When a bipartisan group of Maryland lawmakers introduced a bill last week requiring companies that bid on commuter rail contracts to disclose whether they once transported victims to Nazi concentration camps, it was a small victory for survivors who for more than a decade have tried to hold a French railway accountable for its role in the Holocaust.
It was also a victory for a group of attorneys and policy professionals at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which for five years has represented more than 600 survivors and their family members in the courts, state legislatures and on Capitol Hill. As many as 30 people at the firm have been involved in the case, putting in roughly 1,300 hours in 2010 alone. (The Baltimore law offices of Duane Morris have also offered assistance.)
The scope of the case required Akim Gump to pull in attorneys from its litigation, appellate, corporate and public policy practices, said Steven H. Schulman, the partner at the firm who coordinates such efforts.
"The ability to leverage a large law firm's resources to help our pro bono client in a variety of ways is exactly why we have a pro bono practice at the firm. We can do things, frankly, that a lot of public interest organizations can't do," Schulman said.
France's national railway, SNCF, transported more than 75,000 individuals to death camps while the country was occupied during World War II. Since 2000, survivors in the United States have fought for the company to acknowledge and pay reparations for its actions during the war by challenging it in federal courts. Though the company has acknowledged its role as a conduit, posted historical information on its Web site and issued its first formal apology in January, SNCF has been largely successful in its attempts to evade legal responsibility in U.S. courts by invoking a concept known as sovereign immunity.
Read the complete Washington Post story, "Law firm takes Holocaust case to Congress."