At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Arnold & Porter for their tireless pro bono work on behalf of “Jane”, a single mother seeking help in a child support case. The incredible team, consisting of Judge Rosalyn Richter and Mindy Gorin, was successful in helping Jane prevail in a contempt of court order for child support during a time when Covid-19 made access to the courts seem almost impossible.
A New Idea Is the Spark That Lights an Eternal Flame
When Lisa Vara, Director of the Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project at Sanctuary, was tasked with nominating a pro bono team for this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono award without hesitation she named Arnold & Porter’s Pro Bono’s Team. Lisa was truly inspired by the passion, hard work, and dedication that this team showed when handling such a complex case during a time when the entire world was in lockdown. In fact, Lisa shared that working closely with Judge Rosalyn Richter was her “biggest privilege.”
Rosalyn Richter, Senior Counsel at Arnold & Porter and Director of a Pro Bono Externship at Columbia University Law School, was the gem who led her pro bono team to a true victory. Prior to joining Arnold & Porter, Judge Richter was an Associate Judge in the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court where she ruled over an array of cases, some that involved divorces. Lisa would often send financial enforcement cases to Judge Richter for her legal clinic to handle and this case just happened to be one of those cases. When Judge Richter received this case, she pulled it from the legal clinic and brought it to Arnold & Porter’s Pro Bono Team because she “felt it needed the resources and attention a large law firm could provide.”
“Jane,” a single mother, is involved in ongoing litigation with a former partner, who has a long history of nonpayment of child support, delinquent payments, and hidden assets. She was urgently seeking legal representation to help her enforce the existing child support order so she could pay for her daughter’s education, extracurricular activities, and make sure her daughter’s health care premiums were paid. Due to the nonpayment of her school tuition, her daughter faced a significant risk of being forced out of her school, which she had attended since kindergarten.
Judge Richter acknowledged early on that because “Jane” and her former partner were not married “the path into court because of Covid was not so clear.” She recognized the challenges early on, especially since the father was pro se and she knew as a former Judge the “responsibility the court has when dealing with self-represented litigants.” Judge Richter knew that for her client “it was a lot of money” and the “level of concern to not have this decided the right way” was pivotal. Ultimately, the tuition arrears were finally paid when the Court was prepared to incarcerate Jane’s former partner for nonpayment of child support after a money judgment issued against him did not lead to any payment being made.
“Creative lawyering” is what Arnold & Porter accomplished, Lisa shared, when they filed a Contempt of Child Support Order in Supreme as opposed to Family Court. Generally, unmarried parents have to proceed in Family Court under these circumstances; however, during the first several months of the Covid-19 pandemic, Family Court was not calendaring, let alone deciding, support cases. As Judge Richter explains she did two things: 1) focused on what was most immediate and most significant in the case and it was the immediate health coverage and continuity of education; and 2) she filed several other motions before the contempt order in Supreme Court for an opportunity to be heard expeditiously. It is important to note that the parties were already in the Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDV), and this filing was consistent with the purpose of IDV, which is to ensure that if at all possible one judge hears all issues involving that family.
Judge Richter humbly notes that she knew the courts very well, so her team focused on filing the contempt order in Supreme Court, and through their hard work and dedication, they were successful in securing a win for their client. When asked to describe Judge Richter in three words, Lisa proudly shared “brilliant, compassionate, and determined.”
True Strength is Internal
“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.” – Barbara Kingsolver
The strength of a mother is what Judge Richter so humbly learned during her time working with “Jane”. Judge Richter shares that she witnessed firsthand the sacrifices her client was willing to make for her daughter. As an attorney, Judge Richter believed that she grew tremendously from this experience. In the end, Judge Richter’s deep relationship with Sanctuary and dedication to affording zealous advocacy to those in need is what makes the work of Sanctuary so effortless and self-rewarding.
If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.
Melissa D. James is an Associate at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP and an Adjunct Professor at LIM College. She has been a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council since 2016.