Debevoise Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Order of Protection

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP for their work securing an order of protection for “Alison,” a survivor, and her son. Read to learn more.

Alizah Charaniya is a 2L at Cornell Law School. She was a 2019 Summer Associate at Vinson and Elkins and a Summer Intern at Sanctuary for Families through V&E’s Public Interest Program.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Debevoise & Plimpton LLP for their work securing an order of protection for “Alison” and her son. The team consisted of Associate Lisa Wang Lachowicz and Supervising Counsel, Wendy B. Reilly.

Seeking Protection on Her Own 

In 2018, Alison courageously walked into Family Court alone to try to get an order of protection for herself and her two children against her boyfriend, with whom they were living.  Alison had previously tried to get him out of her home, but he threatened to hurt her and refused to move out.  For over two years, Alison feared for their safety because of her boyfriend’s physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.  Alison’s boyfriend was also using a form of abuse that has become an increasingly common tool for abusers — he was attacking her on social media with vulgar messages and threatening to distribute sexual photos and videos of her online if she reported him for his continued threats and violence.

Finding Help Through the Courtroom Advocates Project

When Alison walked into court that day, she met Debevoise attorney Lisa Wang Lachowicz, a first-year associate participating in Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP).  CAP enables law students and first-year non-admitted law firm associates to advocate for survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection.  CAP advocates meet survivors in the courthouse and help them draft same-day family offense petitions and appear in court to advocate for temporary orders of protection.  CAP advocates then have the option of assuming full representation of the client under the supervision of a Sanctuary for Families attorney.

Lisa Wang Lachowicz, Associate

Lisa and her CAP partner drafted a detailed family offense petition for Alison that day and later appeared with her before the magistrate judge, helping her secure a temporary order of protection. Lisa continued to support Alison over the next couple of months as she waited for her next court appearance, assisting her with safety planning, service of process, and other concerns.

“From the very beginning of the case, Lisa was an attentive, supportive, empathetic, and compassionate advocate.  She was incredibly supportive of Alison and was in constant communication with her from the very beginning, where there is often a lot of stress and transition and it can be a difficult time.” – Lindsey M. Song, CAP Senior Staff Attorney.

When it became clear that Alison’s abuser was going to contest the order of protection, Lisa eagerly took on a full representation and committed to working to ensure that Alison secured a strong final order that would protect Alison and her son.

Overcoming Evidentiary Challenges

Wendy B. Reilly, Supervising Counsel

Alison’s case was challenging.  Much of the abuse came in the form of psychological abuse, threats of physical harm, and threats to post sexual images online (also known as cyber sexual abuse), all of which can pose evidentiary hurdles.  In addition, at the time of the hearing, New York State did not recognize cyber sexual abuse as a family offense.

But Lisa was creative in collecting evidence to corroborate the abuse and steadfast in her arguments about why Alison needed protection.  Lisa successfully entered into evidence multiple damning text messages from Alison’s boyfriend—including texts where he threatened to distribute sexual photos of her—a police report, and bank statements showing that her abuser had used her debit card without her permission. Further, Lisa successfully prevented the abuser from introducing voluminous texts that he was going to use to muddy the record. These evidentiary wins were critical developments in in the hearing.

“It was incredibly rewarding to give Alison her day in court and encourage her to share her story.  This was the first time she had reached out to an attorney and she put a lot of trust in me.  She was scared to say what she wanted to say and nervous to see her abuser after a long time, but she stayed focused and conveyed her story to the judge.  When the judge credited her testimony, and discredited the abuser’s, it was extremely validating for her.”  – Lisa Wang Lachowicz

At the end of the hearing, the judge issued a strong final two-year order of protection for Alison and her son, who had been subject to repeated verbal abuse by Alison’s boyfriend.  The final order included a provision prohibiting Alison’s abuser from posting, distributing or threatening to post or distribute any intimate images or videos of Alison.  This was an important protection, and one that not all judges were willing to add at that time, particularly because there was no criminal penalty or family offense in New York State directly related to cyber sexual abuse.  Thankfully, that recently changed when Governor Cuomo signed a law in July 2019 making the unlawful disclosure of an intimate image a criminal and family offense in New York State.

“Lisa took on a case that otherwise would likely not have resulted in anything more than a short limited Order of Protection.  She was able to support Alison and use her legal training to get Alison what she needed – a final stay-away order for two years. Alison was very relieved and incredibly grateful for Lisa’s assistance.” – Lindsey M. Song

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 this Debevoise 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.

