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.

Simpson Thacher Attorneys Help Secure Release of Incarcerated Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a compassionate and perseverant team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and Fincap Law who helped to secure the release of their incarcerated pro bono client Marie A.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a compassionate and perseverant team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (“STB”) and Fincap Law who helped to secure the release of their incarcerated pro bono client Marie A.  The team includes attorneys from Fincap (Ellen Frye) and STB (Mark Stein, Sara Ricciardi, Jerry Fang, Shanice Hinckson, and former associates Sara Estela, Arielle Herzberg, and Rachel Fleder).

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” This was the mantra of the STB/Fincap team representing Marie A. over the course of two separate matters.  And succeed they did.

After an unexpectedly hard-fought and ultimately unsuccessful contested hearing seeking Marie’s release from prison under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (“DVSJA”), all hope appeared to be lost. But the team quickly pivoted to help prepare Marie for her parole hearing at Albion Correctional Facility.  What drove Marie and the team to success? It was the close attorney-client bond that was formed through the face of adversity, and Marie’s continued perseverance.

Former STB Counsel & current Head of Antitrust & Americas at Fincap, Ellen Frye, recounts: “We were devastated after the DVSJA decision and felt like we failed our client. But Marie was upbeat and so grateful for our help.  She always remained positive and level-headed.  We knew that we could not give up on her.”

Marie met her boyfriend at a bar after separating from her husband and father to her five children. The relationship quickly took a turn for the worse.  Marie was brutally abused physically and sexually by her domestic partner, including at times in front of her children and while she was pregnant. Feeling she had no other option, Marie sought help from employees at the bar where she worked. The group then proceeded to kill Marie’s domestic partner and was arrested and prosecuted for their acts. Marie was convicted of second-degree murder and spent more than 18 years in prison, where she struggled terribly. She was in constant pain and rarely slept through the night. An unlikely ally helped secure her release by convincing Sanctuary and the STB/Fincap team to take on her case – Marie’s husband!

The team spent months with Marie working on her DVSJA application during the height of the COVID pandemic and frequently traveled back-and-forth to Albion, NY to meet with their client. The DVSJA permits judges to reduce criminal sentences if the applicant was “a victim of domestic violence subjected to substantial physical, sexual or psychological abuse inflicted by a member of the same family or household,” the abuse was “a significant contributing factor” to the crime, and, after taking all the circumstances into account, the sentence is “unduly harsh.”  Marie seemed like a perfect candidate for the new law.

But rather than support Marie’s application, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office opposed the application, leading to a highly contentious hearing in which Marie testified about her traumatic past and was forced to relive her nightmares based on the People’s aggressive approach.  Unfortunately, the court did not rule in Marie’s favor, but this was a mere setback.

“We were never defeated because Marie was never defeated.  We always wanted to figure out the next steps so that we could prevail.” – Shanice Hinckson, STB Associate

And the next step was indeed successful. Marie was eligible for early release on parole based on her impeccable disciplinary and programmatic record while incarcerated, and the STB/Fincap team immediately transitioned their focus to her upcoming hearing. The attorney-client pairing worked relentlessly to craft the strongest narrative possible. And the team contacted Marie’s friends, family, defense attorney, and local advocacy organizations to gather letters of support to present to the Parole Board. Everyone’s hard work and dedication paid off when Marie was released from Albion this past May!

Sanctuary for Families Director of Legal Center, Dorchen Leidholdt, remarked on how extraordinarily rare it was for someone convicted of second-degree murder to be released on parole in their first attempt and recognized the crucial role the team played:

“Gold standard lawyering with a thoroughly compassionate client management approach.” – Dorchen Leidholdt, Sanctuary Legal Director

After Marie was released from prison, she moved back in with her husband on Long Island. She informed Sanctuary and the legal team that it was like she never left.  She says that while her body was in prison, her heart was always home. And now she is home as well, and she can sleep through the night again.

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on Oct. 26, 2021, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Fincap’s outstanding pro bono work outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

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

Justin is a proud member of the PBC and co-chair of Above and Beyond.

