SAN FRANCISCO and NEWARK, N.J., November 8, 2023—Duane Morris LLP associates Alexandra Jones and Daniel Wall of the San Francisco office and partner Sheila Wiggins of the Newark office were honored at the firm’s annual meeting for their pro bono contributions. Jones and Wall received the 17th annual Duane Morris Pro Bono Award and Wiggins was the recipient of the ninth annual Duane Morris Pro Bono Leadership Award.
The Duane Morris Pro Bono Award honors the outstanding service of an attorney or group working on a single matter that exemplifies Duane Morris’ commitment to pro bono service and has made a significant impact on an individual or community. The recipients receive a $5,000 prize to donate to the legal services organization of the honorees’ choice.
This year’s winners represented Ricardo, a Peruvian father seeking the return of his daughter Antonella after her mother took her away under the false pretense of a vacation to the U.S., in his suit against the mother under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in federal district court. Since there is no right to counsel in the U.S. for the parent in the left-behind country seeking to enforce their rights under the Hague Convention, lower-income parents often have difficulty maintaining a right of action—absent pro bono counsel.
Typically, Hague Convention cases are settled in a matter of weeks or months, but Ricardo’s case was complicated by Antonella’s and her mother’s elusive whereabouts, as well as the mother’s mental instability and erratic behavior. This spring—five years into the case and after several continuances—the mother moved to Mexico with Antonella after failing to appear at the final hearing. Jones and Wall assisted the State Department in transferring the case to Mexican authorities, and shortly thereafter, the mother returned Antonella to Ricardo in Peru in time for her ninth birthday.
“The team’s hard work resulted in our client’s daughter now being under the jurisdiction of the Peruvian courts,” said George Niespolo, the partner at Duane Morris who, along with senior associate Karen Alexander, supervised Jones and Wall. “They never gave up in spite of an unsympathetic senior federal judge in Utah and a respondent who was willing to do and say anything for her own personal benefit. They were warriors.”
Ricardo himself wrote: “Daniel and Alex, thank you for all the support and believing in me. Apart from how grateful I am for you, I couldn't imagine that I would be enjoying time with my daughter now, it was something I had lost hope about. My life is beautiful with her.
“I feel that many times you encouraged me to move forward especially when it seemed complicated. Every time I see my daughter confirms that Duane Morris' team is the best that could have taken my case.
“If there is anything of help in any way, practicing Spanish or a trip to Peru, you can count me in and I will do it with all my heart as you did. Thank you.”
Jones is a litigator with experience in a variety of complex commercial matters in both state and federal courts, including commercial real estate finance and lender liability. A former trial attorney for the Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender, Wall is an experienced trial lawyer who has represented thousands of clients through all forms of legal proceedings.
The Duane Morris Pro Bono Leadership Award honors an attorney who exemplifies the spirit of pro bono: a selfless, longstanding and unwavering commitment to pro bono service; a leader by example who accepts pro bono matters without fanfare; and a pro bono contributor who encourages and mentors other firm attorneys in pro bono service.
Wiggins fulfills all these criteria. She performed 252 pro bono hours during the award nomination period and is vital to the firm’s Pro Bono Program in Newark. Since 2016, she has led the Newark office to 100% attorney participation in pro bono and she has consistently performed an average of 89 pro bono hours since 2006.
In 2022, Wiggins, in collaboration with the mayor’s office, local entrepreneurs and other attorneys, led Duane Morris’ efforts in planning and staffing the East Orange Cannabis Expungement Clinic. Duane Morris has since handled over a dozen cannabis expungement cases at the clinic, with Wiggins often acting as the supervising partner.
Over the years, Wiggins has helped coordinate legal clinics to assist Holocaust survivors in obtaining reparations and assist in veterans’ disability appeals. Additionally, the federal government frequently appoints Duane Morris as counsel for Section 1983 prisoner civil rights claims under the U.S. constitution, and Wiggins has supervised numerous associates litigating these constitutional claims. Typically, these matters concern a local prison’s alleged failure to provide adequate, timely medical care to an inmate.
Brian Biglin, one associate mentee, said, “When overseeing litigation, Sheila combines zeal with pragmatism to find success for our pro bono clients. I have grown in my own ability to assess and manage prisoner civil rights cases thanks to Sheila’s guidance.”
Wiggins is a commercial lawyer who provides litigation and advisory services in the areas of technology, telecommunications, privacy, e-commerce and commercial contracts.
About the Duane Morris Pro Bono Program
Pro bono service and volunteerism have been an important part of Duane Morris’ culture since the firm’s founding more than 110 years ago. Duane Morris’ Pro Bono Program provides free legal services to individuals, families, social justice entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations and community-based legal and social service providers. This work is integral to our well-being and that of the communities where we all live and work.
The firm provides extensive pro bono service in all of our U.S. offices and many of our international offices. A dedicated three-person pro bono team is responsible for recruiting pro bono opportunities and managing more than 1,500 matters, which range from U.S. Supreme Court amicus briefs and federal litigation to local landlord-tenant court and U.S. citizenship applications.
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 900 attorneys in offices across the United States and internationally. The firm represents a broad array of clients, spanning all major practices and industries. Duane Morris has been recognized by BTI Consulting as both a client service leader and a highly recommended law firm.