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.

 

TCS NYC Marathon Spotlight: Erika Tullberg

TCS NYC Marathon runner and Sanctuary team-member Erika Tullberg shares why she’s running this year.

For seven years now, Sanctuary has organized NYC Marathon teams and each year we’re amazed by the commitment, strength and mental fortitude of our incredible runners. This year, we’re proud to say, is no exception! When our team member Erika first started running three years ago, she claims she “couldn’t run more than a block.” Next month, Erika will run 26.2 miles throughout NYC’s five boroughs in honor of the families Sanctuary serves and those who have generously given on her behalf.

Erika is nearly 85% of the way to her goal of $3,000. Help her raise the remainder by donating through her CrowdRise page today.

A New Year’s resolution

I started running three years ago, somewhat on a whim. It was just after New Year’s, I was feeling out of shape, and I knew that getting another gym membership that I probably wouldn’t use was not the solution. Running seemed appealing, because you can do it whenever or wherever you want – so despite the fact that I couldn’t run more than a block without stopping, I gave it a try.

My initial goal was to run a charity 5 kilometer run/walk that I had walked for several years.  Those early cold, dark January mornings I walked far more than ran. Gradually, however, the balance flipped and I was actually running, which amazed me!  I did my 5k, and then another; and another after that. That fall I did my first 10k.

Support made all the difference

The following spring I convinced a friend to train with me for a half marathon – it seemed like a good bucket list challenge.  The race ended up going horribly for me, but the bad taste it left just gave me incentive to try again. The following year I signed up a training group. Having that support made all the difference, and I ended up doing three more half marathons over the subsequent year.

Still, I didn’t think of myself as a runner and never thought I could do a marathon. I didn’t think I could stick with the training, especially during the heat and humidity of the summer, and more importantly, I didn’t think my injury-prone body could take the pounding. Several friends from my running group had qualified for the 2016 New York City Marathon, however, so I figured that if I was ever going to try it, now was the time to do it. I had people around me to help me through the process and I still had the option of running with one of the many charities affiliated with the marathon.

Running for Sanctuary

I put a lot of thought into what organization I wanted to run with. I have always worked in social services, and most of my work has been with children and families that have experienced maltreatment, violence, and other kinds of trauma. Through my work I was familiar with Sanctuary for Families, and knew that the money I would raise would provide concrete help to women and children who have experienced unspeakable trauma yet often remain marginalized and forgotten by society. Running for Sanctuary has also given me additional incentive when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel because people are now depending on me – both Sanctuary’s clients and the people who have so generously donated on my behalf.

One thing that running has taught me is that as hard as it is physically, the largest part of the struggle is mental – to keep running when every fiber of your being is telling you to stop. It seems hokey to say that it’s a great metaphor for life, but it is true. Sometimes you just have to focus on the next step, and if you keep putting one foot in front of the other you will eventually get to where you want to, need to, and can be. Sanctuary for Families helps people to do that every single day.

Unfortunately I’m still not one of those people who feels the “runner’s high” when they are running. What keeps me going is the support of my running friends and the satisfaction I know I will have once I am done. So when I make my way through the city to Central Park on November 6th, I will focus on getting through the next step – remembering all of the people I am running for, and hoping that the strength I have unexpectedly found in myself will help provide strength to others.

Donate through Erika’s CrowdRise page to help her meet her $3000 goal!

Cohen & Gresser Attorneys Reinstate Critical Public Benefits for Trafficking Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of pro bono attorneys at Cohen & Gresser LLP for their bono work fighting to make sure “Camilla,” a victim of trafficking, received the public benefits she was entitled to.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of pro bono attorneys at Cohen & Gresser LLP for their bono work fighting to make sure “Camilla,” a victim of trafficking, received the public benefits she was entitled to.  

Cut off from public benefits

Camilla, a victim of human trafficking from Mexico and a monolingual Spanish speaker, originally came to Sanctuary for immigration assistance.  But last summer when Camilla checked her public benefits card she realized that, for some reason, she had not received her cash assistance or her food stamps and could not buy groceries for her family.  Camilla, like many of Sanctuary’s lowest income clients, relies heavily on her monthly public benefits to meet basic living needs, like food and clothing.  But these critical benefits are often cut off, or drastically reduced, for no legitimate reason and/or with no appropriate notice.  This sudden lack of resources is devastating for our clients, and it was devastating for Camilla.

Camilla went to her local welfare center to find out what happened and discovered that her benefits case was closed, without any notice, because she had allegedly failed to recertify her case (public benefits recipients must periodically recertify their eligibility to receive benefits).  Camilla contacted Sanctuary for assistance and Sanctuary reached out to Cohen & Gresser, who had recently hosted a Sanctuary for Families Public Benefits training at their firm.

Cohen & Gresser attorneys step in

Scott D. Thomson
Scott D. Thomson

Cohen & Gresser attorneys Scott D. Thomson, who speaks Spanish, and Matthew V. Povolny volunteered immediately to represent Camilla at her fair hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to determine if her benefits should be reinstated.  Neither had ever done a public benefits fair hearing before, but they both got up to speed on the law and the procedures incredibly quickly.  Their first fair hearing was a success:  Camilla’s much-needed benefits were restored, she was awarded retroactive benefits from the time they were cut off, and she received another opportunity to recertify for her cash assistance and SNAP (i.e., food stamps) benefits.

Matthew V. Povolny
Matthew V. Povolny

Although Scott and Matthew had successfully wrapped up Camilla’s fair hearing, they maintained close contact with her to ensure that the Human Resources Administration (“HRA”) complied with the fair hearing decision.  Thanks to their diligence, they soon discovered that Camilla was not receiving adequate benefits for her household. In fact, HRA was only providing benefits for her minor son, who is a US citizen.  But, even though she is not a US citizen, HRA should also have been providing benefits to Camilla, who qualified to receive benefits due to her status as a certified victim of trafficking under the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Scott and Matthew jumped right in and filed a fair hearing request for Camilla to argue that her cash assistance and food stamps amounts were inadequate. Not only did they win the fair hearing, they educated the ALJ and the HRA representative about a non-US citizen’s eligibility for benefits if they are a certified victim of human trafficking.  Says Scott:

“I was impressed by the Administrative Law Judges.  They really wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on, and they pushed the agency representative to do the right thing. The agency representatives came around once we helped them understand the issues.”

Joy and stability

As a result of their committed advocacy, Camilla received over $2,200 in retroactive benefits and will see an increase in benefits going forward.  The success brought immense joy and stability to Camilla, who, prior to this experience, was reaching her breaking point with the complicated welfare system and wanted to give up fighting and just hope for the best.  Matthew and Scott both agreed that seeing the very personal effect that their successful representation had on Camilla was one of the most rewarding parts of working on a public benefits pro bono case.  Said Scott:

“We knew how much she needed that money to use for food and her son’s expenses.  It was really great to have a direct tangible effect on someone’s daily life.”

They both plan on continuing to do pro bono work at the firm, which has a strong commitment to pro bono.  Matthew explained:

“There is a tremendous feeling of what a great opportunity pro bono gives you to help people in the city that you pass by in the streets every day.  It’s always a great feeling to give back.”

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

Nicole Fidler is the Pro Bono Supervising Attorney at Sanctuary for Families.