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Recent Pro Bono Cases

Fredrikson & Byron Pro Bono Recent Cases

Asylum Granted

Mika and Nathalie lived with their parents and siblings in Burundi. Their father worked for a non-profit that provided prosthetic parts for victims of the war. He was targeted by government officials (an explosive device was detonated in their home) because he was unwilling to participate in a corrupt scheme to allow them to profit from these prosthetic devices. The situation was extremely dangerous (Mika and Nathalie were kidnapped and brutally assaulted) and the family hastily arranged for them to leave Burundi and come to the United States. When the clients boarded the plane in 2012, Nathalie had just turned 18 and Mika was 19. They spoke no English. They arrived in Maine where they met a pastor from Dickinson, North Dakota, who suggested that they move to North Dakota. He bought them each a train ticket. When they arrived in Dickinson, nobody was here to meet them (take a second to picture that). They lived in a homeless shelter for four months until a couple from Moorhead took them into their home. In 2014, Advocates for Human Rights contacted our firm to ask if we would represent Mika and Nathalie in their pursuit for asylum and Aubrey Zuger and Katie Perleberg agreed to take the case. With Debra Schneider providing substantive help, Nicole Moen translating our clients’ statements from French to English, and with Fargo summer law clerks, Quinn Hochhalter, Nick Anderson, Danny Bihrle and Mary Batcheller providing research support, Katie and Aubrey filed a brief in support of the request for asylum. Mika and Nathalie had to wait three years, until 2017, for their interviews with the immigration office. Two weeks ago, more than a year after their interviews and four years after the process began, Mika and Nathalie were granted asylum. When she received the news, Mika told Aubrey it is “just the biggest gift we have ever received.” They wanted Aubrey to relay to the office how grateful they are for the support they received over these years. They are optimistic about their futures. They live together in an apartment in Fargo and both work full-time. Mika is in her last semester at North Dakota State College of Science (in Fargo) and will soon receive her associate degree in Finance. Nathalie is pursuing her accounting degree from Minnesota State (in Moorhead). Their mom and younger siblings were also able to flee Burundi and have been granted asylum in France. Mika and Nathalie are in contact with them and hope they will get to see them again someday. Congratulations to the entire team.


Fredrikson and Byron Attorneys Prevail in Case Before the Minnesota Supreme Court

Fredrikson and Byron attorneys Nicole Moen and Tim Billion, working with Andrea Jepsen of the School Law Center, prevailed in a case before the Minnesota Supreme Court regarding the interpretation of what constitutes a “willful violation” of a school policy under the Minnesota Pupil Fair Dismissal Act. 

In April 2014, a student was expelled from United South Central High School for accidentally bringing a pocketknife to school. The student had used the pocketknife to cut twine on hay bales at her boyfriend’s family farm the previous weekend and had forgotten to remove the pocketknife from her purse. 

The school board and Commissioner of Education upheld the expulsion based on the student’s alleged “willful violation” of a school policy. In a case of first impression, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a “willful violation” required a deliberate and knowing violation of a school policy. 

Nicole and Tim, working with the School Law Center on behalf of the student, successfully defended that decision before the Minnesota Supreme Court. In an August 3 opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the student’s statutory interpretation arguments and found that the record contained insufficient evidence to uphold the student’s expulsion. 


Death-Penalty Case a ‘House of Cards’

Fredrikson team of lawyers prevail on U.S. Supreme Court Petition in Death Penalty Case.

Read Minnesota Lawyer Article


VA Recognizes Link Between Agent Orange and Parkinson’s Disease

A few years ago, we were approached by a former JAG officer and current local lawyer to assist a man by the name of Steve Fiscus set up a nonprofit entity. Steve was a Vietnam era veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange, a lethal herbicide used in the war to clear out dense brush and vegetation. Steve was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a number of years ago. He began investigating and found that a high percentage of veterans were developing Parkinson’s. He petitioned the VA to recognize the connection in order to receive VA health benefits, something the VA originally and repeatedly denied. After working with Jessica Manivasager to set up the nonprofit, Steve was able to raise funds to fully research the connection, travel to Washington DC to meet with Senate Committees and eventually convince the VA to recognize the connection. In a note to Jessica, the referring lawyer states:

“they eventually won their fight with the VA and he and others got HUNDREDS of thousands of dollars each in back benefits in recent years as compensation for years of denied benefits when the VA did not officially accept or recognize the connection between Parkinson’s and Agent Orange. Additionally, spouses like Patricia Fiscus will now get benefits that they otherwise would not have received after their affected veteran spouse dies. This was a massive win made possible by your pro bono efforts and firm - - and Steve and his team of grass roots warriors. Fredlaw should report the ripple effect of your work and amazing feel-good success story internally, at a minimum.”


