Latham & Watkins: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Latham & Watkins for their team’s outstanding work in assisting a domestic violence survivor in a successful clemency application.

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!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*


All-Women Latham Team Assists Domestic Violence Survivor in Successful Clemency Application

2022 didn’t end before delivering one last piece of outstanding, long-awaited news: after over 10 years of incarceration, domestic violence survivor Jacqueline Smalls had been granted clemency by Governor Kathy Hochul and would be heading home at last, along with twelve other incarcerated individuals.

During their two-year relationship, Jacqueline’s partner had subjected her to intense physical abuse—including strangulation, one of the highest lethality factors—and had been subsequently arrested several times. On the night of August 26, 2012, Jacqueline’s abuser entered her home in violation of two Orders of Protection she had obtained against him. During a domestic altercation, as her abuser moved to confront Jacqueline, she stabbed him once with a kitchen knife, killing him. Despite the obvious history of domestic violence, trauma, and clear danger to Jacqueline that evening, prosecutors from the Schenectady County District Attorney’s office refused to consider the history of domestic violence and charged her with second-degree murder. Jacqueline ultimately entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of first-degree manslaughter and received a 15-year sentence.

Sanctuary attorneys first met Jacqueline in 2019 after she had already been incarcerated for several years. Sanctuary identified Jacqueline as an ideal candidate for the then-newly enacted Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) and turned to Latham & Watkins LLP, a longtime pro bono partner and champion of survivors of gender-based violence, to work with Jacqueline on a DVSJA re-sentencing motion to reduce her sentence, which would likely result in her release for time served under the more favorable DVSJA sentencing guidelines. Associates Brittany Ehardt, Jaclyn Newman, Melange Gavin, and Wendy Gu, with supervision and strategic guidance from partner Jamie Wine, began strategizing at once. Though Jacqueline was clearly eligible for resentencing under the DVSJA, the District Attorney’s office indicated that it would oppose such a resentencing motion, which would have resulted in forcing Jacqueline to participate in a difficult and re-traumatizing re-sentencing hearing.  The team pivoted to clemency instead, knowing they could always return to a DVSJA strategy if they needed to.

On December 21, 2022 Governor Hochul granted clemency to 13 individuals, including Jacqueline, who will be released and reunited with her family on January 19, 2023.

“I recall doing Jacqueline’s intake in Bedford Hills and being immediately horrified by all the ways in which our system failed to protect her from her abuser, and then unduly and harshly punished her when she tried to protect herself. I was ecstatic when Latham agreed to represent her and I am forever grateful for their tireless work over the last couple of years to free Jacqueline.”

Nicole Fidler
Director, Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Program

We are overjoyed at Jacqueline’s clemency grant.  We also believe that so many other incarcerated individuals deserve the same consideration from Governor Hochul. Given Governor Hochul’s previous pledge to increase the rates of clemency grants, we are hopeful that more incarcerated survivors will be granted clemency soon.

We sat down with Jaclyn Newman, Melange Gavin, Wendy Gu, and Brittany Ehardt to hear firsthand about their experience working with Jacqueline.

Why did you agree to represent Jacqueline?

Jaclyn: We originally took on this case thinking it was going to be a DVSJA case. We felt passionately about Jacqueline’s case and wanted to serve justice for her in light of the domestic abuse she had suffered, and saw this new statute as a potential avenue for her.

What was it like to build and maintain your relationship with your client?

Brittany:  In a case like this, when you’re dealing with sensitive and delicate topics, having the opportunity to meet in person was really helpful. After meeting with Jacqueline in person, it was about keeping the lines of communication open, with frequent contact, which helped build a positive and trusting relationship.  It was important to not only discuss her legal challenges, but also focus on the human side of things.

Melange: Especially when an individual is incarcerated, it’s easy to see them as just a name or a number. Once we started speaking regularly on the phone with Jacqueline and met her in person, it helped to develop our relationship with her. We all care for her on an individual and personal level.

How did you and Jacqueline cope with the inherent uncertainty of a clemency case? Did this create any unusual obstacles?

