Baker Botts Associates Win Pro Bono Asylum Cases

By Peter Hayes, Bloomberg BNA 

Violence broke out in the Ivory Coast after a disputed presidential election in 2010.

Incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo claimed victory, but supporters of the opposition candidate, Alassane Ouattara, disputed the results.

The country was “plunged into turmoil”when Gbagbo refused to concede defeat, and the United Nations reported hundreds of deaths from the conflict and revenge attacks.

After Gbagbo was removed from office in 2011, forces loyal to Ouattara began their own campaign of torture and murder against Gbagbo supporters, according to Human Rights Watch in New York.

The conflict resulted in the death of 3,000 civilians, with “serious human rights violations by both sides,” Human Rights watch reported.

Laurent Gbagbo, president of Cote d'Ivoire, speaks at the 64th annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 25, 2009. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Laurent Gbagbo speaks at the 64th annual United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2009. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

A man who worked for Gbagbo fled to Togo fearing for his life. He then headed south to Mexico, ultimately ending up in the U.S. in 2016, where he sought asylum.

His was one of several asylum cases taken on by attorneys with Baker Botts LLP in Washington.

“He was detained for eight months” in the U.S. as he awaited a hearing on his application for asylum, associate R.L. Pratt told Bloomberg BNA.

“He’d been a public communications organizer and had allegedly been persecuted by members of the victorious party,” Pratt said.

Following a hearing in Baltimore, where the client was detained, the firm won the case, showing he would be in danger of persecution for his political opinions if he returned to the Ivory Coast.

The case is one of three the firm has taken on referral from the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition in Washington, with two or three associates working on each case, Ginger Faulk, Baker Botts partner said.

The firm has won each case, Faulk said.

Needed Resources

In another case, a Sunni Muslim from the Iraqi city of Basra was fleeing Shiite militias, Faulk said. “The judge agreed that there was a credible fear of persecution,” she said.

In the third case, a man from Gambia was “was being persecuted for imputed homosexuality,” Faulk said.

The client was completely alone, without friend or family, in all three cases, she said.

“We brought in a lot of resources to these cases that they otherwise wouldn’t have had,” she said, including finding experts with knowledge of the countries and circumstances involved.

“It’s helpful to have expert witnesses because the issues are difficult to address without cultural context,” Faulk said.

In the Gambian case, for instance, the firm was able to retain an expert in gender-based violence in that region of Africa, she said.

Pratt, who worked on the Ivory Coast case, said the University of California Hastings Resource Center in San Francisco provided an expert for the case.

In that case, he said, the firm retained an expert who drafted an affidavit that was submitted with the client’s application describing the conditions in the country, the political situation and the hazards of returning.

Win-Win

Faulk said the pro bono cases are a win-win for the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and Baker Botts.

“There is a flood of worthwhile cases, and CARE can’t handle them all,” Faulk said.

That need is coupled with “a lot of interest among our associates in working on these cases,” she said.
The associates, in turn, gain valuable court experience and a chance to work on an interesting area of international law.

“I’ve supervised them and organized moot hearings on these cases, but it was our associates who appeared and argued them,” Faulk said.

“The cases are rewarding for the attorneys,” she said. “They get to know immigration law, and international rights issues and the cases give them experience in court.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Patrick at spatrick@bna.com