Survivors Organize First-Ever Leadership Conference

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out?

What does it mean to be a survivor? Why is it important to speak out? How do we share our experiences while protecting our emotional and mental health? Can we create a safe space for survivors of all backgrounds to share and celebrate their stories?

These were some of the questions that guided our survivor leaders as they organized and led Sanctuary’s first-ever Survivor Leadership Conference in October.

dscf7148-editHosted by Gibney Dance, the Conference aimed to celebrate survivors’ journeys, strengthen resiliency and build survivor leadership within Sanctuary. Drawing on these questions and common goals, Conference organizers developed a program as empowering as it was healing.

dscf7143-editThe day’s events began at noon with a delicious buffet lunch catered by survivors and conference participants. As attendees filtered in and settled down, Sanctuary’s Executive Director Hon. Judy H. Kluger welcomed everyone and introduced Gwen Wright, Executive Director of the NY State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. As a survivor of domestic violence herself, Gwen’s deeply personal speech about her abuse, escape and evolution as a survivor leader set the tone for the afternoon.

dscf7196-editPanel discussions throughout the day covered a range of topics and were interspersed with self-care exercises and art-therapy projects. The first panel, moderated by a Sanctuary board member and survivor leader, highlighted the diversity of survivor experience through powerful testimony. Panelists spoke of their experiences as survivors of sex trafficking, forced marriage, breast ironing, and domestic violence in heterosexual, as well as same-sex relationships, and shared how they are each working to raise awareness through community, education, art and nonprofit advocacy.

dscf7314-editThe second panel delved further into the process many survivors go through in realizing and nurturing their inner leader. Between panel discussions, attendees wrote notes on a Sanctuary tapestry, snapped a few photos for the survivor-led selfie project and practiced meditation to ease the weight of the day’s discussions. Towards the end of the afternoon, staff members shared how survivors could get involved in survivor leadership opportunities at Sanctuary, including advocacy and outreach efforts, and the larger movement to end gender violence.

Joan Hutton Mills

The conference came to close with a special interpretive dance performance by a survivor entitled Points of Change and the reciting of a poem titled, “Change,” by Sanctuary survivor and poet, Joan Hutton-Mills.

 

Sanctuary is grateful for the generous support of Gwen Wright, Gibney Dance, and Project Playdate (which oversaw childcare during the conference). A special thanks is of course due to Sanctuary staff, volunteers, our board members, and the survivors who organized and led this incredible event.

For over 30 years, Sanctuary has served those escaping abuse, helping them transform from victim to survivor. Moving forward, we will build on this experience, working closely with our survivors, to create an organization that not only helps victims become survivors but helps survivors become leaders. By harnessing their energy and knowledge we, as a movement, will transform society’s response to gender violence.

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Appropriate Housing for Son with Autism

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cahill Gordon & Reindel attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Julie” and her four-year-old child “Luis” who has autism.

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.

komalKomal: 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-cahillTara:  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.

 

First Year Skadden Attorney Wins Five Year Order of Protection for Survivor of Domestic Violence

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Tansy Woan, a litigation associate at Skadden, for her pro bono work on behalf of Ms. G, a woman who was seeking a full five-year order of protection against her husband, who subjected her to severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during their relationship.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Tansy Woan, a litigation associate at Skadden, for her pro bono work on behalf of Ms. T, a woman who was seeking a full five-year order of protection against her husband, who subjected her to severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during their relationship.

From the Dominican Republic to Maryland

Just over four years ago, Ms. T, then 21-years old and living in the Dominican Republic, thought that she had met the love of her life when she came across Mr. S, a charming older American man in his 30s. They hit it off immediately and began dating.

They continued to date long distance after he returned to the United States. As their relationship progressed, Mr. S asked Ms. T to consider moving to the United States to be with him. She agreed and moved in with him in Maryland, and they were engaged shortly thereafter. That was when Ms. T’s life shattered. 

