O’Melveny & Myers & Paul Weiss Attorneys Assist Mother in International Child Abduction Prosecution

At this year’s Above & Beyond Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison for their pro bono assistance in an international parental kidnapping prosecution. Read to learn more.

Nicole Vescova is an associate at Klein Zelman Rothermel Jacobs & Schess, advising management in labor, employment and employee benefit issues, and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers (O’Melveny) and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison (Paul Weiss) for their pro bono assistance in an international parental kidnapping prosecution.

The dedicated and hardworking team included partners Andrew Frackman and Mark Racanelli, and associate Emilie Winckel of O’Melveny; and of counsel Daniel J. Beller, associates Gregory Pruden (now an associate at Binder & Schwartz LLP), Kristina Bunting, and Benjamin D. Gitlin, and partner Aidan Synnott of Paul, Weiss.

A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

After graduating from medical school, Dr. Hind Kettani and her husband moved from their native Morocco to the United States to begin their careers in the medical field.  Following their move to the US, Dr. Kettani and her husband had two boys.  After the birth of their children, Dr. Kettani and her husband’s relationship started to swiftly deteriorate.

Dr. Kettani’s husband became extremely controlling and subjected her to verbal abuse and constant surveillance. As she attempted to balance the demands of her residency program with the care of her children and increasingly difficult marriage, Dr. Kettani accepted what she thought was her mother-in-law’s generous offer to have the children visit their grandparents in Morocco for a few weeks. But when Dr. Kettani traveled to Morocco to bring the children back to the US, she discovered that her husband and his family were withholding the children’s passports, preventing them from leaving the country.

It became clear that Dr. Kettani would need to obtain a divorce and sole custody of the children in order to bring them back to the US, so she immediately instituted proceedings in Morocco. After almost two years of shuttling between the two countries, she finally obtained a Moroccan custody order, which she registered in New York, and obtained new passports for the children. She believed their time apart would end soon.  That is until she returned to Morocco to pick up the children to find that her husband had already left the country with them.

Criminal Justice

From November 2011 to November 2015, Dr. Kettani’s ex-husband ignored court orders, hiding her children from her. She tirelessly pursued all possible means of finding and reuniting with her children. She worked with courts in the U.S. and Morocco, as well as authorities in various countries. The FBI located the children in Saudi Arabia and brought them home. Her ex-husband was placed in custody and, after four excruciating years of separation, Dr. Kettani was finally reunited with her children. Her ex-husband was charged with international parental kidnapping and ordered to stay away from Dr. Kettani and the children as a condition to his bail.

Fearful that her ex-husband or his family could kidnap her children again, Dr. Kettani reached out to Sanctuary for Families for help. Dorchen Leidholdt, Sanctuary for Family’s Legal Director, instantly recognized the severity of the situation and recruited outside counsel to ensure the criminal case would not be pled down or resolved in a way that would leave Dr. Kettani’s family without the protection they so desperately needed.

Paul Weiss advised Dr. Kettani on child custody law issues arising from proceedings in both New York and Morocco, and enlisted the expertise of O’Melveny to assist Dr. Kettani in the criminal proceedings.

O’Melveny’s Emilie Winckel describes Dr. Kettani as “incredibly strong and determined” and someone who “put the safety and wellbeing of her children above all else.” The firm assisted Dr. Kettani in her interactions with the U.S. Attorney’s office as a witness for the prosecution. In response to her ex-husband’s application for deferred prosecution, O’Melveny drafted a strong opposition, ensuring Dr. Kettani’s voice was heard.  When the Court denied his application, the O’Melveny team made sure the denial would not be reversed on appeal. Further, after he pled guilty to international parental kidnapping, O’Melveny worked with the prosecution to ensure that his sentence would reflect the severity of his crime.

Working Together While Moving Forward

While Dr. Kettani’s ex-husband is currently incarcerated, Paul Weiss continues to assist Dr. Kettani in ensuring she maintains custody of the children. Both teams look forward to continuing to work with Dr. Kettani and Sanctuary.

Winckel credited everyone at Sanctuary, Paul Weiss and O’Melveny who worked on the case and made “sure we had a cohesive strategy across both the criminal and family court proceedings.” She also noted how grateful she is to O’Melveny for its support of the matter, which entailed a significant amount of attorney time.

