Washington, D.C. (June 15, 2011) – The lawyers who successfully defended Koua Fong Lee, a Minnesota man wrongfully convicted of vehicular homicide have been included in the final pool eligible for the 2011 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. The award is presented annually by the Public Justice Foundation, a national organization of public interest attorneys and advocates headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Koua Fong Lee, a Hmong immigrant and resident of St. Paul, had been in prison for three years when trial lawyer Robert Hilliard of Corpus Christi, Texas, took on the case pro bono with local criminal defense counsel Brent Schafer of Eagan, Minn.
After investigating the case, Hilliard and Schafer argued that Lee was wrongfully convicted for an accident that occurred on June 10, 2006, when Lee was driving his 1996 Toyota Camry. As he headed up an exit ramp that day, his car lurched forward and slammed into the back of another vehicle. Two passengers in the other vehicle were killed; a third later died from injuries.
At his trial, Lee adamantly maintained that he pumped the brake—but the car wouldn’t stop. Nonetheless, he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. But a few years after the conviction, Toyota began recalling some its late-model Camrys due to a problem with unintended acceleration. Using evidence that was buried during Lee’s original trial, Hilliard and Schafer won a new trial for Lee; and, although overturning a criminal conviction is extremely difficult, the two attorneys ultimately convinced the State to drop the charges and release Lee from prison.
Hilliard and Schafer are among 35 lawyers – spanning six cases – named finalists for this year’s award. The six cases involve a range of issues: from discrimination against Native American farmers, to distribution of a drug that harmed premature infants, to negligent care of nursing home residents.
Detailed summaries of the Minnesota case, Lee v. State of Minnesota, and the other finalist cases are accessible on the Public Justice website athttp://www.publicjustice.net/Newsroom/News/2011-TLOY-Finalists-Selected.aspx.
The winner of the nationally prestigious award will be announced on July 12 at the Public Justice Foundation Annual Gala and Awards Dinner in New York City.
Public Justice is a national public interest law firm that fights injustice and holds corporate and government wrongdoers accountable. See our website at www.publicjustice.net.