Debevoise team secures freedom and protection for survivor of abuse and her family in multi-year trial process

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Debevoise attorneys for their brilliant and effective advocacy on behalf of Rebecca. The Debevoise team worked tirelessly to help Rebecca win full custody of her son, an order of protection from her abuser, and a substantial child support award.

Brenna Rabinowitz is an associate at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP.  She is the Membership Chair of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Debevoise attorneys for their brilliant and effective advocacy on behalf of Rebecca. The Debevoise team worked tirelessly to help Rebecca win full custody of her son, an order of protection from her abuser, and a substantial child support award.

This dedicated team included partner Sean Hecker, associates Anna Domyancic, John Pierpont (now an AUSA at the Connecticut US Attorney’s office), Ashley Fillmore, Marisa Taney (now clerking in Miami), law clerk Rhianna Hoover, and litigation analyst Lesley Douglas.

Deceived by her Abuser

Rebecca moved to the United States in 2011 after waiting seven years to get a visa in her home country of Nigeria. She described the day she got her visa as a “dream come true” and explained that, though it was hard to leave her family, she decided to leave Nigeria in pursuit of a better life for her and her young daughter. Rebecca had to leave her daughter in Nigeria temporarily but vowed to return for her as soon as possible.

Soon after moving to this country without friends or family, Rebecca became involved with her abuser. It was only after Rebecca was several months pregnant with their child that he revealed he was a Level 3 sex offender, and had sexually abused his seven-year-old niece. Around the same time as this shocking revelation, he became aggressive, verbally abusive, jealous, and controlling. After Rebecca’s son was born, her abuser became physically violent, both at home and in public, often in the presence of their infant child. Frightened for her and her son’s safety, Rebecca contacted Sanctuary for Families in November 2014, seeking custody of her son and protection from her abuser.

Willing to go Above and Beyond

When the Debevoise team got Rebecca’s case through Dara Sheinfeld, former Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Project at the Manhattan and Bronx Family Justice Centers, they jumped into action. Initially they had agreed to represent Rebecca only in her family offense petition (FOP) and her custody cases, but when other issues arose the team eagerly stepped up and expanded their representation to address all of Rebecca’s legal needs.

The team appeared in court over 20 times on Rebecca’s FOP case alone, which included multiple hearings to secure the court’s permission for Rebecca to travel with her son to Nigeria to help bring her daughter to America, and another dozen or more times on her other matters. The team collectively spent hundreds of hours preparing for these appearances, including preparing multiple witnesses for cross-examination, practicing opening and closing statements, and gathering impeachment evidence to be used in cross-examining Rebecca’s abuser. The team also successfully represented Rebecca in child support proceedings, which resulted in doubling her support award.

Throughout these extensive preparations, Dara provided support and advice, even on late nights and weekends. Team members described Dara as a “great partner” throughout this process.

Positive Results

The team adeptly navigated Rebecca through a multi-year trial process. At one memorable juncture, they effectively used impeachment evidence against Rebecca’s abuser during a multi-day cross-examination when he attempted to deny the crimes for which he had been previously convicted.

Thanks to the Debevoise team’s hard work and dedication, Rebecca received a final order of protection, gained full custody of her son, received a support award sufficient to sustain her and her son, and, most importantly, achieved freedom and protection from her abuser. Rebecca’s daughter has also joined Rebecca and her son in the US.

The Debevoise team continues to represent Rebecca in her ongoing legal matters. Most recently, the team submitted a brief opposing an appeal filed by Rebecca’s abuser that challenges the five-year order of protection that Rebecca was granted. This dedicated  Debevoise team remains committed to representing Rebecca as long as her fight continues.

The team’s work was life-changing for Rebecca. When Rebecca learned of their nomination for this award, she told Sanctuary that the Debevoise team members were her “heroes.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Debevoise 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.

Simpson Thacher team fights for trafficking survivor whose testimony led to successful prosecution of international trafficking ring

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

Sarah Pfuhl is a former partner in WilmerHale’s Investigations and Criminal Litigation group.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

For more than six years, the Simpson Thacher team has worked tirelessly to obtain T-visas, and later legal permanent residency, for Maria and her young daughter, Estella. With Simpson’s guidance, Maria provided invaluable evidence and testimony to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York during the course of two major criminal investigations, ensuring that the man who trafficked her and other senior members of his trafficking ring were extradited from Mexico and brought to justice. 

