Tackling Public Interest And Constitutional Law Projects

Friday, September 1, 2006 - 00:00

Since 1990, Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione has sponsored the John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest & Constitutional Law, a unique program dedicated to tackling the key issues facing the courts today.

Under the guidance of John J. Gibbons, former Chief Judge of the Third Circuit, and Lawrence S. Lustberg, Director of the Gibbons Fellowship Program and the Gibbons Criminal Defense Department, the firm's two fellows, as well as more than 35 other Gibbons attorneys assisting in these projects, have together devoted more than 12,700 hours of work annually to the firm's pro bono efforts.

'The Gibbons Fellowship exemplifies the firm's commitment to improving the legal system and helping those in need,' stated Patrick C. Dunican, Jr., Managing Director of Gibbons. 'John Gibbons and Larry Lustberg have developed this program into a leading force for change not only in New Jersey, but throughout the region and the nation, as is evidenced by its major achievements such as the defense of habeas corpus for the detainees at Guantnamo Bay.'

A Unique Pro Bono Program

Unlike traditional legal services projects or law firm pro bono programs, the Gibbons Fellowship is able to tackle issues of major importance and to provide the resources and continuity of personnel to pursue projects to conclusion. The Fellowship undertakes public interest and constitutional law projects and litigation throughout the nation, and has long been involved in the most significant and controversial issues that confront the Federal and State courts today, both in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Recent cases the Fellowship has handled have dealt with a variety of issues including the death penalty, domestic violence, death penalty, civil liberties, education system and gay and lesbian rights.

A Recognized Leader

The Fellowship has earned much praise for its strong commitment to pro bono causes.In its annual survey of the pro bono activities of the leading firms in the state, the New Jersey Law Journal called Gibbons a 'perennial pro bono powerhouse' and gave the firm an A+ grade. John Gibbons has been recognized with many awards for his unyielding commitment to pro bono causes and his achievements. Most recently he was selected among the nation's 100 most influential attorneys by The National Law Journal and was presented with the American Lawyer 's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Defending Rights

One of the Fellowships major projects has been challenges to the indefinite detention and treatment of detainees taken into custody here or abroad as part of the war against terrorism. In April 2004, John Gibbons successfully argued Rasul v. Bush before the United States Supreme Court, resulting in the Court's seminal holding that Federal courts possess jurisdiction to adjudicate habeas corpus petitions on behalf of detainees held at the United States Naval Base at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba.In addition, the Fellowship has filed amicus briefs in related matters before the Supreme Court and lower courts and continues to represent alleged 'enemy combatants' held at Guantnamo or elsewhere.

Related to this, the Fellowship represents a number of national public interest organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Constitutional Rights in a suit brought under the Freedom of Information Act seeking to shed light on the torture and other abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantnamo and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Fellowship has continued its advocacy in the Federal courts at every level from the United States Supreme Court to the district courts in such areas as criminal procedure, prisoners' rights, equal educational opportunity and campaign finance reform. The program has also been active in the area of immigration law, filing amicus briefs in the Supreme Court and three different Courts of Appeals, even as Fellowship attorneys provided direct representation before both courts and administrative agencies.

A Voice For The Disenfranchised

The Fellowship has continued to be a preeminent advocate on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised and in cutting edge matters in the state courts of New Jersey, in particular. Thus, the Fellowship has acted as co-counsel with the Lambda Defense and Education Fund in an action in the New Jersey Supreme Court challenging the state's prohibition on same sex marriage.

Elsewhere, the Fellowship is seeking to invalidate the State's broad, mandatory DNA testing statute, on Fourth Amendment grounds, even as it is working with the Innocence Project on the retrial of a life-sentenced inmate whose conviction has been vacated using DNA testing. The Fellowship has also continued its litigation efforts on behalf of victims of domestic violence, against the imposition of the death penalty, in furtherance of educational equity and in support of the expansion of the constitutional rights of criminal defendants.

Future Projects

The Fellowship program will continue to work on existing projects until their completion, however requests for representation are considered from all sectors, public and private, including public interest organizations, legal services or public defender offices, government agencies, private non-profit corporations, courts and individuals.

'We will continue to look for ways to make a difference in the legal system,' stated Lawrence Lustberg, who served as the first fellow in 1990, and today oversees the program. 'The Gibbons Fellowship's goal is to affect change in any way possible to provide access to the legal system for those who might not necessarily have it and to improve the system for everyone.'

About The Fellows

Each Gibbons Fellow must be a person of high academic and professional achievement, who has preferably served a judicial clerkship, and has demonstrated a prior commitment to public interest legal work. Gibbons Fellows devote two years to the program, during which time they are full-time associates at the firm. Some of the 18 former fellows have stayed with the firm even after their fellowship concluded, while others have gone on to various public service and legal positions with other organizations.

To learn more about the Gibbons Fellowship, please visit www.gibbonslaw.com.