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King & Spalding LLP to Fund Pro Bono Legal Fellowship At Southern Center for Human Rights

19 Jan 2004


ATLANTA, January 19, 2004 -- King & Spalding LLP announced today the creation of a new fellowship at the Southern Center for Human Rights. The fellowship has been funded with attorneys fees awarded to the firm in a civil rights action against Georgia prison officials and in other pro bono litigation. Sarah Geraghty, the first King & Spalding Fellow, will be responsible for assisting Atlanta-area law firms in providing pro bono representation for indigents in the Georgia criminal justice system. She also will coordinate law firm participation in other pro bono matters.

The Southern Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the human and civil rights of poor people in the criminal justice and corrections systems of the South through litigation, education, advocacy, and community involvement. King & Spalding has worked closely with the Southern Center on a number of cases. The organization is headed by Stephen B. Bright, a prominent Atlanta civil rights attorney and adjunct professor at Harvard and Yale law schools. The Southern Center employs 12 attorneys, including Mr. Bright and Ms. Geraghty.

Ms. Geraghty, who received her J.D. and Master of Social Work degrees from the University of Michigan, will facilitate pro bono representation by Atlanta law firms in indigent defense matters to address the gap in funding Georgia’s public defender network. Geraghty also will engage in public interest litigation focusing on issues of equal justice, access to the courts and enforcement of the Bill of Rights for people in the criminal justice system and in prisons and jails. Prior to joining the Southern Center, Ms. Geraghty worked at the Office of the Appellate Defender where she represented indigent persons convicted of felonies in the Bronx and Manhattan. She will also be on call to assist Atlanta law firms in this type of pro bono work. She has also worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in New York, New York, and Jackson, Mississippi.

The issues Ms. Geraghty will address in her role as King & Spalding Fellow hit close to home for the King & Spalding attorneys who represented Daniel Colwell and his estate in the case that resulted in the fees that allowed the fellowship to be funded. Colwell was a young man from a prominent, hard-working African-American family in Americus. For years, he suffered from severe schizophrenia that the public health system failed to treat adequately. Unable to bring himself to commit suicide, in 1996 he committed a double homicide solely for the purpose of having the state execute him. He turned himself in, pled guilty, and was sentenced to death. King & Spalding first represented Daniel Colwell in his state habeas corpus proceedings, including an evidentiary hearing to determine his competence to make decisions and to assist his lawyers in the habeas corpus litigation. In that capacity, the legal team attempted to secure administratively Mr. Colwell’s transfer from death row to a psychiatric hospital facility. Prison officials ignored the request, and Mr. Colwell committed suicide in his cell.

After his death, King & Spalding filed suit in federal court on behalf of his estate, alleging deliberate indifference to Mr. Colwell’s mental health needs. The case was quickly settled, helping bring closure to Daniel’s family, and the suit directly resulted in changes in the way mental health needs of death row inmates are being met. Since Mr. Colwell’s arrest and trial, his story has been told on CNN, 60 Minutes, and A&E’s “American Justice.”

“This was a tragic case exposing the failure of the public mental health system in Georgia that allowed this crime to happen in the first place and the inadequacies of the corrections system in dealing with the mental health needs of inmates thereafter. It is my hope that the result in this case will improve the treatment of mentally ill inmates in Georgia and will focus more attention on the work in this area being done by the Southern Center for Human Rights and other law firms,” said Bill Hoffmann, the King & Spalding Partner who represented Colwell and his estate along with King & Spalding associates Tom Lundin and Jill Wasserman. Hoffmann, King & Spalding’s Atlanta Pro Bono Chair, went on to say, “through our experiences with the Southern Center, we have seen the important work they do to support the rights of indigents in the criminal justice system, and we are hopeful the King & Spalding Fellowship will help expand their capabilities and the contributions of law firms.”

“Georgia will continue to face a crisis in the provision of indigent defense until the public defender system is appropriately funded,” said Courtland Reichman, a King & Spalding partner who serves on the Southern Center Board of Directors. “While the creation of a public defender system in Georgia is a good first step, it is an unfunded mandate until the Legislature provides necessary resources to make it work. The King & Spalding Fellowship is intended to help improve indigent defense until the public defender system is fully funded and implemented.”

“By providing us the funds necessary to support this position, King & Spalding is allowing the Southern Center to better facilitate the participation of law firms in pro bono cases, while also providing firms the support they need to handle these types of cases,” said Stephen B. Bright, Director of the Southern Center. “We greatly appreciate King & Spalding’s ongoing support, and particularly this generous contribution that will help ensure the civil rights of poor people in the justice and corrections systems.”

About King & Spalding LLP
King & Spalding LLP is an international law firm with more than 700 lawyers in Atlanta, Houston, London, New York and Washington, D.C. The firm represents more than half of the Fortune 100. For each of the last twelve years, The American Lawyer has listed King & Spalding among the top 50 law firms in the United States by profitability, and in a similar listing in 2003, the firm ranked among the top 50 law firms in the world. For additional information, visit

The Southern Center for Human Rights
The SCHR is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the human and civil rights of poor people in the criminal justice and corrections systems of the South through litigation, education, advocacy, and community involvement. It is funded by individuals, law firms, foundations, and religious groups and has never received government funds. The Fulton County Daily Report named Director Stephen Bright its Newsmaker of the Year in December 2003 “for his unrelenting efforts over the years to expose Georgia's shortfalls in indigent defense.” Bright founded SCHR in 1976 in response to deplorable conditions in prisons and jails in the South and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that year allowing the resumption of capital punishment.