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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Latham & Watkins Attorneys Honored for Work with LGBTQ+ Asylum Seekers

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring an extraordinary team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP who worked with several pro se LGBTQ+ asylum applicants in a clinic over the past summer.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring an extraordinary team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP who worked with a number of pro se LGBTQ+ asylum applicants in a clinic over the past summer. The Latham & Watkins team includes partners Michèle O. Penzer, George A. Davis, and Brittany Ruiz; and associates Prudence Ng, Jaclyn Newman, Abhinaya Swaminathan, Matt Carmody, Layan K. Charara, and Jacob Watts.

Clients in terrible danger

Recently, Sanctuary for Families’ immigration team became aware of a troubling trend: numerous asylum applicants have been directed to removal proceedings with no legal representation due to a staggeringly high demand for legal assistance in this area. Asylum cases can often take years to be fully processed, a fact that sometimes makes pro bono representation challenging for firms to take on. Latham & Watkins joined forces with Sanctuary staff to brainstorm a possible solution to this pressing problem and ultimately arrived at the idea of an asylum pro se clinic, whereby Latham pro bono attorneys would sit down with clients who were in removal proceedings to draft their affidavits and other application materials and give them extremely detailed, step-by-step guidance on how to continue their asylum applications pro se.

The pilot pro se clinic, which took place in summer 2022, worked with 4 clients, all of whom had experienced LGBTQ+-based persecution in their home countries. They all had a very specific and straightforward legal need, yet one that can be quite daunting for anyone, and especially for trauma-impacted clients. The Latham attorneys immediately set to creating compelling affidavits and filling out the requisite forms so as to help these survivors to attain the asylum they deserved.

The Process

At the outset, the Latham & Watkins team knew that their objective was to file with USCIS as quickly as possible, given the fact that their clients had already been called into immigration court. Their work consisted of preparing a I-589 Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, which includes copious supporting materials. In this case, the applications centered around the LGBGTQ+-based persecution that clients had faced in their home countries. An application for asylum must be based on a number of factors, including past persecution and/or a well-founded fear of future persecution in the applicant’s home country and evidence that their home country’s government is unwilling or unable to protect them. Though legal representation is not required to file such applications, the administrative process is extremely difficult, even before the added complications of trauma and potential language barriers. “Nothing about the process is intuitive for survivors,” Associate Abhinaya Swaminathan told us.

The Challenge

When she signed up to participate in the asylum pro se project, Prudence Ng, a third year corporate associate, had already worked on immigration cases. For the first time, however, Prudence found herself with a client who had survived a decade of homelessness and violence, and whose manifold experiences of trauma had to be sensitively parsed out and arranged into a cohesive application narrative. “I realized the application needed to be based on themes instead of chronology,” said Prudence. When the process of information collection was less straightforward than expected, “I had to craft a cohesive narrative, which involved making sense of a complex story.”

The most challenging part of this work for the Latham & Watkins team – as well as for their clients – was distilling a long trauma history and “making it fit into the USCIS boxes.” While it was clear from the outset that these clients had compelling needs for asylum, telling their stories was nonetheless not a simple task, and was one that necessitated trauma-informed questioning and empathy. Prudence will be bringing those lessons into her practice. “I learned a lot of lessons about connecting with a client and telling their story from their perspective.”

She also noted that the summer associates she worked with were engaged, demonstrated compassion and sensitivity, and were skilled at parsing out relevant details. “Our team was impressive at handling strong emotions and keeping their lawyer hats on to put forward a very strong case for our clients.”

All of Latham’s lawyers underlined how Sanctuary for Families’ mission is important to them and helps shape their pro bono work by assisting different people with a common need. Abhinaya strikingly noted that “SFF’s focus on gender-based violence is particularly important right now because people from all over the world come to get help with gender and or sexuality based problems, even though we are also facing these problems here in the US.”

Latham’s four clients have strong claims filed now and await a response from USCIS while remaining in the United States. They are empowered not only to proceed with their own applications, but with the knowledge to inform their friends and family of their rights and the resources they could use.