After Ms. T moved to Maryland, Mr. S became a different person. He became increasingly angry with her and started yelling at her and threatening her. He then began physically abusing her. Six months into their relationship, his violence intensified to severe sexual abuse and threats against Ms. T’s life with a firearm that Mr. S kept in their shared bedroom. Ms. T was living in constant fear, with no friends or family nearby and no means of support. When the abuse became too much for her to bear, Ms. T fled to New York City and found Sanctuary for Families. Sanctuary assisted Ms. T in obtaining a temporary order of protection against Mr. S.  But Ms. T still needed a full and final five-year order of protection, and Sanctuary turned to Skadden for assistance.

Tansy Woan steps in

twTansy Woan, then a newly-minted first year associate at Skadden, immediately stepped in.  Tansy had worked on domestic violence cases when she was in college, and had hoped that once she began practicing, she could incorporate her passion into her legal practice as well.  The March 2014 e-mail that came across her inbox, seeking an attorney interested in working on Ms. T’s order of protection application pro bono, seemed almost fortuitous and Tansy jumped at the opportunity.

Thus began an 18-month long bench trial in Bronx Family Court.  Determined to prove Mr. S’s cruelty, Tansy, under the guidance of Dara Sheinfeld, Sanctuary’s Legal Director at the Bronx and Manhattan Family Justice Centers, skillfully advocated for Ms. T throughout the trial.  Tansy gently elicited Ms. T’s story during her emotional direct examination.  And she skillfully handled the long and challenging cross-examination of Mr. S, carefully highlighting the many inconsistencies in his testimony, and the inconsistencies between his testimony and the evidence, succeeding in badly damaging his credibility. According to Dara, Tansy was “fierce during cross examination,” in spite of Mr. S’s aggressive and unpleasant demeanor during the trial.

Tansy’s skilled advocacy resulted in the granting of a full and final five-year order of protection for Ms. T. Tansy’s effective representation was achieved in no small part because of her ability to connect and establish trust with Ms. T. It was extraordinarily difficult and re-traumatizing for Ms. T to recount her difficult story, both during prep sessions and at trial. The process of having to go through all the details was excruciating and emotional, and it was only with Tansy’s ability to comfort Ms. T and create a safe space for her to tell her story that Ms. T was able to do so. As Dara explained, Tansy showed “extraordinary empathy” for Ms. T, “always giving her the time she needed to deal with the feelings and emotions that trial preparation evoked.” And as Tansy reflected, “A lot of the advocacy that I did was just to comfort her, and to give her strength. My job wasn’t just to prepare for trial, it was to be there for her.”

Reflections and advice

In April 2016, after a long and drawn out trial, and shortly after Tansy left Skadden for a judicial clerkship, Ms. T received the protection for which she had fought so desperately. The Family Court granted Ms. T a full and final five-year order of protection, the longest possible under the law. Tansy was ecstatic with the outcome.

“It was an honor to have this experience, and to help Ms. T work through a very difficult period of time.  Not only was I doing a full-blown trial with Sanctuary as a first year associate, but I was giving Ms. T the chance to have her side of the story heard, and to help her fight back against this man who terrified her for years.  It felt so good to tell her that it was all worth it, and to say to her:  ‘Your courage got you through this.’”

Tansy reiterated that she was only able to do what she did because of the support that she received from Sanctuary, particularly Dara:

“Dara was amazing.  She was there with me at every client meeting and every court appearance, and always made herself available to answer any questions I had, no matter how often or what time of day.   Without her, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the trial – she helped me practice my cross examinations, my openings, everything, really.  It was my first trial ever and she really helped me to feel at ease.  I can’t imagine having gotten through it without her.  I can’t thank her and Sanctuary enough for all of the mentoring, support, and encouragement they have provided.  It is so inspiring to work with someone as passionate as Dara.”

