Holland & Knight Team Helps Trafficking Survivor Vacate her Criminal Conviction

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Holland & Knight LLP for their compassionate and devoted pro bono assistance on behalf of  “Melanie,” an immigrant survivor of human trafficking.

Todd Schmid is Senior Legal Counsel at HSBC and Co-Head of HSBC’s U.S. Pro Bono Program. He is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Holland & Knight LLP for their compassionate and devoted pro bono assistance on behalf of  “Melanie,” an immigrant survivor of human trafficking. The team included Rob Bernstein, partner, Holland & Knight LLP; Ellen Marcus, attorney, Holland & Knight LLP; Sheila Hayre, consultant and professor of law at Quinnipiac University; and Krishna Patel, consultant. 

While states have advanced laws to punish and deter human traffickers, shortfalls in the criminal justice system remain. Too often, survivors find themselves burdened by criminal convictions with domino effects on their ability to rebuild their lives, even after escaping their traffickers. For non-citizen survivors, convictions adversely affect their immigration status (or ability to obtain relief) and can subject them to deportation risk. Survivors with a criminal record are often unable to secure meaningful employment, education, or housing, overwhelming their ability to move forward and build lives free from exploitation.

Sanctuary’s client Melanie, a Taiwanese trafficking survivor who was arrested in Connecticut for prostitution while being trafficked, was determined to vacate her conviction. “Melanie bravely took the initiative to cooperate with law enforcement to investigate her traffickers,” noted Amy Hsieh, Deputy Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative. “She then successfully obtained a T nonimmigrant status.” Yet as Ms. Hsieh pointed out, Melanie still faced barriers resulting from her trafficking – a basic internet search for Melanie’s name still yielded conviction results, and only successful vacatur could clear her public record.

Holland & Knight’s Ellen Marcus and Rob Bernstein began working closely with Melanie in the fall of 2017 to request vacatur from the Connecticut court of a conviction tied to her trafficking. Despite its existence on the books, the vacatur statute had not yet been tested in the Connecticut courts, and there was no clear-cut procedure for placing this type of case on the state docket. When they brought Melanie’s well-researched case to the attention of the Connecticut Office of the State’s Attorney, the diligent work that Ellen and Rob put in paid off, and the state’s attorney, seeing its merits, took the case forward with the papers that the Holland & Knight team prepared, yielding a successful result for Sanctuary’s client. “Working on Melanie’s case highlighted how enormous this bureaucracy is and how difficult it is to navigate even for those with legal training,” noted Rob. Charting new territory required diligence, patience, and a thoughtful, collaborative approach.

In reflecting on their work, Rob and Ellen emphasized the lasting influence that pro bono work can have on clients. “This case underscores just how important it is for lawyers and law firms to do pro bono work,” said Rob. “Clients are not always going to find the right resources on their end. Many are dealing with threats to their health and safety and will never have the chance to dig themselves out. Lawyers are told to stay in their area, to not take risks.” Yet Ellen and Rob encourage fellow lawyers to roll up their sleeves and to be unafraid to act boldly on behalf of clients. “Even if it isn’t your primary area of expertise, with a bit of training, you can achieve rewarding results,” said Ellen. “Don’t hold back.”

Their story shines a light, too, on the power of collaboration. Ellen and Rob were keen to involve experts early on. To make Melanie’s case as strong as they could, they contacted Krishna Patel, a seasoned former federal prosecutor and an active member of numerous human trafficking task forces, and Sheila Hayre, professor of law at Quinnipiac University with expertise in immigration law and human trafficking, for their guidance and support. Seeing Melanie’s situation as a marquee example of the vacatur law’s true intent, both enthusiastically rose to the occasion. “There’s work to be done in training law enforcement that instead of thinking of someone as a ‘prostitute’ engaged in criminal activity, someone they find on the streets could be a trafficking victim,” Krishna observed. While the process of vacating a criminal conviction can itself be nuanced and sometimes contentious, the intrinsic link between Melanie’s victimization as a trafficking victim and the conviction for prostitution made her case, in Krishna’s mind, an obvious one to take forward.

The pro bono team highlighted just how contagious Melanie’s collaborative spirit was. And Melanie was quick to shine a light on the effect their work will have as she continues to rebuild her life:

“Each of you made it a reality. I sincerely thank each of them for helping vulnerable people like myself. Because of the team, I will live a good life, and one day hope to pass on the love, kindness, and compassion that they have shown me.” — Melanie.

