U of T alumna Ann Schofield Baker (BA 1993 VIC) is used to high-stakes cases. As a trial lawyer who practices trademark and intellectual property litigation in New York City, her corporate clients routinely have hundreds of millions of dollars at interest. But when Schofield Baker took on a pro bono case last year representing Amina Mudey, a Somali refugee fighting for asylum in the United States, there was more than money at stake. I am not used to trying cases where someone’s life is on the line,” says Schofield Baker. But when Mudey’s case came to be heard before an American immigration court last summer, “I was up against a trained Department of Homeland Security prosecutor, whose job it was to send Amina back to Somalia – where she promptly would have been killed.”
“Mudey arrived in the United States seeking political asylum early in 2007. A member of a minority ethnic group in Somalia, she and her family had been repeatedly attacked and threatened at home. After Mudey’s father and three siblings were murdered, her mother sold the family home for $2,500 – enough for one ticket to New York.
Upon arrival in the U.S., Mudey was brought to a detention centre in New Jersey, and asylum proceedings began. Schofield Baker’s voice still rises slightly in anger when she talks about the treatment Mudey received. Exhausted, hungry, disoriented and in shackles, Mudey was misdiagnosed by doctors as psychotic and prescribed Risperdal, a powerful drug often given to schizophrenics. “She had been put under oath and questioned twice without a lawyer, while she was drugged,” says Schofield Baker.
As Schofield Baker dug deeper into the mistreatmentd Mudey had received, the case consumed her. “I felt like the entire weight of the U.S. government was against both of us,” she says. In September 2007, however, Schofield Baker and her client prevailed, and Mudey was granted asylum in the U.S. She is currently learning English and going to school full time – supported in part by Schofield Baker’s law firm, McKool Smith, which recently established a trust. Schofield Baker testified before the U.S. Congress in June about the problems with the immigration system she witnessed first-hand.
Schofield Baker has now picked up her corporate law work again, but is looking to do more pro bono work in future. “This was certainly one of the most rewarding life experiences that I’ve ever had.”