Hogan Lovells: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Hogan Lovells and their team’s fantastic work in securing asylum for a Honduran survivor escaping extreme domestic abuse and gang violence.

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*

Assisting an Asylum Seeker Fleeing Domestic and Gang Violence

Representing survivors of severe abuse or trafficking seeking to secure asylum can be a legally and emotionally challenging process. It is also an exhilarating process that provides a unique opportunity for pro bono teams to engage in creative lawyering, build meaningful client relationships, and secure an outcome that is life-changing for a survivor. Asylum is often the only way survivors of severe violence and exploitation can find safety and stability for themselves and their children. Sanctuary for Families is incredibly grateful to the pro bono attorneys who volunteer to help the courageous survivors seeking refuge in the United States.

Sanctuary recently had the pleasure of working with a team of talented pro bono attorneys from Hogan Lovells LLP: Jonathan Wieder, Juan Moreno, Ian Lewis-Slammon, and supervising partner Dennis Tracey. This stellar team worked hand in hand with a Honduran survivor of extreme domestic abuse and gang violence, “Serena,” who ultimately successfully secured asylum in the United States.

Serena was born and raised in Honduras, where she began dating “B,” a prominent gang member in the area. As the relationship progressed, B started to subject Serena to violent physical and sexual abuse and repeatedly threatened her life. Due to B’s gang affiliations, he enlisted several other men to stalk and harass Serena, even during a stint of imprisonment. Serena, who had grown up in an area controlled by gang violence and had witnessed multiple murders in broad daylight, and whose brother had also been murdered by a gang member, was terrified of her abuser and the very credible threats he made upon her life. Her attempts to flee to neighboring countries resulted in periods of homelessness and multiple deportations back to Honduras, where her situation grew increasingly life-threatening. Ultimately, Serena was able to enter the United States and apply for asylum with the help of Sanctuary for Families.

The Hogan Lovells team took on Serena’s case in 2020 during the Trump administration and was immediately faced with a staggering challenge: then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recently stated that domestic violence survivors and gang violence survivors would not, as a general matter, be eligible for asylum protection. Serena’s case had been potentially stalled right out of the gate.

Undeterred, the attorneys got to work and began strategizing. Instead of building Serena’s asylum claim based on her experiences of domestic violence, they framed her claim upon the discrimination and antipathy she had experienced due to her gender in Honduras, the country with the highest femicide rates in Latin America. Building this claim involved careful planning around how to acquire police records and witness testimonies from Honduras without endangering any of Serena’s family members. With the administration’s change in 2021 and the onset of Covid in 2020, the team pivoted again. By the time Serena’s final claim was presented, after countless hours of research, pulling together supporting evidence and affidavits, and direct- and cross-examination practice with Serena, the ICE attorney from the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor stipulated asylum, agreeing that Serena’s claim was so strong that it did not need to be taken to a hearing.

When reflecting on their experience, Jonathan and Ian both expressed that it was a privilege to work with Serena on her case, highlighting her enormous role in its success. In a phone call, both attorneys also emphasized how critical Juan’s Spanish-speaking skills were in communicating with and building trust with the client, a monolingual Spanish speaker. Jonathan, a first-year associate when he was first staffed on the case, also credits Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project Pooja Asnani with her extensive expertise and for allowing the team to build a solid foundational understanding of asylum cases with which to move forward.

“At every stage in preparation for this case, I was impressed by the team’s trauma-informed approach to working with ‘Serena,’ their close attention to the fact evidence and legal arguments, and their dedication to this case and the client. I loved working with this team and would welcome any opportunity to work with them again.” -Pooja Asnani.

Hogan Lovells Partner Pieter Van Toll, who helps coordinate Hogan’s pro bono program, was thrilled with the outcome. “Peter [Bautz, who also helps coordinate Hogan’s pro bono work] and I congratulate the entire Hogan Lovells team for their excellent work winning asylum for a deserving immigrant. We are proud of the work Hogan Lovells has been doing with Sanctuary for Families on these types of asylum cases and other important issues and look forward to helping them on future matters.”

Sanctuary for Families is immeasurably grateful to our pro bono partners for their work supporting survivors. It has been a pleasure to work with this team, and we look forward to continuing our relationship with these attorneys and with Hogan Lovells in the future.

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

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Morton Bast: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Morton Bast and her amazing work on Sanctuary’s Family Law Project.

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!

