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When Kathleen A. Behan was still in law school, she became involved in assisting Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman in his appellate efforts to overturn death penalty convictions. “The work was important and compelling,” she says. It was also influential in determining the path her career would take. “In law school, I was looking for a job as a death penalty lawyer. I couldn’t find one,” Behan says. But she did get hired by the American Civil Liberties Union, where she began working in early 1989 as staff counsel on the agency’s National Security Litigation Project. She spent the next year “mostly brief-writing,” then joined Washington, D.C.’s Arnold & Porter as an associate in 1990. Arnold & Porter had a decades-long reputation of handling major pro bono criminal defense appeals. Its lawyers, for instance, won the 1963 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright. Behan was not drawn solely by the opportunity to work on pro bono matters, she adds. “I wanted to do some civil litigation.” She began working on a wide range of matters, including white-collar crime, antitrust and constitutional law. Behan was part of the team that won an acquittal for General Electric Co. in a federal antitrust action in late 1994. She represented the American Red Cross in blood supply-related litigation. She represents Major League Baseball as trial counsel in copyright royalty arbitrations. And Behan was one of the attorneys for fugitive financier Marc Rich in his successful — and notorious — campaign to gain a pardon in the waning days of the Clinton administration. But it is in Behan’s commitment to pro bono work that she has made the biggest impact. “As soon as I walked into Arnold & Porter I became involved in the Roger Coleman appeal,” she says. Coleman was a Virginia man who had been convicted of killing his sister-in-law and sentenced to death. Soon after Behan signed on, the two attorneys directing the case left the firm, leaving her in charge. Behan represented Coleman in all phases of his second petition for a writ of habeas corpus and his petition for executive clemency. Coleman was executed in May 1992, but it didn’t deter Behan from continuing her involvement in death penalty or other pro bono litigation. About 20 percent of her practice is devoted to pro bono work. She is also co-chairwoman of the Arnold & Porter pro-bono committee and supervises its impact litigation. Behan represents the American Council of the Blind in its efforts to force the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to install safety provisions for the blind or visually impaired. She is a lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the litigation against the state of Mississippi seeking to force a modernization of the state’s indigent defense system. She is representing a class of mentally ill inmates at the Angola prison in Louisiana alleging violations of their civil rights. Now a partner, Behan currently represents James Dennis, who was convicted in 1992 in Philadelphia of the murder of a teenage girl in a robbery and sentenced to death. The appeal focuses on the claim that the prosecutor “handpicked jurors based on racial identity and stereotypical reasoning.” So far, Behan says, “I have not had any of my inmates come off death row. I certainly hope it will happen with Dennis.”

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