At Susman Godfrey we take seriously our obligation as lawyers to use our skills and position in society to make our communities better places to live. Our attorneys are committed to improving the law and the legal system by representing or counseling those who cannot afford to pay for legal services. We encourage our attorneys to participate in pro bono opportunities, and we make firm resources available to ensure our pro bono efforts are meaningful and effective. The pro bono matters we have handled are diverse but share our goal of achieving justice for our clients and handling the cases with the same vigor we handle cases for our paying clients. The cases described below illustrate a sample our approach and philosophy.
Lead Attorney: Geoffrey Harrison, Partner
Geoffrey Harrison joined Susman Godfrey in 1993. He handles a wide variety of high-stakes, commercial litigation matters for plaintiffs and defendants, and has considerable litigation experience in accounting malpractice, antitrust, domestic and international arbitrations, contract disputes, environmental exposure, equipment leasing, fiduciary duty, fraud, oil and gas, securities, shareholder derivative, toxic torts, trade secrets, and other types of litigation.
- Jared Woodfill et al. v. Annise Parker et al. In 2015, Susman Godfrey served as lead trial counsel for the City of Houston and won a jury verdict and a final judgment in a closely-watched trial over a challenge to Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, a law that prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, gender identity, or pregnancy in city employment and city services, city contracts, public accommodations, private employment (excluding religious organizations), and housing. Plaintiffs and others organized a petition drive to try to repeal the Equal Rights Ordinance, and presented the City with a petition they claimed had over 54,000 signatures. The City asked Susman Godfrey to represent it pro bono and defend the ordinance. After a two week trial, the jury issued its verdict resoundingly in the City’s favor. The jury found that 64 out of 97 petition circulators failed to sign and subscribe the petition as required by the City Charter, and found that 12 out of 13 of the highest volume circulators signed oaths that were not true and correct and submitted pages that contained forgeries. After two months of post-verdict briefing, the court issued a final judgment in favor of the City, and the court expressly rejected plaintiffs’ petition as invalid and unenforceable. Susman Godfrey is proud to be on the right side of this important equal rights decision.
Lead Attorney: Edgar Sargent, Partner
Edgar Sargent represents clients in complex, high-stakes lawsuits in courts throughout the United States. He served as litigation counsel to the estate or to major claimants in a number of the largest bankruptcies in the country over the past ten years. In addition to his bankruptcy-related work, Edgar has represented plaintiffs and defendants in a wide range of commercial disputes, from patent infringement to breach of contract and business torts. Edgar started with Susman Godfrey in 2000.
- International Franchise Ass’n, Inc. et al. v. City of Seattle, et al.. In June 2014 the City of Seattle retained Susman Godfrey to defend the city’s landmark $15 per hour minimum wage ordinance. Susman Godfrey agreed to handle the case on a partial pro bono basis for substantially reduced rates. Several Seattle franchise businesses challenged the ordinance on a number of legal grounds, including violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In March 2015, the district court denied the plaintiff franchise group’s motion for a preliminary injunction. In a forty-three page decision, Judge Jones found that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of any of their claims. The plaintiffs have appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit.
Lead Attorney: Neal Manne, Managing Partner
Neal Manne, a Managing Partner of Susman Godfrey, is well-recognized as one of the premier trial lawyers in America. The Best Lawyers in American 2016 (Woodward White, Inc.) named him “Lawyer of the Year” in the category “Bet-the-Company Litigation, Houston.” Manne’s trial victories have come for both plaintiffs and defendants, and extend far beyond Texas. He has handled high-profile cases throughout Texas, and in Alabama, California, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvanian, South Carolina, Washington State, Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Canada. Manne’s fast-paced trial practice has not stopped him from finding time to serve the community and the legal profession. The ADL honored Manne with its 2011 “Jurisprudence Award,” given for “commitment to equality, justice, fairness, and community service.”
- State Bar of Texas v. John Jackson. In 1992 Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murder-by-arson. Years later, a report for the Texas Forensic Science Commission concluded that the arson determination years earlier had been based on folklore and myth, not science. John Jackson, the prosecutor, conceded that the arson report used at trial was flawed, but pointed to alternative evidence of Willingham’s guilt: the corroborating testimony of a jailhouse snitch, who also testified that he had not been offered anything in return for his testimony. Accordingly, the State of Texas executed Willingham in 2004 despite overwhelming forensic evidence that the fire was not arson. Years after Willingham’s execution, the witness recanted his testimony, and also admitted that he had been promised leniency if he testified against Willingham. Along with The Innocence Project, Susman Godfrey represents certain Willingham family members on a pro bono basis in a grievance filed with the State Bar of Texas, seeking to have former prosecutor Jackson disciplined for misconduct. Documentary evidence of the prosecutor’s deal with the witness has now been identified.
