Breaking Chains: Paul Weiss’ Tireless Advocacy Results in Orthodox Woman Obtaining Long Awaited Jewish Divorce

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their pro bono work that resulted in a young Orthodox Jewish mother of four receiving long sought after relief in both civil and religious court. Read to learn more.

Steven Cordero is a litigation partner in the New York office of Akerman LLP. He 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 a team of attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their pro bono work that resulted in a young Orthodox Jewish mother of four receiving long sought after relief in both civil and religious court.

The multifaceted strategy and tireless advocacy of the Paul Weiss team, comprised of partner Audra Soloway and associates Joshua Kaye, Naomi Morris, Samantha Weinberg, and Jacob Taber (now an associate at Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP), led to a hugely favorable settlement that provided for the client to receive a religious divorce from the Jewish court, child support arrears in civil court, and the withdrawal of her husband’s appeal.

When a Civil Divorce is not Enough

Rachel (not client’s real name) filed for divorce in 2012 (prior to finding Sanctuary for Families). The proceeding languished for several years until Rachel successfully obtained a divorce awarding her full custody of her four children and financial support to help her rebuild her and her children’s lives. Importantly, the judge also directed Rachel’s ex-husband to grant Rachel a Get, which is a Jewish writ of divorce, within 90 days of the court’s decision, or face a financial penalty. Rachel’s ex-husband, however, refused to provide the Get, failed to pay child support, and appealed the divorce judgment.

Rachel was particularly devastated by her ex-husband’s refusal to grant her a Get. According to Jewish law, a marriage can only be dissolved once a husband voluntarily gives the Get to his wife. Even if there is a civil divorce, the couple remains married under Jewish law without the Get. The Get is tied to the wife’s identity.  Orthodox Jewish women who are refused a Get by their husbands are called agunot, or chained women. They cannot remarry, any new relationship is considered adultery, and any children from those new relationships would be deemed to be illegitimate.

A husband’s refusal to grant a Get when the marriage is over is a form of domestic violence because it is an assertion of power and control over the wife, with potential economic and social ramifications that are unique to Orthodox communities. The husband may withhold the Get to extort concessions from the wife in divorce negotiations, such as the waiver of financial support, the payment of a large sum of money to the husband, or even the surrender of custody of the children.

Indeed, here Rachel’s ex-husband wielded his refusal to grant a Get in an attempt to force Rachel to agree to vacate the divorce judgment and sign a stipulation more favorable to him. Desperate, Rachel turned to Sanctuary for Families’ Orthodox Jewish Matrimonial Project for help.

Paul Weiss’ Multifaceted and Steadfast Advocacy

Recognizing the pressures Rachel faced, the pro bono team at Paul Weiss went on the offensive and filed a motion for contempt against Rachel’s ex-husband for his failure to pay child support.  The Paul Weiss team deftly countered the ex-husband’s dubious litigation tactics that included filing a baseless downward modification of child support petition and changing litigation counsel while having his personal lawyer outside of court attempt to assert pressure on Rachel to sign away her rights.

The Paul Weiss team mounted a multi-tiered strategy that included simultaneously preparing for trial on the contempt hearing, analyzing the ex-husband’s appellant brief and preparing to draft Rachel’s respondent’s brief, and negotiating a settlement that would protect Rachel’s rights and enable her to receive a Get.

The Paul Weiss team skillfully engaged in challenging negotiations, leveraging their strong appeal arguments and excellent trial preparation in the contempt matter. Because of their steadfast representation, Rachel’s ex-husband ultimately relented in his strategy shortly before the contempt hearing and agreed to a favorable settlement in May 2018.

Rachel’s ex-husband paid her a lump sum for the child support arrears, withdrew his appeal, and gave her the Jewish divorce she was entitled.  The Paul Weiss team accompanied Rachel to the Jewish court, the Beit Din, where she finally received her Get. Reflecting on their work, Joshua Kaye said:

“It was a tremendously rewarding experience. We faced new challenges and used our tools as litigators to make the client’s life better.”