Jaclyn: It was a rollercoaster! We were faced with the difficult choice of taking a risk with the uncertainty surrounding a clemency application, or continuing with a DVSJA resentencing application. In many ways, the DVSJA re-sentencing application seemed to be the safer and more predictable option, because we knew Jacqueline had a strong case under the DVSJA and deserved to be resentenced and released. But when we learned that the DA wouldn’t oppose a clemency application, but would oppose a DVSJA application, we decided to pursue clemency first, given that the lack of opposition from the DA’s office provided us with a stronger clemency application.  Additionally, we hoped to avoid re-traumatizing Jacqueline on the stand during her DVSJA hearing.  We also knew that if clemency didn’t work out, we would go back to the DVSJA application as an alternative path to Jacqueline’s release.

Wendy: Throughout this process, Jacqueline kept such an open mind, and had faith in herself and us. It was a really strong motivator for the team, I think. She kept her head up and maintained hope and that kept the entire team going.

Did anything surprise you during this case?

Brittany: This case made me recognize that a lot of individuals lack a baseline understanding of domestic violence and trauma. Societally, with the way people think about these cases, we have a long way to go. While it was challenging to educate individuals about the impact of domestic violence while conducting the case, it was also positive to see that the education made a difference in the outcome for our client.

What is one of the biggest things you learned from working with Jacqueline?

Melange: This was the most one-on-one contact with an individual client that I’ve had. The client-facing experience is very different with an incarcerated client. Getting to know Jacqueline, I found myself connecting with her on a deeper level.  And of course, when it’s someone’s life on the line, it makes the stakes so much higher.

What did you find most gratifying about the experience?

Jaclyn: I think for me it was when Jacqueline’s family members started crying tears of happiness on the phone when they heard the news about her clemency grant.

Brittany: Also, as Jacqueline plans her reentry, it’s gratifying to think about what her life can be like now as she rejoins her community and her family. When we started working with her this possibility seemed so distant, so knowing that it’s within reach now is incredible.

Anything else we should have asked you but didn’t? Anything you want to add?

Brittany: It takes a village. Of course, we’re proud of the work we put into this case, but it took several groups coming together.  Partnering with Sanctuary and having resources and guidance available to us was so helpful. I think it’s a good lesson to anyone, no matter what you’re doing – it’s OK to ask for help from people who have experience in a certain field. It can only make the situation better.

Congratulations to Jacqueline, Melange, Brittany, Jaclyn, and Wendy!


Join the team from Latham & Watkins in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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A Victory for Incarcerated Domestic Violence Survivor Tracy McCarter

The dismissal of Tracy McCarter’s charges is a major victory for Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative. Her case sets an important precedent for the future of successful trauma-informed representation of criminalized survivors.

Earlier this month, the New York Supreme Court dismissed murder charges against domestic violence survivor Tracy McCarter — a major victory for Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative (IGVSI), its pro bono partners, and survivors of domestic violence throughout New York State.

In March of 2020, Tracy McCarter, an Upper West Side resident and a highly-respected registered nurse, was charged with Murder in the Second Degree and Criminal Possession of a Weapon in connection with the death of her husband. 

Tracy McCarter

It quickly became evident that Tracy was a victim of severe, prolonged domestic violence whose life was in danger at the time of the killing; according to reports, her husband had gone on an “intoxicated rampage through the building” just hours before the incident.

Upon learning about Tracy’s case, Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Center, immediately worked to find Tracy the experienced, trauma-informed, top-notch legal representation she deserved.

“It was paramount that Tracy have legal counsel who had a deep understanding of domestic violence, and could effectively convey to prosecutors the impact of trauma on Tracy’s actions. We also knew that Tracy would need the assistance of a forensic evaluator who could help explain the connection between the killing and the abuse.”

Dorchen Leidholdt
Director, Sanctuary for Families’ Legal Center

Ms. Leidholdt and Ross Kramer, Director of Sanctuary’s Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative (IGVSI), quickly identified a “dream” candidate for the representation — Sean Hecker of Kaplan Hecker & Fink, one of the best and most highly-regarded criminal defense attorneys in New York. Hecker quickly agreed to represent Tracy pro bono, and also partnered with two other top criminal defense attorneys, Jeffrey Brown of Dechert and Jacob Buchdal of Susman Godfrey. The legal team retained Dr. Dawn Hughes, a clinical psychologist who is a leading expert in domestic violence and trauma.