Garrard Beeney, Recipient of the 2019 Law Firm Leadership Award

Each year, at our Annual Benefit, Sanctuary for Families celebrates individuals who have shown time and again, their commitment to ending gender-based violence. This year we are honoring Garrard R. Beeney, partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, for his tireless efforts and pro bono counsel on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients.

Every year, at our Annual Benefit, Sanctuary for Families honors those who have made significant contributions to the movement to end gender-based violence. This year, we are thrilled to present the 2019 Law Firm Leadership Award to Garrard R. Beeney, partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, for his tireless efforts and pro bono counsel on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients.

INTRODUCING GARRARD

Garrard is co-head of Sullivan & Cromwell’s Intellectual Property and Technology group. He is recognized as a leading lawyer for his counsel to clients on intellectual property, licensing transactions, and litigation matters around the world. He has handled patent and intellectual property matters before the U.S. Supreme Court, the International Trade Commission, the U.S. Patent Trademark Office, and federal district and appellate courts.

Beyond litigation, Garrard’s work includes an outstanding trajectory of public and social service. He served as deputy mayor of Irvington, New York, for over a decade, and has served on the board of several non-profits including Graham Windham, Mercado Global, and ProBono.net.  Garrard regularly represents clients in pro bono litigation, including a recent successful First Amendment trial and matters involving child adoptions in Arkansas and Nebraska in which he successfully argued issues before both State Supreme Courts.

Garrard holds a B.A. from Swarthmore College and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School. He has taught various trial advocacy courses and served as a member of the faculties of the National Trial Skills Program of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and the Cardozo School of Law.

PARTNERING TO END GENDER VIOLENCE

In a recent interview, Garrard spoke to Sanctuary about his pro bono work and overall involvement with the organization. He first learned about Sanctuary through his daughter Carola, a fellow Sanctuary supporter and former Pro Bono Specialist at Simpson Thacher. The two would often discuss strategy for the numerous Sanctuary cases that Carola’s outstanding team was taking on.

Inspired by our clients’ stories of survival, Garrard formally joined Sanctuary’s Legal Advisory Committee in 2016. Since that time, Garrard has become a strong ally in our work to end gender violence by supporting Sanctuary’s legal staff with expert litigation training and by taking on pro bono cases on behalf of Sanctuary clients.

Where does your commitment to Sanctuary’s mission stem from?

A lot of my pro bono activities have included voting rights and LGBTQ+ rights. To me, it’s about trying to help those that the system has neglected and whom others are trying to exploit. Sanctuary’s work certainly aligns with this objective– The organization uplifts the voices of survivors and those who have been left behind.

Another aspect that makes Sanctuary attractive for us, in terms of partnering with a non-profit organization, is that it has an enormous number of talented, passionate staff members and supporters  ̶  it’s the mission, it’s the people who are part of it, and it’s the voices that Sanctuary raises up that make this organization so appealing.

Is there a particular experience, throughout your work with Sanctuary, that has impacted you?

There are a few that really stand out. The first would be when I led a litigation training program for several Sanctuary attorneys. It was an incredibly impressive group of people. Through the course of talking about getting a case to trial, presenting a case to a judge or a jury, and trial strategy, I learned about their particular cases, the issues that they faced, and what they were trying to achieve. It was enormously educational.

I also had the pleasure of working on an appellate brief with some Sanctuary lawyers on a case involving an abused woman’s right to use a record she had created in trying to attain safety from her abusive spouse – something that was denied to her during the divorce proceedings. On another occasion, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sanctuary in reuniting a sex trafficking survivor with her son, who had been kept in Mexico as retaliation by her trafficker.

These experiences really spoke to me and made me appreciate the organization and its members even more.

What are some of the biggest challenges we collectively face when addressing gender-based violence?

I think one of the biggest challenges is education. I remember reading a U.N. report that found that the most unsafe place for a woman is her home, yet there is still a widespread lack of understanding of the prevalence and impact of domestic violence.

I also think that we don’t provide fair access to the judicial process to those who have not been as fortunate as many of us. We deny survivors the resources they need – resources that are available but not afforded to them without the assistance of organizations like Sanctuary for Families.

We have to raise awareness in our communities about the effects of gender violence and the resources available to survivors. We also have to raise awareness about how individuals can take action and support organizations like Sanctuary for Families, whether that be through volunteering, providing pro bono services, or by making financial contributions We must all speak up when it comes to these issues.

The theme for this year’s Annual Benefit is #WeAreSanctuary. What does being a part of Sanctuary mean to you?