Paul Weiss’s Gregory Pruden praised Sanctuary’s Dorchen Leidholdt and Sanctuary volunteer Lynn Beller for their tireless dedication, “as well as the bravery of our FBI agents,” all of whom were “integral to the success of our work.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor O’Melveny & Myers and Paul Weiss’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

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

Skadden Arps Team Secures Asylum Status for FGM Survivor and Helps her Build a New Life in the U.S.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team from Skadden Arps for their dedicated pro bono work on behalf of an asylum seeker from Guinea. Read to learn more.

Todd Schmid is Legal Counsel at HSBC Bank and member of Sanctuary’s PBC.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Skadden Arps for their dedicated pro bono work on behalf of an asylum seeker from Guinea.  The Skadden team includes Mariam Adamashvili, Avelina Burbridge, Sarah D. Kalin, Ana Maria Pearce, Sarah R. Ridel, Victoria Smallwood, and Gabrielle E. Wolf.

Aimée

Picture this: a group of women huddled nervously but hopefully around a desk counter at a quiet government building on the fringes of New York City, awaiting a decision that would directly impact the life of one, and would ultimately affect the lives of every woman in the room.

When Aimée received the news that she had been granted asylum in the United States, she grew weak in the knees, falling back into the arms of her legal team. It was an emotional and powerful moment. It was the culmination of the hard work of a dedicated team of attorneys and legal staff at Skadden Arps and the consistent determination of their ever-brave and motivated client, Aimée (not her real name), a woman from Guinea, all with the incredible support of Sanctuary for Families over the course of two years.

Female Genital Muilation

Aimée, as a child, endured female genital mutilation or cutting (“FGM/C”), and other domestic abuse, in her home country, Guinea, where the practice has deep family and sociocultural roots and is often considered a rite of passage, despite the immediate complications and long-term physical, sexual and psychological consequences that so often result. “It is often viewed as a way to control a woman’s desire, as a way to inhibit her freedom,” noted Gabrielle Wolf, Director at Innisfree M&A Incorporated and a former Skadden attorney.

Guinea formally banned FGM/C in the 1960s but still has the second highest rate in the world, with virtually no enforcement or cases brought to trial. International political recognition of the problem is a key step forward, as the human rights issue rarely attracts the public attention it deserves, let alone political resolve.

The United Nations, the World Health Organization and many other international and national government organizations fully recognize this practice as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, reflecting deep inequality between the sexes, and an extreme form of discrimination against women. However, there are many ongoing challenges to building an effective on-the-ground public health and advocacy response, and the practice has far from disappeared in many countries, including Guinea.

Sanctuary Turns to Skadden Arps

When Aimée came to Sanctuary for Families, they quickly discovered that the original asylum application she had filed was patchy and did not adequately detail the abuse she had suffered as both a child and an adult.   Sanctuary turned  to Skadden Arps to prepare a more robust application on her behalf. The firm quickly assembled a team of attorneys and legal assistants, who began working to understand Aimée’s case and to fortify her application in an ever-evolving political and legal environment. Representing Aimée was not without its challenges. Skadden attorney Sarah Kalin explained:

“Asylum work is not our day job, so trying to remain abreast as laws, policies, even as the sentiments of these agencies were changing day to day quickly became more of a full-time job than we expected.”

The women who endure FGM/C often lack the political voice to share their stories. “But for Aimée, working with a talented group of dedicated women, who not only met with her on legal matters but often accompanied her to medical and other appointments, was empowering,” said Skadden attorney Avelina Burbridge.  In reflecting upon her team, Aimée shared:

“These wonderful and brave women lawyers have spared no effort to get me where I am today.”

Yet the women who had the chance to represent her felt that Aimée inspired them, too. Sarah Kalin shared:

“She is not unlike each of us: she’s about our age; she’s smart and educated, but she just happened to grow up in a different part of the world. To see how she made her way to the U.S., without speaking the language, without much in the way of support; to witness her story evolve and watch her integrate into American society, always with the support of Sanctuary, and to really build a life for herself is inspiring. She is a real asset to American society.”

Looking Toward the Future

The team still stays in touch with Aimée today, and with Sanctuary’s talented support, they have watched her confidence soar, as she improves her English skills and receives robust job training to further her aspirations to pursue a career in health services. Recently, she obtained a Home Health Aid Certificate and graduated from Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.

