A pro bono team of Warner Norcross + Judd LLP attorneys has helped secure what is believed to be Michigan’s first gubernatorial pardon of a survivor of human trafficking.
The pardon clears the path for Leslie F. King to seek to become a licensed social worker by expunging her criminal record, which included sentences for shoplifting, larceny, assault, prostitution, narcotics possession and other crimes she committed while being trafficked. Last summer, King told the Michigan Parole Board her pimps beat her and forced her into the illegal activity, starting when she was first trafficked at age 15 and continuing for the next 21 years.
Warner attorneys partnered with The Joseph Project, a nonprofit that connects human trafficking survivors with pro bono legal services, to secure a pardon from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just before Christmas. Warner partner Madelaine C. Lane represented King, who founded and now leads Sacred Beginnings, a Grand Rapids nonprofit that provides street outreach and safe housing to those who have been trafficked.
“Crimes committed while someone is being trafficked must be looked at differently by the criminal justice system,” Lane said. “These are not voluntary actions of someone who has made a poor choice – those who are being trafficked are coerced, intimidated and threatened with beatings or worse if they don’t comply.
“We are incredibly grateful to Gov. Whitmer for supporting the recommendation of the Michigan Parole Board and granting Leslie a pardon. This decision gives her the clean slate she needs to pursue her master of social work degree so she can even better serve those still being victimized by human and sex trafficking in West Michigan.”
King founded Sacred Beginnings in 2005. It is the only survivor-led, peer-mentored program in Michigan for those who have been sexually exploited and trafficked. King and her team of Survivor Sisters have reached more than 20,000 people with their weekly street outreach since that time. Sacred Beginnings has also served more than 2,300 people in its transition homes.
A native of Grand Rapids, King serves on the boards of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force and Cherry Health. She is also a member of the National Survivor Network.
“I truly thank Gov. Whitmer, because this is a dream come true for me,” King said. “I couldn’t get an expungement of my record. I’ve already received emails from women who have records who said this now gives them hope.
“I also want to thank The Joseph Project and Madelaine Lane from Warner for standing beside me and keeping me uplifted during this fight. I can’t thank them enough.”
The Joseph Project was founded in 2018 by Nate Knapper, a federal law enforcement officer and former assistant Michigan attorney general. The nonprofit seeks to support human trafficking survivors on their recovery journey by connecting them with pro bono legal assistance. The Joseph Project was introduced to Warner through Warner partner and Litigation Practice Group Chair Amanda Fielder. Fielder, Lane and other Warner attorneys have worked alongside the advocates at The Joseph Project to assist a number of Michigan-based survivors.
“In the true spirit of Christmas, Gov. Whitmer has given Leslie – and those who believe in her – a priceless gift that only she had the power to grant,” Knapper said. “We celebrate this incredible victory and offer heartfelt thanks to Madelaine, Amanda and all the legal first responders at Warner, a firm that embodies the very best in pro bono advocacy.”
Warner has a strong commitment to supporting the communities where its attorneys and staff live, work and raise families. In 2021, Warner attorneys donated 1,740 hours of pro bono legal services to The Joseph Project and other nonprofits throughout the state.
Numerous media outlets have covered Leslie King's story and Madelaine Lane's efforts to secure her gubernatorial pardon. Click the links below to learn more.
- “Stateside Podcast: Leslie King is a survivor. Now she’s helping other women,” Michigan Radio, Michigan’s NPR News Leader, January 17, 2023
- "Warner helps secure gubernatorial pardon for human trafficking survivor," Grand Rapids Business Journal, January 13, 2023
- "Warner Norcross and Judd," The WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin, January 11, 2023
- "'All I could do was scream': Leslie King, survivor of trafficking, has criminal record pardoned by Whitmer," FOX17 West Michigan, January 11, 2023
- "Grand Rapids law firm helps secure pardon for human-trafficking survivor," WOOD Radio Local News, January 10, 2023
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