Simpson Thacher Attorneys Help Secure Release of Incarcerated Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a compassionate and perseverant team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP and Fincap Law who helped to secure the release of their incarcerated pro bono client Marie A.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a compassionate and perseverant team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (“STB”) and Fincap Law who helped to secure the release of their incarcerated pro bono client Marie A.  The team includes attorneys from Fincap (Ellen Frye) and STB (Mark Stein, Sara Ricciardi, Jerry Fang, Shanice Hinckson, and former associates Sara Estela, Arielle Herzberg, and Rachel Fleder).

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” This was the mantra of the STB/Fincap team representing Marie A. over the course of two separate matters.  And succeed they did.

After an unexpectedly hard-fought and ultimately unsuccessful contested hearing seeking Marie’s release from prison under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (“DVSJA”), all hope appeared to be lost. But the team quickly pivoted to help prepare Marie for her parole hearing at Albion Correctional Facility.  What drove Marie and the team to success? It was the close attorney-client bond that was formed through the face of adversity, and Marie’s continued perseverance.

Former STB Counsel & current Head of Antitrust & Americas at Fincap, Ellen Frye, recounts: “We were devastated after the DVSJA decision and felt like we failed our client. But Marie was upbeat and so grateful for our help.  She always remained positive and level-headed.  We knew that we could not give up on her.”

Marie met her boyfriend at a bar after separating from her husband and father to her five children. The relationship quickly took a turn for the worse.  Marie was brutally abused physically and sexually by her domestic partner, including at times in front of her children and while she was pregnant. Feeling she had no other option, Marie sought help from employees at the bar where she worked. The group then proceeded to kill Marie’s domestic partner and was arrested and prosecuted for their acts. Marie was convicted of second-degree murder and spent more than 18 years in prison, where she struggled terribly. She was in constant pain and rarely slept through the night. An unlikely ally helped secure her release by convincing Sanctuary and the STB/Fincap team to take on her case – Marie’s husband!

The team spent months with Marie working on her DVSJA application during the height of the COVID pandemic and frequently traveled back-and-forth to Albion, NY to meet with their client. The DVSJA permits judges to reduce criminal sentences if the applicant was “a victim of domestic violence subjected to substantial physical, sexual or psychological abuse inflicted by a member of the same family or household,” the abuse was “a significant contributing factor” to the crime, and, after taking all the circumstances into account, the sentence is “unduly harsh.”  Marie seemed like a perfect candidate for the new law.

But rather than support Marie’s application, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office opposed the application, leading to a highly contentious hearing in which Marie testified about her traumatic past and was forced to relive her nightmares based on the People’s aggressive approach.  Unfortunately, the court did not rule in Marie’s favor, but this was a mere setback.

“We were never defeated because Marie was never defeated.  We always wanted to figure out the next steps so that we could prevail.” – Shanice Hinckson, STB Associate

And the next step was indeed successful. Marie was eligible for early release on parole based on her impeccable disciplinary and programmatic record while incarcerated, and the STB/Fincap team immediately transitioned their focus to her upcoming hearing. The attorney-client pairing worked relentlessly to craft the strongest narrative possible. And the team contacted Marie’s friends, family, defense attorney, and local advocacy organizations to gather letters of support to present to the Parole Board. Everyone’s hard work and dedication paid off when Marie was released from Albion this past May!

Sanctuary for Families Director of Legal Center, Dorchen Leidholdt, remarked on how extraordinarily rare it was for someone convicted of second-degree murder to be released on parole in their first attempt and recognized the crucial role the team played:

“Gold standard lawyering with a thoroughly compassionate client management approach.” – Dorchen Leidholdt, Sanctuary Legal Director

After Marie was released from prison, she moved back in with her husband on Long Island. She informed Sanctuary and the legal team that it was like she never left.  She says that while her body was in prison, her heart was always home. And now she is home as well, and she can sleep through the night again.

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on Oct. 26, 2021, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Fincap’s outstanding pro bono work outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

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

Justin is a proud member of the PBC and co-chair of Above and Beyond.