- State Bar of Texas v. Charles Sebesta. In 2010, after spending 18 and one-half years in prison including 12 years on Texas’ notorious Death Row, Anthony Graves was fully exonerated and the State of Texas declared Graves to be “actually innocent” of the murders for which he had been wrongly convicted. In reversing Graves’ conviction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit pointed to serious misconduct by Sebesta, who had prosecuted Graves in 1992. Along with the Texas Defender Service, Manne represents Graves on a pro bono basis in a grievance filed with the State Bar of Texas, seeking to have Sebesta disciplined for his misconduct. In 2014 the Bar’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel determined that there is good cause to believe that Sebesta violated the Bar’s ethical rules, and that it will proceed against him. Manne represented Graves at the evidentiary hearing at which the Bar proceeded against Sebesta. In June 2015, the Bar found that Sebesta had engaged in numerous ethical violations and disbarred him for life. In February 2016, the Bar’s Board of Disciplinary Appeals affirmed the disbarment.
- James Turrell / “The Light Inside.” James Turrell is one of the greatest artists of the 21st century. In 2013 when Turrell and Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts were sued regarding an art installation, Susman Godfrey represented Turrell on a pro bono basis, and obtained a dismissal of all claims against him.
- In the Matter of Judge Sharon Keller. The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct initiated proceedings against the Honorable Sharon Keller, Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, relating to the execution of death row inmate Michael Richard. The Commission accused Judge Keller of misconduct for effectively denying Richard access to court late on the day of his execution, in violation of the Court’s own internal procedures. Lawyers and paralegals from the Texas Defender Service, a non-profit organization that had represented Mr. Richard, were key witnesses in the proceedings. Susman Godfrey represented them and their organization. The Commission found that Judge Keller violated standards set forth in the Texas Constitution, the Texas Government Code, and the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct. It issued a formal Public Warning “in condemnation of the conduct.” On appeal, a special court of review held that the Commission could have censured Judge Keller, but that a Public Warning was not an available remedy. The court of review emphasized that “We express no opinion about the merits of the accusations against Judge Keller.”
- Houston Music Hall Foundation / “Broadway Across America.” The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts has been Houston’s venue for traveling Broadway-type shows since it opened in 2002. When a change in control by its private partner and other circumstances in the market threatened to undermine the Hobby Center’s ability to operate, Susman Godfrey attorneys helped negotiate new agreements that put the Hobby Center on a more secure financial footing. Our attorneys later represented the Hobby Center in two other additional bono matters.
- James Wilkerson v. Sheriff Johnny Klevenhagen. During Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, Moslems do not eat until sunset each day (and do not eat pork products). Harris County jail authorities refused to accommodate the dietary rules of Islamic inmates, and refused to allow them to eat later than 4:00 p.m., the regular dinner time. When a Black Muslim inmate filed suit on his own, Susman Godfrey handled the case on behalf of all the affected prisoners. Working without compensation, Susman Godfrey helped win broad changes for all Moslem inmates. The Harris County Jail now accommodates religious dietary restrictions and holiday rules regarding meal times.
- Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, Inc. et al v. Operation. A group of women’s health clinics, buoyed by the success of their legal actions against anti-abortion extremists during the 1992 Republican National Convention—in which Susman Godfrey represented them on a pro bono basis–asked Susman Godfrey to represent them in a suit to recover monetary damages and permanent protection for clinic patients, physicians and staff. In 1994, after a six week jury trial, Susman Godfrey won a $1.2 million verdict and a sweeping permanent injunction. The New York Times profiled the case on its front page, calling it “by far the largest civil award ever against the antiabortion movement.” The judgment ultimately was affirmed by the Texas Supreme Court.
