Hogan Lovells Successfully Defends Domestic Violence Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Hogan Lovells attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Lin.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Hogan Lovells attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Lin,” a Malaysian mother of a toddler boy. The Hogan Lovells team of partner Gary Serbin (currently at Kofsky Schwalb LLC), counsel Andrew Behrman (currently at Baker Botts LLP), and associates Nicole Schiavo, Anjum Unwala, and Jordan Estes (currently at the U.S. Department of Justice) fought hard and successfully to reverse a  federal court judgment ordering Lin to pay nearly $300,000 to her abusive husband.

When Lin came to Sanctuary she had already endured years of severe and repeated physical, sexual, and psychological violence in Singapore at the hands of her husband, a wealthy Iranian businessman.  Some of the incidents took place when she was holding her little boy.

Although Lin repeatedly reported the abuse to the police, sought medical treatment for injuries her husband inflicted on her, and attempted to obtain a civil protective order, she was unable to obtain the protection she and her baby needed. Fearing for her life and her child’s safety, she fled to New York with her son.

Lin’s husband filed a petition in the U.S. District Court in New York, demanding that the son be returned to Singapore pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Granting his attorney’s ex parte application, the District Court judge ordered the child to be seized by federal marshals and given to the father.

Going to trial

At trial Lin testified in detail about her husband’s abuse and the grave danger that she and her child would be in if forced to return to Singapore, and the court admitted into evidence multiple police reports and hospital records documenting the violence. Although U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel found that the father perpetrated multiple acts of domestic violence against the mother, some in the presence of the child, he ordered that the child be returned to Singapore.  The appellate court affirmed this decision.

Lin was heartbroken, but her husband was not through with his abuse.  He asked the District Court to force Lin to pay him $618,000 in legal fees and expenses for costs he incurred in litigating the Hague Convention case. Knowing this would financially devastate their client, Sanctuary turned to Hogan Lovells to fight the fee motion.

An uphill battle

The Hogan Lovells pro bono team rose to the challenge, arguing forcefully to Judge Castel that requiring Lin to pay her husband’s expenses would be “clearly inappropriate” given his history of domestic violence against her and her limited financial means.

Judge Castel rejected their argument that the domestic violence rendered a fee award inappropriate.  Although the team succeeded in reducing the fees by more than half, Judge Castel ordered Lin to pay nearly $300,000 to her abusive husband. 

“We advised Sanctuary that there were grounds to appeal the fee award, but it was highly unlikely that the appellate court would eliminate the fees entirely,” said Nicole Schiavo, a senior associate at Hogan Lovells.

“Nonetheless, we felt very strongly that a victim of abuse should not have to pay her batterer’s expenses, especially when those expenses resulted from the batterer’s own actions that caused the victim to flee.”

Knowing they faced an uphill battle, the team nonetheless filed a notice of appeal and took the fight to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, Lin’s husband launched a surprise procedural attack on the team’s notice of appeal.  “We got a call from opposing counsel claiming our notice of appeal was defective in that it was filed too late,” said Nicole. “He threatened that he would file a motion to dismiss our appeal as untimely if we didn’t voluntarily withdraw it.”

The Hogan Lovells team worked around the clock over the holiday weekend to respond to the emergency motion to dismiss the appeal.  The motion was ultimately defeated and the appeal was argued by former Hogan Lovells partner Gary Serbin in January 2015.

In March 2016, the Second Circuit issued a ruling that happily surprised everyone – the Court completely reversed Judge Castel’s order and eliminated the fee award in its entirety

Setting a new precedent

In an opinion written by Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann, the Second Circuit found that awarding fees to Lin’s abusive husband was “clearly inappropriate” given his “multiple, unilateral acts of intimate partner violence” against her.  Chief Judge Katzmann stated that,

“intimate partner violence in any form is deplorable. It can include a range of behaviors, from a single slap to a lethal blow. However, we need not determine in the matter at hand what quantum of violence must have occurred to warrant a finding that fees are ‘clearly inappropriate,’ given the repeated violence established in the record here.”

“We jumped for joy after reading the decision, which sets a new precedent in the Second Circuit,” explained Nicole. “This decision makes clear that domestic violence alone can make a fees award to an abusive partner clearly inappropriate under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act.”

Reflecting on her experience working on the appeal, Hogan Lovells associate Anjum Unwala said, “We are so pleased that our team’s perseverance and expertise in international law achieved this favorable outcome. Most of all, we hope this decision helps our client move away from an abusive situation and go forward with her life.”

“Working with Sanctuary for Families gave me a true understanding of the tireless work they do as an organization to help those in need,” added Andrew Behrman, former Hogan Lovells counsel and now a partner at Baker Botts. “It was a privilege to play a small part in this case with them.”

