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She has represented human trafficking victims across the world. She’s now ‘fighting for human rights’ in Wisconsin after fatal shootings.

By: USA Today Network//August 3, 2020//

She has represented human trafficking victims across the world. She’s now ‘fighting for human rights’ in Wisconsin after fatal shootings.

By: USA Today Network//August 3, 2020//

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Samantha Hendrickson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Attorney Kimberley Motley is representing the families of the three males killed by a Wauwatosa police officer. Motley, whose practice is based in Afghanistan, is an attorney with clients all across the world.

She started her law career as a public defender in Wisconsin. Now, Kimberley Motley is an international attorney, returning to her roots to represent the families of three males shot by a Wauwatosa police officer.

Motley began practicing law in Racine in 2003 and Milwaukee in 2005. She now has cases and clients in countries all over the world, including Afghanistan, Malaysia, Great Britain, Cuba and Uganda.

She’s represented the U.S. embassy and other embassies in multiple countries, major news corporations like The New York Times and the BBC, millionaires and government officials worldwide.

Her law practice has been based in Afghanistan since 2008.

But Motley doesn’t represent just big name clients. She also dedicates herself to human rights and activism, by defending human trafficking victims, girls sold into child marriages, refugees — and now, the three people killed by Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah.

Milwaukee roots

Motley was raised in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Berryland on Milwaukee’s north side off North Sherman Boulevard. Her father is Black, and her mother is from South Korea. Her parents met while her father was stationed there with the Air Force, and they settled in Milwaukee in 1974.

She attended a small Catholic school — there were no more than 10 people in her eighth-grade graduating class — and later Whitefish Bay High School, one of the only Black students in the predominantly white high school.

She became comfortable speaking to adults from an early age; throughout her childhood, she often spoke on behalf of her mother, who was not confident speaking English.

Claudiare Motley, Motley’s husband since 2003, fellow Milwaukee native and lawyer, said it was their mutual thirst of knowledge that drew them together, “She was bright, she was lucky, and she had a lot of drive,” Claudiare said.

In 2004, Kimberly Motley was crowned Mrs. Wisconsin, and used the platform to talk about issues within law and the criminal justice system.

Motley said that growing up in Milwaukee prepared her for her work in Afghanistan.

“I was always used to being amongst different types of people, and being very comfortable with that,” Motley said. “There’s a lot of issues in Afghanistan, but I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of the people.”

Law school ‘sort of just happened’

Kimberley Motley works in her office in Kabul, Afghanistan, where her law practice is based. She is the only foreigner to work in the Afghan courts.

Law school wasn’t at the top of Motley’s priority list when she applied at the last minute to Marquette University.

She had already earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and was a working mother pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2000.

In 1999, Motley filled out her law school application, and did everything except send it in. But that changed after a mother-daughter dinner that summer with her daughter, Deiva, who was 3.

“She was like ‘Mommy, you’re my hero,’ ” Motley said. “What hero would really be scared to just send an application? Would a hero be scared to take this leap of faith and apply for law school?”

On the second day of Marquette Law School’s orientation week, she got a call offering her an open spot — as she was driving to her first week as a teaching assistant in UWM’s criminal justice program.

“I swear to God, I turned my car around, and I said ‘I’m on my way!’ and that’s how I started law school,” Motley said of her decision to quit her teaching job to begin a career in law.

Soon after starting law school, she had her son, Seoul. Her youngest child, daughter Cherish, came four years later.

In 2003, she graduated with a law degree from Marquette and a master’s degree from UWM.

Now, 15 years later, Motley is practicing law all over the world.

To Afghanistan

Since 2008, Motley has practiced law in Afghanistan; she is the only foreigner to litigate in the Afghan courts.

She started in Afghanistan with a program that sent Western lawyers to teach Afghan lawyers about law in a democratic system. Motley said she lost faith in the program after realizing that their teaching meant nothing if they didn’t understand Afghanistan, cultural law and Islamic law.

So she educated herself and started her own practice.

Her clients include companies with headquarters in the Middle East. But most of Motley’s work there — arguably what she is most well-known for — is human-rights based.

“I met so many people that were locked up, and none of them had lawyers,” Motley said. “A lot of people had been tortured, many of them didn’t know what they were arrested for, and I was really surprised because I met foreigners that were locked up.

“Maybe I was naive, but I just naturally assumed Afghan prison meant Afghan prisoners.”

Kimberley Motley, the Milwaukee-raised public defender turned international attorney, is photographed with some of her clients in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Her first client overseas was an African woman whose European pimp forced her to be a drug mule. The Afghan courts, according to Motley, did not give her due process, and sentenced her to 14 years in jail with her 3-year-old daughter.

“She and her child were tucked away in an Afghan prison, forgotten,” said Motley, who succeeded in getting the woman released.

