Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
However the case of Joseph Heard is classified, there’s no question that Goodwin Procter lawyers did important work for him. Deaf and mute, Heard, 46, suffered for nearly two years in a D.C. jail, trying to tell officers he was not guilty of any wrongdoing. He scrawled the word “innocent” on a scrap of paper and communicated to another inmate that his jailing was a mistake. But his pleas were ignored or laughed at. Now, due to the efforts of Goodwin Procter, Heard has collected $1.7 million in compensation for his unlawful detention, and the law firm is seeking reimbursement of its fees and expenses. Heard’s ordeal began Nov. 15, 1998, when he tried to stay warm by entering a George Washington University School of Law building. Heard, then homeless, was arrested and charged with trespassing. On Oct. 13, 1999, Judge John Campbell of D.C. Superior Court found that Heard was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Heard had been under evaluation at D.C.’s St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for four months. Campbell ruled that Heard’s time in the hospital was already longer than any jail sentence he would have received had he been found guilty of the misdemeanor. The judge dismissed the case and ordered Heard released. Heard should have walked away a free man. Instead, his detention continued because the jail’s computer system erroneously showed that he had an outstanding charge in another case. Heard’s file was then mistakenly shipped to an off-site storage facility. LOCKED AWAY For the next 22 months, Heard was imprisoned in the mental health unit of the D.C. jail. Unable to talk and functionally illiterate, he was offered no access to sign-language interpreters or other communication assistance. His family was not informed of his detention, and he had no visitors. As he became more withdrawn and refused to leave his cell, medical records indicate Heard was administered antipsychotic and antidepressant medications, including Risperdal and Paxil, without his consent. Heard remained in custody until August 2001, when jail officials finally determined that his file had been misclassified as inactive. By this time, W. Thomas Stovall II, a solo practitioner, had met with Heard several times after being tipped off about his plight by a source inside the jail. After Heard was released, Stovall, 61, invited him to live at his home in Maryland. “When people need help, you give it to them,” Stovall says. For the next year, Heard lived with Stovall, who enrolled him in a school for the deaf and sometimes treated him to his favorite meal: fried chicken fingers at McDonald’s. Stovall teamed up with another solo practitioner, Othello Jones Jr., to prepare a case for Heard against the District of Columbia. The two attorneys linked up with the National Association of the Deaf and filed suit on Feb. 15, 2002, alleging a violation of Heard’s civil rights, false imprisonment, and negligence. They sought $120 million in damages. The two lawyers worked about 700 hours on the case but were quickly overpowered by the city. When the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed eight of the 11 counts of the complaint on Sept. 29, 2003, they knew the case was in trouble. “We needed a lot more resources,” Stovall says. ENTER GOODWIN A contact from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs got in touch with D.C.-based Shea & Gardner. Partner John Moustakas, a former federal prosecutor, agreed to take over the case and quickly assembled a five-lawyer team that included of counsel Paul Friedman and associate Adam Chud. Over the next 14 months, the attorneys (who brought the case with them when Shea & Gardner merged with Goodwin Procter in October 2004) went into trial-preparation mode. They deposed 15 officers from the jail, logging 2,700 hours on the case. Whenever Moustakas interviewed Heard, he had to use an interpreter. Simply reading a two-page document to Heard could take more than an hour. After Moustakas raised questions about Heard’s mental competency, the court appointed Arnold & Porter partner Jonathan Stern as guardian ad litem. Stern, former chief of the trial division at the D.C. Public Defender Service, helped make litigation decisions for Heard and evaluated possible settlement offers. The initial offers were rejected. After consulting with Stern, Moustakas turned down $500,000 in 2004 and $750,000 in 2005, neither of which included attorney fees. A trial seemed likely, and Moustakas relished the chance to rumble with the city. “A trial is the equivalent of picking up a rock and looking underneath at the maggots,” he says. “The trial would have exposed how rotten the Department of Corrections really is.” He never got the opportunity. In January 2005 a satisfactory offer came in: $1.1 million plus attorney fees from the District, and $640,000 from the private contractor that provided medical services to Heard at the jail. With Stern’s consent, Moustakas accepted. On Aug. 4, 2005, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly approved the settlement. The dispute continues as Goodwin Procter, Stovall, and Jones fight the District over their fees. Goodwin Procter has demanded $962,097 in attorney fees and $71,000 in expenses, Stovall has asked for $61,200 in fees, and Jones has asked for $80,400. (Arnold & Porter’s Stern worked pro bono and has not sought compensation for his time.) The District, which at one point asserted that it was entitled to compensation for the goods and services it provided to Heard, has offered to pay just $440,000. It argues that Stovall and Jones aren’t entitled to fees because they didn’t contribute meaningfully to the case and that Goodwin Procter’s fees should be reduced because of vague entries and “excessive meeting and ministerial time billed as lawyer time.” Goodwin Procter counters that its time records are sufficiently detailed and conform to standard practice. The matter is pending before Kollar-Kotelly. In the meantime, Heard has moved in with his sister, a nurse in Orlando, Fla. The $1.7 million settlement has been placed in a special-needs trust established by Goodwin Procter to help ensure that Heard will never again get lost in the system.
Joshua Lipton is an assistant editor for The American Lawyer , the ALM publication in which this article first appeared.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.