Simpson Thacher Secures T-Visa Immigration Status for Labor Trafficking Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary will honor a Simpson Thacher team for their patient and compassionate pro bono representation.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (“Simpson Thacher”) for their patient and compassionate pro bono representation of “Sylvia” in obtaining T Nonimmigrant status. The team consisted of Partner, Leanne Welds; Of Counsel, Mark J. Stein; and former Associate, Suzy R. Yaster.

At the age of 13, Sylvia was forced into an arranged marriage—an event that commenced years of forced labor and abuse in and between Sylvia’s home country and the United States. Following the marriage, Sylvia was immediately taken out of school and moved from her childhood home into the home of her new in-laws, where she was forced to work in domestic servitude for the remainder of her teenage years. In her early twenties, Sylvia was sent to care for her then-ill husband and trafficker in the United States, a country where she knew no one. Her time spent in the United States provided no reprieve for Sylvia. She was kept isolated, preventing her from building any community; subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse; and forced to work at the bequest and under the complete control of her trafficker-husband. Sylvia ultimately bore two children by her abuser.

Notwithstanding these painful circumstances, Sylvia’s children are her pride and joy, and were a primary motivation for her bravely seeking assistance to find a safe home for her and her children away from her abusive husband. In 2018, Sylvia was fortuitously connected with Simpson Thacher subsequent to a referral to Sanctuary’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court Clinic in Queens by a partnering organization. Sylvia was immediately identified as a potential trafficking victim. During her intake, Sylvia shared parts of her deeply complex story for the first time with now Partner, Leanne Welds. When Sanctuary for Families sought to refer the matter to the firm, Simpson Thacher generously agreed to assist Sylvia with her application for T Nonimmigrant Status on a pro bono basis.

From the outset, the Simpson Thacher team built rapport with Sylvia, earning her trust and beginning to unravel Sylvia’s story. Over the next four years, Sylvia courageously fled her trafficker with her children, shared her story with legal authorities, and applied for immigration status based on the human trafficking crimes that were committed against her. The Simpson Thacher team spent many hours with Sylvia, preparing the supporting affidavit needed to apply for T Nonimmigrant Status and preparing her to report the crimes against her and respond to questions from the US Attorney’s Office (“USAO”). From conducting mock interviews, to supporting Sylvia at the interview with the USAO, to the careful preparation and submission of Sylvia’s application, Welds described the entire process as a labor of love by the entire Simpson Thacher team. Ultimately, Simpson Thacher’s efforts were successful as Sylvia’s T Nonimmigrant Status application was approved earlier this year.

Welds, Stein and Yaster expressed gratitude for having the opportunity to represent and support Sylvia over the past few years. Welds noted,

“This experience truly highlights that our impact in the world should not always be measured by its breadth but also its depth. Obtaining T Nonimmigrant Status was a life-changing and live-saving experience for Sylvia and her children, an outcome that would likely not have been achieved without significant time commitment and devotion to building the strongest case for Sylvia’s circumstance.”

Jessica-Wind Abolafia, Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, concluded,

“I applaud the Simpson Thacher team for their deeply compassionate, skilled, and patient advocacy. Their steadfast and dedicated representation allowed them to support Sylvia in disclosing her story and even to find healing during the process.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s outstanding pro bono work.



Nicole Vescova is an associate in the Miami office of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, and a member of its Labor & Employment Practice, where she regularly defends employers of all sizes and sectors against all types of employment claims. Nicole is also a member of Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Counsel.

Simpson Thacher’s Susan Cordaro Honored for Dedicated Representation of Survivors

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is thrilled to honor Susan M. Cordaro, Deputy Pro Bono Counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Susan M. Cordaro, Deputy Pro Bono Counsel at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, for her outstanding dedication to helping survivors of gender-based violence and her work with numerous pro bono clients within Sanctuary’s Family Law Project and Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project.

For several years, Susan Cordaro has provided compassionate and skilled legal services to dozens of Sanctuary’s clients, delivering trauma-informed legal advice and representation in a range of cases, including appeals, asylum matters, divorces, custody/visitation cases, and orders of protection.