Milbank Attorneys Help Trafficking Survivor Reunite with Her Daughter

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring two attorneys from Milbank LLP for their persistent advocacy on behalf of their client “Chelsea” in her efforts to be reunited with her 12-year old daughter.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring two attorneys from Milbank LLP, Cathy Zhu and George Zhang, for their persistent and creative advocacy on behalf of their client “Chelsea” in her efforts to be reunited with her 12-year old daughter, “Sarah,” who remained in China without proper guardianship during the pandemic.

When Cathy and George started working with Chelsea, she was not a new client for Milbank. Prior Milbank teams had helped Chelsea, a trafficking survivor, become a lawful permanent resident of the United States. Although she was well on her path to a new life in the United States, one important piece of the puzzle was missing: her youngest daughter, Sarah, who Chelsea had not seen in person since leaving China several years before. With her immigration status settled, in August 2019, Chelsea began working with Cathy Zhu to bring then 10-year-old Sarah to the U.S.

Although Sarah was eligible for an immigrant visa as Chelsea’s minor daughter, there remained a number of hurdles to overcome, including an interview with the U.S. State Department at a local consulate. Securing an interview at a U.S. consulate in China from abroad is challenging under any circumstances, but when the pandemic began in early 2020, the process ground to a halt. On January 31, 2020, the Trump administration imposed restrictions on travel and immigration to the U.S. from China.

Throughout this time, Sarah had been living with her father and his girlfriend in China. Although Chelsea did not think Sarah’s father was providing Sarah with the level of care and nurturing she deserved, Chelsea felt that Sarah was at least safe, and knew her father would assist with the visa process. But even that small bit of consolation ended when, in January of this year, Chelsea learned that Sarah’s father had been arrested in China and sent to jail.

Panicked, Chelsea called Cathy at Milbank and explained the renewed urgency to get Sarah out of China. The girlfriend was not interested in caring for Sarah, and Sarah was essentially left to fend for herself in Shanghai. To ensure that Sarah had adequate nutrition, Chelsea sent Sarah meals through a delivery service—a necessary stopgap, but nothing close to a solution to the problem. Chelsea was determined to reunite with Sarah, and started planning a trip to China, despite the risks of getting stuck and jeopardizing her own U.S. residency.

Cathy sprang into action. She recruited fellow Milbank associate George Zhang, and the two pursued a relentless campaign to get through to a U.S. consulate in China. In February, they finally made contact with the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, only to be told that the consulate could not help in light of President Trump’s 2020 proclamation. Cathy and George impressed upon the consulate staff the urgency of the situation—while attempting to avoid having Sarah sent into foster care, which would further complicate her immigration proceedings—and began developing legal arguments in support of Sarah’s application.

Kathy Lu, the Sanctuary for Families attorney who worked with Cathy and George, noted how remarkable their efforts were:

“Cathy and George were advocating for their client in a period of unprecedented challenges, and they faced those challenges with determination and a deep empathy for the emotional toll the situation was taking on their client.”  — Kathy Lu, Sanctuary Attorney

Little did they know that relief was close at hand. On February 24, 2021, the Biden administration lifted the restrictions imposed by the January 2020 executive order, which allowed Sarah’s application to proceed quickly, due to the work that had already been done. Working with the International Organization for Migration, Cathy and George got Chelsea on a flight to China, armed with the necessary paperwork, and worked to obtain an interview appointment at the U.S. consulate on the first possible day Sarah could get there, taking into account travel time—Chelsea had to fly to Shanghai to pick up Sarah and accompany her the long distance to the consulate in Guangzhou—and strict quarantine guidelines in China.

The plan worked. Chelsea was reunited with Sarah and accompanied her to the interview in Guangzhou. Two weeks after her interview, Sarah was granted a visa to come to the U.S., and mother and daughter boarded a flight back to the U.S. together. When they arrived, Cathy was at the airport waiting for them.

“It was very touching,” Cathy reflected. “Chelsea had spoken so much about her daughter and was clearly so happy to be with her. She could not get over how tall her daughter had grown in their time apart. She was beaming.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on Oct. 26, 2021, as we honor Cathy and George’s outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

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

Colleen is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. She is a Vice President and Senior Counsel at Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC.