had nothing to do with. Now he has been released from prison and reunited with his family, friends, and supporters.

While incarcerated in the New York correctional system for over 23 years, Mr. Velazquez seized every opportunity to learn, support his peers, and give back—all while fighting for his freedom. He emerged as a leader at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, where, among other achievements, he earned his college degree with honors, founded a youth program to combat gun violence, organized nonviolence workshops for incarcerated people and their families, and led various fundraising efforts to support his community on the outside.

ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan Abady, Earl Ward, Sam Shapiro, and Nick Bourland represented JJ Velazquez in his clemency efforts.

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Nine ECBAWM Partners Named to Lawdragon’s “500 Leading Plaintiff Employment & Civil Rights Lawyers” List

ECBAWM is pleased to announce that nine firm partners have been named to the “2021 Lawdragon 500 Leading Plaintiff Employment & Civil Rights Lawyers” list. The list was created “through nominations and independent journalistic research vetted by peers and adversaries,” legal media company Lawdragon explained on its website.

Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Earl S. Ward, Ilann Margalit Maazel, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Katherine Rosenfeld, Debra L. Greenberger, Zoe Salzman, and Sam Shapiro were each recognized as attorneys “who’ve devoted their careers to helping workers protect their rights.”

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Class Action Lawsuit Against Aetna Filed by Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel and NWLC Alleges LGBTQ Discrimination

The suit alleges that Aetna’s fertility treatment reimbursement policy discriminates against LGBTQ individuals

ECBAWM and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) have filed a class action lawsuit against Aetna alleging discriminatory practices against LGBTQ policy-holders seeking fertility treatments. Emma Goidel, the plaintiff in the suit, and her spouse seek to end this discriminatory policy and to recoup a portion of the out-of-pocket costs they have incurred while undergoing IVF and IUI fertility treatments.

The suit alleges that Aetna’s policy for coverage of IVF and IUI fertility treatments unfairly discriminates against LGBTQ couples by requiring them to pay out of pocket for 12 cycles of IUI before Aetna will provide them with coverage. However, Aetna’s policy provides immediate coverage, without any out-of-pocket cost, to heterosexual couples who have not gotten pregnant after having unprotected sex for 12 months.

“Aetna’s policy is effectively a tax on LGBTQ policy-holders,” said Noel León, an ECBAWM attorney representing Ms. Goidel. “It prevents LGBTQ individuals who are unable to shoulder the considerable cost of fertility treatments — disproportionately those of color — from becoming pregnant and thus denies their equal rights to start families.”

Ms. Goidel and her spouse are enrolled in Aetna’s Student Health Plan for Columbia University, which provides broad coverage for IUI and IVF for heterosexual couples. As a result of Aetna’s policy, however, they have been forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars for fertility treatment. They estimate that they paid nearly $45,000 for one successful pregnancy. The plaintiff is suing on behalf of herself and other LGBTQ individuals to end this discriminatory policy enforced by Aetna.

“It is everyone’s right to create a family, and to try to biologically bear their own children if they so choose,” said Ms. Goidel. “Health insurance must protect that right by covering medical costs equally for those who need fertility treatment to reproduce—not discriminating against queer people.”

“Your insurance company should never be the reason you are denied the chance to start a family,” said Michelle Banker, Director of Reproductive Rights and Health Litigation at NWLC, who is representing the plaintiff. “Emma was forced to pay significantly more and prevented from equal access to care, simply because she is queer. Aetna must change its illegal policy immediately — for patients like Emma, and especially for those who cannot afford this care. Discrimination should have no place in health care and we will make sure insurance companies like Aetna are held accountable.”

Individuals whose insurance policies unfairly discriminate against LGBTQ individuals or couples seeking fertility treatments can provide the attorneys with more information in three ways: by phone at (202) 956-3077, by email to LGBTQFertilityLawsuit@nwlc.org, or by filling out this Google form: https://bit.ly/LGBTQFertilityLawsuit.

Plaintiffs are represented by ECBAWM attorneys Noel León and Zoe Salzman and NWLC attorneys Michelle Banker, Sunu Chandy, Lauren Gorodetsky, and Alison Tanner.

Press
“Aetna Accused of Denying Coverage of Fertility Treatments for LGBTQ+ Policyholders,”  NewYork Law Journal
“Aetna sued over fertility treatment coverage for LGBTQ+ people,” Reuters
“Aetna hit with lawsuit alleging discrimination against LGBTQ patients,” Modern Healthcare

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ECBAWM Partner Zoe Salzman Quoted in Law360 Article About Mandatory Arbitration in Bias Claims

ECBAWM partner and civil rights litigator Zoe Salzman was quoted in the Law360 article “New York’s Ban on Bias Claim Arbitration Drubbed in Court,” which explores Section 7515, the provision of New York’s Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) that prohibits mandatory arbitration clauses “except where inconsistent with federal law.”

Victims of discrimination and sexual harassment have cited CPLR § 7515 as the basis for voiding mandatory arbitration agreements. However, as the Law360 article points out, courts have largely refused to void mandatory arbitration agreements on the grounds that CPLR § 7515 is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).

Salzman points out that the FAA was passed in 1925, when the concepts of discrimination and sexual harassment “simply didn’t exist.” It was rooted in the exercise of Commerce Clause powers and crafted as a means to efficiently address business and contract disputes. “The idea that it would apply to fundamental human rights issues was never contemplated,” said Salzman.

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ECBAWM Files Amicus Brief in the Fourth Circuit Arguing Against District Court’s Holding on Sovereign Immunity

ECBAWM filed an amicus brief on behalf of Aziz Huq and Erwin Chemerinsky in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today in support of Jane Roe, the appellant in Roe v. United States, et al. The brief argues that the District Court erred by holding that sovereign immunity bars Roe’s claims against federal officials in their official capacities seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. ECBAWM partners Ilann M. Maazel and Sam Shapiro authored the brief.

The brief can be read in its entirety here.

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Second Circuit: Forensic Examiner Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity

In a significant qualified immunity ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied a state ballistics examiner’s motion to dismiss a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights lawsuit.

ECBAWM client Vernon Horn was incarcerated for over 17 years for a crime he did not commit. His wrongful conviction stemmed from exculpatory evidence that was concealed before and during trial: New Haven Police detectives hid phone records in the basement of a detective’s house because they did not support the case against Horn, and the Connecticut State Police ballistics examiner failed to disclose that he prepared a second ballistics report that falsely implicated Mr. Horn because the original report would have exonerated him.

Following their release from prison in 2018, Mr. Horn and his co-defendant Marquis Jackson brought civil actions against the City of New Haven and certain law enforcement officials for violating their constitutional due process rights under Brady v. Maryland.

The state ballistics examiner, James Stephenson, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuits against him on the grounds that he is entitled to (a) qualified immunity for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence and (b) absolute immunity for preparing the second false ballistics report because he did so at the prosecutor’s direction. The U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut denied Stephenson’s motion to dismiss and he appealed to the Second Circuit.

In upholding the lower court’s ruling and denying Stephenson’s motion to dismiss, the Second Circuit wrote that “no reasonable forensic examiner in Stephenson’s position” would have concluded that Brady did not apply. The Court also concluded, “The allegations here are consistent with [Horn’s] theory that Stephenson independently decided to manipulate the margin of error upon learning that the memo … would weaken the state’s case against [Horn].”

Vernon Horn is represented by ECBAWM lawyers Ilann Maazel and Nick Bourland along with co-counsel Doug Lieb and Tamar Birckhead.

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