Securing a Better Life

Thanks to the hard work of Paul Weiss’ talented pro bono lawyers, Rachel is able to move forward with her life in a far better position than she was when she came to Sanctuary for help more than a year ago.

When asked about her firm’s pro bono experience with Sanctuary, Naomi Morris said:

“I appreciated our co-counsels’ insight into the process, their experience, and their willingness to take the time to explain what to expect, while giving our team the autonomy to draft papers, counsel the client, and manage the case.”

Mr. Kaye added:

“I encourage any lawyer considering partnering with Sanctuary to just do it. It is a great way for young lawyers to grow, impact someone’s life, and make a real difference.”

 As Rachel herself said about this excellent team: “They were professional, kind and very dedicated!”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor Paul Weiss’ outstanding pro bono work.

You can learn more and buy tickets here.  If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Families’ work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

 

 

Lynn and John Savarese, recipients of the 2018 Law Firm Leadership Award

The Honorees Every year, Sanctuary for Families honors those who have made major contributions to

The Honorees

Every year, Sanctuary for Families honors those who have made major contributions to the movement to end gender based violence at our annual Zero Tolerance Benefit. This year we were thrilled to present the Law Firm Leadership Award to Lynn and John Savarese.

Since meeting as first-year Harvard Law students, Lynn and John have devoted significant time and resources to advancing social justice. Together they have raised awareness about gender violence, secured justice for victims of abuse, and have provided unique platforms and opportunities for survivors to speak out. We are incredibly grateful for Lynn and John’s longtime support of Sanctuary and thrilled to have had the opportunity to honor two individuals whose lives’ work so connect with this year’s theme of “Breaking the Silence.”

Lynn Savarese

Originally from a small town in Texas, Lynn is a graduate of Harvard Law School. For many years she enjoyed careers in corporate law and investment banking before taking time off to raise her family and pursue volunteer work for various human rights organizations. Several years ago Lynn took up photography in earnest, and quickly garnered international acclaim for her fine arts images.

Lynn first became involved with Sanctuary as a pro bono attorney. When her interest in photography grew from hobby to profession, she partnered with Sanctuary to launch a groundbreaking photography project called the New Abolitionists Campaign.

Employing Lynn’s photographs of anti-trafficking advocates and survivors, the Campaign has become an ever-growing tool for advocacy and awareness about sex trafficking, a modern form of slavery in the United States. Photographs of New Abolitionists have been exhibited at galleries and venues across the country and have been seen by tens of thousands of people.

John Savarese

After graduating from Harvard Law School, John joined the Litigation Department of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. Over the last 25 years, John has represented numerous Fortune 500 corporations, major financial institutions and senior executives in SEC and other regulatory enforcement proceedings, as well as white-collar criminal investigations, complex securities litigations, and internal investigations. Despite the workload, John has always made time for the issues he cares about and has taken on numerous pro bono cases for Sanctuary over the years.

Most recently, John and his colleagues at Wachtell defended a long-time U.S. resident and lawful green-card holder against a protracted deportation proceeding. His team’s advocacy and effective defense enabled the client to remain in the U.S., a victory for which they were honored for at Sanctuary’s 2017 Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards.

In addition to his work with Sanctuary, John is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Vera Institute of Justice, a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board at Harvard Law School, a member of the Board of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the former President of the Board of Trustees of The Brearley School in New York.

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With their impressive portfolio of human rights work, the Savareses have shown time and again their commitment to ending gender-based violence. We thank Lynn and John for the immense amount of time and energy they’ve given towards realizing our shared dream of a more socially just world. Our community is all the better for it.

For a summary and photos of our 2018 Zero Tolerance Benefit, click here.

 

 

Interview with Janice Mac Avoy, 2018 Recipient of the Zero Tolerance Award

THE HISTORY In 1973, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the United States’

THE HISTORY

In 1973, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the United States’ Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman’s right to have an abortion.