“I’ve regained the humanity, the self-confidence, and the appetite for life that I thought I’d lost forever. Today I have a good head on my shoulders and find fulfillment in the unconditional love of my son. If there exists an American dream, mine is my encounter with Sanctuary for Families.”

– Aimée

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Skadden Arps’ outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

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

Simpson Thacher Team Work With Survivors to Share Compelling Stories of VAWA’s Impact

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett attorneys for their pro bono work collecting invaluable personal testimony from survivors of domestic violence.Read to learn more.

Rachel Hauser is the Manager of Institutional Giving at Kaufman Music Center where she supports the Center’s educational and artistic programming through grant proposals and in-person solicitations. She is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in violin and viola performance. She is also the daughter of a Simpson Thacher & Bartlett alumna.

At this year’s Above and Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett attorneys for their pro bono work collecting invaluable personal testimony from survivors of domestic violence.

These accounts demonstrate firsthand the vital role played by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in protecting survivors of domestic violence. Former Associate Elizabeth Wilkerson, along with Rui Xie and Staci Cox (then Summer Associates and now Associates), guided by Pro Bono Counsel and Director Harlene Katzman, Pro Bono Manager Susan Cordaro, and Pro Bono Coordinator Maria Gonzalez, interviewed 15 women who, with the assistance of pro bono legal services, had utilized provisions available under VAWA to escape their abusers, obtain legal immigration status, and transition to successful and empowered lives.

Establishing the impact of VAWA on Survivors of Domestic Violence

The passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 marked the first comprehensive federal legislative package designed to end violence against women, improve criminal justice responses to domestic violence, and increase the availability of services to its survivors. Since first enacted, the bill has been reauthorized four times—with bi-partisan support, and despite vocal opposition from some members of Congress.

As VAWA comes up for reauthorization again this year, and as the current political climate threatens the future of many individuals protected by VAWA, Simpson Thacher’s pro bono team eagerly volunteered to gather personal accounts from survivors of domestic violence whose stories might  help others understand the value of the life-saving provisions within VAWA.

The project began with personal meetings between the Simpson Thacher team and each of the 15 project participants, the majority of whom had been served by Sanctuary for Families through its legal services program.  The women came forward to share their experiences, and the Simpson Thacher team went to great lengths to ensure their safety, comfort, and trust throughout the interview process. The Simpson Thacher attorneys all noted the incredible strength and bravery shown by each woman in her willingness to recap her most traumatic life events in order to increase awareness of the benefits of VAWA and protect others still seeking help.

All 15 women were able to utilize the provisions set by VAWA to obtain legal immigration status (if necessary), stay united with their families, and seek better emotional and economic futures. Thus, as the Pro Bono team recorded these difficult accounts of trauma and terror, they also heard extraordinary stories of subsequent transformation and empowerment celebrated by the women, obtained after they achieved justice and independence from their abusers.

Survivors of Domestic Abuse are not the only Individuals Impacted by VAWA

Equally important to the legal, economic and emotional independence described in the women’s accounts of their decision to come forward and report the violence that had been perpetrated against them was an understanding that VAWA allowed them to speak up in the first place, and to cooperate and assist law enforcement. Successful law enforcement efforts depend on the authorities’ ability to access and connect with those our laws are intended to serve.

In the interviews, the Simpson Thacher team was able to collect specific examples of how VAWA enabled survivors to confidently assist law enforcement officials in bringing their abusers to justice and ensuring that they could no longer prey on others. As one of the survivors said in her interview:

VAWA empowered me to cooperate with the prosecution of my abuser without fear, care for my children, and live the American dream by starting a business that employs 70 people today.”

An Empowered Community

In addition to meeting with the women individually, Simpson Thacher also hosted two events—at the outset and conclusion of the project—to allow all of the participants to know that they were not alone in their experiences.  At those two breakfast meetings, the women shared their personal stories and accomplishments, and  offered encouragement, understanding, and support to each other.  Through this shared experience, they were able to connect the importance of VAWA to others in addition to themselves, and were eager to become engaged in the collective work being done to reauthorize the law.

