NEW YORK – May 5, 2022 –Caroline J. Heller, Litigation Practice Shareholder and Chair of the Global Pro Bono Program at Greenberg Traurig, LLP, is one of two 2022 recipients of the prestigious American Bar Association (ABA) Litigation Section John Minor Wisdom Award.
The award honors those in the legal profession who have made outstanding contributions to ensure that the legal system is accessible and available to all. Winners are deemed to have outperformed in areas such as commitment to direct representation, providing expanded or new access to the legal system, and client representation that leads to significant changes in case law. The award was presented during the ABA’s Litigation Section’s annual conference in Miami Beach on Thursday, May 5.
Heller proves her leadership in the pro bono arena daily by spearheading the firm’s pro bono work through its nearly 30 pro bono coordinators and guiding others to full engagement in securing access to justice for underserved communities as well as serving as the New York office pro bono coordinator. Currently, among her many projects, Heller, together with a Greenberg Traurig Warsaw partner, is coordinating the firm’s efforts to donate up to $2 million to support humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine as well as pro bono legal services as needed for Ukrainian refugees. In addition, she directly represents pro bono clients in cases concerning immigration and access to special education, which are landmark and life-changing situations, making significant contributions to the legal profession and the value of pro bono legal representation, among other areas.
Heller’s dedication to pro bono creates real-life impact for people across various populations and markets – from all walks of life. Examples of her recent work in the pro bono arena include:
- Swift action helps Afghans seek humanitarian parole: As the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan in August of 2021, despite the efforts of the U.S. government and non-profits to evacuate thousands of Afghans, it was clear that there were thousands more who had worked with American troops or otherwise who deserved humanitarian parole or asylum who would not be evacuated. Within days of the U.S. withdrawing from Afghanistan, Heller and firm immigration attorneys organized a training, attended by more than 100 Greenberg Traurig attorneys, on how to prepare and file humanitarian parole applications. The firm has submitted applications for more than 250 families still in Afghanistan, with 300 more applications in the pipeline. Heller personally worked with an Afghan legal permanent resident, who had received a Special Immigrant Visa for his work as an interpreter for the U.S. government, in preparing and filing 25 humanitarian parole applications for his family members who remain in Afghanistan.
- Saved over 250 asylum seeking families from deportation: For nearly three years, Greenberg Traurig attorneys fought, in collaboration with three non-profits in the courts and with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to save hundreds of mothers, fathers, and children from deportation. The firm sued on behalf of over 200 fathers, mothers and children who were detained starting in July 2019 under a new rule that denied asylum to noncitizens arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico unless they had first applied for, and had been denied, asylum in Mexico or another country. Over the next two years, Greenberg Traurig attorneys worked in six separate litigations in federal courts in D.C., California, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The success in those efforts prevented the deportation of all but eight families. By February of 2021, all of the families had been released from detention, with about half having been granted the right to seek asylum and the other half still having final orders of removal. In September of 2021, Heller negotiated a settlement with the government that facilitated the cancellation of the pending removal orders and allowed the families to pursue their asylum claims in immigration court. Led by Heller, nearly 60 Greenberg Traurig attorneys have devoted more than 2,000 hours to these cases.
- Saved a 5-year-old with a traumatic brain injury from deportation: Heller led a team in the representation of a mother and her 5-year-old child with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), who were being detained in a family detention center in Texas along with the mother’s infant son. When Greenberg Traurig became involved in the case on a Friday at 6 p.m. in February of 2020, they learned the U.S. was preparing to deport the family, even though the 5-year-old child was not receiving doctor prescribed treatment for the TBI and had not been cleared to fly by a pediatric neurologist. Greenberg Traurig and two non-profits filed an action in the District Court for the Middle District of California around 2 a.m. Saturday morning seeking an immediate stay of deportation and an order that the child receive appropriate medical treatment. The federal court denied the motion on Monday morning and the team immediately appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which issued a stay late that evening within hours of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deporting the family. The Ninth eventually ordered that the family be permitted to consult with a pediatric neurologist and neurosurgeon, who determined that a flight could have resulted in severe medical complications and that the child required specific medical treatment. ICE shortly thereafter released the family, and in December of 2020 the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court and ordered the stay of deportation remain in place pending further order of the district court. In August of 2021, Heller negotiated a settlement with the government allowing the mother and her children to pursue their asylum claims in immigration court.
- Helping guarantee medically fragile children with disabilities in NYC are provided one-to-one nurses so that they can attend school: Heller leads a litigation in the Southern District of New York challenging the New York City Department of Education’s systemic failure to provide one-to-one nurses to medically fragile children with disabilities, which results in children being unable to attend school for months or, in some cases, years. After defeating a motion to dismiss in 2018, the parties are currently engaged in the discovery process.
- Representing several families to ensure their children with special needs obtain appropriate education: For the past 15 years, Heller has represented dozens of families, who have children with special needs, in guaranteeing that they children receive free appropriate education. Each child’s educational needs are so significant that they require education in specialized private schools or significant tutoring in unique methods. For several of the students, Heller has secured funding from the New York City Department of Education every year for about 10 years to pay for the specialized schools that each child attends.
Additionally, Heller is the force behind, and host, of Greenberg Traurig’s highly regarded Good in Practice Podcast, launched in the middle of the pandemic (in October 2020) from New York City, which highlights pro bono work throughout the firm. With the importance and impact of pro bono legal work as its central theme, Good in Practice is the first pro bono podcast by a major law firm. The first guest was a man wrongfully convicted and jailed for 28 years with Greenberg Traurig (with a non-profit firm) getting full exoneration for this long-time pro bono client.
Heller’s practice focuses on complex commercial litigation and business disputes on a nationwide basis in the fields of professional liability, partnership disputes, securities litigation, and entertainment disputes. She has litigation experience in federal and state courts and arbitration experience before the American Arbitration Association. She has represented accounting firms, limited partnerships, hedge funds, consumer electronics companies, financial institutions, factors, and real estate developers.
About Greenberg Traurig’s Pro Bono Program: Greenberg Traurig lawyers across the firm’s offices provide pro bono legal services to the indigent and working poor, as well as to numerous civic and charitable organizations dedicated to assisting them. The firm focuses its resources on specialized and interrelated issues including civil rights and affirmative action, anti-human trafficking, family law matters, children’s rights, criminal appeals, immigration and political asylum, housing, and homelessness.
About Greenberg Traurig: Greenberg Traurig, LLP has more than 2400 attorneys in 43 locations in the United States, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. The firm, often recognized for its focus on philanthropic giving, innovation, diversity, and pro bono, reported gross revenue of over $2 Billion for FY 2021. The firm is consistently among the top firms on the Am Law 100, Am Law Global 100, NLJ 250, and Law360 (US) 400. On the debut 2022 Law360 Pulse Leaderboard, it is a Top 15 firm. Greenberg Traurig is Mansfield Rule 4.0 Certified Plus by The Diversity Lab and net carbon neutral with respect to its office energy usage. Web: www.gtlaw.com.