- The Nationalist Movement v. Access Houston Cable Corp. When the City of Houston’s public access television station was sued by The Nationalist Movement, a virulently racist “white supremacist” organization in Mississippi, Susman Godfrey agreed to represent Access Houston on a reduced fee (and eventually a pro bono) basis. The Nationalist Movement contended that the small fee Access Houston charged for broadcasting any programming produced outside the Houston area violated its free speech rights under the First Amendment. After more than ten years of litigation that included an injunction proceeding, dismissal on summary judgment and an appeal to the Fifth Circuit, Access Houston fully prevailed in a trial in federal district court. All of The Nationalist Movement’s claims against Access Houston were dismissed.
Lead Attorney: Tom Paterson, Partner
Solving real problems for real people is why Thomas is a trial lawyer. Solving those problems successfully is why his clients come back again and again. His objective as he works to successfully resolve his clients’ disputes is simple: Keep as much money in the client’s pocket as possible. The best way to meet his objective is to get on top of the facts and the law on the front end. Regardless of whether he represents the plaintiff or the defendant, the approach on each case is to get ready for trial as quickly as possible. His plaintiff clients have enjoyed substantial settlements and judgments; his defendant clients have saved hundreds of millions of dollars.
- First Presbyterian Church of Houston v. Presbytery of the New Covenant, Inc. In 2014-15, Susman Godfrey and co-counsel represented First Presbyterian Church of Houston (FPC), one of the oldest congregations in Houston, in a property dispute against Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), which claimed for close to 30 years that it has a trust interest in FPC’s property at 5300 Main in the Museum District of Houston, Texas. The state district court in Harris County granted FPC’s requests for a temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction to keep the Presbytery of the New Covenant, the administrative unit through which PCUSA works, from forming an administrative commission to take over control of the Church. In February 2015, the Court ruled in FPC’s favor on summary judgment, entering final judgment and a permanent injunction against the Presbytery of the New Covenant and finding that the PCUSA has no interest in FPC’s property. The Presbytery has now appealed. After appellate arguments in January 2016, the parties settled, with the denomination releasing any claim to any intent in FPC’s property
Lead Attorney: Ian Crosby, Partner
Ian Crosby represents and tries cases for plaintiffs and defendants in commercial litigation, most frequently in patent, antitrust, and complex financial matters.
- Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence Since 2014 Susman Godfrey has provided pro bono legal research, consultation, and strategy advice to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence regarding measures to regulate the sale and use of firearms.
Lead Attorney: Terry Oxford, Partner
Terry Oxford has been practicing with the firm since 1977. He has done trial work of all kinds. He focuses on plaintiff cases, although defense work also represents a large portion of his practice. He has handled numerous antitrust and securities class actions. In the last decade he has done a number of pro bono cases.
- In the Matter of The Application by Las Brias Energy Center LLP for Permit Nos. 85013, HAP48, PAL41, and PSD-TX-1138 From 2009 through 2013, Susman Godfrey volunteered its services to represent the Cities Coalition, a group of over 30 Texas cities, who opposed the construction of the Las Brisas Energy Center, a petroleum coke-fired power plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. The proposed plant would significantly contribute to climate change; Las Brisas’s own projections estimated that it would emit approximately 10 million tons of carbon dioxide during each year of its operation. After the initial two-week hearing, the administrative law judges who presided over the hearing issued a 120-page decision recommending denial or remand of the Las Brisas permit. After the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality remanded the matter, Susman Godfrey continued to represent the cities. The second trial before the administrative law judges again recommended denial of the permit, based in part on their finding that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) had improperly assisted the permit applicant. The TCEQ issued the permit regardless, but the challenges won the appeal. Las Brisas then abandoned its attempt to build the plant.
Lead Attorney: Jonathan Ross, Partner
Jonathan joined Susman Godfrey in 1994, becoming a partner in 1998. Along with his colleagues at the firm, he specializes in winning trials: both the preparation involved in positioning a case for trial, and the ability to convince the fact finder, be it jury, judge, or arbitration panel, of the merit of his client’s cases. He is equally adept at representing plaintiffs and defendants, and believes that an active practice for both plaintiffs and defendants makes him a more effective lawyer then one who concentrates solely on the plaintiff’s or defendant’s side.
- Death Penalty Appeals Susman Godfrey handled several death penalty appeals in 2014 focusing on the requirement for the State of Texas to release information about the chemicals used to put prisoners to death in order for counsel to protect the rights of their clients not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment. In one case, the Susman Godfrey team obtained an injunction against execution due to this issue. The Supreme Court has now granted review of a similar case from another state.