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Ellen, Rob, Krishna, and Sheila. You can buy tickets 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.

How to Obtain an Order of Protection During COVID-19

As courts have gone wholly virtual due to COVID-19, Sanctuary is helping New Yorkers experiencing domestic violence petition orders of protection in Virtual Family Court.

Shelter-in-place orders and other COVID-19-related measures—while essential to slowing the spread of this disease—have put thousands of New Yorkers at greater risk of harm from domestic violence. Many survivors are currently trapped at home with their abusers, feeling isolated and fearful of reaching out for help. Others are worried about the status of their current Orders of Protection or are unsure as to how to secure one in the midst of this crisis, especially now that the courts have gone wholly virtual.

In light of these challenging circumstances, Sanctuary has been actively working with government officials, the courts, and law enforcement to guarantee survivors’ ability to seek relief through the Justice System. When the Courts announced the shift to virtual hearings for emergency matters, Sanctuary attorneys moved quickly—working with the Office of Court Administration to clarify the standards for securing Orders of Protection—and connecting with District Attorneys’ offices and law enforcement to ensure that orders are served and enforced accordingly. Beginning Monday, April 13, Sanctuary Attorneys and pro bono partners will also be providing assistance to survivors seeking Orders of Protection through our new Virtual Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP).

OBTAINING AN ORDER OF PROTECTION IN VIRTUAL COURT

As per administrative orders from March 19th and 22nd, ALL Orders of Protection in effect before the COVID-19 outbreak will continue to be active. This applies to both criminal and family court orders.

However, if a family member or current or former intimate partner is abusing, harassing, threatening, and/or intimidating you, or has committed a crime against you, you can still petition for an Order of Protection (OOP) in Virtual Family Court by doing the following:

1. Petitioning for an Order

Contact Sanctuary for Families or your borough’s Family Justice Center and indicate you are seeking an Order of Protection (click here to see our contact information). We will connect you with an attorney who will help you draft and file a petition for an OOP in Virtual Court. If you are asked to leave a message, someone will respond to your call shortly.

Upon reaching us, you’ll be given the option to connect with our attorneys via phone, Skype, Zoom, or any other platform of your preference. Together, you will draft the petition and the attorney will then file it through Remote Filing E-Share or instruct you on how to file it independently. Petitions can be filed until 4 pm. 

When drafting the petition, our attorneys will make sure to indicate your language of preference. LanguageLine interpreters will be available to assist during this drafting process if needed.

As a reminder, all of our services are confidential and free of charge.

2. After Filing the Petition

On the same day that the attorney files your petition, the Court will contact you with details on when your case will be heard. This usually happens within a few hours of filing. Make sure to stay by your phone all day to avoid missing the call.

During this phone call, you will be given a specific time for your hearing, the phone number you’ll be dialing in on that day, and the PIN code needed to enter the virtual courtroom. Make sure you write down this information and save it somewhere safe.

3. Your Hearing

Appearing in virtual court will take approximately 15 minutes, and the process will feel similar to participating in a regular conference call.

After you dial in and enter your PIN code, you will virtually enter the courtroom with a virtual judge, virtual clerk, and virtual court reporter.  Depending on the arrangements you’ve made, the attorney and a language interpreter may or may not be participating remotely in this call.

If the attorney is present, the Court will ask them to state their appearance. After this, the Court will ask you, the petitioner, to state your appearance and swear you in. The judge will then review your petition and may or may not ask you and/or the attorney some questions before issuing the Temporary Order of Protection (TOP). The judge will inform you of your next court date, which will also be in virtual court, or, in your borough’s Family Court, if courts are back in operation. Your Temporary Order of Protection will remain active until the next court date. Please make sure to discuss the process of receiving a Final Order of Protection with the attorney. 

4. Serving the Order

Once the judge issues the TOP, you will receive a copy of the order via email the same day. PLEASE REMEMBER: The TOP must be served on your abuser for it to be valid. If your abuser does not have notice of the fact that you received a temporary order of protection against them, they can’t be arrested for violating it!

