Empowering Survivors: Spotlight on Mintz’s Pro Bono Champion, Nick Butto

Discover the dedication of Nick Butto, a Litigation Associate at Mintz, in our latest Pro Bono Partner Spotlight. Nick’s tireless efforts and compassionate advocacy provide crucial support and justice for survivors of gender-based violence.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys annually. As part of our Pro Bono Spotlight, we highlight some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of abuse that could be triggering*

We first connected with Nicholas (“Nick”) A. Butto, Litigation Associate and member of the pro bono committee at Mintz, in November 2022. Since then, he has thrown himself into both coordinating pro bono partnerships between Mintz and Sanctuary and taking on a hefty caseload of pro bono matters himself. While Nick’s work has ranged from co-counseling with our Family Law attorneys on Orders of Protection and custody trials, to drafting motions, to representing survivors in their asylum claims, one through-line is constant: Nick’s undeniable dedication to assisting survivors in any way he can, with extraordinary efficacy and compassion. We are thrilled to highlight Nick for his incredible advocacy on behalf of survivors.

One of Nick’s first Sanctuary cases involved an Order of Protection litigation for Ms. L, a survivor of intimate partner violence that included verbal and emotional abuse, stalking, and severe physical abuse.

Lindsey Song, Associate Program Director of the Family Law Project, explains,

“Nick was able to get a 5-year OP on consent, which in itself can be very challenging as it requires the abuser to make significant admissions on the record. Nick is not only super competent, organized, and effective, he is also just so kind, lovely, and easy to talk to. It is clear how comfortable our client feels going to him with any concerns or questions!”

Lindsey adds that it’s evident that his passion for helping survivors runs deep; Nick worked in the Georgetown University Law Center Domestic Violence Clinic. Nick is currently working on another Order of Protection and custody trial with Lindsey, which he agreed to take on even though trial was set to begin shortly – he is now mid-trial in that case.

Nick has also worked closely with Erin Mears, Senior Staff Attorney of the Community Law Project, on a custody modification that originated as a Motion to Dismiss drafting project and is now in the final stages of settlement. Erin reflects, “Because he was so great I asked him if he had any interest to continue working on the case, and now he’s really taking the lead, with me in the backseat whenever he needs support. He’s just really willing and genuinely interested in doing the work, and connects incredibly well with the client. This client in particular had a lot of anxiety around her case, and Nick is always compassionate, willing to speak with her, and understanding.”

Erin also said,

“Out of all the pro bono attorneys I’ve worked with, he’s been one of the best with clients. This client is a survivor of sexual assault, and for her to feel so comfortable around a male attorney really says something. He seems to instinctually know how to connect with clients and seems really at ease with them. And you can see that the client feels very empowered having a strong attorney on her side.”

Nick has taken the lead on settlement negotiations and is close to securing a final resolution that the client is comfortable with.

To top it off, Nick is now also working on an asylum case with Immigration Project Associate Director Deirdre Stradone, who states, “I recently began to work with Nick on an asylum case in removal proceedings.  Before I even had the opportunity to meet Nick, I was already hearing from my colleagues on other legal teams about his kindness, trauma-informed lawyering, and unwavering dedication to our clients.  In the past few months as we have worked with Ms. N.C.S. on her asylum, I have seen for myself how Nick lives up to all these accolades. I am sure Ms. N.C.S. joins me in my expression of gratitude for all of Nick’s support. He is a truly amazing pro bono partner to SFF and I’m so happy to see him receive this recognition for his work.”

Sue Finnegan, Member and Chair of the Pro Bono Committee at Mintz, adds,

“Nick is so committed to his pro bono clients. His enthusiasm for the work has encouraged so many other attorneys in the New York Office to work with Sanctuary and its deserving clients.”

I sat down with Nick to hear more about his experience seeking out, coordinating, and conducting pro bono work on behalf of gender-based violence survivors.

What made you want to do pro bono work, and why work with gender violence survivors specifically?

I first became interested in being a lawyer to try to help amplify the voices of individuals who might find it difficult to access the justice system. I have been practicing for almost six years now—the last two at Mintz—and have been lucky to have access to a lot of resources that have allowed me to do that. As a law student, I participated in my school’s domestic violence clinic, and in practice, I have tried to take on a substantial pro bono caseload from early on in my career.

