Fighting Hate: Jones Day Attorneys Combat Historical Racism and Modern Threats
The year 2020 marked a pivotal opportunity for our nation's relationship with race. Violence against Black lives forced us to reckon with a history of racism in local governments and civic institutions. At the same time, fear and ignorance about the global pandemic fueled attacks on Asian Americans. In the midst of it all, Jones Day lawyers, relying on traditional rule of law principles, were doing their part to stem the tide of hate-related incidents across the country. Members of the Firm's Hate Crimes Task Force led campaigns against the vestiges of Jim Crow, stood with the family of a murdered Black man as they navigated a criminal conviction, and pivoted to meet new threats to the Asian American Pacific Islander ("AAPI") community. Their efforts in these matters, among countless others across the Firm, produced groundbreaking achievements in the new year.
Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court adopted arguments Jones Day attorneys advanced in support of the City of Charlottesville's fight to remove the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues at the center of Charlottesville's deadly protests in 2017. The Court's ruling capped more than three years of litigation with Jones Day's involvement. In the run-up to the decision, a cross-office team of Jones Day attorneys defended four City Councilors who voted to remove the Lee and Jackson statues. The plaintiffs, who also sued the City, were a group of Charlottesville residents and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. In July 2019, the Charlottesville Circuit Court judge granted the Councilors' motion for summary judgment, agreeing with Jones Day that Virginia law entitles the Councilors to statutory immunity. The victory meant the Councilors were dismissed from the lawsuit—without ever having been deposed—and ensured that they would not face personal liability or monetary damages.
With the Councilors dismissed, litigation continued against the City. The Circuit Court permanently enjoined the City from disturbing or removing the statues and awarded the plaintiffs nearly $365,000 in attorneys' fees. The Virginia Supreme Court then agreed to hear the City's appeal, and Jones Day answered the call once again. On the Councilors' behalf, lawyers in Issues & Appeals and Business & Tort Litigation filed an amicus brief reinforcing the City's case. The brief argued that: (i) the 1997 state law did not apply to the Lee and Jackson statues; and (ii) the statues violated the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection clause because they are government speech conveying messages of hostility and exclusion to racial minorities. Ultimately, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that the 1997 law does not apply retroactively to the Lee and Jackson statues, which were erected in the 1920s. The Court reversed and vacated all forms of relief granted to the plaintiffs—including attorneys' fees—and entered judgment for the City. The ruling represents another victory for Jones Day's clients and cleared the way for Charlottesville to remove the Lee and Jackson statues.
Building on the Firm's successes in Charlottesville, another Jones Day team is bringing the fight to Richmond. Ben Mizer, Kamaile A.N. Turčan, Billy Laxton, John Kerkhoff, and Imokhai Okolo recently supported efforts to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee along Monument Avenue in Virginia's state capital. On behalf of University of Virginia School of Law Professor A.E. Dick Howard, a preeminent Virginia constitutional scholar, Jones Day filed an amicus brief arguing that the General Assembly did not violate the state Constitution's separation of powers provisions when it directed the removal of the statue after repealing the 130-year-old resolution authorizing the state to accept the statue. Jones Day's brief in the Virginia Supreme Court explained that the state legislature acted well within its constitutional power to pass new laws and pronounce the public policy of the Commonwealth.
As the Task Force continues to confront historical racism, its members are also confronting other acts of hate-based violence. In Washington, D.C., for example, Billy Laxton and Jordan Patterson are representing a transgender woman in a civil suit after she was brutally assaulted in the aftermath of a car accident. And in Maryland, partners Shirlethia Franklin and Andy Luger are heading the Firm's partnership with the Anti-Defamation League to counsel the parents of the late Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III, a 23-year-old African American male who was fatally stabbed in May 2017, days before graduating from Bowie State University. Lieutenant Collins's killer was a member of the white supremacist group "Alt-Reich: Nation." Though the killer was convicted of first-degree murder, a race-based hate crime charge was ultimately dismissed. The Jones Day team advised and accompanied the Collins family through a highly publicized criminal trial process and media coverage of the case.
As part of Jones Day's continuing effort to help the Collins family build a platform against hate in honor of their son, the Firm hosted a webinar on May 20, 2021—the fourth anniversary of Lieutenant Collins's killing. "A Fight against Hate: One Family’s Journey toward Hope and Change"—featured a conversation with Dawn and Richard Collins, parents of the late U.S. Army First Lieutenant Richard Collins III, who was tragically murdered in a racially motivated attack on May 20, 2017, a few days before he was to graduate from Bowie State University and just after he was commissioned into the Army. During this presentation, moderated by Jones Day partners Shirlethia Franklin and Andy Luger, the Collins family discussed their journey to advocate for change in the prosecution of hate crimes and their efforts to make a lasting impact on their son's legacy.
Recently, Jones Day has taken steps to offer similar support to victims of race-based violence toward Asian Americans. In response to the sharp rise in anti-Asian violence in 2020, Jones Day proudly joined The Alliance for Asian American Justice. The Alliance will drive resources to ensure justice for victims and provide support for their communities.
These efforts represent the type of work Jones Day lawyers across the globe are doing to combat racism and halt the spread of hate-based violence. In addition to the Task Force's work, the Firm's affinity groups, and programs like the Constitutional Policing and Civil Justice Reform Initiative, provide ever-greater opportunities for members of the Firm to leverage their talents and make a difference.
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