“The case completely changed when we were able to bring in Sean Hecker, Jeff Brown, Jacob Buchdahl, and Dawn Hughes. Suddenly, Tracy McCarter had the assistance of three of the best lawyers in the country, and one of the top forensic experts. Their experience and expertise, their compassion and patience, and their ability to advocate effectively for Tracy — along with the trauma-informed consideration of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — made a life-changing difference in this case.”

Ross Kramer
Director, Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative

For approximately two years, IGVSI coordinated and assisted in Tracy’s representation. This included a presentation of Dr. Hughes’ findings to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which detailed, with significant corroboration, the years of potentially lethal violence McCarter’s husband directed against her, including brutal beatings and repeated incidents of strangulation. In September of 2020, the team achieved its first success by securing Tracy’s release on bail after repeated denials; the defense team’s arguments were augmented by positive press coverage of the case in the Wall Street Journal. In May of 2022, Sanctuary and 58 other leading domestic violence service-providers signed a letter to Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg urging him to dismiss the criminal charges against Tracy. Later that summer, Ms. Leidholdt met individually with D.A. Bragg, and she also joined Mr. Hecker, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Buchdahl in a meeting with D.A. Bragg’s legal team, urging dismissal. Months of hard-fought advocacy finally paid dividends in November of this year, when all charges against Tracy were dismissed.

Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Sanctuary, IGVSI, and Tracy’s legal team, she received the representation and support she needed and deserved. Given that one-third of women incarcerated in New York for homicide were being abused by the person they killed, the outcome of Tracy’s case stands as an important precedent for the future of successful trauma-informed representation of criminalized survivors.

Sullivan & Cromwell: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Sullivan & Cromwell for their team’s outstanding work in securing T-Nonimmigrant Status for a Guatemalan survivor of sex trafficking at the hands of a Customs and Border Patrol agent.

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 new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll highlight some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*


Assisting a Survivor Fleeing Domestic Violence and Trafficking

Beginning in 2020, Sanctuary for Families partnered with Sullivan & Cromwell (“S&C”) on an appeal on behalf of a survivor of trafficking at the hands of a Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent who grossly abused his position of power over Ms. Aura Hernandez and her young nephew. In 2021, we learned that the appeal was successful and in 2022, Ms. Hernandez was granted T Nonimmigrant Status, which has put her on a pathway to citizenship. This was the culmination of over 15 years of struggle and courage on the part of Ms. Hernandez to ensure safety and security for herself and her family. Sanctuary is honored to have been able to support Ms. Hernandez on that journey, and forever grateful for the outstanding, creative lawyering of the S&C team who represented Ms. Hernandez on her challenging appeal.

Fleeing severe domestic violence in her home country of Guatemala in 2005, Ms. Hernandez and her nine-year-old nephew embarked upon a dangerous two-week journey to Texas that ended within the walls of a detention facility. Already traumatized and terrified, Ms. Hernandez was met with an abusive CBP agent who threatened deportation or family separation of her and her nephew if she did not comply with his forceful demands for sexual acts. In a small room at the detention facility, the CBP agent sexually assaulted Ms. Hernandez, and then failed to timely release her and her nephew. Despite this, Ms. Hernandez and her nephew were ultimately able to continue their journey to New York and she began to settle into a new life. Then, under the Trump administration, a new threat emerged: Ms. Hernandez was informed that she was to be deported back to Guatemala, regardless of the risk this posed to her life.

With this backdrop of fear, in 2018, Ms. Hernandez and her infant daughter moved into a Manhattan church for sanctuary. As she fought to remain in the United States, Ms. Hernandez’s case drew national attention, including coverage by The New York Times and other publications. She redirected that spotlight, becoming an incredible advocate for women and immigrants, speaking out about the inhumane conditions of ICE detention centers and the sexual violence that was rampant within their walls, as well as against the barriers that prevented her and her family from experiencing true safety. “I don’t intend to stand here with my arms crossed and do nothing,” she told The New York Times. “I have to stand up and raise my voice because an injustice is being committed to me and to us. I think I’m here for a reason.”

