International law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP announced today that Matthew Ralph, a partner in the firm’s Trial Group, has been named one of Minnesota Lawyer’s Attorneys of the Year 2013.

Mr. Ralph’s recognition is largely based on his efforts to obtain asylum for a pro bono client from Kenya, Francis Gathungu, who joined the Mungiki sect after it promised him protection from government-sponsored violence, and then was tortured by the sect when he tried to quit due to misgivings about its criminal enterprises. Seven years, hundreds of attorney hours, numerous immigration court hearings, two appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals, two federal circuit court appeals, and one emergency U.S. Supreme Court appeal later, the case recently made new law and, as a result, offered new hope to Dorsey’s client and thousands of other immigrants who seek asylum based on fear of non-governmental persecutors (e.g., gangs) in their home countries.

Last August, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted Mr. Gathungu’s appeal, concluding that defectors from the Mungiki sect are a cognizable social group for asylum purposes and that the Kenyan government was unable or unwilling to control the Mungiki. The decision is likely to have an impact on the multitude of gang-related asylum cases currently being litigated throughout the country. In the past, both immigration and federal courts have denied virtually all asylum claims based on persecution by gangs because gang “defectors” or “resistors” were thought not to have the requisite “social visibility” to merit asylum. Very few (if any) cases had explained what types of evidence could meet the “social visibility” standard. Mr. Gathungu’s case indicates that media reports of persecution by gangs, and other similar types of evidence, can be sufficient. The decision in this case could signal a broad change in the treatment of gang-related asylum cases, especially where the applicant’s persecution is based in part on conscientious objections to gang violence.

“Community is a Dorsey core value, and pro bono work is one of the most important ways we give back to the community,” said Ken Cutler, Managing Partner of Dorsey & Whitney. “Matt’s dedication to this asylum case embodies that core value. We are extremely proud of his achievements and of this recognition.”

Dorsey has a long tradition of pro bono service. The firm was an original signatory of the American Bar Association Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge in 1993. It has exceeded the Challenge by devoting more than 3% of billable hours to pro bono every year since.

Mr. Ralph is a partner in the firm’s Minneapolis office, where he practices complex civil litigation with a particular emphasis on antitrust law. As Co-Chair of the firm's Antitrust and Competition Law Practice Group, he represents corporate clients in Sherman Act and Clayton Act cases and investigations involving claims for price-fixing, monopolization, tying, bundled discounts, and other exclusionary conduct. Mr. Ralph is a former Chair of the Antitrust Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association, and an adjunct professor of antitrust at the University of Minnesota and University of St. Thomas Law Schools.

Each year, Minnesota Lawyer recognizes the best achievements in the Minnesota legal profession with the Attorneys of the Year awards. This year’s honorees were chosen based on their leadership, involvement in major cases, excellence in corporate or transactional services and public service. The nominations were submitted by judges, bar groups, clients and fellow attorneys.