But with respect to gender-based violence survivors specifically, I so admire the work that the lawyers at organizations like Sanctuary do every day. Given how widespread of a problem intimate partner violence is, and how infrequently survivors are able to secure relief or protection from the justice system, I know it’s a constant uphill battle, and I just hope to be able to use the resources available to me to help survivors be heard, and ideally to feel that they and their families are safe from harm, like everyone deserves.

What has been your experience working with survivors predominantly in the Family Law arena?

Working on cases for survivors of intimate partner violence in Family Law definitely feels different than other cases—even than other pro bono cases. On one hand, helping a client achieve asylum, for example, ideally leads up to an amazing “victory” for the client and the legal team. On the other, working to secure Orders of Protection or other forms of relief for survivors of intimate partner violence does not have the same sort of victorious feeling, because you feel like this should never have happened in the first place. So even in “successful” cases, where we get the full Order we are seeking, the relief I feel for the client is often matched with frustration at the fact that our client had to endure such a long and difficult process just to achieve this basic form of safety and stability.

Sanctuary attorneys have glowing reviews of your trauma-informed, client-centered lawyering. How do you approach working with survivor populations?

I’ve now spoken with more than a dozen individuals who have suffered some sort of gender-based violence and I think that the initial conversations can be intimidating for everyone in the room, including the lawyers. The way I approach it is by listening first. So much of the power dynamic in abusive relationships leads to survivors not being heard: by their partner, by friends and family, by authorities. When you sit down with survivors, you hear how strong they are, how much they have to say, and how willing they are to fight for themselves given the right forum to do so. But it’s a process; you have to meet with clients a few times, because no one opens up 100% in the first meeting. So I try to establish trust, that what they’ve gone through is real, that it is their story to tell, and that we as lawyers are there to support them along the way.

What pro bono case stood out to you? Why?

One client I’m representing is currently in the midst of trial and seeking an order of protection. We’ve been through most of her direct examination at this point. I remember that in our first couple of meetings, she was hesitant about sharing certain parts of her story, and the thought of having to give details in court made her very nervous. But after numerous prep sessions and nearly two hours of testimony at her first day of trial, I have seen the sense of empowerment that telling her story has given her. In our latest prep meeting, she ended our conversation with, “I’m ready for this.” She has gained so much strength, and seeing that growth over the last year and a half has been amazing. She has an incredibly strong case but has been through a lot. It’s always tough to ask survivors to repeat and relive certain traumas but you can often see how valuable it is for them to be able to speak their whole truths.

Are there any cases you’re working on now that you’re excited about?

I’m now working on my first Sanctuary asylum case. Our team has met with the client three times now, and she just recently shared with us the part of her story about the trek from Honduras through Guatemala and Mexico to the US. We had heard about the violence she had both witnessed and endured herself, but hearing about the life-changing decision to leave, not because she wanted to, but because she knew it was the only way to have a chance at giving her children a future free of danger and fear, was really moving. Over the last 15 years she’s been through maybe more than any client I’ve worked with–from her community, gangs, intimate partners, and her own government—and for her to have the courage to make that incredibly difficult journey, with no guarantee of success and against significant odds, and make it to New York and find access to legal resources is so inspiring. No one deserves asylum more than she and her children do.

We are deeply grateful to Nick for his outstanding advocacy and commitment to serving survivors.

Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight: Latham & Watkins

In a unique collaboration, a London-based team of Latham & Watkins attorneys joined forces with Sanctuary to represent a domestic violence survivor in her asylum application.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys annually. As part of our Pro Bono Spotlight, we highlight some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of stalking and physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*

Latham & Watkins Advocates Secure Asylum Victory for Domestic Violence Survivor

Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to highlight the outstanding work of a London-based team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins comprised of partner Shawn Anderson and associates Oscar Lopez, Laurie Tomassian, Laura Harper, Heri Ali Mwapachu, and Gabriela Barriuso Clark. In a unique collaboration, this team joined forces with Sanctuary to represent a domestic violence survivor in her asylum application. By working closely with the client and witnesses via Zoom, the Latham team effectively built a strong client relationship and drafted highly compelling affidavits and supporting declarations, while the Sanctuary team contributed to other supporting documents and to trial appearances. This creative approach ensured full representation and, ultimately, an asylum grant to a survivor who had been living in danger for years.