In 2015, a Danish filmmaker released the documentary “Motley’s Law,” about Motley’s work in Afghanistan and several of her clients.

Among them: a woman who was imprisoned for adultery after she was raped by her husband’s friend, as well as a British military officer and a South African man convicted of drug trafficking.

One of her most famous cases involved 6-year-old Naghma, whose father gave her in marriage to another family to repay a debt. The story gained significant international coverage.

The girl’s husband was 15 years her senior.

The marriage was permitted under long-practiced cultural laws, according to Motley, something she has often had to navigate in accordance with government law while in Afghanistan.

After assembling a group of elders known as a jirga to talk through the cultural and governmental law, Motley was able to free Naghma from the marriage.

While Motley is well known for her human rights work in Afghanistan, she’s open about the fact that it’s money that drove her to the practice.

“It was a financial decision,” Motley said.

After all, she and her husband had three kids and plenty of student loans to pay off — and she wanted to create a new life outside Milwaukee for her family.

“I went to Afghanistan to keep my family out of Milwaukee; just think about that,” said Motley, who spends nine months of the year outside the U.S., while her family remains stateside at their home in North Carolina.

“Milwaukee’s a war zone also,” Claudiare said. “We have to realize that there are places in (the United States) that are just as dangerous as any place in this world.”

Afghanistan soon led to cases around the globe, including preventing the deportation to China of an Uighur Muslim man, representing Afghanistan’s first female pilot and defending El Sexto, a Cuban graffiti artist and human rights activist.

“The reason for my success is very simple,” Motley said in a 2014 TEDTalk. “I work the system from the inside out and use the laws in the ways that they’re intended to be used.”

And back again

Motley has been back in the Milwaukee area recently, representing the families of three people who were shot and killed by a Wauwatosa police officer.

Between 2015 and 2020, Officer Joseph Mensah shot Antonio Gonzales, Jay Anderson Jr. and Alvin Cole while on duty.

While the Gonzales and Anderson cases are closed and were deemed justified self-defense by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, the Cole shooting is still under investigation.

Tracy Cole, Alvin’s mother, heard about Motley from friends and reached out to her for legal representation. By June, all three families had hired Motley to represent them as they pursued legal action against Mensah.

Kimberley Motley, an attorney representing the family of Alvin Cole, comments after returning from a meeting on June 11 with Milwaukee County District John Chisholm. The DA is investigating a Wauwatosa police officer, who shot and killed Cole on Feb. 2, 2020, at Mayfair mall. Wauwatosa police said Cole had a gun and had fired a shot during the incident.

“I felt like these cases are human rights issues in the U.S., and I certainly shouldn’t just be fighting human rights cases outside the U.S. I should be fighting for human rights within the U.S., as well,” Motley said.

“(Kimberley) is so prominent in the international community,” Claudiare said. “And she has to come home and fight for justice in these same levels of atrocities … in our country that is supposed to be this shining beacon on a hill.”

It’s not the first time she has taken on cases in Milwaukee. She represented her husband after he was shot through the jaw during a carjacking while on a weekend visit to Milwaukee in 2014.

In all her years in Afghanistan, despite grenades launched into her home (though they never detonated) and receiving death and rape threats on a regular basis for her work as a woman in the Afghan justice system, Motley has never been injured, something she and her husband both find ironic.

“How ridiculous is it that he’s here, and this (shooting) happened to him, and I’m in Afghanistan, and it’s not happening to me there?” Motley said, “You would think the opposite.”

Next steps: The case against Mensah

On July 15, the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission suspended Mensah with pay after weeks of protests calling for his termination and for charges to be brought against him. The suspension comes five years after the first shooting, and six months after the last.

“The protesters in this have been really amazing in the ways that they’re supporting the families,” Motley said. “They’re on the right side of history.”

Motley and the families of those he shot are far from satisfied by Mensah’s suspension, however.

From the beginning of her work on these cases, Motley stated that the three families have three goals: that every Wauwatosa police officer wear a body camera, that Mensah should be terminated and never allowed to work as a police officer again, and that he should be charged with homicide.

Motley said her clients are not interested in settling for anything less.

On July 2, the Wauwatosa Common Council unanimously agreed to send specific financial and policy questions about the use of body cameras and their implementation to the government affairs and financial affairs committees, which could then make recommendations to the council.

On July 15, the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission approved hiring a third-party investigator relating to a complaint filed against Mensah by Motley.

“I know military soldiers than have been in an active war zone that have not discharged their weapon as much as Officer Mensah has,” Motley said.

While the Milwaukee area and the Middle East aren’t necessarily what some would say easily comparable, Motley sees parallels.

“It’s always the vulnerable and the disenfranchised that are targeted the most,” Motley said.

Samantha Hendrickson can be reached at 414-224-2865 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @samanthajhendr.

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