At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Julie” and her four-year-old child “Luis” who has autism. The Cahill team, consisting of partner Jason Hall, and associates Krista Friedrich (currently of the New York City Law Department), Tara Curtin, Komal Patel, and Jamie Stinson (currently of King & Spalding) helped Julie and Luis obtain an apartment with a private bedroom for Luis in their federally-subsidized housing complex as a reasonable accommodation for Luis’s autism.
Pro Bono Council Co-Chair Ben A. Schatz talks with Tara Curtin and Komal Patel about their experience working with Sanctuary on this matter.
Ben: Tell us briefly about the work you and your team did on behalf of Julie and Luis.
Komal: Luis was diagnosed with autism when he was just over a year old, and received intensive, in-home therapy five days a week to help him manage the physical and behavioral symptoms of his disability. Julie, Luis, and another family member were living in a small, one bedroom apartment in a federally-subsidized housing complex. The only available space in the apartment for Luis’s therapy sessions was in the corner of a small living area connected to the apartment’s kitchen, restroom, and entrance doorway. However, because of his autism, Luis is easily distracted and hypersensitive to noise. Luis’s therapists advised that Luis needed a closed, designated space for his in-home therapy to be productive, in order for him to sleep, and for Luis to generally manage the symptoms of his disability. Julie had informed her landlord of Luis’s disability, and requested to be placed at the top of the waiting list for a larger apartment as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, New York State and City Human Rights Laws, and HUD policies. The landlord denied her request on multiple occasions.
The Cahill team, in collaboration with Sanctuary, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Julie and Luis in the Southern District of New York. After multiple court appearances and a lengthy negotiation process, we reached a favorable settlement agreement on behalf of Julie and Luis, which allowed them to move into a two-bedroom apartment suitable for Luis’s needs.
Ben: How did working on this case help you grow professionally?
Tara: This case offered the opportunity for some incredible litigation experience. We drafted and filed a civil rights complaint in federal court, prepared discovery papers, and I personally appeared before Judge Sullivan in the Southern District of New York on two occasions. We also negotiated a settlement on behalf of Luis, which was approved by the Court. This case taught me what it truly means to advocate for your clients.
Komal: Yes! This case afforded me the opportunity to draft a complaint—a first for this defense-oriented litigator. I also learned a great deal working so closely with Julie, who fought incredibly hard to get Luis the tools he needs to manage his symptoms and develop as a child. Knowing how much this case meant to Julie and Luis made us even more determined to achieve a favorable outcome.
Ben: Sanctuary takes a holistic approach to helping its clients. How did you and Sanctuary help Julie and Luis in ways outside the courtroom?
Tara: While we were working on this case, Julie had a bed bug infestation in her apartment and she was forced to throw away almost all of the family’s bedroom and living room furniture, clothing, and many other household items. Julie was devastated and did not have the financial means to replace these items. Fortunately, Sanctuary was able to secure a grant for Julie and her family, which allowed her to replace all of Julie’s damaged property. Julie was incredibly grateful to Sanctuary’s generous donors, and to the entire Sanctuary team.
Ben: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Komal: I think I can speak for a number of Cahill associates in saying that the pro bono matters we’ve worked on with Sanctuary have been amazing learning experiences. I feel fortunate to work at a firm with such a strong commitment to pro bono work—and such a longstanding relationship with Sanctuary—and I am grateful to Nicole Fidler and Kevitt Adler at Sanctuary who provided us the opportunity to work on this case and guided us along way.
Ben: We asked Julie if she had anything she wanted to express to the Cahill team, and here was her response:
Julie: There are no words nor money to show how grateful I am for everything you did for me and my family. It has been a true honor, help and pleasure to have been able to count on you in the moments where I felt the most oppressed. Thanks to you, my family has a decent roof over their heads, especially my son who has autism, because as a mother his development and progression every day are the most important things to me. . . . . Really thank you so much for all the help. God bless you always.
Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Cahill team’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event 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.