It was around this time that Sanctuary began working with Ms. Hernandez, helping her file for T Nonimmigrant Status. Sanctuary argued that she was a victim of trafficking at the hands of the CBP agent and that she had, as required to obtain a T-Visa, cooperated with the investigation into the sexual assault (though it had not resulted in any disciplinary action against the agent). However, the visa was denied, throwing Sanctuary into high gear, as notices of appeal and briefs in support must be filed within 90 days of the denial. Sullivan and Cromwell attorneys Olivia G. Chalos, Regina M. Roediger and Sharon Cohen Levin, a longtime Sanctuary pro bono partner and anti-trafficking advocate, jumped in to co-counsel with Sanctuary on the appeal and immediately set to work proving Ms. Hernandez’s eligibility.

Sanctuary Senior Staff Attorney Ines Chennoufi, who worked with the team, explained that the case was “particularly difficult because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) argued that Ms. Hernandez did not meet any of the eligibility requirements for a trafficking visa. Typically, at the appeal stage of a case, we only have to argue one discrete area of law or facts. Here, the Sullivan & Cromwell team had to argue that Ms. Hernandez satisfied all of the eligibility requirements for T Nonimmigrant Status.” One of the critical elements that the team had to prove was that Ms. Hernandez was a victim of a severe form of trafficking.

“In order to be eligible for a T-Visa, an applicant must establish that they were a victim of a severe form of trafficking, which includes a ‘commercial sex act.’ USCIS denied Ms. Hernandez’s application in part because it found that the sexual abuse perpetrated at the border was not ‘commercial.”

Ines Chennoufi
Senior Staff Attorney, Sanctuary for Families

The Sullivan & Cromwell team demonstrated incredibly creative and pragmatic lawyering to establish that the sexual act here was coerced in direct exchange for something of immense non-monetary value—freedom from the detention center for Ms. Hernandez and her nephew, and a safer life in the U.S. The team used the decisions in the Harvey Weinstein prosecutions to establish that the definition of a commercial sex act is broad and encompasses more than just monetary gain or something of economic value. They pointed out that in one of the Weinstein decisions, the court found that value can include “promises of career advancement” or the opportunity to meet a world-renowned film producer. These arguments were clearly persuasive–the decision issued by the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) found that Ms. Hernandez’s safety and liberty, her fear of deportation and her nephew, all constitute things of “value” to her and the CBP agent used them against her to force and coerce her into providing a nonconsensual sexual act.

In the winter of 2021, Ms. Hernandez was informed by the AAO that she had successfully demonstrated she was the victim of a severe form of trafficking and her application was remanded to USCIS. In July 2022, she received the approval notice, granting Ms. Hernandez T Nonimmigrant Status for a period of four years. In three years, she will be eligible to apply for Lawful Permanent Residence (a green card) and eventually for citizenship.

“We are thrilled with this outcome for Ms. Hernandez, and proud to have partnered with Sanctuary’s incredibly talented lawyers on this challenging case.”

Sharon Cohen Levin
Pro Bono Partner, Sullivan & Cromwell

Sanctuary is profoundly grateful to the Sullivan & Cromwell team for being a critical partner in Ms. Hernandez’s fight for safety and security in the U.S. and for all their work on behalf of survivors of trafficking.


Join the team from Sullivan & Cromwell in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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The Silent Epidemic of Femicide in the United States

Every day, nearly 3 women are killed by an intimate partner — making the United States one of the deadliest countries for women and girls.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. If you can, please consider donating to support our life-saving work with survivors.


This past June, New Yorkers were rattled by the devastating, senseless murder of Azsia Johnson — a 20-year-old victim of domestic violence who was shot while walking her three-month-old baby on the Upper East Side.

Contrary to initial speculation, this was not a random killing — a few days after the shooting, the child’s father was arrested and charged with Azsia’s murder. According to her mother, Azsia’s ex-boyfriend physically abused her while pregnant with their child and continued to stalk and threaten her for months. Though shocking and infuriating, Johnson’s case is sadly just one of many instances of fatal violence against women

Femicide is prevalent in the U.S.

In the United States, femicide — the gender-based killing of women — is often thought of as an issue affecting low-income countries. This could not be further from the truth; of all femicide cases in high-income countries, 70% occur in the U.S

To put that into perspective, on a global scale, the U.S. ranks 34th for intentional female homicides at a rate of 2.6 killings per 100,000 women.

