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Dewey & LeBoeuf (13)


On a bright Sunday in May, Dewey & Le­Boeuf litigation partner Alan Howard settled in on a grassy hillside for an afternoon watching high school baseball. It was parents’ weekend at the Canterbury School in New Milford, Connecticut, and its varsity team, the Saints, was playing. Howard has three children of his own, but that afternoon, he was out to cheer for a pro bono client, 18-year-old Jesse The Am Law Pro Bono 100Ray “Jody” Beard.

Many lawyers have put their hearts into their pro bono cases, but few as demonstrably as Howard. Since last year, Howard, 45, has been Beard’s guardian as well as his lawyer. He has provided Beard with a home, as well as all the support and material things a college-bound student needs. “I want the same things for Jody that I want for my own kids,” Howard says. “I tell him never to let other people define him.”

Howard’s efforts have allowed Beard to cultivate his field of dreams. But outside the prep school’s stone walls and trimmed lawns, it’s a different story. Beard is facing criminal charges as the youngest of the Jena Six, a group of black students who were arrested in the school-yard beating of a white student in Jena, Louisiana, in December 2006. Though the victim escaped lasting injury, the subsequent cases against Beard and the others continue to play out in the Louisiana parish court. The gravity of the charges against the students—all were initially charged with attempted homicide—sparked what The New York Times called “the largest civil rights protests in years.”

Howard became involved in the case in December 2007, nearly a year after Beard was charged. The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, then led by David Utter, had tapped a pro bono team led by DLA Piper’s Stanley Adelman for Beard’s criminal defense. But the family of the injured student had filed a civil claim against the school board and the families of the defendants. Howard agreed to represent Beard and his family in the civil action.

A big concern was getting Beard out of Jena. Beard had already served a month in juvenile detention and six months of a 16-month house arrest for a plea on an earlier, unrelated misdemeanor charge. In a town of 3,000, Utter says, “once a young person gets pegged by law enforcement with a reputation, it’s very difficult to escape.” For instance, Beard had been cited for violating his house arrest after crossing the street to buy a can of soda at a convenience store.

Last February the legal aid group arranged for Beard to interview with three private boarding schools in the Northeast for spring admission. The DA agreed to lift Beard’s house arrest for a one-week trip; during the school visits, Beard stayed at Howard’s home. Beard received offers from all three schools. In March, Howard flew to Jena, expecting the house arrest to be lifted. But the district attorney objected.

At that point—and with the blessing of Beard’s mother—Howard began the process of filing the paperwork to become Beard’s legal guardian, so that whenever the house arrest was lifted, Beard would have a place to go and the kind of supervision he needed. “It was increasingly clear that we had to do everything and anything we could do to get [Beard] out of Jena,” Howard says.

In early July, a newly appointed trial judge granted Beard a 35-day leave from house arrest. (The original judge had recused himself.) Howard’s plan now was to get the young man accepted somewhere near Howard’s home for fall admission. Within hours of the order, Beard was on a plane to Bedford, New York, where he was to share a bedroom with Howard’s then-13-year-old son.

Beard spent the rest of the summer working as an intern at Dewey’s midtown Manhattan offices. On evenings when Howard had client dinners, Beard went with him; on others, Beard worked with a tutor on a correspondence course. Howard, meanwhile, called schools in the area, ultimately getting Beard admitted at Canterbury, a 350-student boarding school an hour’s drive from Bedford. Howard would ultimately split the $44,000 tuition with Beard’s mother, who used donated legal defense funds for her share. “The contrast between all the forces allied against him in Jena, and all the forces getting behind him here, was astonishing,” Howard says. “Everyone I spoke to wanted to help make this happen.”

Beard says the move has been a huge relief. “I felt like people were watching me all the time,” he says. “I was just trying to stay out of trouble, so nobody could say anything.”

News of Beard’s imminent arrival sparked a brief local media sensation, creating some controversy initially. And his first year at Canterbury hasn’t been easy academically. Beard “had never written an essay,” Howard says. “He had never taken a foreign language.” But Beard has become such a valued member of the school that he was selected to be a school “ambassador” next year, leading tours to prospective students and their families.

Meanwhile, the case remains open. Prosecutors confirmed in March that lawyers and prosecutors were meeting to discuss possible plea deals; neither Howard nor Utter would comment on the status of those negotiations. Utter, now at the Southern Poverty Law Center, commends Howard’s involvement in Beard’s life—one that is unusual even for public interest lawyers. “It’s not uncommon in the public interest world for lawyers to keep in touch with their juvenile clients, to send money, or to help them out of trouble later in life,” he says. “But this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a lawyer establishing legal guardianship.” Regardless of the outcome of the case, Howard says, that commitment won’t change. “I could work three careers,” he says, “and not have the opportunity to influence someone’s life like this.”

—Julie Triedman | July 1, 2009

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