Pro Bono

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.” Below are just a few examples of Manne’s pro bono work.  Click here for a full list.

  • ODonnell v. Harris County: The Harris county jail house tens of thousands of people who are arrested for misdemeanors but financially unable to post bail. Though arrested for the same minor offense, a person with money can avoid jail entirely while an indigent person may spend days or weeks in jail before any determination of the merits. Along with The Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project, Manne represents on a pro bono basis a class of indigent arrestees, challenging the constitutionality of Harris County’s money bail practices. In April 2017, after an 8 day evidentiary hearing, the US district court found Harris County’s system unconstitutional and ordered broad, injunctive relief. The US Supreme Court denied the County’s motion for a stay, and bail reforms went into effect in June 2017. The US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings that the system was unconstitutional. In the first year in which the injunctive relief was in effect, more than 12,000 people were released from jail.
  • Texas v. United States of America and the International Rescue Committee: In late 2015, the State of Texas sued to block the federal government and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) from resettling any Syrian refugees in Texas. Manne and a group of his firm’s lawyers represented IRC. Working with ACLU, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, they defeated the State’s multiple requests for injunctive relief. In 2016, the district court dismissed all of the state’s claims.
  • In re: Alfred DeWayne Brown: In 2005 DeWayne Brown was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Brown’s alibi turned on a telephone call he had made from another place around the time of the murders, which would prove he could not have been involved. The recipient of the telephone call confirmed Brown’s alibi. Prosecutors subpoenaed the records, which confirmed Brown’s alibi, then hid the records in a police officer’s garage rather than turning them over to Brown’s lawyers as required by Brady v. Maryland. In addition, the district attorney had Brown’s alibi witness jailed until she agreed to abandon the alibi and “cooperate” with Brown’s prosecutors. Brown spent more than 12 years in prison, of which 9 years was on Death Row, before his habeas petition finally was granted. All charges against Brown were eventually dismissed. Manne and others represent Brown on his statutory claim for compensation from the state of Texas for his wrongful incarceration.
  • State Bar of Texas v. John Jackson: In 1992 Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted of murder-byarson. Willingham was executed by the State of Texas in 2004 despite overwhelming forensic evidence by that point that the fire was not arson. 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 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. Years after Willingham’s execution, the witness recanted his testimony, and admitted he had been promised leniency if he testified against Willingham. Along with The Innocence Project, Manne 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.

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.