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.

Paul Weiss Obtain Favorable Decision in Highly Contested Order of Protection Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a team from Paul Weiss for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Gloria” to obtain a favorable decision in a complex and highly contested order of protection case.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team from Paul, Weiss, including partners Audra J. Soloway and William B. Michael, counsel Robert N. Kravitz, and former associates Arianna Markel, Paige Geier, Michael Bass, Randall Bryer and Melika Hadziomerovic for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Gloria” to obtain a favorable decision in a complex and highly contested order of protection (OP) case.

In 2019, “Gloria,” a mother of two young children, fled her abusive husband to live in a domestic violence shelter, filed for custody, and obtained a temporary order of protection (TOP) against her husband. Despite the sustained violence that Gloria and her two children lived through, Gloria’s strength carried her through lengthy and challenging legal actions and made her an inspiration for the team that represented her.

In April 2021, a pro bono team from Paul Weiss began working with Gloria on her representation in a highly contested trial to seek a final OP based on the history of violence as well as multiple violations of the TOP. The trial team was primarily led by Audra Soloway, Arianna Markel, and Paige Geier, with Arianna serving as lead counsel for the trial. In April 2022, Gloria and the team successfully obtained a 5-year OP, as well as findings that the abuser had violated the TOP and committed several family offenses. In October 2022, the abuser appealed the decision to the First Department. Bob Kravitz, Bill Michael, Paige Geier, and Michael Bass successfully handled the appeal, with the First Department affirming the family court’s decision.

The Paul, Weiss team demonstrated great dedication to the case and to Gloria. Their excellent legal skills, strategic thinking, and continuous time commitment were essential to supporting Gloria and obtaining a favorable outcome. The team worked tirelessly with Gloria to prepare for trial, conducting numerous practice and strategy sessions. The OP trial involved a challenging direct examination of Gloria on the history of domestic violence and sexual abuse, conducted by Arianna, as well as a difficult cross-examination. The team’s advocacy was instrumental in enabling Gloria to tell her story over the objections of extremely aggressive opposing counsel. In his decision, the judge specifically noted Gloria’s credibility and composure, in contrast to the respondent. Importantly, the team’s consistent support of Gloria through the emotional challenge and the frustration that result from having to navigate the uncertainty of these processes was key for the outcome.

“This case has involved a massive amount of time and dedication, both in the legal work conducted and in the intensive work with the client. Arianna’s preparation work for the OP trial, and her ability to withstand intensive objections by opposing counsel was remarkable. Paige has been extraordinarily client-centered, patient, collaborative and sensitive.”

-Jennifer Friedman, Director of Family Law and Policy for Sanctuary for Families’ practices in the Bronx    and Manhattan Family Justice Centers

Paige Geier, who was a junior associate when she began working on the case, emphasized how valuable this experience was for her as a young lawyer. Paige said that “it was pretty incredible” for her to learn from the knowledgeable members of the team, including from Jennifer. In October 2021, Paige successfully argued against a fourth substitution of counsel for the respondent father.

“Not only was I able to learn so much about family law from talking to Jennifer, but her way of working, which makes her thought-process visible, was extremely valuable to me. I also appreciated that she put a lot of trust in me as a young associate and was totally supportive. Watching her work with the client and showing so much empathy has made me a better lawyer.”

-Paige Geier

From her new firm Cowan, Liebowitz & Latman, P.C., Paige is now leading the custody and visitation trial, which began in January of this year, an illustration of her extraordinary dedication to the case.

Gloria’s resilience is an inspiration for the team.

“I watched Gloria have her life on hold, but she kept her head up and that has given so much energy to the team. Gloria is one of the strongest people I have ever met. It is so amazing getting to work with her and to represent her. She is an amazing mom: hearing her talk about her children and everything she does for them is incredible. She recently went back to school to get a degree and is crushing it! She has been student of the month, and her hard work has been recognized by her teachers and peers.”

-Paige Geier

Sanctuary is incredibly grateful for the invaluable pro bono work of this amazing and supportive team.

