Milbank, Perlmutter Center Pair Up To Fight Injustices In Court

By Marco Poggio | February 13, 2024, 4:47 PM EST ·

Milbank LLP has pledged $1 million to create an exoneration and resentencing review unit at Yeshiva University's Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law's Perlmutter Center for Legal Justice as part of an alliance aimed at fighting inequities in the criminal justice system, the firm said Tuesday.

Milbank and the Perlmutter Center said they had already kicked off their joint project by taking up four cases involving people who claim to have been wrongfully convicted or given excessive sentences. The unit will operate for four years and bear the law firm's name, a firm spokesperson told Law360 Pulse.

In addition to funding the unit, the BigLaw firm has committed itself to active involvement in all phases of its mission. Milbank attorneys will work pro bono with their Perlmutter Center counterparts to screen cases and investigate claims of innocence or oversentencing, and will represent clients in court and before district attorneys' conviction integrity units.

Joshua Dubin, executive director of the Perlmutter Center, said that Milbank has demonstrated through its pro bono work that it cares about seeking justice for the unjustly incarcerated, and that it can be a reliable partner.

"This partnership is going to change and save lives," Dubin told Law360 Pulse.

Milbank and the Perlmutter Center are currently assisting John Edwards, one of four men sent to prison after being convicted of murdering a woman in Lorain, Ohio, in 1991 based on testimony that a witness recanted years later.

"There's very compelling evidence of his innocence," Dubin said of Edwards.

The firm and the center are also working with the conviction integrity unit at the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office in New York to seek the resentencing of a 69-year-old man who has served 20 years of a 25-year sentence for a minor robbery. Dubin said the man's conviction was the result of a troubled childhood and a history of drug addiction. Drug diversion programs that keep people out of prison today did not exist at the time the man got in trouble, he said.

"The fact that Milbank will get behind not only wrongful conviction cases, but resentencing cases where the person clearly did not deserve the punishment that was meted out and deserves a second chance speaks to how educated they are about the problems in our system," Dubin said.

Milbank's chairman, Scott A. Edelman, told Law360 Pulse the alliance gives the firm a unique opportunity to affect people's lives.

"We have a history of focusing on innocence cases and also particularly children or teenagers who get sentenced to close-to-life sentences, or life sentences," Edelman said. "This gave us an opportunity to provide financial support and work together on these really meaningful cases."

He added, "We're hopeful that we're going to be able to be involved substantively and support what they're trying to do."

The Perlmutter Center was established in 2022 through a $15 million donation from a foundation headed by Isaac Perlmutter — chairman and former CEO of Marvel Entertainment — and his wife, Laura.

The Perlmutter Center works primarily on convictions involving "junk science," a broad term that includes medical and scientific theories that have been used in prosecution in the past but have since been discredited. The center also helps individuals sentenced to excessive prison terms seek parole or clemency.

Like other organizations providing legal assistance to incarcerated people free of charge, the Perlmutter Center can only represent a fraction of the 100-plus people who request its services every year. Milbank's endowment will help the center scale up its operations by providing money to hire two senior full-time attorneys.

Dubin said the idea of joining hands on wrongful convictions came up in 2019 during a lunch with Edelman, with whom he was working on a commercial case involving securities.

At the time, Dubin was helping James Dailey, a Florida man sentenced to death in the 1985 murder of a teenage girl, challenge his conviction in light of newly discovered evidence that pointed to a different perpetrator. After hearing from Dubin the details of Dailey's case for innocence, Edelman told him he wanted Milbank to help with the case pro bono. Dubin was elated.

"Jump right in," Dubin recalled saying. "I found myself in a packed courtroom with a lot of TV cameras three months later at this big evidentiary hearing in March of 2020, and Scott Edelman — the chairman of Milbank — was sitting right next to me."

Edelman and Milbank's pro bono counsel, Anthony Cassino, took notice of the work the Perlmutter Center did during its first year of operation. Cassino called Dubin and proposed a partnership that would involve funding for the center, but also direct involvement in its pro bono activities.

"I was almost waiting for him to say, 'Just kidding,'" Dubin said. "He was met with open arms."

--Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

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