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Attorneys of the Year: Matthew Ralph

Dorsey & Whitney

When Matthew Ralph started representing Francis Gathungu, the Dorsey & Whitney attorney didn’t know the asylum case would become a seven-year odyssey.

The litigation has tested Ralph’s perseverance as he has battled for Gathungu, an alleged victim of political and religious persecution in Kenya.

“Seven years, numerous immigration court hearings, two 8th Circuit appeals, and one U.S. Supreme Court appeal later, the case has recently made new law,” said Gillian Brennan, Dorsey’s director of client relations. “The time and emotion Matt has devoted are above and beyond the call of duty.”

Last August, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that defectors, like Gathungu, 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.

Ralph, 43, said the appellate decision is likely to affect many other gang-related asylum cases now being litigated in America. Previously, immigration and federal courts have denied nearly all asylum claims based on persecution by gangs because gang “defectors” were thought not to have the requisite “social visibility” to merit asylum, he said.

Very few cases had explained what types of evidence could meet the “social visibility” standard. Gathungu’s case indicates that media reports of persecution by gangs, and other similar types of evidence, can be sufficient, Ralph said.

Ralph’s victory for Gathungu came after a number of adverse rulings before the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Board of Immigration Appeals.

“It feels like I have been walking through the valley of darkness to get some good news”` said Ralph.

Ralph was a Dorsey & Whitney associate in 2006 when he answered an email from Advocates for Human Rights to help Gathungu. Today, Ralph is a partner at the firm practicing antitrust and complex civil litigation.

The final chapter in the Gathungu case has yet to be written. Ralph said he expects the Board of Immigration Appeals to issue an order on remand in 2014, although it remains unclear whether the appeals board will grant Gathungu asylum or send the case back to immigration court to take further evidence, he said.

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