Tansy also marveled at how Skadden rallied the full weight of their resources behind Ms. T. Other attorneys at the firm, including Steve Kolleeny, Jay Kasner, Scott Musoff, Lauren Aguiar, and Rob Fumerton, took time out of their busy schedules to offer advice and guidance and to run through arguments.  Steve, who was the Skadden attorney overseeing Tansy’s representation of Ms. T, was particularly instrumental during the case. Tansy reminisced, “He was phenomenal, so incredibly busy, but always made time to help this anxious first year associate.” Tansy had wanted nothing more than for Steve to see the trial through, to show him that all of the hard work that went into it eventually paid off, but to everyone’s great loss, Steve passed away in September 2014.

With Tansy now back from her clerkship at Skadden, she is even more determined to take on another domestic violence matter for Sanctuary.  She even has some advice for future young attorneys hoping to make a true difference in the life of another:  “Prepare for the unexpected.  Know your facts and the law by heart.  And, above all, remember to be human.  So much of Ms. T’s testimony required that she maintain her cool under pressure, and that she trust me.  For me to gain her trust, and to be there for her, required that I be so much more than an attorney.” 

Ms. T was incredibly grateful and thrilled with the outcome:

“[Tansy] earned my trust and respect for the way and dedication with which [she] perform[ed] [her] work.  Tansy was always there listening to my story and looking for the best way to help me get my order of protection.  I felt very privileged that among the many cases she could work on[,] [that she chose] mine the way [she] did.  [A]ll I can say is thank you very much and God bless her and allow her to continue to have success in her work.”

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

Etienne Barg-Townsend is Senior Legal Counsel at KGS-Alpha Capital Markets, L.P., a New York-based institutional fixed income broker-dealer.  She was formerly a litigation associate at Shearman & Sterling LLP, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, LLP, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.  She has worked on several pro bono matters with Sanctuary, and is in the process of developing a pro bono program at KGS-Alpha.  She is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and is Co-Chair of this year’s Above & Beyond gala. 

 

Reed Smith Attorneys Exhibit Great Skill and Persistence in Complicated Custody Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of pro bono attorneys at Reed Smith LLP for their bono work in a challenging custody matter.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a dynamic duo from Reed Smith for their pro bono work in a challenging custody matter.  The team was led by associate Brandon Cunningham and Jeff Glatzer, a retired partner from Reed Smith who is currently in private practice.

As lawyers, we are trained to be zealous advocates ready to endure lengthy legal battles. However, by the time a client seeks representation, she has often already endured a difficult path paved with grief, abuse and conflict behind her — long before legal advocacy even begins. Jeff and Brandon are extraordinary examples of the persistence, dedication, respect and care that serves Sanctuary clients beyond the courtroom.

cunninghambdPro Bono Council co-chair Mia Marie White talks with Brandon Cunningham about the team’s experience working with Sanctuary on the matter.

Mia: Tell us about the work you did for Sanctuary.

Brandon:  Our case was a custody matter that was complicated by the dynamics of domestic violence.  Following a brutal dispute shortly after the child was born, the mother was pressured to give up custody of her little boy to his father.  But things were not going well for the child, and his father was failing to get him the help he needed.  The father took actions to undermine our client’s relationship with the child and infringe on her visitation rights.  Our objective was to regain custody rights for our client and improve her situation in the meantime.

Mia: I understand that you were engaged in representation for almost three years.

Brandon:  Yes, we worked on the case for nearly three years.  We spent an enormous amount of time documenting the issues the child was experiencing and the evidence of the father’s malfeasance.  We drafted filings relating to the father’s failure to abide by the visitation orders in place, negotiated increased visitation rights for our client, and prepared for trial, including a forensic examination.

All of the work we did was in concert and collaboration with Sanctuary’s Legal Director at the Bronx and Manhattan Family Justice Centers, Dara Sheinfeld, without whose invaluable experience and counsel we could not have achieved what we did.

Mia: How did you become involved with this case?

Brandon: The case came to us via Sanctuary for Families in May 2013.  Jeff had previously expressed an interest in collaborating on a pro bono matter with Sanctuary, and I worked with Sanctuary in law school through the Courtroom Advocates Program, advocating for Orders of Protection for battered women. Following an initial intake meeting with the client, we were impressed with the gravity of the situation and eager to help; there was clearly a woman, and even more so a child, in real need of our help.