Simpson Thacher Secures T-Visa for Survivor Despite Many Setbacks

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (“Simpson Thacher”) for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Talia” to obtain T Nonimmigrant status.

Nicole Vescova an associate in the Labor & Employment group at Ellenoff Grossman & Schole LLP where she represents and advises businesses in all industries. She is also a member of the Pro Bono Counsel.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (“Simpson Thacher”) for their compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Talia” to obtain T Nonimmigrant status. The team consisted of Pro Bono Counsel Harlene Katzman, and associates, Dan Levien and Daniel Owsley at Simpson Thacher.

Talia was a young teenager living in her home country when Andrew professed his love for her and asked him to move in with his family. Talia accepted Andrew’s offer, leaving behind her abusive childhood home. Soon after Talia gave birth to their daughter, Andrew convinced Talia that they should head to the United States to seek work and build a better life for their family. Talia knew her daughter was too young to make the dangerous journey across the border, and although hesitant to leave her daughter, Andrew’s forceful urgings to leave and promises that the daughter would be cared for convinced Talia to follow him. Unbeknownst to Talia, Andrew and his family were traffickers.

Talia arrived to America without having any knowledge of the English language or any ties to the country, and most heart wrenching, without her daughter. Immediately, Andrew and his family began harassing Talia, telling her that she owed them a debt for getting her into the country and threatening that they would harm her daughter if she did not pay up. Talia felt trapped, worn down and terrified, and was ultimately forced to “work” in a brothel at Andrew’s demand.

After about a year of being sex trafficked, Talia escaped and went into hiding. Displeased with Talia’s actions, Andrew’s family began harassing Talia’s mother, who was caring for Talia’s daughter back in their home country.  Desperate to see her daughter, Talia took the risk to return home, praying she would not be seen but was unfortunately spotted by her traffickers. Andrew’s family continued to threaten her. Realizing she was not safe there, she again returned to the United States.

When originally referred to Simpson Thacher in 2014, the attorneys thought Talia’s application for T Nonimmigrants Status was straightforward. All were surprised when the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied her application claiming that she was not present in the U.S. on account of trafficking. Undeterred, Simpson Thacher submitted a motion to reconsider, arguing that USCIS erroneously interpreted the applicable law; Talia had been effectively chased out of her home country by her trafficker’s family. Although the motion was extremely well-written and compelling, that motion was also unfortunately denied by USCIS.

The team was back to square one – but their commitment never wavered. Without T-Visa status Talia would be vulnerable in the US, and if deported back to her home country, her safety was in grave danger.

The team decided to take a different approach. Despite her fear of retaliation, Talia cooperated with law enforcement. Harlene Katzman of the team states that Talia was an extremely motivated and protective mother – “everything she did was orientated towards the safety of her daughter.” She ultimately received continued presence from the Government, which the team used to file a second application for T Nonimmigrants Status.

Talia remained strong throughout the difficult process where she had to re-hash the abuse and exploitation she previously suffered, and the Simpson Thacher team stayed by her side the whole time. Finally, USCIS granted Talia’s second application for T Nonimmigrant Status and granted derivative status to her daughter. Talia and her daughter were reunited this summer, after many years of living apart and in fear.

Jessica-Wind Abolafia, of Sanctuary for Families, applauds the skills, strategy, and perseverance the Simpson Thacher team brought to the matter.

“The team was ready to move mountains – they never gave up. The client knew she had a team that was going to bat for her, and this was crucial in getting her through such a difficult time.” — Jessica-Wind Abolafia, Sanctuary Anti-Trafficking Initiative Director.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Harlene, Dan, and Daniel. 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.

Simpson Thacher Team Work With Survivors to Share Compelling Stories of VAWA’s Impact

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett attorneys for their pro bono work collecting invaluable personal testimony from survivors of domestic violence.Read to learn more.

Rachel Hauser is the Manager of Institutional Giving at Kaufman Music Center where she supports the Center’s educational and artistic programming through grant proposals and in-person solicitations. She is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in violin and viola performance. She is also the daughter of a Simpson Thacher & Bartlett alumna.

At this year’s Above and Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett attorneys for their pro bono work collecting invaluable personal testimony from survivors of domestic violence.

