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 fights for trafficking survivor whose testimony led to successful prosecution of international trafficking ring

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

Sarah Pfuhl is a former partner in WilmerHale’s Investigations and Criminal Litigation group.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

For more than six years, the Simpson Thacher team has worked tirelessly to obtain T-visas, and later legal permanent residency, for Maria and her young daughter, Estella. With Simpson’s guidance, Maria provided invaluable evidence and testimony to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York during the course of two major criminal investigations, ensuring that the man who trafficked her and other senior members of his trafficking ring were extradited from Mexico and brought to justice. 

The Simpson Thacher team included pro bono counsel Harlene Katzman; partner Mark Stein; associates Matthew Levy, Kristina Green, Alyssa Watzman (formerly of Simpson), Lara Pomerantz (formerly of Simpson), and Jonathan Lieberman (formerly of Simpson); former pro bono specialist Carola Beeney; and former pro bono coordinator Hillary Chadwick.

Breaking free from her traffickers

After being trafficked to the U.S. from Mexico by the notoriously brutal Granados-Hernandez sex trafficking syndicate, Maria spent more than ten years being victimized by her pimp and other members of the syndicate. Finally, fearing for the safety of her young daughter who was still in Mexico, Maria found the courage to flee to the Mexican consulate in New York.  The Mexican consulate reached out to Sanctuary for Families and Sanctuary’s immigration and anti-trafficking staff immediately mobilized, moving Maria into a Sanctuary shelter to keep her safe.

A law firm able to help Maria – and help take down a trafficking syndicate

The next steps would be complicated, as the Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Lori Cohen, explained:

“In addition to her own legal and immigration issues as a trafficking victim stranded in the U.S., we realized Maria brought with her a huge trove of potential evidence against the Granados-Hernandez trafficking ring.  We needed a law firm that could not only handle the immigration issues Maria was facing, but also wade through a mountain of evidence and help Maria assist the U.S. authorities in what could potentially be a huge take-down of an international trafficking syndicate.  We knew Simpson Thacher would be able to handle this kind of complex case.”

The Simpson team dug into Maria’s case, helping her navigate meetings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security investigators, as well as federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York, as they all worked to develop criminal cases against members of the syndicate with Maria as a key source of information.  At the same time, Simpson worked to successfully obtain a T-visa for Maria, and T-derivative status for her daughter, who had been paroled into the U.S., ensuring that they were reunited and could remain in the U.S. together legally.

Justice is done

The information Maria provided was instrumental to the charges announced at the end of 2012 by the then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, against multiple members of two Mexican trafficking rings, including Maria’s own trafficker, Antonio Lira-Robles.

Despite already successfully obtaining a T-visa for Maria and T-derivative status for her daughter, the Simpson team continued working with Maria to help her prepare a victim impact statement and were at her side when she stood up in Brooklyn District Court to speak at the 2014 sentencing hearing of her trafficker.  The Simpson team was at Maria’s side again two years later when she spoke at the sentencing hearing of the mastermind of the trafficking ring, Paulino Ramirez-Granados.  Ultimately, both Antonio Lira-Robles and Paulino Ramirez-Granados were sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to Maria in the sum of $1.2 million each.

In the midst of all of this, Maria learned she had Stage III breast cancer.  The Simpson team didn’t waver, working to quickly finalize and file permanent residency applications for both Maria and Estella while Maria underwent chemotherapy.  Tireless advocates for their client, the Simpson team coordinated with Maria’s doctors and provided Maria with critical emotional support.  When Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were filed in October 2014, Simpson requested expedited review, unsure whether or not Maria’s cancer treatment would be successful.

Rebuilding

By the time Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were granted nine months later, Maria’s cancer was in remission and she and her daughter had started to rebuild their life.

For more than six years the Simpson team fought for Maria and her daughter every step of the way.  Today Maria is cancer free.  She has witnessed her trafficker successfully prosecuted and sent to jail (along with other members of his trafficking ring), and seen her daughter flourish.

Earlier this year, in a fitting end to Maria’s brave journey, members of the Simpson team were on hand to celebrate as Maria got married.  The Honorable Judge Pamela Chen, who had been one of two lead E.D.N.Y. prosecutors on the team that put Maria’s trafficker in jail, officiated at the wedding.

Reflecting on his experience working on Maria’s case, Simpson associate Matthew Levy, said:

“Maria was extremely brave to endure the case after what she has been through.  I am glad that our team was able to play a part in helping Maria and Estella get their lives back.”

Maria is certainly glad as well. When asked about her legal team, Maria praised their skill and commitment saying:

“I am grateful to the Simpson Thacher legal team for helping me with such a long and complicated case. It has been so many years, but Simpson has supported and protected me at every turn. Thanks to them, I have been able to start a new life with my husband and daughter.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Simpson Thatcher team’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event 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.

