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Sahn Ward Braff Koblenz Coschignano, PLLC


Joseph Bjarnson

Public Justice Names Joseph Bjarnson as a Finalist for 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award

Joseph R. Bjarnson, an Associate with the firm, was named with others as Finalists for the 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award by Public Justice, a not-for-profit organization that supports causes for social justice. Joseph and his colleagues were chosen in recognition of their work as pro bono counsel in David, et al. v. Signal International, LLC, et al., No. 08-cv-1220 (E.D. La.).

On February 18, Mr. Bjarnson and the firm's co-counsel helped obtain a $14 million federal jury verdict for five Indian national workers named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Signal International, a marine fabrication company. The suit claimed the company engaged in human trafficking, forced labor, racketeering and civil rights violations against them because of their nationality.

The lawsuit contended that Signal and the other defendants forced the workers to pay money upfront on the promise that they would receive permanent U.S. residency. Instead, they received temporary H-2B guest worker visas, were placed in overcrowded and heavily guarded labor camps, and were subjected to a hostile work environment. When the guest workers began to organize and air their grievances, the company had the camp raided, forcefully terminating and deporting some of the guest workers as an example to the other workers.

Since joining Sahn Ward Braff Koblenz Coschignano in 2012, Mr. Bjarnson has devoted hundreds of hours pro bono to this case, acting as lead counsel for the firm. The firm has served as co-counsel with attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union, Crowell & Moring LLP, the Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Louisiana Justice Institute.

The finalists will be honored and the winner will be announced at Public Justice's Awards Gala, which will take place on July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Fairmont, Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, Canada.

"I am very honored to be named with my co-counsel colleagues as Finalists for this prestigious award," Mr. Bjarnson said. "As counsel for the plaintiffs in this case, we have fought hard to obtain justice and relief for our clients, and it is an honor to be recognized for our efforts. I also want to thank Public Justice, not only for this distinguished honor, but for their ongoing pursuit of bringing wrongdoers to justice and for representing those who may not be able to stand up for themselves."

Public Justice is a public interest law firm. Its mission — through creative litigation, public education and innovative work with the broader public interest community — is to protect people and the environment; hold the powerful accountable; challenge government, corporate and individual wrongdoing; increase access to justice; combat threats to the nation’s justice system; and inspire lawyers and others to serve the public interest. The group's work is supported by The Public Justice Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)3 charitable member organization.


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