In addition to representing survivors, Susan leads and coordinates the Sanctuary/Simpson Thacher Family Law Screening Project in the Bronx Family Justice Center (Bronx FJC). For the last several years, Simpson Thacher attorneys have participated in Bronx FJC legal screenings conducted by Sanctuary attorneys, during which Simpson Thacher volunteers take detailed notes and then assist with any follow-up pro se assistance or research that the client may need, including drafting pro se petitions. This Project has enhanced our ability to more significantly serve Bronx FJC clients and meet their needs. Susan’s leadership and commitment to the Project has been invaluable to its success. Susan doesn’t just manage the Project for Simpson Thacher, she also supervises, provides advice, and has herself volunteered to participate in many legal screenings. Susan has become so adept at understanding survivor legal needs that she has even started conducting legal screenings on her own.

Karla George, Associate Program Director of Sanctuary’s Bronx FJC Family Law Project, said,

“Susan’s leadership in supervising our screening clinic in the Bronx with Simpson Thacher has been outstanding and life-changing, supplementing our staff resources and enabling us to provide more and deeper services to clients. I have personally enjoyed this collaboration with Susan, who always shows up with positive energy and cares deeply about our clients. We are eternally grateful to Susan and her pro bono team!”

In addition to her work with the screening project, Susan was also nominated for an Above & Beyond award this year for providing direct representation to multiple survivors. She has been indispensable in many cases, and in particular on appeals from Family Court decisions. Two recent cases provide examples of Susan’s critical work with survivors and their families: a grandparent visitation petition won on appeal after the original petition had been dismissed, and a successful appeal from a final order of custody granted to our client.

In the first case, which Susan staffed in the Appellate Division along with Simpson Thacher  former associate Sara L. Estela, Litigation Counsel Sarah Phillips, and Retired Partner Mary Beth Forshaw, and then subsequently in the Family Court with associates Isabel R. Mattson, Lauren Smith, and former associate Rebecca Sussman, the court had originally determined that the grandmother of one of Sanctuary’s clients did not have standing to seek visitation with her grandson. This was particularly troubling given that the grandmother had helped to care for the child during the early years of his life when his father was either not present or was present but extremely abusive toward the child’s mother and neglectful toward his son. Despite this and as a result of a long and unsettling legal history, the father has full custody over the child while our client tragically lost her green card and is unable to re-enter the US to visit her son. Given these circumstances, being able to guarantee the grandmother’s continued presence in the child’s life was critical to his well-being. After two years, an appellate victory, numerous Family Court appearances after remand, and the commencement of a trial, Susan and the team were able to settle the case on very favorable terms.

Sanctuary Senior Staff Attorney Ruchama Cohen, who worked with Susan on this challenging case, said,

“I’m thrilled to see Susan Cordaro recognized for her exceptional work on behalf of our clients. Her skill in the courtroom is matched only by her compassion for her clients. Susan has been a long-time mentor for me personally, and she is an inspiration to those of us at Sanctuary who are privileged to work with her.”

On the second case, Susan won a successful appeal from a Final Order of Custody granted to a survivor in Bronx Family Court after an extensive, highly contested trial, in which the abusive father was granted only email contact with the child, with no visitation. In response to questioning from the bench during oral argument, Susan strategically suggested a tweak to the Order that was adopted by the Appellate Division and, therefore, saved the Order from being struck or remanded for additional hearings.

Senior Program Director of the Family Law Project, Jennifer Friedman, noted,

“This case was extremely hard fought, over many years. … This client and her daughter were severely traumatized by the father, but also by the case. If this case had been remanded, it would have been devastating to them both.”

Susan’s brilliant brief and litigation skills enabled the avoidance of an otherwise catastrophic outcome for this family. On working with Susan in general, Jennifer said,

“Susan is always available, always endeavors to assist us when we ask; always has a positive attitude, and is delightful to work with.  Her commitment to our clients and our work is amazing!”