These accounts demonstrate firsthand the vital role played by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in protecting survivors of domestic violence. Former Associate Elizabeth Wilkerson, along with Rui Xie and Staci Cox (then Summer Associates and now Associates), guided by Pro Bono Counsel and Director Harlene Katzman, Pro Bono Manager Susan Cordaro, and Pro Bono Coordinator Maria Gonzalez, interviewed 15 women who, with the assistance of pro bono legal services, had utilized provisions available under VAWA to escape their abusers, obtain legal immigration status, and transition to successful and empowered lives.

Establishing the impact of VAWA on Survivors of Domestic Violence

The passage of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 marked the first comprehensive federal legislative package designed to end violence against women, improve criminal justice responses to domestic violence, and increase the availability of services to its survivors. Since first enacted, the bill has been reauthorized four times—with bi-partisan support, and despite vocal opposition from some members of Congress.

As VAWA comes up for reauthorization again this year, and as the current political climate threatens the future of many individuals protected by VAWA, Simpson Thacher’s pro bono team eagerly volunteered to gather personal accounts from survivors of domestic violence whose stories might  help others understand the value of the life-saving provisions within VAWA.

The project began with personal meetings between the Simpson Thacher team and each of the 15 project participants, the majority of whom had been served by Sanctuary for Families through its legal services program.  The women came forward to share their experiences, and the Simpson Thacher team went to great lengths to ensure their safety, comfort, and trust throughout the interview process. The Simpson Thacher attorneys all noted the incredible strength and bravery shown by each woman in her willingness to recap her most traumatic life events in order to increase awareness of the benefits of VAWA and protect others still seeking help.

All 15 women were able to utilize the provisions set by VAWA to obtain legal immigration status (if necessary), stay united with their families, and seek better emotional and economic futures. Thus, as the Pro Bono team recorded these difficult accounts of trauma and terror, they also heard extraordinary stories of subsequent transformation and empowerment celebrated by the women, obtained after they achieved justice and independence from their abusers.

Survivors of Domestic Abuse are not the only Individuals Impacted by VAWA

Equally important to the legal, economic and emotional independence described in the women’s accounts of their decision to come forward and report the violence that had been perpetrated against them was an understanding that VAWA allowed them to speak up in the first place, and to cooperate and assist law enforcement. Successful law enforcement efforts depend on the authorities’ ability to access and connect with those our laws are intended to serve.

In the interviews, the Simpson Thacher team was able to collect specific examples of how VAWA enabled survivors to confidently assist law enforcement officials in bringing their abusers to justice and ensuring that they could no longer prey on others. As one of the survivors said in her interview:

VAWA empowered me to cooperate with the prosecution of my abuser without fear, care for my children, and live the American dream by starting a business that employs 70 people today.”

An Empowered Community

In addition to meeting with the women individually, Simpson Thacher also hosted two events—at the outset and conclusion of the project—to allow all of the participants to know that they were not alone in their experiences.  At those two breakfast meetings, the women shared their personal stories and accomplishments, and  offered encouragement, understanding, and support to each other.  Through this shared experience, they were able to connect the importance of VAWA to others in addition to themselves, and were eager to become engaged in the collective work being done to reauthorize the law.

The entire Simpson Thacher team agreed that working with these women strongly reinforced their understanding of the importance of pro bono representation to obtain relief for domestic violence victims, and the need to continue the protections that allowed these women to live free from violence and manipulation. The attorneys  were also reminded of the fact that the simple action of taking a pro bono call can make a life-changing difference in the life of another person, and give them the pathway to establishing independence and achieving her dreams.

The important storytelling work done by the Simpson Thacher team has made one thing clear: the protections of VAWA are critical to helping victims of domestic violence break free from the cycle of violence and transform their lives. VAWA provides the tools that law enforcement, organizations like Sanctuary for Families, and legal teams like that at Simpson Thacher who represent individuals pro bono can access to help protect and empower survivors. In the words of another survivor interview by Simpson:

VAWA allowed me and my daughter to reimagine our lives, free from violence, and to rewrite our future, not as victims but as productive members of society.”  

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Simpson Thacher’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.