The attorney can help you serve the TOP on your abuser and provide you with a signed affidavit after doing so. You can also have a friend, family member, or other individual serve the order on your abuser, as long as they are over the age of 18. Whoever serves the order will have to fill out and provide you with a signed affidavit of service for your records.

You may register to be notified when your Order of Protection is served at https://oopalert.ny.gov/oopalert/

 

CONTACT INFORMATION

Sanctuary’s Legal Helpline: 1.212.349.6009 x246, available M-F, from 9 am-5 pm.

NYC Family Justice Centers, available M-F, from 9 am-5 pm.

  • Manhattan FJC: 212-602-2800
  • Brooklyn FJC: 718-250-5111
  • Bronx FJC: 718-508-1220
  • Queens FJC: 718-575-4545
  • Staten Island FJC: 718-697-4300

REMEMBER: YOU ARE NOT IN THIS ALONE

Our services remain available! If you are in need of support, please call 212-349-6009 between 9 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday, or visit https://sanctuaryforfamilies.org/get-help/

 

Herbert Smith Freehills Team Helps Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Order of Support

Christina Pryor is an associate in the Government Enforcement and White Collar Crime group in

Christina Pryor is an associate in the Government Enforcement and White Collar Crime group in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

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At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a pro bono team from Herbert Smith Freehills’ New York office consisting of Partner Thomas Riley and Associates Pamela Terry and Christopher Boyd.

“It has been a wonderful experience for Herbert Smith Freehills to partner with Sanctuary on multiple projects over the years. Being able to help Sanctuary’s clients in meaningful ways is an honor, and it is inspiring to see our lawyers fully devote themselves to these cases to achieve positive and impactful outcomes.” –Tom Riley

In May 2018, this team from Herbert Smith Freehills took on the representation of Sanctuary client Stephanie Lee (“Ms. Lee”) in related child support and child support violation proceedings against the abusive father of her two children. Ms. Lee had filed for child support in September 2017, and filed a violation in April 2018 because the abuser had outright refused to pay the Temporary Order of Support awarded by the court. The abuser had claimed he was not working, so it was an uphill battle to prove that he was in fact employed and expending money on frivolous and expensive purchases rather than paying child support.

Pam immediately dove in, compiling copious documents and records in order to assist with the client’s cases and serving upwards of 35 subpoenas to seek access to Ms. Lee’s abuser’s finances to demonstrate his ability to pay. When opposing counsel finally provided documentary evidence, Pam drafted a persuasive and thorough brief explaining the reasons in favor of granting a child support order. Her dedicated and powerful advocacy ultimately resulted in an incredibly favorable $5,000 per month child and spousal support order.

“Advocating for Ms. Lee and her children was an eye-opening, challenging, and rewarding experience.  I’m grateful for the experience and thrilled to know that I made a difference in an individual’s—in an entire family’s—life.”–Pam Terry

When Pam went on secondment in December 2018, Chris quickly jumped in. He assisted with enforcing the final child support order as well having a money judgment enforced against the abuser. Chris sat with the client and her children for an entire day at the Sheriff’s Office to ensure that the money judgment was properly docketed and would be executed.

“Working on this case alongside Sanctuary’s Lindsey Song was a real honor. I had a great experience, I learned a lot, and most importantly I am very proud to have played a part in achieving a positive outcome for the client and her family.” –Chris Boyd

Lindsey Song, Senior Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families, who worked together with the Herbert Smith Freehills team on Ms. Lee’s case, praised the team’s tireless work, stating:

“Pam did an incredible and thorough job throughout the case. If not for her dedicated and diligent efforts, the client would not have received the strong Order of Support that she did. Chris matched the same level of passionate advocacy for the client, organizing documents, writing briefing, and connecting with and supporting the client and her family. When I asked the client for feedback for Pam and Chris, she said, ‘I have no words to express how much you and they have done for me.'”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor the HSF team’s outstanding pro bono work.  You can buy tickets 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.

Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs Come Together to Help Sanctuary’s Clients

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. for their compassionate pro bono assistance on behalf of twelve Sanctuary clients and their families.

