At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Latham & Watkins team for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor.
At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Latham & Watkins’ Melange Gavin, Wendy Gu, and Jamie Wine, and former Latham attorneys Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, for their outstanding work securing a clemency grant for an incarcerated survivor of gender-based violence.
Last year, we shared on our blog that, after over 10 years of incarceration, domestic violence survivor Jacqueline Smalls had been granted clemency by Governor Kathy Hochul. Today, we are honored to highlight the Above & Beyond honorees who made this happen through their outstanding dedication, creative lawyering, and advocacy. Latham & Watkins associates Melange Gavin and Wendy Gu, and former associates Brittany Ehardt and Jaclyn Newman, with supervision and strategic guidance from partner Jamie Wine, worked with Jacqueline over a period of three years. During this time, they built a strong relationship with their client and worked tirelessly to advocate for her release, focusing on both a Domestic Violence Survivors’ Justice Act (DVSJA) resentencing motion and a clemency grant as possible pathways to her freedom.
Both options posed significant challenges: while a DVSJA motion would reduce Jacqueline’s sentence, resulting in her release for time served under the more favorable DVSJA sentencing guidelines, it would also have required a difficult and retraumatizing resentencing hearing. A clemency grant, meanwhile, relied entirely on the discretion of the governor’s office, and necessitated an enormous amount of work with no guarantee that it would result in success given the low numbers of clemency grants awarded each year. The team ultimately decided to pursue the clemency path anyway, knowing that if it were unsuccessful, they could pivot to a DVSJA motion down the line. As part of this process, the Latham team worked on a comprehensive clemency application that included a video of Jacqueline and other survivor clemency applicants, engaged in extensive legal advocacy, and met with the governor’s clemency bureau.
The case for Jacqueline’s release was extraordinarily compelling. During their two-year relationship, Jacqueline’s partner had subjected her to intense physical abuse—including strangulation, one of the highest lethality risk 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 that she had obtained against him. 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 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. On December 21, 2022, Governor Hochul announced that she was granting clemency to Jaqueline, along with twelve others. Sanctuary and the Latham team were overjoyed with the news.
We are so thrilled to highlight the incredible work undertaken by Jaclyn, Melange, Wendy, Brittany, and Jamie. Thanks to their advocacy, Jacqueline was released and reunited with her family in January 2023. Staff members from Sanctuary were present alongside the Latham team to welcome Jacqueline home and join her and her family for Jacqueline’s first meal outside prison in over 10 years. It was truly incredible to witness firsthand the warmth and trust that had developed between the team and Jacqueline after their years of fighting together to correct this failure of our criminal legal system.
Director of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative Ross Kramer said,
“The Latham team’s outstanding legal work made a life-changing impact in this case. They believed in Jacqueline from the start, and they delivered. Their representation gave Jacqueline years of her life back, to spend with family, friends, and community. This would not have happened without the Latham team’s advocacy, creativity, and dedication.”
Latham’s Public Service Counsel and Director of Global Pro Bono Laura Atkinson-Hope concluded,
“Securing clemency for Ms. Smalls was the result of tremendous dedication and tireless effort from the team as well as incredible strategic guidance from Sanctuary for Families. I am so proud of everyone involved in achieving this result, and so grateful for our longstanding partnership with Sanctuary.”
To read more about this incredible case, including our interview with the team, please see here.
Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Latham & Watkins’ outstanding pro bono work.
Romy Felsen-Parsons is the Pro Bono Project Assistant at Sanctuary for Families.