Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell attorneys and staff believe in giving back to the community – sometimes as good lawyers, through pro bono publico efforts, and sometimes as good citizens through voluntary efforts unrelated to the law.
WTO has adopted a pro bono policy consistent with Rule 6.1 of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct that calls for the firm's best efforts to assure that the lawyers collectively perform 50 hours per lawyer per year of pro bono work.
While each WTO lawyer is encouraged to take on pro bono matters that are personally important, the firm's pro bono committee also works to develop new opportunities that involve important policy issues that will make a difference across the community at large while providing front-line advocacy training and experience for our lawyers.
The firm encourages the lawyers to actively seek pro bono opportunities where they can use their unique litigation and trial skills to make a difference. For example, WTO lawyers are involved in pro bono matters that include protecting the rights of children, voting integrity, First Amendment issues, and veterans' issues, including both civil and criminal defense of court-martial cases at Fort Carson in Colorado.
Examples of recent or ongoing pro bono matters in which WTO lawyers have been involved include the following:
- WTO was one of the law firms that represented the plaintiffs in Golan v. Holder, a landmark case filed in federal court in 2002 that challenged the constitutionality of Congress's ability to restore copyright protection to tens of thousands of artistic works that had been in the public domain for years. Unfortunately, for our clients and the art lovers who have enjoyed performances and exhibits of works by artists such as Stravinsky, Virginia Wolfe, Fellini, Hitchcock, and Picasso, including his masterpiece "Guernica," the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that Congress has the constitutional power to remove works from the public domain.
- In 2011, WTO partner John Vaught helped the Colorado Bar Association develop the nonprofit Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans to provide pro bono legal service to Colorado veterans, some active duty service members, and their families.
- A WTO associate handled a habeas corpus appeal on behalf of a single mother who was given an effective life sentence for her first drug offense. The U.S Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of the firm's client, agreeing that the state court criminal defense lawyer who represented her while he was using cocaine was constitutionally ineffective.
- WTO represents a group of Colorado land owners in a case begun in the 1970s that involves access to ranch property by local residents for hunting, grazing, and gathering firewood. This access is based on 18th century Spanish land grants that were in place before Colorado became a state. These historic property rights are being denied by an out-of-state purchaser of the ranch property.
- In an ongoing effort of national importance begun in 2006, WTO has represented a non-partisan group of Colorado voters challenging amendments proposed in 2011 by Colorado's Secretary of State to election rules governing the use of direct record electronic voting machines (DREs). The election rules at issue were adopted in 2007 and 2008 pursuant to court order in Conroy v. Dennis, a case that challenged the use of DREs because of reliability and security issues. WTO tried and won this case which drew national attention as the first and only such case in the country to go to trial.