As the pandemic worsened in 2020, it quickly became clear that the most vulnerable New Yorkers would disproportionately suffer the consequences of both the health crisis and the corresponding shutdown of the City. Non-profit legal and social services agencies immediately pivoted to triage mode as they worked double-time to meet the growing needs of the communities they served.

Recognizing the urgent need to provide additional support to these communities —and well-positioned to jump into the fray given its long-standing commitment to pro bono work—Cleary Gottlieb created the Cleary Gottlieb Fellowship Program in 2020. This groundbreaking new initiative places Cleary associates at legal services organizations for one year, providing critically needed legal work to underserved communities while enabling Cleary Fellows to continue expanding their skill sets and pursue their specific interests. The first cohort of Fellows dispersed across New York City, landing in organizations such as Brooklyn Defender Services, Everytown for Gun Safety, the International Refugee Assistance Project, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Vera Institute of Justice, and so many more.

Sanctuary for Families was the lucky recipient of a Cleary Fellow and Columbia Law graduate Morton Bast. As a Cleary associate, Morton had worked pro bono on an asylum case with Sanctuary and participated several times in Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Project, providing comprehensive immigration screenings and consultations to defendants in the Queens Human Trafficking Intervention Court. “Every time it was Cleary’s turn to participate, really, I signed up because I found the clinic so impactful,” Morton explains. “So when the Fellowship opportunity was created, Sanctuary was the first organization that came to mind. Although I’d really enjoyed these immigration cases, I ended up signing up for Sanctuary’s Family Law Project because it would allow me to hone my litigation skills as well.”

Morton Bast

Morton’s arrival could not have come at a better time. Sanctuary’s Director of the Bronx and Manhattan Legal Project & Policy, Jennifer Friedman, recalls, “Morton came to us early in the pandemic, at a time where our entire office had to pivot to being online and the physical courts had just closed, so the only way for litigants to file petitions was online. We were really in an ‘all hands on deck’ situation, and Morton was hugely valuable and integral to our work during this time.” Morton was quickly tasked with conducting initial legal screenings and drafting petitions for the many survivors who had no other place to seek help once the courts physically closed and stopped providing pro se assistance to unrepresented litigants. Faced with unprecedented and urgent client situations, Morton also offered critical support in conducting research, drafting motions, and assisting pro se clients with safety planning and navigating the ever-changing landscape of the new virtual court system.

From Morton’s perspective, the experience was a crash course in direct client contact and the stark differences it poses to other types of legal work. “Most of the billable work I had been doing as a junior associate was not direct client contact – I spent most of my time working with people who are also doing their day jobs,” Morton says. “Whereas at Sanctuary, these are problems in people’s own lives that they can’t step away from at the end of the day, so it’s easier to become even more invested very quickly.” 

When asked about the most gratifying aspect of this type of work, Morton pointed to the satisfaction of using her legal skills and background to help people solve real problems in their lives.

“Gender-based violence issues have always been of great interest to me, but I never really considered that they could be something I could use my legal skills for.” – Morton Bast

Morton approached each survivor interaction with compassion, patience, and a mindset of trauma-informed, client-centered advocacy. Jennifer recalls one client with whom Morton worked for close to an entire year, who was deeply traumatized by her experiences of domestic violence and, as a result, extremely anxious about testifying in court. Morton worked extensively with the client for hours at a time to prepare her for trial at her own pace. Jennifer explains, “One of the major challenges of this case was that the client was not able to share her experiences in the typical structure of a direct examination, i.e. broken up into pieces in response to the attorney’s questions; she really needed to get into the zone and just deliver her story all at once. So rather than trying to force that, Morton and our team reconstructed the direct examination to allow the client to be the most comfortable telling her story on her own terms.” 

Through these experiences and more, Morton gradually became an attorney with highly specialized knowledge of Family Law, even taking two of her clients from Sanctuary back to Cleary to continue working on their cases pro bono after her Fellowship ended. Jennifer notes, ”We’re so grateful to Cleary for enabling this Fellowship. Now when we work with Morton as a pro bono, she is fully trained and can operate on a high level on really sophisticated cases and be familiar with our approach and philosophy.” From her perspective as a Fellow and now a pro bono attorney, Morton adds, “Working full-time at Sanctuary allowed me to see the symbiotic relationship between law firm pro bono work and the organization. I think when you’re working in a firm on pro bono matters, you worry, ‘Am I just doing this for myself, to make myself feel good?’ But I realized when I was at Sanctuary that the organization can’t work at the volume it works at without pro bonos, so it really is an important and mutually beneficial relationship.” 