“The asylum system in the United States is a stressful, opaque, and deeply bureaucratic process for all those who flee their home countries in hopes of creating lives free from violence. Through their advocacy this summer, Latham protected the rights of four LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and helped them take that first step toward building a safe and stable life in the U.S. We are so grateful for the work of the Latham attorneys and summer associates and hope this is only the beginning of our continued work together.”

Deirdre Stradone
Co-Deputy Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project


Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor Latham & Watkins’ outstanding pro bono work.

PURCHASE TICKETS

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


Francesca L. Fulchignoni is a practice area associate in Sullivan & Cromwell’s Criminal Defense and Investigations Group.

Latham & Watkins Attorneys Obtain Unconditional Permanent Residency for Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a dedicated team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP for their culturally sensitive and compassionate pro bono representation of  “Anam”, a survivor whom they helped to obtain unconditional permanent residency in the United States.

Amy Abramson is a former Sanctuary staff member and current Senior Development Director at AJC. She is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a dedicated team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins LLP for their culturally sensitive and compassionate pro bono representation of  “Anam”, a survivor whom they helped to obtain unconditional permanent residency in the United States.

Anam was an independent young woman living in Pakistan. Shortly after graduating from college, her parents arranged her marriage to a local young man who was the son of a family friend. The couple moved to the United States and Anam, full of dreams, started making plans to build a family and continue her education. Very soon though, she discovered that her husband had different plans.

Anam’s husband forced her to stay in the house, forbade her to call her family and friends, and perpetrated incredible physical violence against her. After seeking help for her injuries due to his abuse, the local District Attorney opened a criminal investigation. Anam found shelter at the home of local distant relatives, but her husband tracked her down and blackmailed her into returning to his house by threatening her widowed, elderly mother living alone in Pakistan.

With local police making regular visits due to the DA’s open case, her husband’s family recognized that Anam could not stay in the U.S. They kidnapped her, made her travel back to Pakistan, and kept her locked up in a relative’s compound under around-the-clock surveillance. Months later, Anam escaped, and with the help of the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan, she returned to New York City.

The Latham & Watkins pro bono team consisting of Loren N. Finegold, Irina Y. Sivachenko, Sohom Datta, Omar R. Jooma, Abhinaya Swaminathan, and Danielle E. Sekerak showed great compassion and support for Anam from their first meeting together. Due to the deep trauma she had endured, Anam found it hard to trust others with her story and found that certain cultural aspects of her experience were difficult for her to talk about with a mixed-gender team. Because of this, Sohom thoughtfully stepped out of the room during their early meetings, ensuring a female-only environment, and the team spoke with her in her native Urdu as necessary to make Anam more comfortable.

The Latham & Watkins team worked on the case for nearly three years, from June 2017 until they received the decision in May 2020. In that time, they researched cultural matrimonial practices in Pakistan to produce a detailed memorandum, compiled the petition, and included a supporting affidavit from an interview conducted in Urdu with a Pakistani contact. Anam was anxious at points throughout the case that her husband would try to interfere, even physically, to prevent her from achieving legal status. The pro bono team continuously monitored Anam’s well-being and assisted whenever she felt she was being followed or at risk of another kidnapping.

Anam’s resilience is astounding. While the Latham & Watkins team was working on her case, she completed another degree at a local community college and is now gainfully employed as an IT professional. Seeing Anam’s determination over the years, from the day she walked in the door as an intelligent, educated, yet deeply traumatized young woman to seeing her grow, make friends, build a life and further her education was incredible for the Latham & Watkins team. The team is deeply proud of this case and continues working with Anam on her citizenship application.

On the pro bono team, Anam says:

“I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to you for all the care and concern you have shown me, and for working tirelessly to ensure that the immigration law worked in our favor… I feel lucky to work with Latham & Watkins LLP, each and every person I work with.” — Anam.

This case was a true partnership between Sanctuary for Families and the Latham & Watkins team.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Loren, Irina, Sohom, Omar, Abhinaya, and Danielle. Click here to RSVP for free.

