Pro Bono Spotlight: Tim Purdon and Brendan Johnson, Robins Kaplan LLP, Part 1

This week we are featuring pro bono work done by Tim Purdon and Brendan Johnson of Robins Kaplan LLP. Prior to joining the firm, Tim Purdon served as the U.S. Attorney in North Dakota and Brendan Johnson served as the U.S. Attorney in South Dakota. During their terms, each was appointed to chair the Native American Issues Subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys and placed special emphasis on increasing public safety on reservations within their jurisdiction. Some of their most recent pro bono cases over the past year include:

  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. United States et al.:  A Robins Kaplan trial team led by Tim and Brendan have filed suit in federal court on behalf of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe against the federal government to preserve critical health care services. The lawsuit stems from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) decision to close the emergency room at Rosebud Hospital – the sole emergency room on the Rosebud Reservation. In May 2016, the federal government awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to temporarily staff and operate the emergency room in Rosebud as well as two other hospital emergency rooms in South Dakota and Nebraska. The case has pushed federal leaders in South Dakota and Washington D.C. to focus further attention on addressing the situation at the Rosebud Hospital and many other Tribal hospitals across the nation. In March 2017, the team won a ruling denying the Indian Health Service’s (IHS) motion to dismiss the Tribe’s complaint that IHS has violated its treaty and statutory responsibility to provide the Tribe with adequate health care services.
  • United States v. White Plume: Tim secured a repeal of a one-of-a-kind federal injunction against a Tribal hemp farmer. The U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota lifted an 11-year-old injunction that prevented Oglala Sioux Tribe industrial hemp famer Alex White Plume from exploring the legal farming of industrial hemp. The injunction against Mr. White Plume was the only one of its kind in the United States. The decision was hailed throughout Indian Country as a significant win for Mr. White Plume and as a first step towards reintroducing a valuable opportunity for economic development to reservations.
  • In the Matter of a Petition to Permit Temporary Provision of Legal Services by Qualified Attorneys from Outside North Dakota: The historic protests by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their supporters against the Dakota Access Pipeline resulted in hundreds of felony criminal charges being filed against those involved in civil disobedience in North Dakota. A Robins Kaplan pro bono team led by Tim drafted and filed a petition to the North Dakota Supreme Court seeking a finding that this situation constitutes an emergency affecting the North Dakota court system and that the Supreme Court should act to remedy the situation by allowing the temporary practice of law in North Dakota by qualified attorneys who are admitted in other jurisdictions. On January 18, the North Dakota Supreme Court issued an order largely granting the requested relief.
  • United States v. Bryant: On February 4, 2016, Robins Kaplan LLP filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of six former U.S. Attorneys, including Tim Purdon and Brendan Johnson. Tim Purdon and Brendan Johnson led the efforts to recruit this group of six former U.S. Attorneys (three Barack Obama appointees and three George W. Bush appointees) who had worked extensively in Indian Country during their time at the Department of Justice. The amicus brief supported the Department of Justice’s appeal. In June 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the position in the firm’s amicus brief and overturned the Ninth Circuit decision. The ruling was hailed by numerous parties as an important victory that will help protect Native American women and reduce domestic violence in reservation communities.

 How did you get involved in these types of cases at Robins Kaplan? 

Tim: While at the Department of Justice (DOJ), both of us chaired the Native American Issues Subcommittee during Eric Holder’s time as Attorney General. We were very passionate about the idea of tribal sovereignty and making tribal communities safer. When we decided to leave the (DOJ), one of the things we were committed to when we were identifying opportunities was that we would only look at firms that would commit to supporting pro bono efforts in Indian Country. Robins Kaplan was enthusiastic about that, and they gave us the platform. They already have it in their firm DNA to “rewrite the odds” for smaller cases and clients, and that is why we decided to come to this firm.

How are pro bono cases typically referred to you?

Tim: The firm itself does a lot of work with legal services organizations and legal aid organizations, but that isn’t how we typically get the Indian Country cases. These cases come to us because we have developed a reputation in Indian Country as former U.S. Attorneys and committed lawyers who want to make a difference in these cases. I think we have come to be seen by tribes as attorneys who can help. In cases in which the tribes need help, but may not have the resources to hire counsel, they may seek us out to see if we might be willing to take the matter on pro bono if we think we can make a difference.

Brendan: As U.S. Attorneys, Tim and I were representing some of the most financially disadvantaged tribes in the U.S., including some of the poorest counties in North Dakota and South Dakota. When we left, we made it clear to them that we aren’t done fighting for you, we are just putting on a different hat. We are still here fighting the big battles. Most of the cases come to us from places where we have built a reputation of trust with the tribe. Some of it is the network from the DOJ, where folks will ask us to assist on cases and ask us to take a look at things.

Join us Monday to read more about Tim and Brendan’s commitment to pro bono!

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