I think of #WeAreSanctuary in terms of belonging to a community that strives to improve the broader communities of which it is part. Through its work, Sanctuary goes beyond helping survivors – it makes our Sanctuary city better, and many New Yorkers prouder.

In a sense, we are all Sanctuary – not only clients, staff, and board members – because Sanctuary addresses one of the most basic forms of evil that affects all of us. Whether or not we are directly impacted by it, I think we all ought to live in a world free from all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.

To purchase tickets to our 2019 Annual Benefit, click here.

Sanctuary Announces the New Co-Chair of the PBC

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of January 2019, Sharon Barbour, associate at Cohen & Gresser, LLP, is serving as Co-Chair of the PBC.

Sanctuary for Families’ PBC is excited to announce that, as of January 2019, Sharon Barbour, associate at Cohen & Gresser, LLP, is serving as Co-Chair along with Louisa Irving, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Bureau, New York State Office of the Attorney General, Co-Chair since 2018, who has generously offered to stay on for a second one-year term.

Sharon succeeds Mia White, Associate General Counsel at McKinsey & Company, who served as Co-Chair of the PBC from January 2016 to December 2017. We are very grateful for Mia’s outstanding dedication and leadership over the past three years.

About the PBC

The PBC was formed in 2003 as the Associate’s Committee, later changed to the Pro Bono Council and currently known as the PBC, with the goal of bringing together young professionals committed to supporting and promoting the work of Sanctuary through active community engagement, pro bono projects, and client-centered events. The PBC currently has approximately 35 active members. Each fall, the PBC hosts the Above and Beyond benefit, an event that supports the Legal Center by honoring the pro bono lawyers and other volunteers who have worked on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients during the past year. Last year’s Above & Beyond event raised nearly $200,000 in support of the Legal Center.

Introducing Sharon

Sharon’s passion for feminist jurisprudence brought her to Sanctuary early in her career. While at Cornell Law School, where she attended prior to transferring to NYU, Sharon came across an article by Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Sanctuary’s Legal Center. Sharon says the article, which discussed the relationship between prostitution and trafficking, significantly changed her understanding of commercial sexual exploitation. It also prompted her to learn more about Leidholdt’s work and to pursue an internship at Sanctuary for Families.

In the summer of 2011, Sharon joined Sanctuary as a legal intern on the Community Law Project. Working under the supervision of former Senior Staff Attorney Brett Figlewski, she devoted her time and skills to assist survivors of domestic violence from ethnic and historically-marginalized ­groups – including LGBT, Asian, African and Latina communities. Sharon continued her work at Sanctuary throughout her first semester at NYU, demonstrating excellence in her work and genuine commitment to Sanctuary’s mission.

Upon graduating, Sharon became an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and joined the PBC shortly after. During her five years at this firm, she worked with William Gorin, Sanctuary’s Board President, and with board member Jennifer Kroman. Sharon recalls one of her most rewarding pro bono cases while at Cleary Gottlieb involved a Sanctuary client who had experienced decades of abuse and isolation. Working in collaboration with Sanctuary’s counselors and fellow attorneys, Sharon actively supported her client throughout the healing process. The client, feeling comfortable and empowered, eventually began her transition and now lives as a woman.

With substantial experience in the areas of litigation, cross-border investigations, and white-collar defense, Sharon now works as an associate at Cohen & Gresser since August 2018. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, where she graduated cum laude, and a J.D. from New York University. Sharon is also a member of the New York City Bar Association International Human Rights Committee and the Steering Committee of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York LGBTQ Youth Clinic.

Taking on a second leadership role at the PBC ­– a group she has been a member of since 2013 – speaks to how important it is for Sharon to devote her expertise to helping survivors of all forms of gender violence. Prior to assuming this position, Sharon served as Co-chair of the PBC’s LGBTQ Committee. She was integral in helping establish a Saturday walk-in legal clinic for LGBTQ youth at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields, with which she remains actively involved.

As the new Co-chair, Sharon hopes to continue the incredible work that Mia and Louisa have been doing since 2016 and 2018, respectively. In the coming year, she will focus on giving PBC members the opportunity to further engage with Sanctuary for Families by going to Albany to participate in advocacy efforts, drafting comments to be submitted by Sanctuary in rule-making processes, hosting a client or cultivation event, and contributing more time and funding when possible.

Please join us in welcoming Sharon as PBC Co-Chair!

Get Involved

The PBC welcomes all professionals committed to helping victims of gender-based violence who are interested in supporting and promoting the work of Sanctuary. Every other month, the PBC hosts full membership meetings on Wednesday evenings from 7:00 – 9:00 PM in Midtown.

