Cleary Associate Uses Trauma-Informed Approach in Advocating for Survivors

for her trauma-informed advocacy in working with two survivors of domestic violence.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will be honoring Cleary Gottlieb associate and former Cleary Gottlieb Fellow Morton Bast for her trauma-informed advocacy in working with two survivors of domestic violence. Morton worked with both clients for over a year, going so far as to take both cases with her back to Cleary Gottlieb in order to continue her legal representation from the firm.

In a previous Pro Bono Spotlight, Sanctuary for Families highlighted the work that Cleary associate Morton Bast did as a Cleary Gottlieb Fellow at Sanctuary. This groundbreaking new Fellowship placed Cleary associates full-time at legal services organizations for one full year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities during the pandemic while enabling Cleary Fellows to continue expanding their skill sets and pursue their specific interests. This year’s Above and Beyond Awards ceremony will honor Morton for the extensive work she did with two clients, Ms. D and Ms. O, both at Sanctuary and later at Cleary Gottlieb.

After being trained on how to approach trauma-informed, client-centered advocacy, Morton diligently and immediately set about putting these ideals into practice. Providing legal services to survivors of trauma, while extremely rewarding, of course, poses its own unique challenges, and Morton quickly learned that trauma can interfere with a person’s ability to recall details and to tell a coherent story of their experiences. One client, Ms. D, was deeply traumatized by her experiences of severe domestic violence and, as a result, extremely anxious about testifying in court – in addition to being extremely frustrated by over four years of litigation. Morton worked extensively with the client for hours at a time to gain her trust and prepare her for trial at her own pace.

“One of the major challenges of this case was that the client was not able to share her experiences in the typical structure of a direct examination, i.e. broken up into pieces in response to the attorney’s questions; she really needed to get into the zone and just deliver her story all at once. So rather than trying to force that, Morton and our team reconstructed the direct examination to allow the client to be the most comfortable telling her story on her own terms.”

Jennifer Friedman
Director of Sanctuary’s Bronx and Manhattan Legal Project

When Morton’s Fellowship at Sanctuary ended, she took Ms. D’s case with her back to Cleary Gottlieb. Ultimately, the case was settled at the eleventh hour on the morning that trial was scheduled with a highly favorable result for the client: an admission to domestic violence from the abuser and a 2-year Order of Protection, as well as consent to full legal and physical custody of the children. After this settlement, Morton stayed actively involved in the ongoing visitation case, which was also finally settled recently. Morton engaged in extensive negotiations with opposing counsel, drafted the final visitation stipulation, and was in constant communication with her client to ensure that the final visitation schedule was safe and enabled her to maintain her work schedule. Finally, after three and a half years of litigation, and Morton’s dedicated advocacy, Ms. D’s cases are resolved.

In Morton’s other major case, she drafted a motion for an extension of an Order of Protection for Ms. O, whose abuser, a convicted pedophile, was seeking visitation with their child. Morton, after leaving Sanctuary, continued on this case as well, successfully arguing the motion before the court in August and obtaining a final 2-year extension for the client.

In both the quality of her trauma-informed advocacy and her long-term dedication to her clients, Morton has truly gone above and beyond. Sanctuary is delighted to recognize Morton for her outstanding work on these cases.


Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor Morton and Cleary Gottlieb’s outstanding pro bono work.

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If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.


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

Morton Bast: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Morton Bast and her amazing work on Sanctuary’s Family Law Project.

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


As the pandemic worsened in 2020, it quickly became clear that the most vulnerable New Yorkers would disproportionately suffer the consequences of both the health crisis and the corresponding shutdown of the City. Non-profit legal and social services agencies immediately pivoted to triage mode as they worked double-time to meet the growing needs of the communities they served.

Recognizing the urgent need to provide additional support to these communities —and well-positioned to jump into the fray given its long-standing commitment to pro bono work—Cleary Gottlieb created the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program in 2020. This groundbreaking new initiative places Cleary associates at legal services organizations for one year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities while enabling Cleary Fellows to continue expanding their skill sets and pursue their specific interests. The first cohort of Fellows dispersed across New York City, landing in organizations such as Brooklyn Defender Services, Everytown for Gun Safety, the International Refugee Assistance Project, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Vera Institute of Justice, and so many more.