Cleary’s Director of Pro Bono Katherine Hughes provided her perspective on Morton’s work with Sanctuary. “Watching Morton grow as an attorney during her Cleary Fellowship rotation at Sanctuary for Families has been a tremendous highlight for me during these past two challenging years. She naturally has a sense of confidence and lightness that brings her clients comfort in what are arguably some of their darkest hours. However, the Fellowship experience at Sanctuary and her clients and mentors have clearly shaped her into a smarter, more resilient litigator. She speaks so highly of the experience and continues to represent several of her clients with equal measures of grace, intelligence, and patience. Cleary is so grateful for the ways the Fellowship has strengthened our relationship with Sanctuary and for all that Morton has brought back to the firm from it.”

We are so grateful to Cleary for enabling this opportunity to work with such a talented, kind, and skilled associate and to Morton for all of her efforts throughout the Fellowship. We look forward to continuing our relationships with Morton and Cleary well into the future!

Advocating for Survivors Before the U.S. Supreme Court

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Karen R. King and her multi-year effort to ensure a domestic violence survivor and her child can remain safely in the U.S.

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!

Karen King is no stranger to appearing in court. Her 20 plus years of experience in complex commercial and regulatory litigation have seen her through successful tenures at firms such as Cravath, Paul, Weiss and now Morvillo Abramowitz; she has been recognized as a “Notable Woman in Law” by Crain’s New York Business, and she received the Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service from the Federal Bar Council in 2019, as well as the Pro Bono award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

However, March 22, 2022 found this seasoned litigator on new terrain: arguing a family law case on child abduction in front of the United States Supreme Court.

Karen R. King

Rewind four years, and Karen, then Counsel at Paul, Weiss, was introduced to her client Narkis Golan. Sanctuary for Families referred Ms. Golan to Paul, Weiss in September 2018 after she fled Italy and her abusive husband, Jacky Saada, with her two-year-old son. Mr. Saada filed a petition for return of the child under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. A large trial team at Paul, Weiss led by Karen put on Ms. Golan’s defense, including a chilling record of violence and abusive behavior by Mr. Saada, often in front of the child. Ultimately, the District Court found serious and persistent domestic violence and determined that Ms. Golan’s son would be at grave risk of exposure to physical and/or psychological harm if returned to Italy, but the court nonetheless granted the return petition subject to certain “ameliorative measures”.

The decision was appealed and the Second Circuit held that the original ameliorative measures were not enforceable and did not have sufficient guarantees of performance. The case was remanded back to the District Court to develop new ameliorative measures. The parties continued to litigate the issue for two and a half more years. It became evident that the exercise of crafting ameliorative measures despite the grave-risk finding sourced to domestic violence was deeply problematic. There was also a Circuit split on whether mandatory consideration of ameliorative measures is consistent with the Hague Convention. Ms. Golan’s team ultimately petitioned the Supreme Court on that question and in December 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case, setting the stage for the rare opportunity to plead Ms. Golan’s case before the highest Court—something no one would have imagined when the case began in fall 2018. Karen, who had vigorously represented Ms. Golan over four years of litigation, was entrusted with the oral argument.

We sat down with Karen to hear more about the experience.

You have been involved in and recognized for your pro bono work, representing clients who are survivors of domestic violence, students with learning disabilities, victims of gun violence, targets of discrimination, and prisoners on civil rights issues.

What is something that appeals to you about pro bono work and why have you made it a priority in your career?

KK: Pro bono work is a great opportunity to do some good, to help people in need, and really make a difference in people’s lives. There are so many worthwhile causes and issues that could use help from the legal sector. I’ve always found it really important that lawyers be involved in matters broader than their day jobs. It’s also a great way for attorneys, especially young attorneys, to expand their knowledge base and skill set and get valuable opportunities to argue in court and try cases.

What has been one of the greatest challenges of pro bono work?

KK: Finding time can be tough; pro bono work has to be balanced with regular work and personal life obligations. And there is usually so much on the line in pro bono cases—you’re often looking at issues of liberty and life, family life, livelihood, etc. So there’s a strong emotional element.

Karen King arguing before SCOTUS on behalf of Sanctuary Client Narkis Golan. (Art Lien)

You worked on this case since Sanctuary first referred it to you, and continued representing Ms. Golan even through a change of firms. What was your experience like working with Ms. Golan on the case from its first trial all the way through to your SCOTUS argument?