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

Latham & Watkins Attorneys’ Leadership Inspires Fellow Attorneys to Take on Hundreds of Pro Bono Immigration Cases

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged others at their firm to do the same. Read to learn more.

Colleen O’Brien is an attorney and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Latham & Watkins who have tirelessly advocated for victims of domestic violence and have encouraged and inspired other Latham & Watkins attorneys to take on hundreds of pro bono immigration cases.

Taking the Lead

Jessica Rostoker, Irina Sivachenko, and Amanda Parisi, litigation associates in Latham & Watkin’s New York office, have been the backbone of Latham’s robust pro bono immigration practice, and in particular its Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) pro bono program.

With their support, last year Latham attorneys contributed the highest number of pro bono hours of any law firm that partners with Sanctuary for Families.  Besides taking on dozens of their own direct representation cases, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have placed over 100 Sanctuary cases with other Latham attorneys and have worked to ensure that the Latham pro bono attorneys taking those cases are well-trained and have the resources and supervision they need to best assist survivors of gender-based violence seek immigration relief.  As Laura Atkinson-Hope, the Managing Attorney for Global Pro Bono at Latham attested,

“[Latham] couldn’t consistently take on so many cases without their incredible leadership.”

Pro Bono Work is Personal

For Irina, working on pro bono matters with immigrant women is a meaningful way to pay forward the benefits of her own experience.  An immigrant herself, Irina is familiar with what it is like to make the journey to the United States, but she acknowledges the difference for those who arrive in the U.S. to attend college, like she did, and those who are fleeing persecution or violence in their home country.

Similarly, Irina has noted that as a Latham associate, she benefits from the firm’s focus on providing professional development and support for women, and she finds it rewarding to find ways to help other women who otherwise don’t have that support in their lives.

Jessica, who has studied human development as an undergraduate, finds that working with victims of domestic violence allows her to combine her legal training with her academic background and desire to connect with her clients on a human level.

As all three women noted, survivors of domestic violence, especially those in the throes of an abusive relationship, often feel isolated and may not have many people in their lives who they can talk to about what they’re experiencing.  Over time, these clients have come to view their pro bono lawyers as confidantes and trusted allies who are there not only to help them fight their legal battles but also to listen to them and support them as they work to reach the next stage in their lives.

Amanda has experienced first-hand the importance of the work Sanctuary for Families and pro bono lawyers are doing.  Several of Sanctuary’s clients are often in volatile situations, and seeking legal relief can truly be a matter of life and death.  Advocating for those clients, and providing them with comfort when they need it most, is what makes the work most meaningful for Amanda.

Changing Lives

Last year, a significant number of Latham & Watkins attorneys worked on VAWA cases with guidance and support from Jessica, Irina, and Amanda.  The three women accept cases from Sanctuary for Families and either take them on personally or find other attorneys to staff the cases, and then provide them with training materials, sample documents, and substantive guidance along the way.

According to Deborah Lee, a Senior Staff Attorney with Sanctuary for Families’ Immigration Intervention Project, Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have never said “no” when she has asked them to take on a new case, and she often calls them to help with the cases that have the most complex legal challenges or involve highly sensitive situations.

When asked how her pro bono immigration work has affected her overall professional development, Irina noted how empowering it is for young lawyers to have the chance to work directly with clients and manage their cases.

“We live in one of the most diverse cities in the world, but we still live in our own bubbles…this pro bono work makes me a better attorney and a better person.”

But as meaningful as Jessica, Irina, and Amanda have found the work to be, for their clients, it is life changing.  Clients frequently comment to the Latham team, and to Deborah, how grateful they are for the help they’ve received from their pro bono counsel.  They feel respected and valued and know that they are just as important to Latham’s lawyers as their paying clients.  And nothing can compare to clients’ reactions when, months or years later, they receive permanent residency.  The joy and relief they experience is incomparable and never fails to move their dedicated legal teams.

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 this Latham & Watkins team’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.