Forty-five years later, the national debate sparked by the Supreme Court’s decision wages on. As traditionally conservative states continue to pass legislation aimed at closing abortion clinics, more and more women have broken the silence around what has historically been deemed a “taboo” topic. These women, many of whom have had abortions themselves, believe that it has been their ability to control their own bodies through access to safe and legal abortion that has allowed them to become the successful and independent women they are today.

Sanctuary is proud to honor one of these women, Janice Mac Avoy, as the 2018 recipient of the Zero Tolerance Award for her work in the legal battle to uphold abortion rights for all women.

JANICE MAC AVOY

Janice Mac Avoy is a New York-based partner at the law firm of Fried Frank, where she is a member of the Real Estate Department and the Litigation Department, head of the Real Estate Litigation Practice Group, and co-chair of the Firm’s Pro Bono Committee. She is a member of the American Law Institute and the Association of Real Estate Women, a former member of the Board of directors of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and current board member of Sanctuary for Families and the Center for Reproductive Rights, as well as a member and voting representative of the CRE Finance Council.

Janice Mac Avoy is a partner at the Fried Frank law firm in New York.

Janice graduated summa cum laude from Washington University and received her JD from Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and associate editor of the Columbia Law Review.

Two years ago, Janice was the lead signer on an amicus (friend of the court) brief to the United States Supreme Court in the Whole Women’s Health case – an important Supreme Court case addressing Texas’ restrictive abortion laws, which would have closed 75% of the abortion clinics in the state.  Janice wrote an article for the Washington Post discussing her role in the amicus brief and how the right to abortion changed her life and why it needs to be upheld. Recently, Sanctuary got the chance to interview Janice and find out more about her personal and legal connection to the ongoing battle over women’s right to abortion:

INTERVIEW

How did you first get involved with Sanctuary for Families?

I first got involved with Sanctuary about thirty-one years ago, when I was a student at Columbia Law School. During my time there, I participated in a family law clinic to get orders of protection for women who had been subjected to domestic assault. Ultimately, about fifteen years later, I was very involved in Fried Frank’s efforts to fund the beginning of  the Courtroom Advocates Project at Sanctuary, which formalized the practice of students assisting victims of domestic violence obtain orders of protection. I started doing pro-bono work with Sanctuary right out of law school, and I have continued working with Sanctuary ever since.

What is/are you connection(s) to domestic violence?

I have always tried to be an advocate for victims of domestic violence since law school, and I continue to work with Sanctuary and other service providers to help victims of domestic violence escape their abusers.  I have worked on almost 500 divorces, mostly for victims of domestic violence.  I also believe that in order for women to fulfill their potential, they need to control their bodies, not only by being free of physical abuse or exploitation, but also by choosing when or if to have children.  In addition to the friend of the court brief in Whole Women’s Health, which was signed by me and over 100 female attorneys who had exercised their constitutional right to have an abortion, I have also acted as counsel to other organizations that have submitted friend of the court briefs to the United States Supreme Court and other courts in support of protecting abortion rights, including the National Abortion Federation, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other medical professionals who support women’s access to safe, legal abortion.

The issue of a woman’s right to have an abortion is not an abstract one; it is a very real issue for women from all walks of life. The women lawyer’s brief got a lot of press, and I realized I had to keep speaking out on the issue, which then led to the Washington Post article, the CNN article, and a number of public speaking engagements discussing how critical it is to talk about abortion.  The importance of access to reproductive rights is vital to a woman’s ability to control her destiny. Much of my work and the work done at organizations like Sanctuary is all about empowering women to be free of the patriarchal systems that currently dominate our political and social landscapes.

 

Pro-choice activists hold signs as marchers of the annual March for Life arrive in front of the U.S. Supreme Court January 22, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The theme for this year’s Zero Tolerance benefit is “Breaking the Silence.” What made you want to break the silence around what has for so long been deemed the “taboo” topic of abortion?

