Chadbourne & Parke



Pro Bono Rank Firm
(Am Law 200 Rank)
Am Law
Pro Bono Score
Average Pro Bono
Hours Per Lawyer
% of Lawyers
With More Than 20 Hours
Chadbourne & Parke (95)


Chadbourne & Parke partner Oliver Armas calls his work for an indigent, distraught mother "the most fulfilling thing I've done in my life."

Last fall the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children tapped Chadbourne to help a The Am Law Pro Bono 100Colombian woman regain custody of her 9-year old daughter. Though the mother had legal custody, the father had abducted the child two years earlier when the girl visited him in New York. After hiring investigators to track down the father and child, Chadbourne filed an action in the Eastern District of New York, seeking the return of the child to her mother. (The father had been notified of the proceeding but never responded and didn't retain a lawyer, the Chadbourne attorneys say. The father could not be reached for comment for this story.)

Convincing the judge was the easy part (the court ordered that the child be returned to Colombia to her mother). The hard part was planning the logistics of returning the child. Though the U.S. marshals could have just been taken the child from her father by force, Armas says, "we were afraid of the [possible] trauma to the child; we didn't want another Elián González scenario," referring to the Cuban boy who was at the center of an emotionally wrenching custody battle between his father in Cuba and relatives in Miami. To ease the return in this case, "we thought it was critical to have the mom here," says Armas.

Getting the mother into the United States required "running traps through the [Immigration Naturalization Service] and Homeland Security," says Armas, because the mother had overstayed her U.S. visa years ago. After getting her a special visa and airplane ticket, the Chadbourne team, which also included six lawyers from the firm's New York and Washington, D.C., offices, devised a detailed plan to reunite the child with her mother. On an October morning, after the father unwittingly dropped the child at her school, U.S. marshals and Chadbourne lawyers converged in a hallway at the school, where mother and child were finally reunited.

Though the child was initially "confused by the federal officials and lawyers," says Armas, "the mother dropped to her knees and held out her arms, and they tearfully embraced." Ultimately, the reunion was a "grand slam"—an outcome that Armas attributes to careful strategizing: "We prepared for every contingency. We planned it out as litigators do." But he concedes that it's the "human side that drives this story . . . I tried hard not to cry myself."

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