Tushna Gamadia is a member of Sanctuary for Families Pro Bono Council and an Of Counsel in the Real Estate Group at Morrison & Foerster LLP. She works on a number of family law and immigration cases pro bono, including for Sanctuary for Families clients who have inspired her with their courage, determination and hope.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. for their compassionate pro bono assistance on behalf of twelve Sanctuary clients and their families. The team consisted of Susan Wade, Of Counsel at Paul Hastings; Justin Capozzi, Associate at Paul Hastings; Colleen M. O’Brien, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Goldman Sachs; and Juan Castano, Legal Analyst at Goldman Sachs.  

A group of dedicated volunteers from Paul Hastings LLP and The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. teamed up in April 2019 at a clinic at Paul Hastings LLP to help 12 Sanctuary for Families’ clients and their family members adjust their status from U Nonimmigrant Status to permanent resident status before their U-visas expired.

This day was a significant milestone in our clients’ journeys toward a safe, secure and hopeful future. Each of them and their families had survived domestic violence and trauma and with great strength and courage came forward to cooperate with law enforcement to seek justice against their abusers. As a result of this cooperation, they had been granted U-Visa status by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), a status that allows survivors to live and work in the United States and makes them eligible for permanent resident status after four years.  The goal of this clinic was to help the clients complete and submit their permanent residency applications to USCIS before their U-visas expired in October 2019, thus allowing them and their families to continue to live and work in the United States on a permanent basis.  Securing permanent resident status also puts them on the path to one day obtaining U.S. citizenship.

The success of the clinic in helping so many clients so efficiently and skillfully would not have been possible without the extraordinary leadership of Susan Wade, Of Counsel at Paul Hastings; Justin Capozzi, Associate at Paul Hastings; Colleen M. O’Brien, Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Goldman Sachs; and Juan Castano, Legal Analyst at Goldman Sachs.

Susan, Justin, Colleen, and Juan recruited a large number of volunteers to represent clients, interpret for clients, and make sure the clinic day ran smoothly.  Colleen and Juan organized a training session at Goldman Sachs in advance of the clinic so that volunteers were prepared and knew what to expect, especially in terms of understanding the trauma their clients have experienced and had to relive during the process of obtaining their U-Visa.

After the training, Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs volunteers formed teams and reviewed the clients’ files in advance of the meeting so that they were fully prepared to assist each client with completing the bulk of their application at the clinic.  Paul Hastings’ attorneys completed any necessary follow up and finalized the applications for submission to USCIS.

“Paul Hastings and Goldman Sachs really mobilized a tremendous amount of resources, pro bono attorneys and volunteers, conference rooms, and positive energy to make this happen,” said Sanctuary Immigration Intervention Project (IIP) attorney Anne-Cecile Raphael.

The Sanctuary IIP attorneys who assisted with the clinic were impressed and excited by the level of energy and enthusiasm from the volunteers, who refused to allow the current anti-immigrant climate to have a chilling effect on their clients’ ability to apply for immigration benefits.

“The level of professionalism and care they displayed really impressed us all. Susan, Justin, Colleen, and Juan really created a unique opportunity for Sanctuary clients to spend time together and interact with each other, as well as with the volunteers. Having the support of others who have gone through similar experiences as well as knowing that they each had a team of 3 or 4 committed and compassionate volunteers to help them submit their application for a green card really helped the clients feel comfortable and confident in taking this step forward,” said Raphael.

“Susan and Justin are incredibly knowledgeable, organized, and trauma-informed. Their commitment to Sanctuary’s immigration clients is inspiring, and we were so happy that they were leading the charge to ensure so many clients got help with applications that, given the current anti-immigration climate, were really causing our clients a lot of anxiety,” said Sanctuary Pro Bono Director Nicole Fidler.

The volunteers, like the clients, were a diverse group in terms of background, ages and experience levels, but they were all committed to helping their clients achieve an important step towards their American dream of safety, opportunity, dignity and a chance at happiness for their families. For many of the volunteers, assisting in the clinic felt close to home because they came from immigrant families. For others, it was a great introduction to pro bono work or a way to dedicate a finite amount of time from their hectic work schedules to make a big and significant impact in the life of a brave survivor. For others, it was an extension of their commitment to pro bono work, including years of on-going commitment to Sanctuary’s clients or an extension of their work on Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. The diligent team work of these volunteers is an inspiration to other law firms and companies as a great way to come together to help make a positive impact in the lives of courageous and inspiring people and learn a great deal in return.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Paul Hastings’ and Goldman Sachs’ outstanding pro bono work. You can buy tickets 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.