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



Silvia Marroquin is an associate in the international arbitration practice of Chaffetz Lindsey in New York and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

Linklaters and Covington & Burling Win Asylum Case for LGBTQ+ Couple

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor teams from Linklaters LLP and Covington & Burling LLP for representing “Jonah” and “James” in obtaining asylum status.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families will honor teams from Linklaters LLP and Covington & Burling LLP for representing “Jonah” and “James” in obtaining asylum status. The teams consisted of Associates Nina Hrushko and Rebecca Zeldin of Linklaters, and Associate Lauren Shor and former Associates Jack Nelson, Katherine Onyshko, and Elisa Solomon of Covington.

Jonah and James are Russian gay men and LGBTQIA+ activists. As openly gay men in an incredibly homophobic country, James and Jonah consistently experienced threats and violence. James’s family in particular was hostile to his sexuality and put both James and Jonah in danger. However, none of this deterred them from their work as LGBTQIA+ activists. . After the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, James and Jonah brought flowers and a sign to the American embassy in Moscow to show their support for the victims, only to be arrested and harassed by Russian police. After they were arrested, they decided to flee Russia together and arrived in New York in 2017. Once in the U.S., they were finally able to marry and began their years-long affirmative asylum process, with the support of Sanctuary for Families and a team of lawyers for each of Jonah and James’s individual cases. Jonah was represented by the Linklaters team and James was represented by the Covington team. In 2023, after six years of teamwork, creativity, and patience, both James and Jonah were finally granted asylum. Jonah and James celebrated by inviting the legal teams to their apartment for dinner, highlighting how close the relationships they formed throughout the asylum process had become.

James and the Covington team filed his application and listed Jonah as a derivative spouse on the application. Jack Nelson, formerly with Covington, and now with Sive Pagel Riesel, describes James as an incredible person. Jack was impressed that despite their traumatic personal history, James and Jonah have kept an optimistic outlook throughout the asylum process, continuing their political activism in New York and volunteering with the Russian LGBTQIA+ community.

Jonah and the Linklaters team filed a separate asylum application for Jonah, because he had experienced the same hostility and was eligible for asylum in his own right, while also listing James as Jonah’s derivative spouse on the application. Nina Hrushko at Linklaters describes Jonah as outgoing and easy to work with, and a positive person, despite going through so much.

When James and Jonah first filed their asylum applications, they were just beginning to learn English and used an interpreter for meetings with their legal teams. Over the course of the six years of their asylum cases, both Jonah and James became fluent in English, so much so that they could help the attorneys catch errors made early on, when some stories got lost in translation. By the end of the case, Jack described working with James and Jonah as just like working with partner counsel.

James and Jonah’s cases also presented a unique opportunity for two law firms to work closely together, with the support of Sanctuary for Families. Each firm reported a great experience working together. Nina speaks Russian and Ukrainian, so she was able to help both litigation teams with interviews and affidavits and to communicate with James and Jonah’s friends and other witnesses.

Although Jonah and James presented very strong cases for asylum, some logistical complications arose with their cases. After many years of waiting for their interviews with the Asylum Office, James was granted asylum on February 8, 2023, but through a clerical error, Jonah was not granted asylum as James’s derivative. Not to be deterred, Jonah and the Linklaters team advocated to Senator Gillibrand, the USCIS ombudsman, and the USCIS Liaison at the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative. Finally, in July 2023, Jonah was also granted asylum.

Even after James’s application was granted, the Covington team stayed involved and worked collaboratively with the Linklaters team to support Jonah in his asylum application. Both litigation teams also spoke highly of the support from Sanctuary for Families and especially appreciated help from Deirdre Stradone, Co-Deputy Director of the Immigration Intervention Project. Deirdre, likewise, was incredibly impressed with both teams and their tireless dedication to James and Jonah over the course of six years.

Jonah and James came to New York as refugees six years ago. Now, James is attending a prominent university on a scholarship and Jonah is a filmmaker. To their legal teams, James and Jonah are inspiring. And, after six years of working together, they are also good friends.

Sanctuary is incredibly grateful for the compassionate pro bono work that Covington and Linklaters dedicated to assisting Jonah and James in their journey to safety and security in the United States.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Linklaters LLP and Covington & Burling LLP ‘s outstanding pro bono work.



Lucy Wolf is an Assistant Attorney General at the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.