Sanctuary first connected with “Michelle,” a survivor of severe domestic violence from Ecuador, in January 2023 through a partnership with a community-based organization. Michelle was in her thirties at the time and had survived emotional, verbal, and physical abuse from childhood at the hands of multiple family members and intimate partners before the abuse culminated in her relationship with “Franco.” The abuse she suffered from Franco put Michelle at a significantly high risk of femicide at the hands of her abuser. Under Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell’s widely used Danger Assessment, an escalation of violence, threats of murder, possession of weapons, sexual assault, violent jealousy, and control are all indicators of an increased risk of lethality. All of those factors were present here. Despite Michelle’s multiple relocations to escape him, Franco terrorized Michelle for five years by doggedly stalking, kidnapping, and assaulting her, holding Michelle hostage for periods ranging from days to up to a month. This terrible abuse culminated when Franco stabbed Michelle and assaulted her in front of their young daughter. The incident made it clear to Michelle that she and her daughter had to flee her home country to save her life.

Upon her arrival in the United States, Michelle was immediately placed in removal proceedings in Immigration Court in New York. Her proceedings moved relatively quickly: the Immigration Judge told her to file her Form I-589 Application for Asylum in short order and then gave her a fast-approaching date for her Merits Hearing. Sanctuary helped Michelle file her Form I-589 pro se. However, given the high caseload of immigration clients that the team was already serving, as well as the tight turnaround, they did not have the capacity to fully represent Michelle and prepare all her asylum-supporting evidence before the Merits Hearing. Thankfully, Latham volunteered to support Sanctuary and Michelle and help prepare her for the Hearing.

With Latham’s significant support, Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project (IIP) could commit to representing Michelle in Immigration Court. The London-based team of associates Oscar Lopez, Laurie Tomassian, Laura Harper, Heri Ali Mwapachu, and Gabriela Barriuso Clark, under the supervision of partner Shawn Anderson, worked closely with Michelle to complete a comprehensive client affidavit in support of her asylum application, as well as to prepare other supporting evidence. Critically, the team also met with three fact witnesses, including Michelle’s psychologist from the DV shelter and her attorney in Ecuador, to obtain supporting declarations. IIP Senior Staff Attorney Daria Campion, one of the case supervisors, notes, “I didn’t even realize this until much later, but due to the time difference between London and Ecuador, the calls were conducted by the team at 11 PM their time!” Nevertheless, the trauma-informed team was able to form a strong bond with the client due to the sensitivity with which they approached their interviews. IIP Co-Deputy Director Deirdre Stradone adds of the successful partnership, “Given the tight turnaround, we wouldn’t have been able to compile this packet ourselves in time. Dividing tasks between ourselves and the Latham team was critical.”

The declarations drafted by the Latham team not only described the horrific abuse Michelle had suffered but also detailed how authorities were unable or unwilling to protect her. They pointed to the numerous incidents of reported domestic violence that preceded the final attack on Michelle. Time and time again, Michelle had been disregarded or even blamed for the pattern of abuse, while Franco had been released from jail on account of a “lack of evidence”— even on occasions in which Michelle had been hospitalized or suffered visible physical injuries.

While the Latham team diligently worked on these declarations, the Sanctuary supervisors worked on compiling the psychological evaluation, expert declaration, legal brief, and country conditions needed for the Merits Hearing. The final asylum packet was so compelling that the ICE attorney stipulated to asylum and waived its appeal, meaning that Michelle was not required to testify and re-traumatize herself in court and that the decision of the judge granting asylum was final. “We are so grateful to the Latham team, which was so trauma-informed, helpful, and flexible in its work for Michelle,” Deirdre says, pointing to the team’s constant willingness to jump on Zoom calls with the client at odd hours to locate an interpreter, and to contribute to any part of the case that needed attention.

Deirdre added that members of the U.S. Capital Markets team in Latham’s London office, including some of the same attorneys highlighted here, have continued their work with Sanctuary and are building asylum expertise through collaborative representation of at least five more applicants and several pro se clients.

This case had an incredible outcome for a client who has been living in a state of constant danger and fear for so long: Michelle can now finally begin to plant roots and recover from the years of trauma she endured. Sanctuary is so grateful to Oscar, Laurie, Laura, Heri, Gaby, and Shawn for their dedicated and life-changing advocacy for Michelle.

