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Pro Bono Week 2019: Paul Thompson – Appellate Pro Bono

by Elizabeth P. Lewis

Paul Thompson, a partner with McDermott Will & Emery LLP, is a very successful, well-known appellate lawyer. Despite his busy practice, he regularly uses his skills and experience to advocate on behalf of pro bono clients. He handles a wide-range of appeals on behalf of pro bono clients and is a frequent author of amicus briefs.  Two of his most noteworthy efforts this year highlight Paul’s commitment to pro bono.

Paul and his team won a critical victory for Nadine Pellegrino before the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit sitting en banc.  In a 9-4 opinion, the full Third Circuit held that the United States has waived sovereign immunity for certain intentional torts committed by Transportation Security Officers.  In 2006, after a harrowing ordeal with the TSA, Ms. Pellegrino was arrested, jailed, cited for 10 criminal violations, including aggravated assault on law enforcement officials, and prosecuted for eight. She successfully defended against those charges and thereafter brought suit alleging that certain Transportation Security Officers engaged in intentional misconduct. Ms. Pellegrino pursued her claims pro se in the district court and on appeal.  During her appeal’s pendency, the Third Circuit appointed Paul to file an amicus brief supporting Ms. Pellegrino and to argue the case. In July 2018, a divided Third Circuit panel concluded that the United States had not waived sovereign immunity for intentional torts committed by the Transportation Security Officers.  Thereafter, Ms. Pellegrino retained McDermott to continue the effort. The McDermott team successfully petitioned the full Third Circuit to rehear the case en banc, and Paul argued before the full Court in February 2019. On August 30, 2019, the en banc Third Circuit reversed in part, holding that the United States has waived sovereign immunity for certain intentional torts committed by Transportation Security Officers.

Paul has also been instrumental in writing several amicus briefs on behalf of Tahirih Justice Center in litigation challenging the government’s changes to credible fear interview policies and procedures.

On top of all of this, Paul does a tremendous job of leading by example.  He was instrumental in cementing a real culture of pro bono in the DC office when he was the office head. That culture has continued to flourish and grow. And the power of seeing a busy, successful senior lawyer regularly taking on pro bono matters can’t be overstated.

Elizabeth P. Lewis is a partner with McDermott Will & Emery LLP.