Positive Collection Case Outcome

Matt Boos and Anu Sreekanth represented a woman on a $20,000 collection case brought by a local bank, which was represented by a collection firm. In 2005, the client co-signed on a line of credit with her husband. They divorced a year later and the husband agreed to pay off the loan. The husband declared bankruptcy in 2008 and fell behind on payments until he stopped paying altogether by 2011. Out of the blue, the bank sued the client in 2014 and filed a summary judgment motion this July. Matt and Anu were retained on the day the client’s response was due. The client herself was near bankruptcy and could not afford even a modest settlement. Matt and Anu filed a response to the summary judgment motion raising a number of issues, including statute of limitations. The Court pushed back the summary judgment date by four months, giving the team time to prepare. The bank recently filed another summary judgment motion. In a continued attempt to establish our statute of limitations defense, Matt and Anu pushed the bank for additional discovery relating to the timing of the earliest “default” and noticed depositions with bank representatives. Shortly thereafter, the bank dropped the case.


Unemployment Appeal Win

Ingrid Culp recently represented Bonnie, the grandmother of a child represented by Children’s Law Center. Bonnie was fired from her job sorting mail after putting some letters in the wrong bin. The grandmother, who cares for the CLC client, said this incident coincided with the time her granddaughter was suicidal and cutting herself and she just had a momentary lapse of judgment. The unemployment denial letter stated, “not eligible because applicant tampered with driving records.” CLC reached out to us to assist as their client was severely abused for many years and the possibility of having to leave her grandmother’s care would have been devastating. Ingrid represented Bonnie on her unemployment appeal and won, giving the family the financial stability it needs.


Real Estate Transaction Closes

Our communities are fortunate to be home to many highly-respected nonprofit organizations that serve low-income, vulnerable, or mentally ill citizens. One such organization is Project for Pride in Living (PPL), a 40-year old nonprofit that helps people help themselves by providing stable housing, educational, and job training opportunities through its programs. Momentum Enterprises is a subsidiary of PPL. It has facilities that recycle those old mattresses we all toss out, another area that does industrial sewing and a third that sells used office furniture. All of these locations employ people who have been long-term unemployed due a variety of circumstances and require a fresh start. This past month, Larry Berg, Jeremy Duehr and Lisa Lindenfelser finished work assisting Momentum sell a small campus of industrial buildings. There were significant “brownfield” issues, including the need for additional environmental testing, and submission of the property to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s brownfield program. The key was to limit Momentum’s future liability for costs relating to additional testing and remediation. Because there were other “third party” rights in connection with contaminated properties, we also needed to get the buyer to agree to indemnify Momentum if claims are made in the future by third parties. This was an interesting and complex pro bono project, but one that will allow the continued growth and success of this very worthwhile program. 


First Amendment Win!

Kevin Riach recently defended a client in a criminal trial with far-reaching First Amendment implications. Kevin’s client had been charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of legal process for filming police and paramedics outside his apartment building. The police seized the client’s video camera during the incident. When the camera was finally returned, all the footage of the incident had been deleted. Kevin’s client was offered a plea deal in which the case would be dropped if he paid a $50 fine, but the client refused on principle, and Kevin took the case to trial. The jury deliberated less than two hours before it returned a not-guilty verdict on both counts.


Successful Asylum Application

Fredrikson & Byron has a long history of partnering with the Advocates for Human Rights (AHR) on many issues, including asylum cases. Jody McGinley, a lawyer in the  Minneapolis Oil & Gas department, successfully represented a client with an application for asylum. Our client, a pastor in a rural area of Ethiopia, worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the members of his poor community. However, over time, because of his leadership position and his opposition to a program which allowed the government to relocate his community, his hard work was eventually labeled anti-government. When it became clear that the persecution would not end, he fled in early 2011 and came to the United States. In making the decision to leave, our client also made the incredibly difficult decision to leave behind his wife and family, who remained in hiding. In May 2012, our client was granted asylum status. Shortly thereafter, Jody began the process of obtaining approval for his family to join him here. After a long and difficult journey that included everything from school records and baby pictures to DNA testing, our client’s family was finally approved to come to the United States. On February 28, 2014, after over three years away from them, our client met his family at the Minneapolis airport. Jody had the pleasure of joining our client and his friends in the unforgettable experience of welcoming the family to the United States. The family is now settling in their new community of Dubuque, Iowa. Jody received invaluable assistance from Loan Huynh and Legal Assistant, Roxanne Gangl, through this process.


Death Penalty Presentation

Louisiana Man Freed After 15 Years on Death Row

Together with the Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana (CPCPL) and the Innocence Project at Cardoza Law School, the firm represented an inmate on death row in Louisiana. Our client was convicted in 1997 of murdering and raping a 14-year old girl based upon his giving a demonstrably false confession to police interrogators. The post-conviction work on his behalf has centered upon DNA testing; forensic expert review of the crime scene and autopsy; the behavioral science explaining false confessions; the conduct of witness interviews proving his innocence; and extensive legal research and writing. The post-conviction defense combines a group of world-class forensic, false confession, and crime scene reconstruction experts and a dedicated legal and fact investigation and development team.

The post-conviction team, including Steve Kaplan and Richard Kyle of Fredrikson & Byron, Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, Caroline Tillman of the CPCPL, and an expert on homicide investigations presented to the District Attorney’s office in late May 2007, a detailed summary of the compelling evidence supporting our client’s claim of actual innocence. In September 2012, our client was freed from prison. His conviction and sentence were set aside because the evidence overwhelmingly proved that he was completely innocent and had falsely confessed. He has moved to Minnesota and is starting a new life. Click here to read more.