The Latham team is equally grateful for the opportunity to work on this case alongside Sanctuary:

“It was an honor and privilege to work on this matter with Sanctuary for Families. While it was a difficult case due to the nature of the sensitive and emotional information Michelle shared, her compelling story motivated us to complete the filing as comprehensively as possible to ensure she and her daughter were granted asylum. We are thrilled at the outcome for Michelle and her daughter.”  – Latham & Watkins Team

Sanctuary would be delighted to explore this type of collaboration with other firms. Anyone interested in partnering with Sanctuary for Families to help support one of our asylum cases is welcome to reach out to our Pro Bono Project to discuss opportunities, which include full or partial representation of affirmative and defensive clients, discrete drafting assistance, or hosting an Asylum Pro Se or Pro Se PLUS Clinics. International teams are welcome to volunteer on asylum cases by drafting supplementary materials and interviewing clients and witnesses without attending in-person court appearances.

Latham & Watkins Team Secure Clemency Grant for Incarcerated Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Latham & Watkins team for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Latham & Watkins’ Melange Gavin, Wendy Gu, and Jamie Wine, and former Latham attorneys Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor of gender-based violence.

Last year, we shared on our blog that, after over 10 years of incarceration, domestic violence survivor Jacqueline Smalls had been granted clemency by Governor Kathy Hochul. Today, we are honored to highlight the Above & Beyond honorees who made this happen through their outstanding dedication, creative lawyering, and advocacy. Latham & Watkins associates Melange Gavin and Wendy Gu, and former associates Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, with supervision and strategic guidance from partner Jamie Wine, worked with Jacqueline over a period of three years. During this time, they built a strong relationship with their client and worked tirelessly to advocate for her release, focusing on both a Domestic Violence Survivors’ Justice Act (DVSJA) resentencing motion and a clemency grant as possible pathways to her freedom.

Both options posed significant challenges: while a DVSJA motion would reduce Jacqueline’s sentence, resulting in her release for time served under the more favorable DVSJA sentencing guidelines, it would also have required a difficult and retraumatizing resentencing hearing. A clemency grant, meanwhile, relied entirely on the discretion of the governor’s office, and necessitated an enormous amount of work with no guarantee that it would result in success given the low numbers of clemency grants awarded each year. The team ultimately decided to pursue the clemency path anyway, knowing that if it were unsuccessful, they could pivot to a DVSJA motion down the line. As part of this process, the Latham team worked on a comprehensive clemency application that included a video of Jacqueline and other survivor clemency applicants, engaged in extensive legal advocacy, and met with the governor’s clemency bureau.

The case for Jacqueline’s release was extraordinarily compelling. During their two-year relationship, Jacqueline’s partner had subjected her to intense physical abuse—including strangulation, one of the highest lethality risk factors—and had been subsequently arrested several times. On the night of August 26, 2012, Jacqueline’s abuser entered her home in violation of two Orders of Protection that she had obtained against him. As her abuser moved to confront Jacqueline, she stabbed him once with a kitchen knife, killing him. Despite the obvious history of domestic violence, trauma, and clear danger to Jacqueline that evening, prosecutors charged her with second-degree murder. Jacqueline ultimately entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter and received a 15-year sentence. On December 21, 2022, Governor Hochul announced that she was granting clemency to Jaqueline, along with twelve others. Sanctuary and the Latham team were overjoyed with the news.

We are so thrilled to highlight the incredible work undertaken by Jaclyn, Melange, Wendy, Brittany, and Jamie. Thanks to their advocacy, Jacqueline was released and reunited with her family in January 2023. Staff members from Sanctuary were present alongside the Latham team to welcome Jacqueline home and join her and her family for Jacqueline’s first meal outside prison in over 10 years. It was truly incredible to witness firsthand the warmth and trust that had developed between the team and Jacqueline after their years of fighting together to correct this failure of our criminal legal system.

Director of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative Ross Kramer said,

“The Latham team’s outstanding legal work made a life-changing impact in this case. They believed in Jacqueline from the start, and they delivered. Their representation gave Jacqueline years of her life back, to spend with family, friends, and community. This would not have happened without the Latham team’s advocacy, creativity, and dedication.”

Latham’s Public Service Counsel and Director of Global Pro Bono Laura Atkinson-Hope concluded,

“Securing clemency for Ms. Smalls was the result of tremendous dedication and tireless effort from the team as well as incredible strategic guidance from Sanctuary for Families. I am so proud of everyone involved in achieving this result, and so grateful for our longstanding partnership with Sanctuary.”

To read more about this incredible case, including our interview with the team, please see here.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Latham & Watkins’ outstanding pro bono work.



Romy Felsen-Parsons is the Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.