Sanctuary for Families was the lucky recipient of a Cleary Fellow and Columbia Law graduate Morton Bast. As a Cleary associate, Morton had worked pro bono on an asylum case with Sanctuary and participated several times in Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Project, providing comprehensive immigration screenings and consultations to defendants in the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court. “Every time it was Cleary’s turn to participate, really, I signed up because I found the clinic so impactful,” Morton explains. “So when the Fellowship opportunity was created, Sanctuary was the first organization that came to mind. Although I’d really enjoyed these immigration cases, I ended up signing up for Sanctuary’s Family Law Project because it would allow me to hone my litigation skills as well.”

Morton Bast

Morton’s arrival could not have come at a better time. Sanctuary’s Director of the Bronx and Manhattan Legal Project & Policy, Jennifer Friedman, recalls, “Morton came to us early in the pandemic, at a time where our entire office had to pivot to being online and the physical courts had just closed, so the only way for litigants to file petitions was online. We were really in an ‘all hands on deck’ situation, and Morton was hugely valuable and integral to our work during this time.” Morton was quickly tasked with conducting initial legal screenings and drafting petitions for the many survivors who had no other place to seek help once the courts physically closed and stopped providing pro se assistance to unrepresented litigants. Faced with unprecedented and urgent client situations, Morton also offered critical support in conducting research, drafting motions, and assisting pro se clients with safety planning and navigating the ever-changing landscape of the new virtual court system.

From Morton’s perspective, the experience was a crash course in direct client contact and the stark differences it poses to other types of legal work. “Most of the billable work I had been doing as a junior associate was not direct client contact – I spent most of my time working with people who are also doing their day jobs,” Morton says. “Whereas at Sanctuary, these are problems in people’s own lives that they can’t step away from at the end of the day, so it’s easier to become even more invested very quickly.” 

When asked about the most gratifying aspect of this type of work, Morton pointed to the satisfaction of using her legal skills and background to help people solve real problems in their lives.

“Gender-based violence issues have always been of great interest to me, but I never really considered that they could be something I could use my legal skills for.” – Morton Bast

Morton approached each survivor interaction with compassion, patience, and a mindset of trauma-informed, client-centered advocacy. Jennifer recalls one client with whom Morton worked for close to an entire year, who was deeply traumatized by her experiences of domestic violence and, as a result, extremely anxious about testifying in court. Morton worked extensively with the client for hours at a time to prepare her for trial at her own pace. Jennifer explains, “One of the major challenges of this case was that the client was not able to share her experiences in the typical structure of a direct examination, i.e. broken up into pieces in response to the attorney’s questions; she really needed to get into the zone and just deliver her story all at once. So rather than trying to force that, Morton and our team reconstructed the direct examination to allow the client to be the most comfortable telling her story on her own terms.” 

Through these experiences and more, Morton gradually became an attorney with highly specialized knowledge of Family Law, even taking two of her clients from Sanctuary back to Cleary to continue working on their cases pro bono after her Fellowship ended. Jennifer notes, ”We’re so grateful to Cleary for enabling this Fellowship. Now when we work with Morton as a pro bono, she is fully trained and can operate on a high level on really sophisticated cases and be familiar with our approach and philosophy.” From her perspective as a Fellow and now a pro bono attorney, Morton adds, “Working full-time at Sanctuary allowed me to see the symbiotic relationship between law firm pro bono work and the organization. I think when you’re working in a firm on pro bono matters, you worry, ‘Am I just doing this for myself, to make myself feel good?’ But I realized when I was at Sanctuary that the organization can’t work at the volume it works at without pro bonos, so it really is an important and mutually beneficial relationship.” 

Cleary’s Director of Pro Bono Katherine Hughes provided her perspective on Morton’s work with Sanctuary. “Watching Morton grow as an attorney during her Cleary Fellowship rotation at Sanctuary for Families has been a tremendous highlight for me during these past two challenging years. She naturally has a sense of confidence and lightness that brings her clients comfort in what are arguably some of their darkest hours. However, the Fellowship experience at Sanctuary and her clients and mentors have clearly shaped her into a smarter, more resilient litigator. She speaks so highly of the experience and continues to represent several of her clients with equal measures of grace, intelligence, and patience. Cleary is so grateful for the ways the Fellowship has strengthened our relationship with Sanctuary and for all that Morton has brought back to the firm from it.”