When the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights contacted me about being the lead signer on the Whole Women’s Health brief, I was very nervous about public reaction, but I knew I was going to do it anyway. I decided I wanted to talk to my family before agreeing to do it.

We all sat around the dinner table – me, my husband, my daughter, who was 16 at the time, and my son, who was 13. I sat them down and told them: “This is a big deal. My name is going to be out there, so it could affect you too.” My husband responded by saying that it was my decision and he supported whatever I wanted to do, and my daughter said that she would be disappointed in me if I didn’t do it. Everyone was incredibly supportive of my decision to speak out about my abortion. I even spoke with my mother, who absolutely supported my wish to speak out. “I wish I had the choices that you had,” she told me.

The firm’s support was also a big help. After the brief and before the decision, so many at Fried Frank were supportive in not only publicizing the firm’s role in the Supreme Court brief, but also furthering our efforts within the context of gender rights.

What do you hope other women can gain from your story, and those of other women who have broken the silence surrounding abortion rights?

We need to stop being ashamed. No matter what the issue is. Sanctuary has played an important role in breaking the silence on domestic violence and sex trafficking, and I hope to continue breaking the silence on abortion.  Women shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed because they chose to have an abortion, just like they should not be shamed if they decided to have a child. This issue needs to be talked about. We have to take the shame away, and breaking the silence is a primary way to do that.

For a summary and photos of our 2018 Zero Tolerance Benefit, click here.

Recognizing Artemis Anninos: A Pillars of Change Honoree

Artemis is a 2018 Pillars of Change honoree.

It’s National Volunteer Recognition Week! Every day this week we’ll be highlighting a Sanctuary volunteer who will be honored at our Pillars of Change Volunteer Recognition Event on May 10th. Learn More and Register for Pillars of Change.

Artemis Anninos first heard of Sanctuary in 1991, when her roommate from college began working as a case worker.

“I was inspired by the dedication, commitment and compassion of the people who work at Sanctuary and the courage and resilience of the clients.”

A little over two decades later, Artemis took on a Sanctuary pro bono matter through her firm, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, LLP and has been working on pro bono matters and volunteering with Sanctuary ever since.

Currently, Artemis works as an interview prep volunteer, helping our clients conquer their anxieties about interviewing and developing a script regarding their professional narratives. This can be especially challenging for a group of clients that are working to build up confidence around their suitability for the professional space and careers.

Additionally, Artemis has played an integral role in math tutoring since we started offering it to Economic Empowerment Program (EEP) clients during the Office Operations Workshop (OOW), Sanctuary’s in-house job training program. More recently, she has assisted with high school equivalency (HSE) tutoring with our clients doing OOW and working on obtaining their HSE simultaneously.

“I am proud to be part of a team of volunteers that assist the Sanctuary staff in their mission to improve the future opportunities for Sanctuary clients,” she exclaims.

Artemis’ devotion to her clients and her work is not only evident in their successes, but also in the overall sense of determination and compassion that she exudes. According to her supervisor, Sarah Hayes, Deputy Director of the Economic Empowerment Program:

“Clients look forward to meeting with her and working on areas of knowledge that can bring up feelings of vulnerability – yet, and still, they leave sessions with her feeling good about math and their ability to conquer their challenges.”

Artemis has put in countless hours into helping Sanctuary’s clients. She stands as a “pillar” of consideration and professionalism to clients and staff alike. According to Artemis, all the work is worth it once she sees “the sense of accomplishment and pride in the students when they pass an exam or get a job.”

Pillars of Change is an opportunity to honor extraordinary volunteers like Artemis, who bring knowledge, compassion, and determination to our staff – and hope and opportunity to our clients.

We hope you will join us at Pillars of Change on May 10, 2018 to recognize Artemis and four other incredible volunteers for their service. You can join us at Pillars of Change by registering now!