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.
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.