Oct. 27, 2020
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will award Boston partner James S. “Jim” Rollins a prestigious Adams Pro Bono Publico Award Oct. 28 for “exceptional dedication to providing volunteer legal services for persons who cannot afford an attorney for their essential legal needs,” according to the organization.
Rollins is being recognized for a number of pro bono activities, including his devotion of 16 years to the cause of freeing a wrongfully convicted Pennsylvania inmate, who was released after 23 years on death row when his conviction was finally overturned this past June.
Walter Ogrod was, at the time, a prisoner on death row slated to be executed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Although Mr. Ogrod confessed to the 1988 murder of 4-year-old Barbara Jean Horn in 1988, evidence showed that he didn't commit the crime. Decades after his conviction and incarceration, a reinvestigation by the Philadelphia District Attorney's office determined that no forensic evidence tied Mr. Ogrod to the crime, eyewitness descriptions didn't match Mr. Ogrod, and police had coerced a false confession from him. The state had presented false testimony, unconstitutionally withheld exculpatory evidence, and relied on unreliable jailhouse informant testimony to convict an innocent man of a brutal murder.
On June 5 of this year after an emergency session of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Mr. Ogrod's sentence was vacated, and the Court set conditions for his release from prison. He had spent 23 years on death row.
Rollins has served as chair of the Nelson Mullins Pro Bono Committee and is a current committee member. He is actively involved in the Approval Subcommittee to review all new pro bono requests. Rollins has been actively involved as an individual lawyer in a number of pro bono matters and was instrumental in a case that ended in a settlement over Massachusetts' practice of isolating prisoners with serious mental illness. [Disability Law Center, Inc. v. Massachusetts Department of Correction, et al., C.A. No. 07-10463-MLW, United States District Court, District of Massachusetts.] Under the terms of the settlement, the Massachusetts Department of Correction must maintain systemic reforms, including a mental health classification system and two maximum-security mental health treatment units as alternatives to segregation. He is currently involved in a similar case in Rhode Island.
Named for attorneys John Adams and John Quincy Adams, the Adams Awards honor Massachusetts lawyers, law students, law firms, and legal organizations that have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to providing pro bono services for the benefit of individuals of limited means. The award is being presented during the American Bar Association’s National Celebration of Pro Bono Oct. 25-31.
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