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Steven J. Wells
Steven J. Wells

Bar Buzz: Dorsey lauded for death row work

Minneapolis-based Dorsey & Whitney, L.L.P., is one of two law firms given an exceptional service award from the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project.

The award honors Dorsey’s long-term commitment to pro-bono death penalty work.

“We are so proud to accept this award for the second time in 10 years,” said Dorsey partner Steven J. Wells, in a written statement. “The deck is always stacked against our death row clients, but over the years, dozens of Dorsey lawyers have worked tirelessly to save our clients from execution.”

The awards were announced in July, but will be formerly bestowed on Sept. 24, during the ABA’s virtual 2020 Volunteer Recognition & Awards Program. Dorsey will share the prize with Chicago-based DLA Piper, which also has offices in Minneapolis.

Dorsey’s share of the award was given for its representation of at least eight people convicted of capital crimes over the past 35 years. That work started in 1985, with the firm’s work in the case of Ernest Busby.

Busby’s death sentence was reduced to life in prison after the Louisiana Supreme Court vacated his death sentence in 1988. The state’s Supreme Court held that a prosecutor made improper and prejudicial remarks about societal costs and misspent tax dollars associated with life sentences, and about Busby’s prospects for future escapes and additional homicides.

Most recently, a team Dorsey lawyers led by Wells won a ruling on behalf of inmate Bruce C. Webster. Based on new evidence that Webster is intellectually disabled, the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana declared him ineligible for execution.

In that case, Judge William T. Lawrence ruled that recently uncovered records related to Webster’s diagnosis were unavailable when he was originally sentenced, so their introduction was valid grounds for reconsideration. At the time, Wells was quoted calling the ruling “unusual and in many ways unprecedented.”

“Community is a Dorsey core value, and pro bono work is one of the most important ways we give back to the community,” said Bill Stoeri, the firm’s managing partner, in a press release.

The ABA created the Death Penalty Representation Project in 1986 to better inform the bar and public about the lack of representation available to death row inmates.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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