Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Pro Bono Attorney Successfully Defends Client on Appeal

Schwartz Craig Photo 54376-9595

A disabled veteran who recently lost his federal job will continue to receive the unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to which he is entitled as a
result of the efforts of his Legal Aid pro bono attorney, Craig Schwartz, a D.C.-based third-year associate at Pepper Hamilton LLP. The award of UI benefits had been appealed by his federal employer agency. Craig’s appellate victory allows his client full access to the much-needed safety net funds that he had been awarded when the client had represented himself pro se before the Office of Administrative Hearings.

This success story is also a great example of the effective pro bono partnerships that Legal Aid’s Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Project has formed with leading law firms in the District of Columbia. It is very difficult for any individual without counsel to oppose an appeal by a federal agency. The critical representation that the lawyers in these firms provide is making justice real for their clients and helping to close the justice gap for people living in poverty in our community.

In this case, Craig’s client had applied for UI benefits after he lost his job with a federal government agency. Though he was initially denied benefits by the Department of Employment Services, he appealed that ruling to the Office of Administrative Hearings and prevailed. The federal agency appealed that decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals, challenging the client’s eligibility for UI benefits.

The agency asserted that Craig’s client had been terminated for misconduct. But in making these assertions, the agency relied on allegations of misconduct that were relayed to the client’s supervisor by third parties, who themselves had learned of the alleged misconduct only from other third parties. Also at issue was whether the client had filed a timely appeal. In fact, he had filed late because the D.C. government had failed to notify him of its denial decision, or that the federal agency had asserted misconduct, before the period for challenging the denial of benefits had lapsed.

Working under the supervision of former Pepper Hamilton partner Michael R. Golden, now at Baker Botts L.L.P., Craig moved to dismiss the appeal entirely. The federal agency agreed to dismiss the appeal, and the Court of Appeals approved the dismissal, thus preserving the OAH decision awarding the client UI benefits. “Working with Legal Aid was one of my most rewarding experiences since graduating from law school.” said Craig. “The benefits at issue make a tangible difference in the day-to-day life of our client, and I am thankful that Legal Aid afforded me an opportunity to help the client retain benefits to which he was entitled.”

This total and quick appellate victory would not have happened without effective legal representation. Legal Aid applauds the Pepper Hamilton team for its vigorous advocacy and success in this matter, and looks forward to working with Craig and others at the firm on more pro bono matters in the years to come.

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