Ropes & Gray Partner Bill Sussman Recognized by the 2015 New York Law Journal“Lawyers Who Lead by Example” Awards for Pro BonoLeadership in Rikers Island Excessive Force Class Action

In The News
October 15, 2015
William I. Sussman
Christopher P. Conniff

The New York Law Journal recognized Ropes & Gray commercial litigation partner Bill Sussman in the pro bono category of its 2015 “Lawyers Who Lead by Example” awards for his role leading a Ropes & Gray team to resolve one of New York’s most impactful and high-profile civil rights cases, Nunez v. City of New York, which challenged the unconstitutional use of excessive force against inmates at City jails on Rikers Island. A profile of Mr. Sussman, who serves as co-chair of the firm’s pro bono committee, ran in a special section of The New York Law Journal on Oct. 14, and he was honored at an awards event in New York that evening.

In Nunez, a Ropes & Gray team led by Mr. Sussman and government enforcement partner Chris Conniff partnered with The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project and the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady to bring a landmark class action suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of a certified class of all current and future inmates of New York City jails on Rikers Island run by the City’s Department of Correction (DOC). They were later joined by the Office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which intervened in the case in December 2014 on behalf of the juvenile inmates of the jails.

A team of more than 30 Ropes & Gray attorneys and 13 staff members, led by Mr. Sussman and Mr. Conniff, dedicated more than 30,000 hours to the case over three years. As the case progressed, the firm led a hard-fought and protracted discovery process that included the collection and review of millions of pages of documents and electronic records, and the administration of the majority of 57 depositions. The suit named New York City and a number of individual DOC personnel as defendants.

On June 22, 2015, counsel in Nunez advised the Court that they had agreed upon a Consent Judgment to resolve the case. The historic Consent Judgment, which has been preliminarily approved by the Court and is pending final approval at a hearing set for October 2015, calls for comprehensive reforms by the DOC, designed to remedy the long-standing culture of staff violence in the jails and ensure a safer and more secure environment for inmates and correction officers. Some of the key reforms required by the Consent Judgment include: creation of a new use of force policy for DOC staff; new protocols for training DOC staff and improved screening for recruitment of staff; the installation of thousands of new surveillance cameras; and a pilot program for DOC staff body cameras. The Consent Judgment also provides for a court-appointed Monitor.