Moreover, in the US, almost three women are killed by an intimate partner every day. Just as in the case of Aszia Johnson, women in the U.S. are predominantly killed by men they know, and largely by current or former intimate partners. Of all intimate partner female homicides in 2018, 92% of victims were killed by a man they knew, and 63% were killed by current husbands, boyfriends, or ex-husbands.

These staggering statistics demonstrate the misogyny behind these violent deaths — In the United States, like in so many countries across the world, women are being murdered because they are women.

The link between gender and violence in the U.S. becomes even more apparent when looking at the demographics of male homicides. Men are significantly more likely to be killed by a stranger than women; strangers kill 29% of male homicide victims compared to only 10% of female victims. And while it is true that some men are murdered by their female partners, intimate partner violence accounts for only about 5% of male homicides. Too often, these occur in the context of women acting in self-defense against their abusive male partners.

Furthermore, when compared to male homicides, femicides tend to be more violent and intimate in nature women are less likely than men to be killed in a shooting, but more likely to be beaten, stabbed, or strangled

Trans women and women of color face a disproportionate risk

When considering femicide and its implications, we must acknowledge the barriers and disparities affecting marginalized women and how these increase the risk of violence. 

Though femicide is a pervasive problem for all women, the reality for women of color is even bleaker — men are murdering Black women and girls at a rate almost three times higher than white women. For indigenous women and girls, the homicide rate is six times higher than it is for their white counterparts, and current or former partners are responsible for 94% of those homicides. Despite being murdered at higher rates, Black and brown murdered and missing women are not receiving the same media attention and resources as white women.

The transgender community is also profoundly affected by femicide, especially trans women of color. 2021 was the deadliest year globally for murders of trans people, and 96% of those victims were trans women or transfeminine people. Of the known cases of anti-trans murders from 2013-2018, approximately 1 in 6 are suspected of having been committed by an intimate partner.

A variety of factors contribute to the disproportionate violence against trans women. With trans people experiencing police violence at a 3.7 times higher rate than cisgender survivors, trans women may be hesitant to come forward and report abuse due to institutionalized transphobia within law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Moreover, they may be wrongfully denied treatment or service at domestic violence shelters because of their gender identity — according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 22% of trans people were verbally harassed, physically attacked, or denied equal treatment or service at a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center.

Abusers may take advantage of the unique struggles trans women face and use coercive control to maintain power and manipulate their victim, such as; threatening to “out” them, telling them they are not a “real” woman, withdrawing hormones and medication, or threatening to call the police on them.  Additionally — with nearly one-third of trans people experiencing homelessness — trans women may be financially dependent on their abuser and, as a result of discrimination, lack the family support necessary to leave an abusive relationship. 

Together, these factors perpetuate a cycle of violence where trans survivors are continuously silenced by societal and institutional transphobia.

Gun violence & other risk factors

The number of women killed in the U.S. is steadily rising2,997 women were murdered in 2019 compared to 1,691 women in 2014

Firearms significantly contribute to the fatality of crimes related to intimate partner violence. Abusers with guns are 5 times more likely to kill their victims. Every month, an average of 70 women in the U.S. are shot and killed by an intimate partner

While intimate partner violence is a global issue, the intersection between gun violence and intimate partner violence is uniquely American. In 2015, 92% of all women killed with guns in high-income countries were from the United States.

Undeniably, allowing abusers access to firearms dramatically increases the fatality of attacks against women.  Simply owning a gun makes an abuser five times more likely to kill their partner, and using one to threaten or assault their partner makes the victim’s risk of being killed 20 times higher.

There are a variety of other factors that can increase the risk of femicide. Physically-abused women who are also suffering sexual violence are more than seven times more likely than other abused women to be killed; women who have been choked by their partner are seven times more likely to be killed than other abuse victims. Ultimately, the more red flags are present, the higher the risk of femicide.

Recognizing these early warning signs is crucial in preventing femicide. Nonetheless, a 2022 investigation shows that law enforcement agencies continuously ignore and dismiss red flags in domestic abuse cases due to insufficient training on identifying red flags, underusing lethality assessments, and lack of follow-through.

Femicide in the United States cannot remain a silent epidemic — we must raise awareness, identify red flags early, and take action to prevent and decrease violent crimes against women. 

You are not alone

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please do not hesitate to reach out to us for help. Sanctuary’s services are free and available to all survivors living in New York City, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital or immigration status.

Our services include:

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