For Lin, the Hogan Lovells victory ensured that she will not be impoverished and indebted as she struggles to reunite with her little boy in Singapore.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Hogan Lovells’ 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.

Erin Meyer is the Pro Bono Manager at Proskauer Rose LLP and was formerly a senior associate at Hogan Lovells US LLP.  She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above & Beyond event.

Stories of Courage and Empowerment

Economic Empowerment Program graduates share stories of struggle and perseverance.

This past June, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empower Program held its semi-annual graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of forty-three strong and inspiring women, all survivors of domestic violence. With friends, family and Sanctuary staff in attendance, the women accepted their diplomas thereby marking the start of a new stage in both their personal and professional lives.

To honor the occasion the class elected fellow graduates to speak on their behalf. The speeches delivered by Coleen, Rebecah, and Yijie reflect many of the challenges that an estimated 25% of women in the U.S. have/will face in their lifetime. Follow the links below to read their speeches and hear their remarkable stories.

Coleen’s Story

Finding opportunity in every difficulty

“Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.”

Read on here.

Rebecah’s Story

Another chance at life

“Thinking [back on] a time when I sat in my unit at the shelter thinking to myself I am a single mother, jobless, and who the hell cares  I never thought I would be standing here basking in my own achievements. I didn’t want to constantly be a burden to people who had their own worries, so I shared a little and kept everything else to myself.”

Read on here.

Yijie’s Story

I am not a victim

“Even though I was free from abuse, my freedom was a harsh experience of shelter and struggle – I lost hope and wanted to give up. But I didn’t. I kept going. This program has allowed me to improve myself as well as my professional skills. I was a professional in my native country of China. Now I feel confident and ready to be a professional again in America. Most importantly, I feel human again.”

Read on here.

 

Coleen’s story: Finding opportunity in every difficulty

Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, overcame numerous challenges in order to complete the Economic Empowerment Program. Hear her story.

The following speech was delivered by Coleen, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Coleen’s story. 

What if I were selected to speak at graduation?

It gives me great pleasure to stand here before you and address all of the guests in attendance tonight and my graduating class. Before I proceed any further, I would like to seize this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to a few people who journeyed with me along this path.

The first person I would like to thank is Ms. Deborah Lee who afforded me the opportunity to participate in this empowering and uplifting program. To you, I will forever be grateful and indebted.

Secondly, the reason for me standing here delivering this charge, my classmates. Thank you all for selecting me!

Lastly, to the staff of the Economic Empowerment Program (E.E.P.) for doing an amazing job with the graduates.

When I was selected to speak on behalf of the class just a few days ago, I smiled and chuckled to myself before positively responding. You must be asking why? Why did I smile? The average person would have been terrified out of their wits if they were asked to do [something] similar.

Just a few weeks into the program, I had the craziest thought, ‘What if I were selected to speak at graduation?’ ‘What would I say?’ Right there and then I commenced writing what I wanted to say. Today, here I am delivering [my speech] to you.

An opportunity to do better for myself and my children

Today, I wish to bring a message of inspiration  a message of hope and a message of continued perseverance. My journey with E.E.P. has been a bitter-sweet one and I say bitter-sweet for [a few] reasons. Upon my acceptance into the program I was overwhelmed, excited and of course clueless as to what was ahead of me. With these mixed emotions I hurried home to share the good news with my children.

We discussed for hours how things would change knowing the program was five days a week, 9 am – 3 pm, leaving just a few hours for me to work at the beauty shop. Being a single mother of three and having to provide for two households was not an easy task. I worried [endlessly about] how I was going to adequately provide for my children.

In the face of these adversities I still went ahead and gave it a try. I saw this opportunity as one to do better for myself and my children. I saw it as an opportunity that would only come my way once.

At the commencement of the program I was told that I would be given a monthly metro card, a stipend to cover my expenses and free daily meals. This support really made it possible for me to do the program, and provide for my family! Through this assistance, I was able to get myself to class. Even with the assistance [though], I still needed income to cover rent and food and bills.

It was a huge struggle, and I started to second guess my move. I questioned if this program was the right thing to do. But, as the days of training went by, I started to see the long-term benefits of being a part of this program.

It struck me that I had been afforded an opportunity to elevate myself professionally and personally – how could I not seize my best chance at success? When I changed my perspective and attitude towards my situation everything slowly started to work.

I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally

Over the following few weeks I acquired computer skills, developed my business communication and literacy skills. I saw major improvements in my work life, my professional life and my personal life. I was completely transformed. It continued to be a lot of work, but [I had no doubts].