Pro Bono Counsel and Director at Simpson Thacher, Harlene Katzman, concluded,

“We are incredibly proud of Susan’s leadership of the family law appeals that anchor her pro bono work with Sanctuary for Families. Through this project, Susan provides invaluable hands-on mentoring and guidance to litigation associates who may be writing an appellate brief and arguing in court for the very first time. Susan’s contributions at Simpson Thacher extend far beyond her family law practice. She is a critical part of our pro bono team, sharing her wisdom, experience, strategic thinking and creative solutions to problems big and small. Congratulations Susan on this very well-deserved honor!”

We are deeply grateful to Susan for the incredible time and energy she has put towards serving survivors of gender-based violence.

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on October 25, 2023, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s outstanding pro bono work.



Simpson Thacher Obtains Favorable Settlement in Complex Custody and Order of Protection Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring Jonathan Kaplan from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett for his compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Mary” to obtain a favorable settlement in a complex custody and order of protection case.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Jonathan Kaplan from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett for his compassionate and devoted pro bono representation of “Mary” to obtain a favorable settlement in a complex custody and order of protection case.

In December 2019, Mary, a mother of three children, one of whom was also the child of her abuser, sought an order of protection against her former partner and to obtain full custody of her children. For multiple years, Mary had experienced severe physical and emotional abuse at his hands, but her incomparable strength eventually pushed her to pursue legal action.

In March 2020, Jonathan began representing Mary in a complex Order of Protection trial with a custody trial to follow. Midway through, Jonathan obtained a favorable settlement to both custody and protection whereby Mary was awarded physical custody of her child and final decision-making authority. Additionally, her former partner was prohibited from having any contact with her other than through a monitored platform and only to the extent strictly necessary to address the care and custody of their shared child.

Jonathan demonstrated an unparalleled commitment to the case and to Mary, and his excellent legal skills throughout the case were key to securing a positive outcome. He drafted motions, dealt patiently with repeated adjournments, and handled thorough preparations for trial on no less than five occasions. Jonathan’s advocacy was instrumental in overcoming the challenges of having little documentary evidence to support Mary’s testimony, and in helping her be heard by a judge who was at first skeptical based on her initial pro se petition, which only described the most recent incident of domestic violence rather than the years of abuse she had endured. Jonathan drafted an amended family offense petition that shed light on the abuse that Mary had experienced and set the stage for her compelling testimony at trial. In Jonathan’s words, her testimony was “a big catalyst” for the settlement to happen. Jonathan supported Mary through the emotional challenges of preparing for her testimony and navigating the frustration caused by a lengthy and uncertain legal process during the pandemic.

Throughout this multi-year process, Jonathan was always available to address the continued issues Mary had with her former partner, who continued to harass her and attempt to use his visitation with their son as a means to control and manipulate her. Providing both legal advocacy and an empathetic ear, he was truly committed to helping Mary make her wish “to be safe” come true, and was ecstatic when she received the final favorable settlement.

Mary’s strength was imperturbable and an inspiration for Jonathan. He reflects, “I was incredibly inspired by my client. Her strength in the face of so much adversity and her ability to always put her children first was uplifting. The result was such a good one, because she is a good person.”

After the case settled, Mary told Jonathan, “You saved my life. I feel so free, like I just got out of prison.” Mary is now working helping other victims of domestic violence. Reflecting on the case, Jonathan said that this experience had been truly rewarding and “the most meaningful thing [he has] done as a lawyer.”

“The unique relationship of trust built between Mary and Jonathan was amazing to see. It was so rewarding to witness, and I was honored to be a part of it. For example, the way Jonathan dealt with opposing counsel, who was not always very responsive, was masterful — Jonathan was always assertive but polite in how he transmitted his client’s frustrations. He had a truly client-centered approach.”

Betsy Tsai
Director, Courtroom Advocates Project

Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s outstanding pro bono work.


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

Silvia Marroquin is an associate in the international arbitration practice of Chaffetz Lindsey in New York and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

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.