Mia: What is the status of the case now?

Brandon: We and Sanctuary are no longer her counsel, so we do not know the status of the case.  This case really showed the toll that litigation, especially trial preparation, can take on already traumatized clients. This was the second time that the client had, for all purposes, to make the difficult choice to stop fighting for her son in court – both times because of the intense pressures of litigation.

Mia: Despite that you are no longer engaged in representation, several positive outcomes were achieved. Can you share some examples of those?

Brandon: While we sadly had to withdraw from representing this client because she no longer wanted to pursue her case vigorously, we understand and respect her decision. One outcome is that we significantly improved her visitation rights, more than doubling the time she is now able to share with her son.  Perhaps most importantly, we were also able to advocate and obtain medical and therapeutic help for her son, which he urgently needed.

Mia:  It is often said that Sanctuary is unique because of its holistic approach to client service. Did you find that you and Sanctuary were able to provide support outside of the courtroom?

Brandon: A great deal of our work took place outside of the courtroom and after working hours.  There were instances of receiving urgent calls on Saturday morning from the police precinct, or late at night to resolve ongoing visitation issues.  We also spent a great deal of time with the client working through the challenges inherent in her custody setup and in her relationship with the father and the child.  Finally, our legal work and strategy were strongly influenced by what the client was and was not able to work with and compromise on; a holistic approach was necessary to reconcile those aspects as much as possible.

Mia: It is incredibly difficult to advocate for custody rights after having (seemingly) voluntarily relinquished custody, which is one of the many ways that domestic violence manifests against the abused parent. What were some of the other hurdles or challenges you faced?

Brandon: The relationship between our client and the child’s father was deeply unpleasant; the father would regularly send abusive, belittling screeds full of personal attacks to our client and also to us.  For a while, the father was pro se, which made things even worse.  There were numerous instances in which reasonable compromises were met with impasse because the parties could not get past their personal feelings.

Mia: How has Reed Smith supported your work with Sanctuary?

Brandon: Reed Smith takes pro bono seriously and provided all the resources we could ever have needed.  The attorney hours we committed to this case over the course of three years were immense, in addition to the support staff assistance with filings, assembling of materials, etc.

In addition, Jeff was able to join in the case as a result of the firm’s participation in the New York State Attorney Emeritus program, which enables retired partners to continue to participate in pro bono matters through the firm.  This program is fantastic for pro bono generally, given the highly experienced lawyers with time to contribute that the program brings into the fold.

Mia: What is your practice area? Is it different from the subject-matter of the case?

Brandon: Jeff’s primary experience has been as a bankruptcy lawyer and commercial litigator, and I am a white collar crime and government investigations lawyer.  So yes—worlds away from family court and custody disputes.

Mia: Do you have any lessons or takeaways you’d like to share? Has working on this case helped you grow as a lawyer?

Brandon: This was definitely a very challenging case, with a lot of difficult interpersonal dynamics to manage and barriers to overcome.  In the end, we felt we had done as much as we possibly could for the client, even though that didn’t involve taking her case to trial.  We learned a great deal about dealing with clients who are deeply emotionally involved in the subject matter of the case, about dealing with hostile and legally unsophisticated adversaries, and about the challenges faced by abused women trying to assert their rights.  Working with and learning from a lawyer of Dara Sheinfeld’s caliber was particularly valuable for a younger attorney such as myself and a senior lawyer without experience in custody matters.

Mia: Is there anything else would you like to share?

We would like to thank Dara, and Sanctuary for Families generally, for the opportunity to work on such a rewarding case.  And we encourage all attorneys to reach out to Sanctuary for Families and ask how they can contribute, even if they have no experience in gender violence or family law.

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

Mia is a Pro Bono Council Co-Chair for Sanctuary and a senior associate in the intellectual property and information technology (IP/IT) practice group of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in New York.