KK: A lawyer’s relationship with her client is special.  You go through a lot together.  Inevitably, you build a very strong personal relationship which can be challenging but also rewarding. You become personally invested in the case and your client’s life, and sometimes that also demands personal sacrifice—time with your own family and vacations, etc.

How did you and Ms. Golan maintain your momentum throughout this four-year process?

KK: I think it’s not about momentum as much as it is about resilience—we vowed to keep fighting and not to give up. There was really no option for us to give up, not when the safety of a child is what’s on the line.

85% of the lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court are men, almost all of them white. Can you talk about what the experience of arguing in front of the Supreme Court as a woman of color meant to you personally and professionally?

KK: It certainly is the dream of many litigators, and I think the Supreme Court should be a place that is accessible and welcoming to all lawyers.  It is an amazing experience and for those lucky enough to have a case accepted for argument, they should have that moment.  I’m very grateful to my client that she asked me to do it.  I think every litigator brings something different to the table.  As a woman and mother, I probably approach the case a little differently, or present it a little differently, than another lawyer might.  Given the issues in this case, I think it was very nice to have a female advocate.  And I hope I was able to lend a voice to the many women who are invested in or will be affected by the outcome of this case.


Listen to Karen’s SCOTUS Oral Argument

Sanctuary Announces New Co-Chair of the Pro Bono Council

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of December 2020, Victoria Abraham, associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, is serving as PBC Co-Chair.

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of December 2020, Victoria Abraham, associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP,  is serving as PBC Co-Chair along with Sharon Barbour, associate at Cohen & Gresser, LLP, who has served as PBC Co-Chair since January 2019.

Victoria succeeds Louisa Irving, who served as Co-Chair of the PBC from January 2018 to October 2020.  We are very grateful for Louisa’s outstanding dedication and leadership over the past two years.

About the PBC

The PBC was formed in 2003 as the Associate’s Committee, later changed to the Pro Bono Council and currently known as the PBC, with the goal of bringing together young professionals committed to supporting and promoting the work of Sanctuary through active community engagement, pro bono projects, and client-centered events. The PBC currently has approximately 25 active members. Each fall, the PBC hosts the Above and Beyond benefit, an event that supports the Legal Center by honoring the pro bono lawyers and other volunteers who have worked on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients during the past year. This year’s Above & Beyond event raised over $200,000 in support of the Legal Center.

Introducing Victoria

Victoria has been passionate about gender equality and gender-based violence since college. She first learned about Sanctuary while at Harvard Law School during a class on sex equality taught by feminist scholar and activist Catharine MacKinnon. After graduating and joining Skadden as an associate in the Mergers and Acquisitions group, she connected with Sanctuary and became part of the PBC in 2016.

Victoria studied journalism and Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada and it was her experiences working at a radio station in Gulu, Uganda after graduating that inspired her to pursue a law degree.

“Working and living in Uganda made me realize that I wanted to have a more substantive understanding of how the law shapes society,” she recounts. “In my reporting, I came across situations where it seemed like Ugandan women and girls seemed to not be able to enjoy the same rights of citizenship as Ugandan men and the law seemed essential for understanding why that was the case.” Through her work at the radio station reporting on various aspects of life in Gulu, Uganda, Victoria realized that she was not satisfied with only telling someone’s story but that she also wanted to have tangible, lasting positive impacts on people’s lives. Her experience in Gulu inspired Victoria to spend her 1L summer at the Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, where she had the opportunity to work on a class action case on the denial of Anti-Retroviral treatment to women working in the sex industry.

She has continued to passionately pursue this goal through her pro bono work, where her focus is predominantly on immigration matters. Her fluency in Russian enables her to work with LGBTQ asylum seekers and Violence Against Women Act clients from Russia and former Soviet Union countries.

“Working with pro bono clients is very rewarding because you get to help an extremely strong person who has gone through a lot. It’s so rewarding to build relationships with clients and give them a chance to make their life what they want it to be.” — Victoria.

Victoria also brings new insight to her pro bono work through her background in journalism, as demonstrated by her empathetic approach to interviewing clients and crafting compelling stories that are true to their experiences.

An active member of the PBC, Victoria served as Co-chair of the Above and Beyond Gala for the past two years and is eager to take on this new leadership role. Her goals for her time as PBC Co-chair include positioning the PBC as an anti-racist arm of Sanctuary and increasing the council’s diversity. She also hopes to increase membership engagement across the board. Ultimately, she wants the PBC to be a vibrant, constructive community that showcases all of Sanctuary’s invaluable work.

Please join us in welcoming Victoria as PBC Co-chair!