The Simpson Thacher team included pro bono counsel Harlene Katzman; partner Mark Stein; associates Matthew Levy, Kristina Green, Alyssa Watzman (formerly of Simpson), Lara Pomerantz (formerly of Simpson), and Jonathan Lieberman (formerly of Simpson); former pro bono specialist Carola Beeney; and former pro bono coordinator Hillary Chadwick.

Breaking free from her traffickers

After being trafficked to the U.S. from Mexico by the notoriously brutal Granados-Hernandez sex trafficking syndicate, Maria spent more than ten years being victimized by her pimp and other members of the syndicate. Finally, fearing for the safety of her young daughter who was still in Mexico, Maria found the courage to flee to the Mexican consulate in New York.  The Mexican consulate reached out to Sanctuary for Families and Sanctuary’s immigration and anti-trafficking staff immediately mobilized, moving Maria into a Sanctuary shelter to keep her safe.

A law firm able to help Maria – and help take down a trafficking syndicate

The next steps would be complicated, as the Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Lori Cohen, explained:

“In addition to her own legal and immigration issues as a trafficking victim stranded in the U.S., we realized Maria brought with her a huge trove of potential evidence against the Granados-Hernandez trafficking ring.  We needed a law firm that could not only handle the immigration issues Maria was facing, but also wade through a mountain of evidence and help Maria assist the U.S. authorities in what could potentially be a huge take-down of an international trafficking syndicate.  We knew Simpson Thacher would be able to handle this kind of complex case.”

The Simpson team dug into Maria’s case, helping her navigate meetings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security investigators, as well as federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York, as they all worked to develop criminal cases against members of the syndicate with Maria as a key source of information.  At the same time, Simpson worked to successfully obtain a T-visa for Maria, and T-derivative status for her daughter, who had been paroled into the U.S., ensuring that they were reunited and could remain in the U.S. together legally.

Justice is done

The information Maria provided was instrumental to the charges announced at the end of 2012 by the then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, against multiple members of two Mexican trafficking rings, including Maria’s own trafficker, Antonio Lira-Robles.

Despite already successfully obtaining a T-visa for Maria and T-derivative status for her daughter, the Simpson team continued working with Maria to help her prepare a victim impact statement and were at her side when she stood up in Brooklyn District Court to speak at the 2014 sentencing hearing of her trafficker.  The Simpson team was at Maria’s side again two years later when she spoke at the sentencing hearing of the mastermind of the trafficking ring, Paulino Ramirez-Granados.  Ultimately, both Antonio Lira-Robles and Paulino Ramirez-Granados were sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to Maria in the sum of $1.2 million each.

In the midst of all of this, Maria learned she had Stage III breast cancer.  The Simpson team didn’t waver, working to quickly finalize and file permanent residency applications for both Maria and Estella while Maria underwent chemotherapy.  Tireless advocates for their client, the Simpson team coordinated with Maria’s doctors and provided Maria with critical emotional support.  When Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were filed in October 2014, Simpson requested expedited review, unsure whether or not Maria’s cancer treatment would be successful.

Rebuilding

By the time Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were granted nine months later, Maria’s cancer was in remission and she and her daughter had started to rebuild their life.

For more than six years the Simpson team fought for Maria and her daughter every step of the way.  Today Maria is cancer free.  She has witnessed her trafficker successfully prosecuted and sent to jail (along with other members of his trafficking ring), and seen her daughter flourish.

Earlier this year, in a fitting end to Maria’s brave journey, members of the Simpson team were on hand to celebrate as Maria got married.  The Honorable Judge Pamela Chen, who had been one of two lead E.D.N.Y. prosecutors on the team that put Maria’s trafficker in jail, officiated at the wedding.

Reflecting on his experience working on Maria’s case, Simpson associate Matthew Levy, said:

“Maria was extremely brave to endure the case after what she has been through.  I am glad that our team was able to play a part in helping Maria and Estella get their lives back.”

Maria is certainly glad as well. When asked about her legal team, Maria praised their skill and commitment saying:

“I am grateful to the Simpson Thacher legal team for helping me with such a long and complicated case. It has been so many years, but Simpson has supported and protected me at every turn. Thanks to them, I have been able to start a new life with my husband and daughter.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Simpson Thatcher 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.

 

Schulte Roth & Zabel team successfully advocates for domestic violence survivor against abuser and aggressive opposing counsel

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (SRZ) for their incredible and tireless efforts on behalf of “Rose”, a woman who fled her abusive spouse and faced numerous obstacles in Family Court as she fought for custody of her eight-year-old son.

