Interview with Kimberley Motley, Esq by Michael Bruins for CINEMATIQ Magazine took place Nov.2015
The constant threat of danger, the distressing impact of structural instability, and the shadows of punitive eyes watching with hopes of innocent mistakes leading to jail time; to the average person these predicaments may sound like terrifying elements of an impulsive environment. To Kimberley Motley, just consider it as a regular day and more so a distraction from her work. Meet Kimberley, a former beauty queen (Miss Wisconsin 2004) turned prominent and fearless international lawyer. Kimberley has spent the past decade working all over the world but she is primarily focused in Kabul, Afghanistan serving as an attorney to those who are caught in very complicated legal circumstances. Yes you read that correctly, an American woman, a Black & Asian American woman who does not practice Islam working in the Afghan legal system as a litigator and enforcer of justice. Talk about an intriguing water cooler conversation at the office. We get an opportunity to witness her experience and take a peek into of her world with the newly released Nicole N. Horanyi documentary “Motley’s Law”.
Filmed over a period between 2013 and 2014 we witness the day to day routine and lifestyle of Kabul’s only American born litigator as she tackles the intricate world of Afghan Law. To some looking from the outside in, this may seem like a bizarre and very odd career choice. For Kimberly Motley consider it just one component of a larger movement aimed at seeking justice for those who many not always have a voice.
Kimberley’s law endeavors began after receiving her JD from Marquette University in 2003 where she then served as a public defender for five years. With the mounting student loan debts for both she and her husband along with the realization that college would soon be around the corner for her children, Kimberley looked into alternative options for pursuing her passions while being able to financially support herself and her family. In 2008 she took on a 9 month assignment with the U.S. State Department where she trained Afghan Lawyers in Afghanistan. However it was while traveling the country meeting individuals caught in unique legal predicaments that she discovered her new purpose within law. She soon quit her State Department job and opened her own private practice in the city of Kabul.
She’s taken on some very heavy cases many of which deal with incarcerated Afghan women who were provided with poor legal representation resulting in heavy jail sentences. In addition she has represented political prisoners, falsely accused drug traffickers, ambassadors, and many other individuals. Kimberley’s focus when it comes to her practice is saturated around the interpretations of the laws and how they apply to the unique predicaments in which many of her clients find themselves in.
The world of American Law is already a complex and multi-layered universe of torts, clauses, and rules. But you haven’t seen complexity until you’ve practiced Afghan Law. In Afghanistan there are 3 elements within the law system; Afghan Law, which can be compared to federal law in the United States, the local law which can be compared to state and regional law in the United States, and Sharia Law which is heavily based around the Islamic faith and seems to also take precedence over the other two forms of law on many occasions. This makes it very easy for many to fall victim to unfair trials and sentences especially if those under prosecution aren’t familiar with their rights and the laws in place. In order to successfully represent a client in Afghanistan a litigator has to be very familiar with all 3 elements of Afghan law. Kimberly Motley has mastered this art and to be quite honest has literally challenged the status quot of how operations are managed in the court system by successfully utilizing all 3 elements of the law to work in her favor.
She’s able to interpret Sharia Law and apply it to the other law systems all while being respectful to the cultural differences and staying true to her main focus. She truly believes that the laws are created to protect citizens and she continues to ensure that the laws are interpreted and executed justly. With a 90% success rate, international recognition, and clients on 6 of the 7 continents you could say that Kimberley Motley has been able to accomplish a lot in a very short period of time. How does she do it? Simple to her it’s all about the emotional appeals of the people.
“Wherever I’m at, you just have to understand how to get to the human that you’re dealing with. You listen to them. That’s the first ting. You listen instead of talk. And I think that’s what unfortunately it seems like a very simple thing but a lot of people don’t do that. You try to understand what’s important to that human being. So For me I treat the courtroom sort of like it’s an empty canvass, a blank canvass. And every single courtroom has a personality no matter where you are whether you’re in New Jersey, Wisconsin, or Kabul”.
She’s currently adding to her empire by working to craft the “Justness Project”. The purpose of the Justness Project according to Kimberley is “To give the laws back to the hands of the people which is exactly where they belong. I want to create a free legal website where people can look up their laws in their countries in their home languages so that it gives a sensibility to the laws.” She’s currently growing her firm and expanding her website to also serve as a resource guide compiled with information about rights, laws, and many other helpful tools to apply when dealing with the various legal systems around the world.
This hasn’t come without hardship. Aside from being a minority in a male dominated environment she’s also faced many challenges during her current tenure; however she chooses not to let those setbacks define her work, character, and well-being. With America’s longest war since Vietnam literally in her backyard the consistent instances and threats of civil unrest subtly taunt her working environment. There have been several occurrences where her day has been interrupted by explosions, shootings, and other chaotic events. A grenade was also thrown into her home, but fortunately didn’t detonate. In addition her husband who lives in North Carolina was shot in the face during a trip to his High School Reunion in Milwaukee. However, Kimberley has remained focused on her work while helping to positively affect the lives of those whom she interacts with.
A notable aspect to the experience of Kimberley Motley is that 30 percent of her work is based around human rights cases which she often and purposely does for little to no compensation. When she’s not busy changing live and tackling the intricate world of law you can find Kimberley with delving into other things, she’s also an artist, a writer, and big fan of music; Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, & Ed Sheeran to name a few.
You can expect to see much more from Kimberley Motley as she continues to break soil all around the world and aim to make sure that the “justness” is available for all who seek it.
Viewfinders Competition at 2015 DOC NYC Film Festival
Grand Jury Prize Winner: “Motley’s Law,” directed by Nicole Horanyi
Al Jazeera America will distribute ‘Motley’s Law. The award-winning documentary will air in February 2016