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Trial Lawyer of the Year Award
Each year, Public Justice presents its Trial Lawyer of the Year Award to the attorney(s) who made the greatest contribution to the public interest within the past year by trying or settling a precedent-setting, socially significant case.
The 2013 winners are Albuquerque attorneys Matthew Coyte and Jack Jacks for Slevin v. Board of County Commissioners, a solitary confinement case. Their client Stephen Slevin had a history of mental illness when he decided to drive across the country in 2005. After being arrested in New Mexico for a DUI, Slevin spent the next 22 months in solitary confinement, where he languished without trial and without treatment for his declining mental health.
A jury awarded Slevin $22 million, and the parties settled for $15.5 million, one of the largest-ever prisoner civil rights settlements in an individual case. The Slevin verdict and ensuing publicity has changed the way New Mexico handles mentally ill prisoners.
There were five finalist teams for this year's award. In addition to Slevin, the plaintiffs' attorneys in the following four cases were named finalists. Watch the videos to learn more about each case.
1. United States and State of Illinois ex rel. Absher v. Momence Meadows Nursing Center, Inc. (nursing home whistleblower):
2. Hairston v. Equitable Production Company (desecration of African-American cemetery):
3. City of Greenville v. Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. (product liability for toxic weed killer contaminating public drinking water supplies):
4. Henderson v. Thomas (discrimination against Alabama prisoners with HIV):