Davis Polk announces 2022 Pro Bono Award honorees
Davis Polk is delighted to announce the 2022 winners of the firm’s annual Pro Bono Awards.
These individuals and teams have consistently demonstrated the commitment, care and excellence to which we aspire in giving back to our broader community and assisting those in need. We celebrate a long legacy of pro bono work at Davis Polk driven by these core values and applaud this year’s honorees for their outstanding achievements.
In honor of our Pro Bono Award recipients, the firm will make charitable donations to nonprofits chosen by the individual honorees or associated with the work of the four teams we are recognizing.
Nancy Regan: Known for exceptionally compassionate attention to her clients’ needs, Nancy has led teams across efforts for Stop AAPI Hate, Crossborder Civilians and One Community, producing successful, impactful outcomes ranging a wide variety of advisory services. All the while, she is representing members of a multi-generational family in navigating all stages of the humanitarian immigration process. Among other work for Stop AAPI Hate, Nancy is currently leading an in-depth analysis of local discriminatory laws, which will aid in the organization’s pursuit of legislative and judicial measures at the federal level. Crossborder Civilians, a nonprofit formed in the wake of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, was able to fundraise and provide aid to impacted civilians almost immediately because of Nancy’s swift action and tireless work securing their tax-exempt status. Through One Community, a nonprofit working to make Brooklyn’s diverse urban communities more fair and inclusive, Nancy has supported a bike mechanic training program for formerly incarcerated individuals. To incentivize potential employers of program graduates, Nancy is working with the New York Department of Labor to obtain pre-clearance of unique tax credits for this purpose.
Aisha Schafer Hylton: Aisha has demonstrated unwavering, long-term dedication through her representation of two clients who are both working to navigate extraordinary legal circumstances while rebuilding their lives following traumatizing abuse. In one of Davis Polk’s longest-running asylum cases, Aisha has spent years working on behalf of a man from Sierra Leone who was held captive and tortured by a terrorist group during civil war. After escaping and eventually fleeing to the U.S. in 2001, he applied for asylum properly, but for the past 20 years, his case has suffered from a series of government errors and delays. Aisha’s persistency in navigating government errors and examining unusual procedural postures has inspired our client to continue on despite his exhaustion; her work has become a key driving force in the Davis Polk team’s quest to finally obtain legal status for our client. Aisha is also representing a young domestic violence survivor in a Manhattan criminal proceeding regarding a felony in which her abusive boyfriend coerced her to participate. As a result of Aisha’s and the team’s skillful and tireless work, the client will avoid a felony record and any carceral sentence, allowing her to continue raising her baby and working to support other domestic violence survivors who face criminal charges related to their abuse.
Matthew Stratis Vasilakos: Matt has been involved in pro bono work since he joined the firm and demonstrated an unwavering commitment to helping vulnerable individuals navigate the criminal justice system. In the past year, Matt briefed and argued an appeal in the First Department on behalf of a man convicted of attempted robbery in the first degree by a tainted jury. Matt was able to secure the reversal of our client’s conviction and a new, untainted trial. Successful appeals of criminal convictions based on juror issues are rare, making this victory especially remarkable. Matt has also spent more than a year co-leading a Section 1983 litigation in federal court on behalf of a client who videotaped her partner’s arrest and was subsequently arrested herself and mistreated while in custody out of retaliation. After reviewing our client’s case, the DA dropped all charges. Matt’s Section 1983 case recently reached a tentative settlement—a significant payment to our client which will help her relocate and start fresh.
Carlos Weeks trial team: This team represents Carlos Weeks, our client who served over 26 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. A Davis Polk team assisted in achieving his October 2019 exoneration, and we are now representing him in a civil proceeding against New York State. All involved associates questioned witnesses or made evidentiary arguments in this damages trial heard before the Court of Claims. To build this case, the team went to extraordinary lengths to track down witnesses of the crime that occurred almost 30 years ago—a group of individuals who were respectively incarcerated, had moved far away, were dramatically traumatized by witnessing the crime and were unwilling to be deposed.
The team has included partner Greg Andres, counsel Craig Cagney, associates Christina Costello, Alexa Jacobson and Zulkar Khan, legal assistant Theresa Bruney and former associates Rae Berger, Courtney Daukas and Chris Goetz.
Afghan refugee matters team: Since its unfolding in August 2021, Davis Polk has been deeply involved in a wide variety of efforts to aid refugees of the crisis in Afghanistan. Members of this team visited refugees at Marine Corps Base Quantico to provide legal orientation and have represented individuals from all walks of life in their pursuit of humanitarian or political asylum, including diplomats to the former Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, members of the New York Times’ Kabul bureau staff and their families, and students of the Asian University for Women. A notable aspect of this tremendous effort is the collaboration across so many Davis Polk offices—team members are located in New York, Northern California, Washington DC, London, Madrid, Hong Kong and Tokyo.
This team included senior counsel Sam Dimon, associates Despoina Arslanidi, Soo Kyung Chae, Will Chandler, Kelsey Clark, Justin Corvino, Kate Monroe FitzGerald, Paavani Garg, Charles Klug, Daiana Kostova, Kathleen Lewis, Tess Liegeois, Gilbert Lim, Reshma Lutfeali, Shua Mermelstein, Alex Moss, Elizabeth Rodgers, Sumeet Shroff, Jonathan Sit, Katherine Warshauer, Roshaan Wasim and Jacquiley Wong, senior legal assistants Alfonso García-Moncó and Magali Giddens, structured products analysts Anthony Borgese and Carmen Mascarenhas, legal assistants Brooke Harrington and Elliot Holmes, law clerks Jaime Begara Bretón, Michael Cooper, Neetika Nagpal and Caleb Smith and former associates Phoebe Ko, Jane McCooey and Abraham Moussako.
Prison Journalism Project team: The Prison Journalism Project (PJP) trains incarcerated individuals to be journalists and publishes their stories, empowering this marginalized community to be a voice in criminal justice reform. After experiencing rapid growth since their establishment in 2020, PJP sought this Davis Polk team’s help in creating a new nonprofit corporation, quickly securing 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and implementing a corporate governance structure, allowing the organization to raise additional funds to sustain their expanding reach. The team is also advising on employment matters and carrying out research in a number of areas related to the prison system.
This team included partners Jen Conway, Michael Flynn and Mario Verdolini, associates Eric Cummings, Marie Killmond, Tully Moyer, Justin Peroff, Alexis Wallace and Shuhan Zhang, and former associate Nate Sokol.
Eric Garner judicial inquiry team: This team represented the family of Eric Garner and police reform advocates in a judicial inquiry seeking transparency regarding Mr. Garner’s arrest and death in 2014. The team co-counseled with civil rights lawyer Gideon Oliver and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, then the Co-Director of the New York Law School Racial Justice Project. During the inquiry—the first of its kind in 100 years—Davis Polk team members examined the police offers who were on the scene and senior city officials regarding Mr. Garner’s arrest and death, as well as New York City’s duty to investigate and discipline. This historic inquiry provided the opportunity to get answers to the many unanswered questions in Mr. Garner’s case, and also pushed for more transparency in policing generally.
This team includes counsel Gabriel Jaime-Bettan, Matt Kelly and Jim Windels, associates Erika Kargbo, Jennifer Kim, Meredith Manning, Jaclyn Willner, legal assistants Emily Turner, law clerk Nye Winslow, former associates Robert King and Abraham Moussako, former legal assistant Annie Farrell and former law clerk Madeleine Wykstra.
Learn more about Davis Polk’s Pro Bono program.