Cozen O’Connor Team Secures Survivor’s Release From Prison

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor a Cozen O’Connor team who secured their client’s release from prison after more than 10 years of incarceration.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Cozen O’Connor Members Matthew L. Elkin and Emily Shoor, associate Maria Ermakova, and former Cozen O’Connor associate Lisa Coutu. Matt, Emily, Maria, and Lisa spent three years working to secure their client’s release from prison after more than 10 years of incarceration.

We previously wrote a June 2023 Pro Bono Spotlight highlighting the outstanding work of Cozen O’Connor Members Matthew L. Elkin and Emily Shoor, who, together with associate Maria Ermakova and former Cozen associate Lisa Coutu, helped to secure the release of their client, Ms. S, through a Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA)¹  resentencing motion. Without the DVSJA resentencing, Ms. S would have served nearly 15 more years for her manslaughter conviction, in which she stabbed her former partner and abuser after he broke into her home in the middle of the night and attacked her. Incredibly, the dangerous and traumatic history of domestic violence was never brought up for consideration during Ms. S’s trial. We are deeply grateful to Emily, Matt, Maria, and Lisa for investing hundreds of hours into securing freedom for this deeply deserving survivor.

Ms. S, like so many incarcerated women, suffered horrific abuse throughout her life from several intimate partners. The abuse by her now-deceased former partner, Mr. B, included severe sexual, psychological, and physical abuse, including many incidents of strangulation to the point of unconsciousness. The kind of abuse she suffered put Ms. S at significantly high risk of femicide at the hands of her abuser. Ultimately, Ms. S left Mr. B and began to implement an exit strategy. However, the day before Ms. S was scheduled to move, she woke up to realize that Mr. B had broken into her apartment. Mr. B attacked Ms. S, throwing her against a wall and strangling her. To protect herself, Ms. S grabbed a nearby sharp object and stabbed Mr. B once. The blow was not intended to be fatal – in fact, Ms. S immediately began conducting CPR on Mr. B, and she did not know that Mr. B had died until the police revealed it to her in questioning.

As mentioned, shockingly, this history of domestic violence and the circumstances surrounding Mr. B’s death were never raised at trial. Ms. S was acquitted of second degree murder but convicted of manslaughter in the first degree and given the maximum sentence of 25 years.

While incarcerated, Ms. S reached out to Sanctuary for legal assistance. Sanctuary recruited the law firm of Cozen O’Connor to help Ms. S with her case, and Elkin, Shoor, Ermakova, and Coutu eagerly agreed to submit a DVSJA resentencing application on Ms. S’s behalf. Some of this work included compiling letters from her family members, tracking down old documents related to the case, and drafting a comprehensive brief and client affidavit that compellingly illustrated the direct connection between the history of domestic violence and the crime of conviction. To create these materials, the Cozen team met with Ms. S over the course of several years, building a strong relationship based on trust and empathy as they delved back into Ms. S’s extensive trauma history.

Ultimately, after a meeting with the District Attorney’s office to present Ms. S’s story and months of strategic advocacy, the DA consented to the re-sentencing. With that consent, the Judge ordered Ms. S’s release at the first court appearance and she was out of prison and reunited with her family the following afternoon.

Director of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative Ross Kramer said,

“The Cozen team went ‘above and beyond’ by advocating for Ms. S with skill, tenacity, and persistence over the course of this very long and difficult case. In their three years representing Ms. S, the team gave her hope. For the first time, she believed that attorneys were listening to her, that they believed her, and that they would fight for her. Ms. S was incarcerated for 11 difficult years. But because of the Cozen team’s efforts, more than half her sentence was wiped out. The team literally gave Ms. S back more than a decade of her life – a decade that she can now spend reconnecting with her friends, family and community.”

Cozen Director of Pro Bono Engagement Melinda Levine deLisle concluded,

“I am so proud of the dedication and hard work of the Cozen O’Connor team over the last few years to free Ms. S, and so grateful to Sanctuary for Families for its leadership in this important cause and for giving us the opportunity to contribute.”

We are so grateful to Emily, Matt, Maria, and Lisa for their amazing work and are so thrilled that Ms. S is home at last.

To read more about this incredible case, including our interview with Emily and Matt, please see here.

¹ Criminal Procedure Law § 440.47(1), known as the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), allows the sentencing court to resentence a domestic violence survivor who suffered sexual, psychological or physical abuse that contributed to their conviction if certain criteria are met.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Cozen O’Connor’s outstanding pro bono work.



Romy Felsen-Parsons is the Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.