 

Simpson Thacher Associate Caroline Gross Honored for Her Commitment to Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Work

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Simpson Thacher associate Caroline Gross for her outstanding commitment to supporting survivors of sex trafficking.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Simpson Thacher associate Caroline Gross for her outstanding commitment to supporting survivors of sex trafficking. Caroline was a key member of the Simpson Thacher team that worked to get Sanctuary’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project off the ground, and has been an incredible advocate for victims of trafficking identified through that Project. Caroline’s enthusiasm, warmth, and language skills have enabled her to gain the trust of women who have faced extreme hardship, and her continuing representation of these clients has made an incredible impact on their lives. 

Launching the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts Pro Bono Project

caroline-grossIn 2013, the New York State judiciary launched the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts (HTICs), a pioneering initiative to help survivors of sex trafficking break the cycle of exploitation. Through the HTIC, survivors are connected to legal and social services including counseling, case management, public benefits advocacy, and housing assistance. The guiding principle of the HTICs is that individuals arrested on prostitution charges should not be treated as criminals, but as victims and survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and screened for human trafficking.

Soon after the HTICs began operating, Sanctuary partnered with several law firms in New York City, including Simpson Thacher, to launch the Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project. Under Sanctuary supervision, pro bono attorneys from these law firms meet at the New York City Family Justice Center in Queens to provide in-depth immigration consultations to the large number of foreign-born defendants who pass through the Queens HTIC each month.

The success of Sanctuary’s HTIC Project in Queens is due in large part to the dedication of pro bono attorneys like Caroline. Since the Project’s inception, Caroline has been a critical advocate and organizer at Simpson Thacher—recruiting and coordinating numerous Simpson Thacher attorneys to participate, generating enthusiasm among her colleagues, and ensuring that the HTIC pro bono clinic in Queens is fully staffed by trained, compassionate pro bono attorneys.

Advocating for all

Caroline has conducted many screening interviews of HTIC defendants over the past two years, often in Spanish (in which she is fluent), and has had multiple clients open up about their experiences—something which is quite difficult to do with traumatized victims of trafficking who are caught up in a criminal justice system they may not understand or trust. Melissa Brennan, the Deputy Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary, added that,

“Of the more than 200 lawyers who volunteer with Sanctuary’s Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project, Caroline stands out for her unwavering dedication to our work as well as her natural ability to build rapport with clients. Displaying great humility and compassion, Caroline has managed to win the trust of even the most fearful immigrant victims of sex trafficking.”

Securing “T nonimmigrant status”

Caroline’s commitment to assisting trafficking survivors extends well beyond the screenings she conducts through the HTIC Project. Presently, Caroline represents two clients that she identified through HTIC Project screening who are eligible for “T nonimmigrant status,” a form of immigration relief for undocumented survivors of trafficking who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Both clients confided in Caroline about their experiences during their intake interviews, and it became clear to her and Sanctuary that these clients had strong claims for immigration relief.  “It’s exciting when you’re doing the intake and can see that there is actually something you can do to help,” said Caroline.

Gender identity and name change

Caroline and others at Simpson Thacher have been working hard to prepare strong applications for both clients, and have assisted them with other legal issues that have come up. For example, when her transgender female client expressed interest in legally changing her name to reflect her gender identity, Caroline quickly agreed to assist.

Vacating fines and criminal charges

She also successfully advocated for the same client when she found out that the client owed a fine of several hundred dollars in connection with a prostitution-related offense in Florida, which was a direct result of her being trafficked. Caroline and her teammate’s advocacy led to the Florida judge waiving the outstanding fine and effectively erasing what had been a major stressor in this client’s life.

For another client from Mexico, Caroline and others at Simpson Thacher have been helping her navigate the process of having her criminal charges dismissed, as well as the process of trying to reunite her with her daughter who lives in Mexico and whom she has not seen in 8 years. For Caroline, being able to reunite this family is an exciting and incredibly rewarding part of her pro bono work.

“Working on pro bono matters with Sanctuary has provided me with opportunities to make a difference in the lives of individuals. I enjoy working with Sanctuary because of their dedication to helping clients in all facets of their lives.”

Caroline particularly enjoys working with victims of trafficking because, “trafficking is such a huge issue facing our world today.” To work on these matters, Caroline says, is to be “reminded of why we wanted to be lawyers—to be involved in helping to change people’s lives for the better.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Simpson Thacher’s outstanding pro bono work. 

Jaclyn Neely is a litigation associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  She works on a number of pro bono matters with Sanctuary, including the Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project, and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.