Zuckerman Spaeder Obtains Compassionate Release for Prisoner Receiving Inadequate Medical Care and at Risk of Severe COVID-19 Illness

Leila Bijan
Leila Bijan
Jack E. Fernandez
Jack E. Fernandez

Zuckerman Spaeder associate Leila Bijan, despite facing opposition from the government, led a successful effort to obtain compassionate release for a Florida prisoner, Thomas Kohler, who was receiving inadequate medical care and whose numerous, and largely unmanaged, medical conditions made him particularly susceptible to severe COVID-19 illness. Mr. Kohler, who was serving a twelve-and-a-half-year drug sentence, was released after serving six years.

In building Mr. Kohler’s case, Ms. Bijan demonstrated the severity of Mr. Kohler’s medical situation to establish that extraordinary and compelling reasons warranted release. Ms. Bijan worked with a medical expert and established that Mr. Kohler’s significant health concerns put him at a profound COVID-19 risk; and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”) had consistently failed to evaluate, diagnose, and treat many of Mr. Kohler’s illnesses, which threatened his life. For the latter issue, Ms. Bijan sought improved medical care directly with the BOP and was able to obtain some relief for Mr. Kohler while his motion was pending in court.

As part of an effort to tell Mr. Kohler’s story and show that he posed no threat of harm to the community, Ms. Bijan interviewed his family and friends, including fellow inmates, and highlighted Mr. Kohler’s remarkable efforts to rehabilitate himself and help those around him. Finally, Ms. Bijan worked tirelessly with Mr. Kohler’s support system to develop a release plan that the court would approve. 

The strength of Ms. Bijan’s motion compelled U.S. District Court Judge Charlene Honeywell to order oral argument and hear from the parties. Ms. Bijan delivered a forceful and persuasive argument and answered critical questions about the merits of the motion. The March 15, 2022 order granting compassionate release stated that “the Court finds that the Defendant’s motion and supporting evidence describe numerous inadequacies in his medical care that put his life at serious risk and support compassionate release,” and that it is “persuaded that he does not pose a danger to any other person or the community.” 

Zuckerman Spaeder partner Jack E. Fernandez assisted on this representation, which is one of more than a dozen compassionate release cases the firm has taken on in the last two years. This effort is part of Zuckerman Spaeder’s long-standing dedication to community service and pro bono representation. In 2021, the firm was named to the National Law Journal’s Pro Bono Hotlist, which annually “recognizes law firms that have led the way on access to justice.” With respect to compassionate release, the firm takes referrals from the Compassionate Release Clearinghouse, a collaboration of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and FAMM. For more information about the Clearinghouse, visit www.FAMM.org.

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Kalie Walrath
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