The Human Trafficking Legal Center’s board of directors recently named McGuireWoods “Litigation Firm of the Year” for its pro bono work securing the largest known single-plaintiff trafficking award in U.S. history. The firm was honored during the center’s second annual On My Side Awards reception in Washington, D.C.
A McGuireWoods team led by Washington associate Betsy Hutson helped trafficking survivor Kendra Ross win an $8 million judgment in a federal lawsuit against a Kansas City-based “regimented cult” and the group’s leader, who forced Ross to work without pay, benefits or breaks from the age of 11 until her escape a decade later.
Ross alleged in her complaint that the Value Creators Inc., formerly known as the United Nation of Islam (UNOI), and its leader, Royall Jenkins, forced her to work more than 40,000 uncompensated hours from 2002 until 2012. She escaped UNOI at the age of 21. On May 23, 2018, U.S. District Judge Daniel D. Crabtree granted Ross’ motion for default judgment and awarded her nearly $8 million in damages, plus costs and attorney’s fees. On Nov. 2, Judge Crabtree granted the plaintiff’s request to issue a bench warrant for Jenkins’ arrest for his continued contempt for court orders related to efforts to satisfy the judgment for Ross.
Working with Hutson on the McGuireWoods legal team were partners Jonathan Blank and Phillip Chang; associates Lauren Cafferty Mahaffey, Chris McEachran, Kayla Marshall and Katlyn Davis Farrell; international attorney Andrew Thornton-Dibb; and counsel Cristin Traylor.
“It’s been a real privilege to represent Kendra in obtaining a measure of justice for the horrific treatment she endured,” said Hutson, who met Ross at a specialized aftercare shelter for trafficking victims. “It is an honor to be recognized by The Human Trafficking Legal Center, which is doing important work to help trafficking survivors access legal aid and reclaim their lives.”
The Human Trafficking Legal Center is a nonprofit organization that assists survivors of labor and sex trafficking in seeking justice. Led by founder and president Martina Vandenberg, the center seeks to hold traffickers accountable and deter exploitation by obtaining criminal convictions, criminal restitution and civil judgments. It also provides legal training for partner organizations and tracks federal criminal and civil cases throughout the country.