Mark Prothero Article, in Washington Super Lawyers Magazine, Wins SPJ's Excellence in Journalism Prize
Sheila Birnbaum Chosen to Oversee 9/11 Health and Compensation Act
We're pleased to announce that "The Green River Killer's Lawyer," a profile of Mark Prothero, a criminal defense attorney with Hanis Irvine Prothero in Kent, Wash., which appeared in the July 2010 issue of Washington Super Lawyers magazine, was honored last weekend in the Excellence in Journalism Contest sponsored by the Northwest chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. It took second place in the category of Magazine Personalities.
Congratulations to Harris Meyer, the writer, and Beth Taylor, the editor. The competition considered articles submitted from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana publications.
Prothero co-led an eight-lawyer team that negotiated a plea deal for Gary Ridgway, known as Seattle's Green River Killer, sparing his life in the slayings of nearly 50 women over a 20-year span. Prothero spent hours, days, weeks with Ridgway, gathering details about the murders and locations of the bodies. As the only member of the defense team allowed to know such facts-in case a plea deal couldn't be reached-Prothero harbored his thoughts alone. "It weighed on me," he said in the article. "I had to consciously put that out of mind or I couldn't sleep."
In April 2003, King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng agreed to consider a plea deal. Prothero said it was "a huge relief in terms of what I knew about where the bodies were."
Ridgway is serving 48 consecutive life sentences in a Washington state prison. King County Superior Court Judge Brian Gain, who initially oversaw the case, told us, "Mark and the other attorneys serve as an example of how dedicated, professional attorneys should work."
In 2006, Prothero published Defending Gary: Unraveling the Mind of the Green River Killer. Writing the book and giving presentations on the case, he says, "have been my catharsis."
Matthew Piers on the 7th Circuit's Ruling in Chicago Firefighter Case
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, providing health care funding and resources for rescue workers injured by toxins after the collapse of the World Trade Center, now has its special master.
Sheila L. Birnbaum, a Class Action/Mass Torts attorney with Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom in New York City, and frequent top 100 attorney in New York Super Lawyers magazine, was recently selected by the Justice Department to administer the multibillion-dollar fund. Her appointment was announced Wednesday.
Ms. Birnbaum is no stranger to mediating 9/11 compensation matters, as we noted in our 2009 feature, "The Pioneer." But for the Zadroga Act, has she sought advice from others, such as Kenneth Feinberg, who administered the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund?
"I did seek advice from Ken Feinberg, who was very helpful," Ms. Birnbaum told us via email. "His advice, which I will certainly follow, is to reach out to the interested groups as soon as you can and get their input. That is exactly what I have already started to do and will continue [to do]."
After 9/11, Birnbaum became a court-appointed mediator in cases involving survivors of 9/11 victims who had opted out of the Victim Compensation Fund. As we noted in 2009:
The task was made even more difficult by the different laws in the various states in which the victims lived. "All such cases involving tragic death are hard," she says, "but working with the 9/11 families was especially emotional because of the high profile of the tragedy-the fact that it was a national and really global catastrophe, one in which all of us have shared." She adds, "It's particularly hard on the impacted families, who because of the public nature of the event must live and relive the death of their loved one."
She explains that many of the families that refused the initial settlement were those for whom the deceased was a particularly high wage earner, or whose income and/or presence supported the special needs of another family member.
"Of course," she adds, "what's extremely difficult-always in these cases-is the impossibility of placing a monetary value on a loved one. We [the mediators] explained that while the focus on a dollar amount may seem crass, it is ultimately what a court does in this context. Indeed it is all a court can do."
She also recalled her own 9/11 experience. That morning she had been walking across Midtown Manhattan to her office when news of the collapse of the World Trade towers spread:
"It was chaos on the streets and sidewalks," she remembers. "No one was quite sure at first what was happening. All transportation had stopped. What was heartwarming to see, as the extent of the disaster sunk in, was how people on the street reacted-trying to help and direct one another, store owners handing out water because it was a warm day and everyone was walking. That night my home, which is on the East Side near 57th Street, became a kind of gathering place for relatives and friends who'd been stranded and couldn't get to their own homes."
Last week, in Lewis v. City of Chicago, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Chicago Fire Department must hire 111 African-American firefighter candidates who were eliminated in a 1995 application test. The city had chosen to hire only from the top test scorers, the majority of whom were white.
"This is both an economic victory for a group of people who are very interested in [the case], and it is a victory in terms of racial justice that is of particular importance for African-Americans in Chicago," says Matthew Piers, a civil rights attorney with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, who has worked on the case, first as lead trial attorney, then as a member of the appellate team, for more than a decade.
In 2005, a federal trial court agreed with Piers' argument that the fire department's decision to hire only candidates who had scored an 89 or higher on the firefighter application exam--78 percent of whom were white--disproportionately excluded African-Americans. Piers argued that the pen-and-paper test could not accurately determine who would be a better firefighter; and because it was discriminatory, it was illegal.
"Employers love these tests ... because they think that they remove the difficult and inappropriate subjective issues from employment decisions. Those are commendable motivations, but the problem is, to a very significant percent, standardized tests fail as predictors of success on most complicated jobs and ... they almost uniformly have a disparate impact against minorities," says Piers, a Super Lawyers listee since 2005, whom we profiled last February.
This is the second time the case has been before the 7th Circuit to address these issues. The original case wasn't filed within the 300-day window allotted for employment discrimination cases, but, in trial court, Piers argued that a new act of discrimination occurred every time the city hired from only that top pool of candidates. The trial court agreed, the 7th Circuit overturned, but last year U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that an act of discrimination does occur with each new hiring and remanded the case back to the 7th Circuit to rule on the initial group of bypassed candidates. Last Friday the court ruled the initial group shouldn't be included, and damages were reduced.
But the city is required to pay tens of millions of dollars in damages to 6,000 others from the class who can no longer be hired.
Piers is proud of the results and is eager to see the case resolved.
"We have a new mayor and we're very hopeful that we're going to have ... some cooperation in wrapping up this manner," he says, "and finally implementing the remedy ... and allowing the city and its fire department to move forward to a better future."