International law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP announced that it partnered with the Alaska Innocence Project and the Alaska Office of Public Advocacy in reaching a settlement with the State of Alaska on December 17 that resulted in the “immediate and unconditional release” from incarceration of the Fairbanks Four – George Frese, Kevin Pease, Marvin Roberts and Eugene Vent. The Fairbanks Four had been serving time in prison since their arrests for the murder of teenager John Hartman in October 1997.
Attorney Bill Oberly of the Alaska Innocence Project filed a post-conviction relief lawsuit concerning the Fairbanks Four in 2013. Oberly asked Dorsey to assist in the case in February 2015 after the judge ruled the case could go to trial. Dorsey took over the representation of George Frese and worked with Oberly and Eugene Vent’s counsel, Whitney Glover and Rick Allen from the Office of Public Advocacy.
Together, lawyers for the Fairbanks Four presented important new evidence relating to the case at a five-week hearing before Alaska Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle earlier in the fall. Based on agreement of the parties that there was enough new evidence to order a new trial in the case, Judge Lyle ordered a new trial. Under the terms of the settlement, the state then agreed to dismiss charges, and Judge Lyle ordered the men's “immediate and unconditional release.” In return, the men agreed to withdraw their claim of prosecutorial misconduct and to waive claims again the state and the city of Fairbanks.
“Justice was done. After 18 years of being wrongfully incarcerated, four innocent men—George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent and Marvin Roberts, were exonerated and released from prison,” stated Dorsey Partner Jahna Lindemuth. “What we accomplished only fully struck me when I saw George, Kevin, Eugene and Marvin free, surrounded by family and friends. This has been the most amazing journey. Our team quickly became convinced of the innocence of our client, George Frese, and the other three petitioners. The passion and commitment of the Dorsey lawyers, as well as those at the Alaska Innocence Project and the Office of Public Advocacy, led to a miraculous result: the exoneration of four innocent men.”
The Fairbanks Four case was Dorsey’s largest 2015 pro bono case. More than 50 attorneys, paralegals and support staff in nine offices spent 5,500 hours over 10 months. The principal members of the Dorsey legal team that represented George Frese were: Anchorage Partner Jahna Lindemuth, Of Counsels Bob Bundy and Michael Grisham, Associate Kate Demarest, and Paralegal Ruth Ann Jennings. “I could not be prouder of our team. This has been the most gratifying experience of my 44 years of practice,” stated Bob Bundy.
Dorsey has done other Innocence Project cases in other states, but never Alaska. “Community is a Dorsey core value, and pro bono work is one of the most important ways we give back to the community”, said Eric Ruzicka, the Firm’s Pro Bono Partner. “Dorsey was an original signatory of the American Bar Association Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge back in 1993. Every year since then, we have surpassed the Challenge by devoting more than 3% of the Firm’s total billable hours to pro bono. This case is a prime example of the great work our attorneys do within our communities throughout the country.”
“Dorsey is committed to providing quality legal services to those most in need and to the organizations that serve those individuals,” said Ken Cutler, Managing Partner of Dorsey & Whitney. “I am pleased that we were able to partner with Alaska Innocence Project and the Alaska Office of Public Advocacy to accomplish the Fairbanks Four release. The Firm is very proud of what Jahna and the team have accomplished.”