At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring an extraordinary team of attorneys from Paul Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC, who achieved a groundbreaking Supreme Court victory in their long-running representation of pro bono client Narkis Golan.
The Paul Weiss and Morvillo teams, some of whom have now worked on this matter for more than 3 years, include Karen R. King, Kevin Grossinger, Daniel Gordon, Ariel Cohen, Chelsea L. Scism, Joshua Bussen, Rusty Feldman, Bronwyn Roantree, and Ryan McMenamin, from Morvillo; and Daniel H. Levi, Kannon K. Shanmugam, Aimee W. Brown, Matteo Godi, Sylvia Sui, Danielle J. Marryshow, and Randall W Bryer, from Paul Weiss.
For four years, a team of attorneys from Paul Weiss, and later Paul Weiss and Morvillo together, have represented Ms. Golan, a U.S. citizen who fled Italy in 2018 with her then-two-year-old son to escape a physically, psychologically, and sexually abusive relationship with her husband, J. Saada. After Ms. Golan fled Italy, Mr. Saada filed a petition seeking an order to return their son to Italy pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”).
In January 2019, attorneys from Paul Weiss defended Ms. Golan in a two-week trial in the Eastern District of New York, which included laying out a chilling and irrefutable record of domestic violence by Mr. Saada. As Karen King (formerly of Paul Weiss, now of Morvillo), who has worked on Ms. Golan’s case from the very beginning, explained, the team focused on proving the “grave risk” exception to return based on the physical and psychological harm to the child from witnessing the abuse, the collateral consequences of being in a household of domestic violence, and the risk to the child if returned to Italy given Mr. Saada’s volatile and aggressive nature.
After the trial and post-trial briefing, the district court found that the child would face a grave risk of harm if returned to Italy, but nonetheless ordered his return under then Second Circuit precedent obligating the court to “examine the full range of options that might make possible the safe return of a child.” By contrast, some other circuit courts of appeal either disfavor or do not require the same broad consideration of potential ameliorative measures. Under the Second Circuit’s standard, the district court crafted a suite of ameliorative measures it believed would sufficiently reduce the risk to the child, largely based on promises by Mr. Saada to reform his behavior.
While disappointed in the result, Ms. Golan and her attorneys continued to fight, appealing first to the Second Circuit, where the team successfully argued that the most important ameliorative measures proffered by the district court were unenforceable undertakings without sufficient guarantees of performance. Combined with the “ample reason to doubt that Mr. Saada w[ould] comply with these conditions,” the Second Circuit found that the undertakings were insufficient to mitigate the harm faced by the child if returned to Italy, and remanded to the district court to consider the full range of remedies that might allow the return of the child safely. On remand, the district court imposed new ameliorative measures that involved forcing the parties to obtain a protective order from an Italian court, and the Second Circuit affirmed.
Supreme Court Victory
Paul Weiss and Morvillo then petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, which was granted in December 2021, focusing on the question of whether, upon finding that return to the country of habitual residence places a child at grave risk, a district court is nonetheless required to consider ameliorative measures that would facilitate the return of the child. In a unanimous opinion published this June, the Supreme Court found in favor of Ms. Golan, holding that a court is not “categorically required to examine all possible ameliorative measures” before denying a Hague Convention petition for return of a child where it has already found that return would expose the child to a grave risk of harm. Accordingly, the Court vacated and remanded the case, emphasizing that the district court’s decision should bear in mind that the primary goal of the Hague Convention is the safety of the child.
Aftermath of the Court’s Ruling
The Supreme Court’s decision, which overturned the standard in the Second Circuit (and the Third and Ninth Circuit, which follow the Second Circuit on this issue) for review of Hague Convention petitions for return of a child in the face of a grave risk, has had a significant impact on cases involving abuse victims fighting to retain custody. While Ms. Golan’s case remains in limbo—the district court again opted to order the child returned to Italy, despite current circumstances and new safety issues, and the case is again on appeal to the Second Circuit—Ms. Golan and her team are proud that her case has been able to help other mothers fighting to keep their children safe.
Ms. Golan’s resilience during her four year fight is a testament not only to her, but to her team of lawyers who have helped her throughout the case. While the fight continues, the 9-0 decision of the Supreme Court should be celebrated as an important battle victory for survivors of domestic abuse.
“The entire domestic violence community was ecstatic when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision overturning the problematic Second Circuit precedent. The Golan decision is an incredible victory for survivors and their children fleeing the terror of domestic violence to find safety in the United States. This Above & Beyond Team worked incredibly hard to achieve this monumental victory and I can’t thank them enough for the dedication, passion, and unparalleled lawyering that they have brought to the case.”
Director of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Program
Join us at our Above & Beyond Awards Ceremony on November 2, 2022, as we honor Morvillo Abramowitz & Paul Weiss’ outstanding pro bono work.
If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.
Tim J. Weinstein is an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell.