Q&A: Spotlight on Investigations

September 8, 2022

When the stakes are high and the world is watching, companies, cities, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations across the country rely on Ballard Spahr to conduct internal investigations.

Hank Hockeimer—who leads the firm’s White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group—and Litigation Partner Emilia McKee Vassallo shed light on the group’s work.

Q. What are some of your team’s recent successes?

Hank: In Philadelphia, the City Controller hired us to conduct an independent investigation into the City’s response to civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd. Soon after, the city of Phoenix engaged our group to investigate two matters that again involved police. The first involved bogus charges against a group of protesters. The second focused on circulation within the police department of a commemorative “challenge coin” with an inflammatory inscription mocking a protester injured in an earlier demonstration.

In these high profile investigations, we have issued reports that not only include our findings but also include recommendations moving forward, resulting in meaningful change. And often one investigation leads to another. We are grateful that the results of our work have led other clients to hire us for similar sensitive matters.

Emilia: Our government investigations span a broad list of issues and clients. For example, we are currently conducting an investigation of allegations of racial discrimination in the charter school authorization and renewal process. Additionally, in the past, our group has investigated claims that a school district was spying on students through laptops. We’ve also investigated allegations related to the invasion of patient privacy for public entities.

Q. What sets your team apart from the competition?

Emilia: When investigations are highly sensitive—this includes times when race and gender are central issues—the diversity we bring to the table helps give clients confidence that we are the right team. The diversity of our teams and the diversity of our experience are difficult to match.

Q. Could you reflect on the rewards of your work?

Hank: We recognize that law enforcement officers have very difficult jobs. And we also know there are times when certain members of law enforcement cross the line. Through our investigations and objective reviews, we’ve helped bring positive change not only to police departments, but to entire communities. It’s very satisfying to look back on that work.

Emilia: I was born and raised in Philly, and working on the investigation for the City following George Floyd’s murder allowed me to give back to my own community. The investigation gave a voice to those who were not previously given the opportunity to speak—we interviewed a range of citizens who were impacted by the City’s response, from those who were peacefully protesting to those who had businesses destroyed by the unrest. Through our report and the action that followed, we as a team were able to effectuate change to help make sure what happened never happens again.

Visit our White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group page for more information about how we help clients.

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