One of the greatest rewards in practicing law is to uplift and empower others. Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell uses its nationally recognized trial and litigation platform to change lives and amplify our purpose in the practice of law.
Through pro bono service, WTO lawyers make significant differences in the lives of those who need it most. Examples include:
- Winning asylum for a Congolese woman and child fleeing ethnic violence in their homeland;
- Negotiating a record settlement for a pregnant, Black teen assaulted by police; and
- Exercising Hague Convention protections to keep a family together in the face of a kidnapping threat.
Dynamic New Opportunities
In 2023, former WTO attorney Kevin Homiak returned to the firm to co-chair WTO’s Pro Bono Committee. Kevin has won multiple record-setting awards for pro bono clients whose civil rights were violated. Most notably, Kevin won the largest Americans With Disabilities Act jury verdict against a correctional system nationwide—$3.5 million.
Under Kevin’s leadership, WTO is developing dynamic opportunities nationwide. For example, WTO is serving as lead class action counsel in a Louisiana foster care case that could have major impact across the country.
Investing in Pro Bono Efforts
Helping others is not only the right thing to do—it fulfills us, too. WTO has taken the Colorado Supreme Court’s Pro Bono Pledge, committing to provide an average of 50 hours of pro bono legal services per lawyer per year.
Furthermore, WTO automatically treats the first 100 pro bono hours worked by associates and of counsel attorneys on an equal basis with billable hours when determining salary increases and bonuses, and we approve additional hours beyond the first 100 on request based on the client’s needs. In 2022, for example, an associate first-chaired a jury trial for a pro bono client and received bonus credit for more than 700 pro bono hours.
This commitment is an investment in our community, our lawyers and support teams, and to improve the law through trial advocacy.
WTO cannot do this important work alone. We partner with numerous organizations to help pro bono clients achieve justice, including:
- A Better Childhood
- ACLU of Colorado
- The American College of Trial Lawyers
- Cannabis Justice Initiative
- Civil Pro Bono Panel for the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
- Colorado Bar Association Appellate Pro Bono Program
- Colorado Poverty Law Project
- Community Economic Defense Project
- Immigration Equality
- Immigration Law & Policy Clinic at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law
- Law Firm Anti-Racism Alliance
- Pro Se Prisoner Task Force for the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
- Return to Freedom Project
- Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
- Rocky Mountain Veterans Advocacy Project
- Won a pro bono victory lifting the unconstitutional banishment of a former Woodland Park School District employee from school board meetings and other property. The case restored our client's First Amendment rights and earned national media coverage.
- Won reversal of an adverse standing ruling in the Tenth Circuit in a pro bono appeal for a nonprofit taxpayer advocacy group challenging state registration and disclosure regulations for organizations that meet certain spending thresholds.
- Won a record-setting $3.5 million jury verdict as lead trial counsel against the Colorado Department of Corrections for intentionally discriminating against his pro bono client by denying him access to over 2,000 meals in a five-year period in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This represented the highest reported jury verdict nationwide for an ADA claim brought against a corrections system.
- Won a preliminary injunction in Colorado federal court to transfer an incarcerated pro bono client to protective custody after he was viciously stabbed over 40 times by other inmates for serving as a cooperating witness in a murder prosecution.
- Won a record-setting $750,000 settlement for a pro bono client in a case involving claims for excessive force and denial of timely medical care while the client was detained at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center. This represented the highest settlement in any civil rights case by El Paso County, Colorado.
- Won a $300,000 settlement in two cases brought against the City of Aurora and several Aurora police officers for unlawfully searching and seizing a pro bono client in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
- Won a $180,000 verdict as lead trial counsel for a pro bono client against two corrections officers who had violated the client's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
- Secured the complete dismissal of felony charges against a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy after leading a months-long investigation uncovering widespread misconduct among federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors involved in the case.
- Won U.S. asylum in a pro bono victory for two Congolese refugees who were targets of extreme ethnic violence in their home country.
- Won a $365,000 settlement victory in federal court in Colorado for a pro bono client who was assaulted by sheriff's deputies using excessive and potentially deadly force.
- Won a defense verdict in Douglas County District Court for an elderly pro bono client accused of conspiring to defund the estate of her incapacitated employer, shielding her from damages and protecting her very limited retirement savings.
- Won in the Colorado Court of Appeals for a mother fighting to maintain her relationship with her son after the child's father suddenly attempted to relocate with him out of state.
- Partnered with the Cannabis Justice Initiative to pursue relief for a prisoner serving a 240-month sentence for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana.
- Represented an autistic middle school student in a lawsuit against a school board and sheriff's office relating to his arrest and confinement in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fourth Amendment.
- Won a Tenth Circuit appeal affirming WTO's trial victory for a pro bono client who brought claims involving violations of international kidnapping protections under the Hague Convention. The appeal affirmed the trial court's decision to order the child back to her home country.
- Represented a school district on a pro bono basis in a high-profile lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Colorado school finance system.
- Authored a federal habeas petition for an incarcerated pro bono client asserting claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.
- Achieved a highly favorable settlement for an incarcerated pro bono client who had sued the Colorado Department of Corrections in federal court for First Amendment retaliation.
- Successfully defended a nonprofit organization in a pro bono matter involving claims of national origin and religious discrimination filed by a former employee. The Colorado Civil Rights Division rejected all of the plaintiff's claims and dismissed her charges of discrimination. The organization assists refugees to establish economic self-sufficiency in the U.S. after fleeing persecution in foreign countries.
- Represented a transgender woman seeking asylum in the U.S. on a pro bono basis.
- Successfully appealed a decision by the Office of the Inspector General, Department of Health and Human Services, to impose on WTO's pro bono client, a Navy nurse and corpsman, a mandatory five-year exclusion from working in any federally funded healthcare program, which jeopardized her Navy service. WTO showed why the decision was not warranted or authorized under current statutes. The Inspector General withdrew the exclusion, dropping the case and allowing our client to return to military service.
- Negotiated access rights as part of an entitlement claim in a pro bono effort for more than two dozen families and landowners in matters relating to a large tract of land originally administered under a land grant dating back to Spanish colonial rule in southern Colorado.
- Represented plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of increasing copyright protection by 20 years and Section 514 of Uruguay Round Agreements Act extending copyright protection to foreign works. The United States Supreme Court ruled the statutes were constitutional.
- Served on a pro bono trial team for a police excessive force claim in the Southern District of New York. Matt drafted a successful motion to exclude a computer simulation that may have been misleading, as well as a motion for punitive damages.
- Successfully represented a victim of domestic violence in a pro bono effort to obtain a civil protection order.
- Successfully tried to verdict a pro bono case in which our clients proved that Colorado's electronic voting systems had not been tested and certified in accordance with the law. The case led to major changes in Colorado election law.
- Successfully represented two asylum applicants on a pro bono basis in federal immigration court. Their asylum applications were granted following an evidentiary merits hearing.
- Won modification of a child support order on appeal for a pro bono client and domestic abuse victim, establishing a new legal precedent in New York State.