I thought to myself, what would have happened if I had passed up an opportunity like this? As the program progressed, I was privileged to visit so many professional places, meet so many people and most importantly create friendships that will last after the completion of this program.

Apart from this, internally, there were so many times I felt like giving up  so many times I doubted myself, so many times I broke down and cried. I was challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. There were days [when] I was so tired from waking up very early to prepare myself for school and [my] daughter for the sitter, making lunch for her and juggling through the rain and sun to get to both places on time.

Other days I was so tired from leaving work really late to head home to do home-work, study and my basic housekeeping. There were times I got frustrated and angry at myself when I couldn’t get a problem or exercise right but I toiled day and night until I got it right. I constantly kept these words with me, “God is with her and she will not fail” (Psalm 46:5).

Be Relentless

With hardly any sleep and a heart filled with determination, I was able to persevere, overcome my shortcomings and most importantly, stand here before you. Together these were the challenges of Coleen.

There is so much more I want to say but in the interest of time I’ll stop here. I’ll leave you with this message: be relentless! When faced with trials, be relentless – in the face of unpopularity, be relentless. In your darkest hours, be relentless! For “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity and an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” I further charge you ladies today to be the optimist and be relentless in all your future undertakings!

Thank you all for allowing me to be a part of this amazing program!

 

Learn more about the Economic Empowerment Program’s success here.

Rebecah’s Story: Another chance at life

Rebecah, a Sanctuary for Families client, shares how the Economic Empowerment Program has given her another chance at life.

The following speech was delivered by Rebecah, a Sanctuary for Families client, at the Spring 2016 Economic Empowerment Program graduation. Of the 43 graduates in this year’s spring class, four women were selected by class vote to share their stories with the audience.

This is Rebecah’s story.

Good Evening Everyone! Thank you all for coming and thank you to the Economic Empowerment Program’s (E.E.P.) staff and clients for this opportunity to speak today. With so many diverse and wonderful personalities I am sure the choice of graduation speakers was not easy to make.

So I would like to ask everyone, how was your commute? To my graduates, are you happy that you made it?

So am I.

That is what I have been saying since [I] accepted and [started] attending E.E.P. Today I am happy I made it, even [just] this far because this program has not only shaped my future better than any other program (all three of the ones I have done) but it has also given me a support system like no other.

In the moment of it all, I was alone

I walked through Sanctuary’s doors with just a few belongings and my son; with no one to express my deepening sadness or frustrations to. I felt alone and in the moment of it all, I was alone. None of my friends would have been able to fully grasp how I truly felt and words could not express the amount of disappointment I had withheld from them.

I was disappointed in having to rely on public assistance for our survival and had there not been a shelter for me to stay in, I would have been homeless with a newborn baby or stuck in an unforgiving and unloving home trying to escape every form of abuse.

If it wasn’t for Sanctuary for Families, there would be no Economic Empowerment Program to help rescue us from what seemed to be a downward spiraling series of unfortunate events. What would have become of my son?

Another chance at life

Thinking [back on] a time when I sat in my unit at the shelter thinking to myself I am a single mother, jobless, and who the hell cares  I never thought I would be standing here basking in my own achievements. I didn’t want to constantly be a burden to people who had their own worries, so I shared a little and kept everything else to myself.

I just wanted to finish the program and make it into corporate America. I want my son to look up to me with “respeck”! I want America to look at me with the honor of a proud sensei whose student successfully completed every round in Soul Calibur IV. E.E.P. gave me another chance to achieve that, another chance at life!

During my intake, they welcomed me with excitement and more certainty than I’ve ever had or seen in a single room (literally). They broke down everything from what actually matters to employers on a resume, to how they planned to help me get a living wage job. They provided me with a community of women just like me, [all] with vivacious personalities. We helped each other along the way, bonding, listening, and fighting for our goals together. A fight that now we can say we are well on our way to overcoming.

You are the one who got yourself to this place in time

Here we are 4 months later with certifications in Microsoft Office Suite, and professional skills that no one can ever take away. I am currently enrolled in school and working to get into Per Scholas, which provides A+ certification and networking class.

After [my Per Scholas courses] I will be looking for an internship to further develop my skills and then transitioning into a permanent career. So…I have my work cut out for me! But, there are things that I tell myself to help me keep pushing through, that I think would be good for us all to hear.

To all the clients who feel like they still have mountains to climb – remember all the people who doubted you, your deepest despair, and all the people who took you for granted or abused you. THEN, remember why you came to E.E.P., think of how very far you’ve come, and think of your children, and THEN you’ll remember that YOU are the one who got yourself to this place in time – all with the help of Sanctuary’s E.E.P. staff whom I would like to thank greatly for this opportunity to change my life.