Arnold & Porter Pro Bono Team Win Contempt of Court Order for Child Support

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.

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.

Join us at our Above & Beyond virtual celebration on Oct. 26, 2021, as we honor Arnold & Porter’s outstanding pro bono work. Click here to RSVP for free.

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.

Davis Polk Attorneys Fight for Immigrant Survivor of Sex Trafficking

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP for their tireless pro bono work on behalf of “Maria,” a trans survivor of sex trafficking.

Melissa D. James is a Senior Associate at a boutique employment law firm, specializing in Workers’ Compensation and Social Security Disability. She is also an Adjunct Professor and member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

“Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.” – Kathy Calvin, CEO & President of the United Nations Foundation

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP for their tireless pro bono work on behalf of “Maria,” a trans survivor of sex trafficking. The incredible team, consisting of Joshua Sills and David Robles, was successful in helping Maria vacate two outstanding criminal warrants and ultimately secure a T-Visa.

Drawing Parallels

Maria started grappling with her gender identity in her early teens, back in the early 2000s, while living in her home country of Mexico. As she began to transition at the age of fourteen, Maria would come to face horrible backlash and even violence from her parents. One day she came home from school to find that her father, in a rage, had set all of her belongings on fire. This prompted Maria to leave her parents’ home immediately and move to Mexico City where, like many transgender youth without familial support, she was forced to live on the streets. By the age of fifteen, Maria was residing in a group home and waiting tables to earn money. It was there where she met the older man who would later rape and force her into the world of trafficking.  He brought Maria to the U.S. and as soon as they crossed the border, he took her to her new “home”—a house where she was forced to have sex with the men who lived there as well as other men who came for the purpose of buying sex.  Maria eventually managed to escape with the help of a childhood friend who was also living in the United States. She ended up in New York City and was arrested for prostitution but, luckily, was referred to the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Brooklyn where she was connected to Sanctuary and, ultimately, to Davis Polk.

In sheer contrast, Josh, who is the same age as Maria, lived a life free from such a dark reality. In fact, Josh expressed that “going through life, not understanding” the challenges others face is a “real eye-opener and a motivator to do more” to help victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. So, when the time came to face an unexpected obstacle, the Davis Polk team did not hesitate in taking the necessary steps to help Maria vacate two outstanding criminal warrants that could have jeopardized her T-Visa application.  As Josh so humbly stated, “passing it [the task] on to anyone else was not even a thought.”

Blazing a Path

As part of the T-Visa application, clients must provide proof that they cooperated with reasonable requests for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of acts of trafficking. This proof often comes in the form of a law enforcement “certification.”  At the time that Josh and David were working on Maria’s case, no trafficking survivor had yet to obtain this type of certification from the Brooklyn Human Trafficking Intervention Court (“HTIC”).  Working with Maria to prepare her for an in chamber interview with a Brooklyn HTIC Judge, Josh and David were able to help Maria obtain this critical certification from the Judge, blazing a path in Brooklyn for future survivors.

The Game Changer

During the process of preparing Maria’s T-Visa application, the Davis Polk team learned that it could be compromised unless two outstanding criminal warrants were resolved. Without hesitation, the team reached out to Red Hook Community Justice Center (“RHCJC”) and got the cases placed on the calendar to be heard before a criminal law judge. At the hearing the team made an application to vacate the outstanding warrants that was granted by the presiding judge. Josh remembers Maria initially being scared, however he recognized her resilience and admired her for her strength. At the end, Maria was granted a T-Visa and could now truly move on from her past.

The Golden Standard

Amy Hsieh, Sanctuary’s Senior Staff Attorney, had an opportunity to work closely with the Davis Polk team and expressed that they provided “the perfect combination of support for Maria.” “Their legal work was of course outstanding,” said Hsieh, “but they also formed a true bond with their client so much so that Josh—even though he is now in Spain—continues to help her as needed from afar.” She noted that the Davis Polk team was very passionate, stepped outside the box and treated Maria like any other client who walked through Davis Polk’s doors. In her eyes, the way that the Davis Polk team took the lead to handle this arduous obstacle represents a level of dedication that she wishes could be the standard for all pro bono work.

What brings true value to the Davis Polk team is that both Josh and David understand the time and effort that it takes to provide exceptional pro bono representation. In fact, prior to joining Davis Polk both Josh and David regularly participated in complex pro bono opportunities. In law school, David worked closely with victims of domestic abuse and prior to law school, Josh was involved with Immigration Equality – the leading national LGBTQ immigrant rights organization. David expressed that working with Sanctuary has been invaluable and has shaped him into a better attorney. Similarly, Josh feels blessed to work so closely with Sanctuary and often thinks deeply about the struggles that face so many victims of sex trafficking. This vast contrast in life is what drives him to continue doing this type of work – the notion that sometimes we live a life so secluded oblivious to the fact that there is someone else so close living a life that mirrors a nightmare.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Davis Polk’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.