Releases and Announcements
Duane Morris Assists Pro Bono Clients in Securing Commutations from White House
January 23, 2017
PHILADELPHIA and SAN FRANCISCO, January 20, 2017—Duane Morris LLP attorneys Jennifer Briggs Fisher, Jessica Priselac and Brendan Ruddy successfully represented pro bono clients Curtis Bell and Christopher Pfaff in obtaining commutations of their sentences for non-violent drug offenses. Bell has served 22 years of a life sentence and Pfaff has served 12 years of a 21-year sentence.
Working with the American Bar Association and Clemency Project 2014, Fisher, Priselac and Ruddy petitioned President Obama, through the Department of Justice’s Office of the Pardon Attorney, for Bell’s and Pfaff’s release under the Justice Department’s program to commute and pardon exemplary, non-violent offenders who already served more than 10 years and would have already been released under current sentencing guidelines.
At 58 years old, Bell has spent the past 22 years in federal prison on a drug conspiracy charge for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Bell has been a productive and hardworking inmate at Federal Correctional Institution Yazoo City Medium in Mississippi, where he works as one of the main cooks. He earned his GED while incarcerated and plans to volunteer with programs designed to keep youth out of prison. Upon his release in May, Bell will be reunited with his 85-year-old mother, two children and grandchildren.
Pfaff had pled guilty to a drug manufacturing conspiracy charge and had no ties to any supplier network. If sentenced today, he likely would have received a sentence of less than eight years. During his 12 years in prison at United State Penitentiary Marion (Illinois), Pfaff had an exemplary record of good conduct, earned his GED and excelled in college-level math courses. He intends to study physics and engineering and to pursue a career in those fields after his release.
Jennifer Briggs Fisher practices in the areas of white-collar criminal defense, internal corporate investigations, regulatory compliance and complex business litigation in Duane Morris’ San Francisco office. Her pro bono practice includes representation of indigent defendants in litigation, advocating for federal prisoners petitioning for clemency and serving as co-counsel for the Innocence Project as amicus curiae in cases challenging wrongful convictions. In 2011, Fisher received the Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and the Bar Association of San Francisco Volunteer Legal Services Program.
Jessica Priselac is a trial lawyer in Duane Morris’ Philadelphia office who represents clients in a variety of complex disputes in federal and state courts. She regularly represents women and children, pro bono, in political asylum, human trafficking and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) cases.
Brendan P. Ruddy practices in the areas of white-collar criminal defense, internal corporate investigations, regulatory compliance and complex litigation in Duane Morris’ San Francisco office. He is presently the pro bono coordinator for the San Francisco office, and his pro bono practice includes representing victims of domestic violence seeking restraining orders, post-conviction matters on behalf of the Innocence Project and its clients, indigent individuals seeking expungement of convictions and appointments through the Federal Pro Bono Project at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
About the Duane Morris Pro Bono Program
Duane Morris’ Pro Bono Program provides free legal services to those in our communities least able to afford them. The importance of pro bono work and volunteerism has been an integral part of Duane Morris’ culture and a backbone of our value system since the firm’s inception more than 110 years ago.
About Duane Morris
Duane Morris LLP provides innovative solutions to today’s multifaceted legal and business challenges through the collegial and collaborative culture of its more than 750 attorneys in offices across the United States and internationally. The firm represents a broad array of clients, spanning all major practices and industries.