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Public Interest Litigation
At Kaplan Hecker & Fink, we put public service at the center of our practice. We are committed to litigating cases that advance the public interest, and our public interest cases are as important to us as every other case. In one of our first cases as a firm, we sued the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who organized the racial- and religious-based violence that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Kaplan Hecker represents a group of plaintiffs who were impacted by the attacks, including several who suffered physical injury.
The lawsuit takes what has been described as an “audacious” legal approach, utilizing among other legal strategies an 1871 law that was intended to stop the mob-based violence of the Ku Klux Klan. While the high-profile case remains ongoing, Kaplan Hecker’s lawyers have won several significant early victories, including defeating several motions to dismiss. The court recently sanctioned several defendants for non-cooperation, compelled defendants to turn over devices and social media accounts for discovery, and allowed a range of subpoenas to allow the gathering of relevant information from third parties.
Other representative public interest matters at the firm include:
- Securing a Temporary Restraining Order in federal court in California ordering the immediate release of our clients, whose Due Process rights were violated when ICE detained them at grave risk to their health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Securing a Temporary Restraining Order restoring legal visitation at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York, on behalf of the Federal Defenders of New York, Inc., after the Bureau of Prisons suspended legal visits during a government shutdown and subsequent weather event in violation of the constitutional right to counsel. A ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in March 2020 led to the appointment of former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch as mediator in the case by the district judge, who has made clear that the Bureau must “do better” to provide remote legal visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Successfully representing a woman sued for defamation by a famous Hollywood producer after she shared her #MeToo story.
- Helping launch the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, which provides victims of sexual harassment and assault with free legal representation to ensure that victims are not bullied or silenced by the burden of costly, protracted litigation.
- Representing E. Jean Carroll, a journalist suing President Donald Trump for having defamed her since she publicly recounted her experience of being raped by him several decades ago.
- Representing Moira Donegan, the author of the “Shitty Media Men” list, a crowdsourced and anonymous resource for women in media to warn each other about allegedly abusive men. Kaplan Hecker is defending Ms. Donegan against a defamation lawsuit filed by someone who was named on the list.
- Representing a group of investors suing President Trump, his business, and his family, alleging defrauding by the Trumps in relation to a multi-level marketing telecommunications company. In April 2020, we defeated a motion to compel arbitration brought by the defendants and won several important rulings expanding the scope of discovery in the case.
- Representing a survivor of Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse in a lawsuit aimed at ensuring that Mr. Epstein’s Estate is held accountable for his crimes.
- Representing the Campaign for Southern Equality in a constitutional challenge to Mississippi's HB 1523, an anti-LGBTQ+ "religious freedom" law.
- Representing an LGBTQ+ pride organization and its leaders in a constitutional challenge to a municipal ban on a gay-pride parade in the City of Starkville, Mississippi. After Kaplan Hecker & Fink filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, the City reversed its initial ban and permitted the parade to go forward.
- Submitting over a dozen amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeals, and various state supreme courts. Among other topics, our briefs have challenged unconstitutional attacks on the rights of women, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community, and have stood up for due process protections, freedom from discrimination, and congressional oversight authority.
It is surely no exaggeration to say that Robbie Kaplan is one of the nation’s foremost advocates for civil rights.
In 2010, Robbie and Julie Fink, along with a team at Paul, Weiss, filed a case on behalf of a then-unknown octogenarian widow by the name Edie Windsor who wanted to challenge the estate tax bill she owed as a result of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Robbie and Julie litigated that case through the federal courts, including obtaining one of the first-ever decisions holding that laws that discriminate against gay people are entitled to heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause. Robbie ultimately argued that case before the United States Supreme Court, resulting in United States v. Windsor, the landmark Supreme Court decision striking the key provision of DOMA as unconstitutional. The reasoning in Windsor led the Supreme Court to hold in 2015 that gay couples have “equal dignity,” which gives them the constitutional right to marry nationwide.
Following Windsor, Robbie went on to litigate three separate, though related, cases in the State of Mississippi. First, in 2013, Robbie and her team won a case seeking marriage equality in Mississippi. In an article about her Fifth Circuit argument in that case, Mark Stern of Slate wrote “Kaplan emerged as Mississippi’s fiercest LGBTQ rights defender after…[she] secured a victory against Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban.” Next, Robbie and her team sued to overturn Mississippi's ban on adoption by gay and lesbian couples. The teenage son of two of Robbie’s clients in that case described Robbie’s argument as follows: “Once the arguments had begun, our prestigious and almost rock star-like lawyer, Roberta Kaplan, had to stop multiple times to slow down and repeat what was said in her fast, New York accent so the court reporter could catch up. Ms. Kaplan’s job was to explain our case to the judge, tell him all of the many reasons why this law should be declared unconstitutional and describe the damage it has caused to the many gay couples all across Mississippi.”
A wide range of organizations have also specifically honored Robbie’s contributions to public service, and Robbie has received the National Council of Jewish Women Social Action Award, the Columbia Law School Medal of Excellence, the Stanford Law School National Public Service Award, the New York County Lawyers’ Association President’s Medal, and the American Constitutional Society Keeping Faith Award. She also holds an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Johns Hopkins University and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Pace University, and Millsaps College.