We are so grateful to Cleary for enabling this opportunity to work with such a talented, kind, and skilled associate and to Morton for all of her efforts throughout the Fellowship. We look forward to continuing our relationships with Morton and Cleary well into the future!

Advocating for Survivors Before the U.S. Supreme Court

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Karen R. King and her multi-year effort to ensure a domestic violence survivor and her child can remain safely in the U.S.

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


Karen King is no stranger to appearing in court. Her 20 plus years of experience in complex commercial and regulatory litigation have seen her through successful tenures at firms such as Cravath, Paul, Weiss and now Morvillo Abramowitz; she has been recognized as a “Notable Woman in Law” by Crain’s New York Business, and she received the Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service from the Federal Bar Council in 2019, as well as the Pro Bono award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

However, March 22, 2022 found this seasoned litigator on new terrain: arguing a family law case on child abduction in front of the United States Supreme Court.

Karen R. King

Rewind four years, and Karen, then Counsel at Paul, Weiss, was introduced to her client Narkis Golan. Sanctuary for Families referred Ms. Golan to Paul, Weiss in September 2018 after she fled Italy and her abusive husband, Jacky Saada, with her two-year-old son. Mr. Saada filed a petition for return of the child under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. A large trial team at Paul, Weiss led by Karen put on Ms. Golan’s defense, including a chilling record of violence and abusive behavior by Mr. Saada, often in front of the child. Ultimately, the District Court found serious and persistent domestic violence and determined that Ms. Golan’s son would be at grave risk of exposure to physical and/or psychological harm if returned to Italy, but the court nonetheless granted the return petition subject to certain “ameliorative measures”.

The decision was appealed and the Second Circuit held that the original ameliorative measures were not enforceable and did not have sufficient guarantees of performance. The case was remanded back to the District Court to develop new ameliorative measures. The parties continued to litigate the issue for two and a half more years. It became evident that the exercise of crafting ameliorative measures despite the grave-risk finding sourced to domestic violence was deeply problematic. There was also a Circuit split on whether mandatory consideration of ameliorative measures is consistent with the Hague Convention. Ms. Golan’s team ultimately petitioned the Supreme Court on that question and in December 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case, setting the stage for the rare opportunity to plead Ms. Golan’s case before the highest Court—something no one would have imagined when the case began in fall 2018. Karen, who had vigorously represented Ms. Golan over four years of litigation, was entrusted with the oral argument.

We sat down with Karen to hear more about the experience.

You have been involved in and recognized for your pro bono work, representing clients who are survivors of domestic violence, students with learning disabilities, victims of gun violence, targets of discrimination, and prisoners on civil rights issues.

What is something that appeals to you about pro bono work and why have you made it a priority in your career?

KK: Pro bono work is a great opportunity to do some good, to help people in need, and really make a difference in people’s lives. There are so many worthwhile causes and issues that could use help from the legal sector. I’ve always found it really important that lawyers be involved in matters broader than their day jobs. It’s also a great way for attorneys, especially young attorneys, to expand their knowledge base and skill set and get valuable opportunities to argue in court and try cases.

What has been one of the greatest challenges of pro bono work?

KK: Finding time can be tough; pro bono work has to be balanced with regular work and personal life obligations. And there is usually so much on the line in pro bono cases—you’re often looking at issues of liberty and life, family life, livelihood, etc. So there’s a strong emotional element.

Karen King arguing before SCOTUS on behalf of Sanctuary Client Narkis Golan. (Art Lien)

You worked on this case since Sanctuary first referred it to you, and continued representing Ms. Golan even through a change of firms. What was your experience like working with Ms. Golan on the case from its first trial all the way through to your SCOTUS argument?

KK: A lawyer’s relationship with her client is special.  You go through a lot together.  Inevitably, you build a very strong personal relationship which can be challenging but also rewarding. You become personally invested in the case and your client’s life, and sometimes that also demands personal sacrifice—time with your own family and vacations, etc.