The entire Simpson Thacher team agreed that working with these women strongly reinforced their understanding of the importance of pro bono representation to obtain relief for domestic violence victims, and the need to continue the protections that allowed these women to live free from violence and manipulation. The attorneys  were also reminded of the fact that the simple action of taking a pro bono call can make a life-changing difference in the life of another person, and give them the pathway to establishing independence and achieving her dreams.

The important storytelling work done by the Simpson Thacher team has made one thing clear: the protections of VAWA are critical to helping victims of domestic violence break free from the cycle of violence and transform their lives. VAWA provides the tools that law enforcement, organizations like Sanctuary for Families, and legal teams like that at Simpson Thacher who represent individuals pro bono can access to help protect and empower survivors. In the words of another survivor interview by Simpson:

VAWA allowed me and my daughter to reimagine our lives, free from violence, and to rewrite our future, not as victims but as productive members of society.”  

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Simpson Thacher’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

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

Freshfields Team Fights for Survivor of Labor Trafficking and her Family

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of “Anna,” a labor trafficking survivor from Guatemala. Read to learn more.

Carolin Guentert is a clinical teaching fellow in the Domestic Violence Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of “Anna,” a labor trafficking survivor from Guatemala. Anna endured significant abuse at the hands of her trafficker: he held Anna captive in his home for nearly a year, raped her repeatedly, and forced her to turn her wages over to him. She finally escaped with the help of a restaurant co-worker, “Miguel,” whom she later married.

The Freshfields team included counsel Anahita Thoms (formerly of), senior associates Lupe López and Mia White (formerly of), associates Kathy Ibarra and Christopher Stucko (formerly of),and paralegal Whitney Hoyos (formerly of). The team represented Anna and Miguel in their applications to obtain T-visas.  After they were approved for T-visa status, the trafficker found and confronted Anna and her husband. The Freshfields team remained dedicated to keeping Anna and Miguel safe and helped ensure a conviction against the trafficker.

Trafficked

Anna was a single mother in Guatemala and struggling economically. When a man from her village offered her a job in a restaurant in the United States, Anna agreed to move to support her family. Unfortunately the man turned out to be a trafficker, who subjected Anna to extreme abuse.

After Anna’s grueling 40-day journey to the United States, her trafficker immediately took her captive. He locked her in his house for almost a year, forcing her to do cooking and housework for him with no pay. He repeatedly raped Anna and monitored her every move.

Anna’s trafficker told her that she owed him money for the cost of being brought to the United States, and that she could pay off her debt by working in a restaurant. She had to turn over all of her wages to him and was charged significant interest.

Escape and T-Visa Application

After nearly a year of living in fear and isolation, Anna confided in her co-worker, Miguel, who was a cook at the restaurant. Miguel ended up helping Anna escape, and let her stay in his home. After surviving this experience, Anna and Miguel eventually fell in love and had a baby together. They got married at a ceremony held in Sanctuary’s office, officiated by Sanctuary’s Executive Director Judge Judy Harris Kluger.

Lori Cohen, Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, referred Anna’s case to Freshfields, who quickly put together applications for T-visa status for Anna and Miguel. With the dedicated help from the Freshfields team, Anna and Miguel were approved for T-visa status in 2017.

Freshfields was also able to obtain T-visa status for Anna’s children, and is currently working to bring the children to the United States. Kathy Ibarra, an associate on the Freshfields team, recalls,

“Anna’s case was my first pro bono matter when I joined Freshfields, and it’s been great representing her ever since and forming a relationship with her.”

Confronted by Her Abuser

While Anna’s application for T-visa status was still pending, her trafficker found her and began harassing her and Miguel. But whenever Anna and Miguel tried to get help from law enforcement, they were met with resistance, likely because law enforcement was unfamiliar with labor trafficking.

The Freshfields team helped Anna and Miguel file complaints against Anna’s trafficker, accompanied them to multiple hearings, and advocated to the judge and prosecutor. The trafficker was eventually convicted of harassment, which, Kathy recalls, “empowered the client. It was important to her to be in court, to see that justice was brought against her trafficker.” Says Lori Cohen,

“Freshfields did a great deal to educate the judge and the prosecutor on the issue of labor trafficking, and created a safety net for this client.”

Reflecting on her experience, Kathy explained,

“Both Lupe and I are children of immigrants. It’s been so important to us to help other immigrants navigate the legal system, especially in light of the current immigration crisis in this country.”

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Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Freshfields’ outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets here

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