At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Akerman attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Ms. C,” a survivor of domestic violence. Akerman associates Steven Cordero and Vanessa Garcia worked tirelessly on a difficult family-court trial that lasted eighteen months. In July 2016, they ultimately prevailed, obtaining for Ms. C a five-year final order of protection against her abuser.
Securing the protective order
For years Ms. C has been struggling with a rare degenerative illness, while also suffering from on-going abuse by her husband. Ms. C sought help after a particularly frightening incident in 2014, which culminated in her husband threatening to kill her. Her husband was arrested, but the criminal court only granted Ms. C a two-year protective order. Fearing what could happen to her after the order expired, Ms. C reached out to Sanctuary, and Sanctuary reached out to Akerman.
Akerman associates Steven Cordero and Vanessa Garcia met Ms. C in January 2015, and, with the assistance of Amanda Norejko, Director of Sanctuary’s Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project, immediately began preparing for a trial in Family Court to seek a five-year protective order so that Ms. C would still have an order of protection in place after the two-year criminal order expired.
Amanda nominated Steven and Vanessa to receive the Above & Beyond award because of their incredible dedication to their client:
“Steven and Vanessa devoted many hours to preparing for trial to ensure Ms. C received the longest possible order of protection. They introduced compelling evidence and carefully prepared Ms. C. for her testimony. The client was extremely nervous about testifying, but they did an excellent job working with her to be able to present a very solid case. They skillfully represented a very anxious client with incredible sensitivity and understanding. They took all the client’s concerns into consideration and answered her many questions with great care and patience.”
The family court ultimately granted Ms. C a five-year final order of protection in July 2016. The team was thrilled with the court’s ruling—it is difficult to win a protective order of such length because it requires specific factual findings by the court that aggravating circumstances (for example, serious physical injury) exist.
Going above and beyond
In addition to their exceptional legal representation, Steven and Vanessa have truly gone above and beyond for Ms. C. Domestic violence victims often have to wait around the courthouse for long periods of time following each court appearance, in order to get their temporary orders of protection from the court clerk. This experience is made even more uncomfortable and scary for victims by the fact that their abusers are also present at the courthouse waiting for the orders. But Steven and Vanessa always went the extra mile to ensure that Ms. C felt safe, by waiting as long as two hours with her to receive her temporary orders of protection, and walking her out of the courthouse. In addition, Vanessa is continuing to assist Ms. C. with her other legal needs.
Ms. C is incredibly grateful to Steven and Vanessa:
“I am so grateful for all the time, effort, and skill that Steve and Vanessa have put into my case over the past two years. Steve and Vanessa worked tirelessly to prepare me properly for my court appearance. They also gave me the reassurance and comfort I needed throughout the process to persevere. Thanks to their remarkable ongoing efforts before, during, and after each court appearance—not only from a legal point of view, but also in terms of their kindness, compassion, and sense of humor—Vanessa and Steve helped make this unpleasant process as pleasant as possible.”
Fighting for a worthy cause
Reflecting on his experience working with Ms. C, Steven explained that this case showed him that domestic violence is an issue that touches people of all walks of life, regardless of social-economic status. He also appreciated that representing a domestic violence survivor in a case that would help protect her from harm gave him an opportunity to use his legal skills to fight for a good and worthy cause.
“It is very rewarding to have such a close client relationship, and to have someone like Ms. C put her trust in you,” Vanessa added. In addition, “the pro bono work has given me the opportunity, even as a junior associate, to really get involved in a case and see it through.”
Both associates expressed their appreciation for Akerman’s support of its attorneys’ pro bono work, and their excitement about the firm’s recently expanded pro bono practice.
Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Steven and Vanessa’s outstanding pro bono work. You can buy tickets here. If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.
Emilie Winckel is a white-collar associate at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and currently represents a Sanctuary client in connection with a federal criminal case. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.