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.

Weil, Gotshal, and Freshfields Team Secures Multiple Victories for Survivor of Religious Sect and Her Children

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Weil, Gotshal, and Freshfields team for their work representing a mother in federal court for several years in the face of repeated threats by her ex-husband and his associates and the kidnappings of her children. 

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is pleased to honor Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Timothy Howard, Xiaoxi Tu, and Nate Montalto, and Weil Gotshal & Manges’ Steven A. Reiss, Adam C. Hemlock, Rachel Crosswell, Selma Haveric, and Liz Klinger for their team’s work representing a mother in federal court for several years, in the face of repeated threats by her ex-husband and his associates and the kidnappings of her children. 

Rachel[1] is the daughter of the founder of an extremist religious sect and the mother of six beautiful children. The group exerts severe psychological and physical control over its members, practices child marriage, engages in an atypical form of dress for women, and has adopted unusually restrictive religious practices in diet and religious study. Women are confined entirely to the domestic sphere and excluded entirely from decision-making. Members, including children, are punished harshly for the slightest infraction by sleep deprivation, false imprisonment, and many forms of psychological and physical abuse. These practices have led to repeated run-ins with child welfare authorities, prompting the group to flee the United States to reside in Canada, Mexico, and Guatemala. When sect leaders ordered the marriage of Rachel’s 13-year-old daughter and retaliated against Rachel when she opposed it, she made a daring and dangerous escape with her children and fled to the United States.

Rachel obtained a temporary custody order and order of protection in Brooklyn Family Court, but it was far from over; the children’s father filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”) and claimed jurisdiction should be Guatemala, where the sect had previously settled. With this set of very difficult circumstances, the Weil Gotshal team jumped in to help.  After extensive trial preparation and many court appearances, and strategic motion practice, the Hague Convention case was dismissed with prejudice.  But before that happened, just as Rachel and her children were beginning to enjoy a settled life in Brooklyn, they experienced a new traumatic event:  the sect lured away her eldest two children from a location in northern New York where they were on a sleep away trip, and spirited them across the border and later into Mexico.  Rachel was devastated.  Fortunately, the FBI, working closely with Mexican law enforcement, was able to locate the children and return them to New York, where it charged seven individual members of the sect with kidnapping.  The team then represented Rachel as a witness in the criminal federal cases that stemmed from the kidnapping.

It was a complex task because of the multiple aspects of the Hague Convention case and the federal criminal case along with the custody case in family court.  The team worked diligently to ensure that one piece of testimony would not contradict or harm one of the other proceedings while supporting their traumatized client.  This presented a very big learning curve for everyone on the case, but the team was up to the challenge, forging a strong relationship of trust with Rachel.  During the intensive fact gathering and witness preparation, many meetings were had with the legal team at Rachel’s dining room table.  The team also helped Rachel with important safety planning and safety measures for her and her children, including getting Rachel a new cellphone and helping her move several times to avoid detection. The team worked especially hard to ensure that Rachel was comfortable with her testimony and that she was able to tell her story in her own voice, as she actually experienced it.  The legal team strove to hear what Rachel wanted and do what she wished for, empowering this extraordinarily resilient woman who had been in situations of extreme control her entire life.

All of Rachel’s children’s kidnappers were convicted of child abduction and other federal crimes and are serving significant sentences in prison.  The dismissal of the Hague Convention case secured by the Weil team enabled the Brooklyn Family Court judge to move forward with the custody and order of protection cases, eventually granting Rachel the longest order of protection possible (5 years) and sole custody of all of her children.  Today, Rachel and her children are happily ensconced in their supportive Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, where therapeutic support and local generosity has helped them recover from their ordeal and flourish in their new lives.

[1]           Names have been changed.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Weil, Gotshal, and Freshfields’ outstanding pro bono work.



Francesca L. Fulchignoni is a practice area associate in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Criminal Defense and Investigations Group.

Steptoe & Johnson Honored for Advocacy in Retaliatory Defamation Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor Joseph Sanderson of Steptoe & Johnson LLP for his tireless, inspired, and compassionate advocacy on behalf of Sanctuary’s client.

Sanctuary for Families is pleased to honor accomplished trial lawyer Joseph Sanderson of Steptoe & Johnson LLP with an Above & Beyond Award for his tireless, inspired, and compassionate advocacy on behalf of Sanctuary’s client in a retaliatory defamation case.

Joseph is a well-known and accomplished litigator who has generously shared his expertise and experience to help Sanctuary’s client achieve a just outcome in a retaliatory defamation lawsuit. As Sanctuary’s client explained in her affidavit, her ex-husband—an NYPD officer—had physically and sexually abused her during their marriage. She later reported the abuse to the NYPD in an attempt to protect herself and stop the abuse. Later, as he faced contempt proceedings in their divorce case, the abuser filed a defamation lawsuit against her based on this report to the NYPD.

Sadly, defamation lawsuits against survivors who speak out about their abuse have been increasing. They are now another tool enabling abusers to harass, intimidate, and punish the victims of their violence. In addition to trying to silence survivors, these retaliatory lawsuits are often used to try to coerce survivors into dropping relief to which they are entitled in matrimonial or custody proceedings or not cooperating with criminal or other investigations. Pro bono attorneys like Joseph are critical in the effort to counteract this dangerous trend.

Sanctuary attorneys who specialize in family law had been representing the client in her divorce matter when the defamation lawsuit was filed against her. Sanctuary attorneys do not regularly litigate tort cases and have limited bandwidth to handle this type of collateral civil litigation. Fortunately for our client, Joseph has built up significant experience and expertise from volunteering to represent other pro bono clients who have been subjected to malicious defamation claims by their abusers as a means of harassment, retaliation and intimidation. Joseph’s sense of justice and fairness has led him to reach out to survivors who have courageously stepped forward to file complaints to stop their abuse or bring their abuser to justice, only to have their abuser misuse defamation law as a means to silence or intimidate them. Through a combination of skillful strategy, insightful knowledge of the complex workings of the court system, and desire to make sure that the legal system did not fail Sanctuary’s client, Joseph was able to obtain a voluntary Stipulation of Discontinuance of the case. Joseph employed a mix of patience, endurance and diligence in obtaining the best possible outcome.

Joseph started working on the case in June 2021 when he was at his former firm, Kirkland & Ellis, and took the case with him when he moved firms to Steptoe so our client would have continuous and consistent representation. After Joseph’s strategic motion practice—which required opposing counsel to spend significant time and money pursuing a case in which they may have expected the client would quickly fold—opposing counsel eventually agreed to drop the case altogether in a courtroom hallway while waiting for a motion to be heard. During the course of the several years long litigation, Joseph was dogged in his representation of the client, including by filing multiple applications with the Court, including a request to seal documents and sanction the other side in order to protect confidential client information that was disclosed in her ex-husband’s filings, which itself created pressure to discontinue the case.

Hannah West, the dedicated Sanctuary for Families lawyer handling the client’s divorce nominated Joseph for this Award, saying,

“I was impressed and grateful for Joseph’s ability to manage the case and all communications with the client so independently and skillfully. Most importantly, Joseph was collaborative with our client by being in constant communication with her and explaining in detail his case strategy, while listening to our client’s concerns and being responsive to her questions and guided by her needs.”

In addition to his pro bono work on behalf of survivors of abuse and violence, Joseph also advocates for reforms in the court system as a member of bar association committees. It is a testament to his skilled management of this sensitive case and thorough understanding of the workings of the legal system that Joseph was able to use the delays and pace of the court system to achieve such a positive outcome for our client. Had Joseph not been able to obtain the discontinuance of the case, our client may have lost her faith in the justice system that was punishing her for bravely coming forward to stop her abuse, and her ability to testify in the family law proceedings would also be impaired, jeopardizing her receiving a fair and favorable outcome.

Thanks to her courage and resilience, our client is moving forward with her life and thriving in her new profession. She recognizes that Joseph’s compassionate and empowering representation has helped her achieve her goals for her future, so when asked if she wanted to say anything in relation to Joseph’s Above & Beyond Award, Ms. S said she would do “anything for Mr. Sanderson” because of his ability to resolve the matter so smoothly and compassionately. Meanwhile, Joseph continues to share his trial advocacy talents to empower survivors by taking on other similar pro bono matters. We thank Joseph and are pleased to honor him for his dedication and generosity in volunteering his time and talents to such tireless, empowering and trauma-informed representation of Sanctuary for Families clients and other brave survivors of abuse and gender based violence.

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



Tushna Gamadia is an of counsel in the Real Estate Group at Morrison & Foerster LLP, works with Sanctuary for Families’ clients on pro bono cases and is a member of Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono Council.