Jaclyn Neely is an litigation associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  She works on a number of pro bono matters with Sanctuary, including the Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project, and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Taleah E. Jennings, Mari S. Dopp, and Carly J. Halpin of leading law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (SRZ). They are being recognized for their incredible and tireless efforts on behalf of “Rose”, a woman who fled her abusive spouse and faced numerous obstacles in Family Court as she fought for custody of her eight-year-old son and navigated a Child Neglect and Abuse case brought by the Administration for Children’s Services against her child’s father.  The SRZ team addressed the ever-increasing challenges in stride, achieving successes along the way and ensuring that Rose was not subjected to the aggressive tactics of her husband’s attorney. 

Complicating Factors

When Rose fled her home with her eight-year-old son to relocate to a safe space away from her abusive husband, she had no idea what legal obstacles lay ahead.  Shortly after she left, Rose sought a temporary order of protection from her husband and also filed for custody and child support in Family Court.  Mere weeks after Sanctuary for Families began working with Rose and referred her case to the Schulte Roth & Zabel team—consisting of Taleah E. Jennings, Mari S. Dopp, and Carly J. Halpin—the Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) filed a Child Neglect and Abuse case against Rose’s husband.

The ACS action, otherwise known as an “Article 10” case, greatly complicated the legal tableau and was an additional stressor on Rose, who was already going through a great deal of stress after finally escaping a long-term abusive relationship.  While the Article 10 case was filed against Rose’s husband, not Rose, the case was based on his abuse of Rose and their son’s exposure to that abuse, and Rose was thus compelled to play a central role.  The strain on Rose was heightened when Rose’s husband hired an unduly aggressive private attorney.

Combatting Aggressive Tactics

Instead of seeking documents and testimony from ACS, the opposing counsel sought unreasonably broad categories of documents from Rose and tried to submit Rose to a deposition and her son to a mental health evaluation.  Both experiences would have been extremely traumatic, and would have forced Rose and her son to revisit the abuse she suffered in explicit detail.

Luckily, Rose had the support of Sanctuary and the Schulte Roth team, who were able to effectively counter the opposing counsel and win over the Family Court Judge, as well as the attorney assigned to the child.  Taleah, Mari, and Carly put their strong legal writing and oral advocacy skills to use, and the team successfully opposed the motion to submit the child to a mental health evaluation.  Their tenacity led the father’s attorney to withdraw many of his previous unreasonable requests.

Thanks in large part to their strong advocacy, the opposing counsel approached Rose’s legal team and proposed a settlement for the various other pending legal actions on very favorable terms—including full custody for Rose and an agreement that the father would go to therapy.  The parties continue to work toward a global resolution to resolve the various outstanding legal actions.

Reflecting on the Case so Far

This experience has been both rewarding and challenging for the SRZ team.  They appeared in court on numerous occasions, drafted voluminous court filings, and negotiated with the husband’s lawyer at length.  For Mari, a mid-level associate, this case has been a great opportunity for her to appear and argue in court and establish a strong relationship with a client whom she could help on a personal level.  “Safety is something I take for granted,” Mari explained.  “To be able to use the skills I have as a lawyer to help ensure the safety of someone else has been incredibly rewarding.”

Taleah, a partner in the Litigation Group at SRZ (and also a member of the Sanctuary for Families’ Board or Directors), praised the collaboration between Sanctuary and her SRZ team, explaining that they all worked together throughout the case—from strategizing to drafting and appearing in court.  Sanctuary provided support and institutional knowledge but also allowed the SRZ team to take ownership at every stage.

Maria Zhynovitch, the Sanctuary attorney supervising Rose’s case, applauded the work of the Taleah, Mari, and Carly, and the trust they were able to cultivate with Rose right from the beginning.  Maria noted,

“this was uncharted territory for myself and some of my supervisors . . . a lot of the issues raised in the process were really novel for us.  There was no blueprint.  But the Schulte attorneys were completely undeterred by this.”

Maria praised both the quality of the team’s research and writing and the compassion they exhibited toward Rose.  “The way in which they related to Rose was quite tremendous.”

While the SRZ team continues to represent Rose in her ongoing legal matters, the positive effects of their advocacy are already apparent.  Empowered by her legal team, Rose is not only living a life free from abuse, but she is also enrolled in an educational program and living in a safe space with her son.  The SRZ team is committed to representing Rose as long this fight continues.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Schulte Roth & Zabel 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.

About Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP

Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (www.srz.com) is a full-service law firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and London. As one of the leading law firms serving the financial services industry, the firm regularly advises clients on corporate and transactional matters and provides counsel on regulatory, compliance, enforcement and investigative issues. SRZ has a long history as a leader in pro bono legal work and a firm-wide legacy of contributing to the greater good.

Cahill Associate Fights for Mother and Her Special-Needs Child

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Cahill associate Margaret Barone for her dedicated representation of Maria, a mother with a special-needs child, who escaped the abuse of her partner after being pressured into leaving her professional career in her home country.

Jamie Stinson is an associate in the Special Matters and Investigations practice in the New York office of King & Spalding. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above and Beyond Pro Bono Awards and Benefit.



At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Cahill associate Margaret Barone for her dedicated and compassionate representation of Maria, a mother with a special-needs child, who escaped her abusive partner after he pressured her into leaving behind her professional career in her home country—making her financially dependent on him. Through Margaret’s tireless efforts, Maria won court-ordered enforcement of critical provisions of her post-divorce agreements, allowing her to provide the support and care that her son so desperately needed.

Isolated by an Abuser

Maria had a thriving career in Mexico before being tricked into moving to the United States by her abuser.  Subject to abuse and the loss of her economic freedom, Maria struggled to provide for herself and her son, who has special needs.  Through a long and hard-fought legal process, in part with prior assistance from Sanctuary, Maria finalized her divorce, and procured a custody agreement as well as a financial settlement.

Various issues related to the agreements arose.  Maria is the primary custodial parent, but shares joint legal custody with her ex-husband.  Maria is a fierce advocate for her son to receive better services through the Board of Education to meet his complex needs but her ex-husband was effectively blocking her efforts and failed to participate in parent coordination meetings as required by the custody agreement.  In addition, he missed many deadlines on financial obligations and deliberately misinterpreted the financial agreement so as to deprive Maria and her son of support that he was required to pay.

Enforcing Her Client’s Rights

When Margaret took over the case, she dove head first into addressing the myriad issues related to both Maria’s rights under the custody and financial agreements, as well as those related to addressing the needs of Maria’s son.  The stakes were clear as emotions ran high in Margaret’s first meeting with Maria, who explained that all of this work was in service of fighting for her child. Recalling the meeting, Margaret said, “It makes you want to do everything you can as quickly as possible.”

Margaret worked closely with Sanctuary’s Director of the Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project, Amanda Norejko, in order to formulate next steps. Margaret drafted an extensive, several-inches-thick motion and memorandum of law (totaling 51 pages) to help Maria enforce her agreement in Manhattan Supreme Court. This motion required in-depth analysis of evaluations by medical and educational experts to show how the abuser’s obstruction impacted their special needs child.  In the course of organizing more than thirty motion exhibits, Margaret poured over custody agreements, a lengthy financial stipulation, and countless emails in order to demonstrate exactly how the abuser had violated relevant provisions and disrupted their child’s special needs services.  She also made herself available for late night and weekend telephone calls and meetings with Maria to assist her both with legal strategy and with her emotional response to the abuser’s hostile communications with her regarding their son.

As a result of Margaret’s efforts, the court ordered the abuser to comply with the terms of the custody agreement and to make the payments he was refusing to make.  In addition, Maria’s educational hearing against the Board of Education to get her son into a special school can now proceed unobstructed by the abuser.  When asked about how she approached the case, Margaret explained that she worked to tell a compelling story with the motion so that the judge could understand the unique situation.

Working Together to Move Forward

Margaret’s dedicated efforts continue.  While Maria has already begun to receive funds owed to her, there will be ongoing representation related to enforcement of the order, including court appearances and client meetings.  In addition, Margaret continues to assist Maria in preparing proposals to present at parent coordination meetings to obtain the father’s cooperation in enrolling the child in a special school.  Margaret looks forward to continuing to work with Maria and with Sanctuary.

Sanctuary’s Amanda Norejko praised Margaret, stating,

“Margaret’s hard work, diligence, excellent legal analysis and writing skills have given this mother the opportunity for a brighter future for herself and her son that she desperately desired.”

Reflecting on her experience so far, Margaret said, “It was wonderful working with Amanda [from Sanctuary], to have the opportunity to work with someone who is an expert in this field.  You can lose sight of how much legal work can matter.  Working one-on-one with a client makes you realize that you can make a huge difference in someone’s life.”

Maria also stated her appreciation for Margaret’s dedicated efforts:

“My son and I have been enormously blessed . . . with the valuable assistance of Margaret whom I can only thank forever with all my heart as a mother and as a woman and as a minority.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Margaret’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.