How did you and Ms. Golan maintain your momentum throughout this four-year process?

KK: I think it’s not about momentum as much as it is about resilience—we vowed to keep fighting and not to give up. There was really no option for us to give up, not when the safety of a child is what’s on the line.

85% of the lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court are men, almost all of them white. Can you talk about what the experience of arguing in front of the Supreme Court as a woman of color meant to you personally and professionally?

KK: It certainly is the dream of many litigators, and I think the Supreme Court should be a place that is accessible and welcoming to all lawyers.  It is an amazing experience and for those lucky enough to have a case accepted for argument, they should have that moment.  I’m very grateful to my client that she asked me to do it.  I think every litigator brings something different to the table.  As a woman and mother, I probably approach the case a little differently, or present it a little differently, than another lawyer might.  Given the issues in this case, I think it was very nice to have a female advocate.  And I hope I was able to lend a voice to the many women who are invested in or will be affected by the outcome of this case.

 

Listen to Karen’s SCOTUS Oral Argument

Weil, Gotshal & Manges Team Steers Survivor Through Complicated Hague Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond, Sanctuary honored a team from Weil for their dedicated pro bono representation of “Ms. B” to win a Hague Convention parental abduction case, ensuring that she and her daughter never have to return to her abusive husband.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families honored team from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP (“Weil”) for their dedicated pro bono representation of “Ms. B” to win a Hague Convention parental abduction case ensuring that she and her daughter never have to return to her abusive husband. The team consisted of partners Susan Shin and Luna Barrington, counsel Richard Rothman and Robert Swenson, and associates Irisa Chen, Austen Green, Aaron Shaddy, Jack Nolan, Scott Christopher, Rachel Williams, Marie-Marie de Fays, and Maggie Hart.

Originally from Europe, Ms. B had been living in Morocco with her husband. Shortly after telling her husband she was pregnant with their daughter, the abuse started. While pregnant, Ms. B was subjected to physical and psychological abuse, regular threats, destruction of property, and rampant gaslighting. Her husband also kept cocaine in the house which her daughter once found. When Ms. B confronted him about the drugs, the abuse escalated.

After fleeing Morocco and her abusive husband, Ms. B came to New York with her daughter and was living with a friend. Her husband filed a Hague Convention case in the Southern District of New York against both Ms. B and the friend who housed her. If successful, her husband would have forced the return of his daughter to Morocco.

The Weil team jumped into action, creating a large team capable of skillfully managing this challenging and complex Hague Convention case. These cases are incredibly intense; the expedited timeline means that litigation happens quickly, and the stakes are high.

In order to win this case, the team had to prove that Ms. B and her daughter should not be returned to Morocco because doing so would place her daughter at grave risk of psychological or physical harm. The Weil team brilliantly and collaboratively strategized with psychological experts, Moroccan law experts, family law experts, and DV experts in Morocco and in the U.S. to shape the best possible litigation path to success.

They spent an enormous amount of time preparing their client for a grueling and traumatic four days on the witness stand and built a strong bond of trust with their client and her daughter. They supported Ms. B and her daughter both in and out of the courtroom.

The team dealt with a number of challenges, but ultimately Ms. B and the Weil team prevailed. After rounds of discovery fights and motion practice, they conducted a 12-day trial in January and February of 2021 and ultimately received a strong 96-page opinion denying the petition for the child’s return. Notably, the opinion was so strong that no appeal has been filed.

“Words will be never enough to describe my experience with this amazing team of lawyers.  They are not only extraordinary lawyers, but they lift me up and they are very sensitive human beings. Thank you, thank you, thank you a thousand times.” — B

Ms. B is deeply relieved that she can stay with her daughter in New York. She has become stronger throughout the trial process and is working towards becoming an advocate to help other DV survivors. The support of the Weil team has helped her to feel like she can be a support for others experiencing abuse as she did. The Weil team continues to provide Ms. B and her daughter with robust legal support as they establish their lives in the United States.


Thank you for joining us for our Above & Beyond Virtual Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit and for being part of our growing community of survivors and advocates. If you missed the program, click here to view the video.

If you would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.


Amy Abramson is a former Sanctuary staff member and current Senior Development Director at American Jewish Committee. She is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.