Anyone interested in getting involved with Sanctuary and its pro bono work should attend a PBC meeting to see this dynamic group of professionals in action – and to get involved themselves!

Please contact PBCinfo@sffny.org to learn more about joining the PBC.

Learn more about our Pro Bono Program.

Davis Polk Attorneys Help Trafficking Victim Tell Her Story, Secure T-Visa, and Aid in the Successful Prosecution of Her Traffickers

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. Read to learn more.

Sam Zeidman is a Software Developer at Red Rabbit, LLC in New York. From 2012 through 2017 he was an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in the Litigation Department.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. The team consisted of former associate Lisa Doolittle, Associates Hanbing Zhang and Iris Hsiao, Partner Po Sit, and Special Counsel for Pro Bono Sharon Katz.

A Nexus of Vulnerability: From Domestic Abuse to Trafficking

Jie was living in China, married with children to an abusive husband. After their divorce her ex-husband took custody of their children because Jie lacked the financial resources to raise them. Jie sought employment so that she could earn money to win back custody of her children. She found what she thought was a promising job cleaning houses in the U.S. Despite not speaking English and having no connections in the U.S., she took the job.

Upon arrival in the U.S., it immediately became clear to Jie that the job she was promised was a sham. Instead, she was expected to engage in sexual acts in hotels and massage parlors. From the moment of entry to the U.S., every aspect of Jie’s life was controlled by her traffickers; unable to speak the language and with no one to reach out to, she felt helpless.

Despite the painful and frightening circumstances, Jie persisted in seeking a way out and never gave up hope that she would one day escape her traffickers.

After an Arrest, Another Legal Avenue

Jie was arrested on vice charges and was referred to New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where she was referred to Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project (QTIPP) that, among other things, allowed her to meet with lawyers to discuss possible legal and immigration options.

Lisa Doolittle and Hanbing Zhang were the QTIPP volunteer attorneys for Jie’s legal consultation. Doolittle credits Zhang, a native Mandarin speaker, for forging a strong connection in a short time, which helped them gather enough information to determine that Jie was a good candidate for a T-Visa and quickly volunteered to represent her.  Lori L. Cohen, the Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, supervised the team and agreed Jie had a compelling case:

“This is a woman who was clearly trafficked, promised a job that didn’t exist, charged fictitious fees, kidnapped, held in a hotel, and raped by men paying to have sex when she did not agree.”

After an extensive series of meetings with Jie to establish their relationship, the DPW team began to advocate on her behalf as she cooperated with law enforcement into the investigation, arrest and prosecution of her traffickers, an emotionally challenging process. Sharon Katz noted that Jie “was initially very wary, even distrustful” of her new attorneys, understandable given her situation.

In addition to participating as a victim-witness in the criminal case, she was skeptical about the US immigration system, particularly the T-Visa process; like many other victims, she already had engaged an attorney who had filed an asylum application and said it was making progress. As Doolittle put it, “In her mind, why would attorneys who worked for free be high quality attorneys, especially compared to her paid attorney who repeatedly assured her he was making advancements in her asylum case?” (The team did not believe the asylum claim would prevail. Cohen said it was common for unscrupulous attorneys to charge women like Jie exorbitant fees up front but deliver very little. Because of the fees, women are drawn deeper in debt and may feel they need to continue working at massage parlors in order to pay it off.)

Meanwhile, the T-Visa process took time and required Jie to share information about some of the worst experiences of her life in great detail and to overcome cultural norms against speaking out about one’s bosses and revealing shameful events.  Moreover, she worried about retribution.

Patience and Persistence from Attorneys and Client

Over the course of a year, with great perseverance, the DPW team gradually gained Jie’s trust. Cohen said the team’s approach was key to making her comfortable with the process.

“They treated her with dignity, respect, patience, and compassion. Their humanity for this woman really came through as they quickly put together a strong, moving, powerful application.”

For their part, the attorneys believe Jie herself deserves most of the credit. Zhang stated,

“She was hesitant to share her story but also believed it was wrong for women to be treated as she was. She had a strong sense of justice and felt that the situation could not go on forever.”

Jie’s T-Visa application was eventually granted and her traffickers convicted.  The effect on Jie was noticeable. Katz said,

“A different part of her came through. She was smiling and outgoing, a change from the initial meetings.”

Iris Hsiao, who is working on the derivative visas for Jie’s children, noted that,

“[Jie] seems extremely hopeful and has more confidence in the process. Before she thought the application was pointless and would take forever, but she saw that waiting paid off in the end.”

As Doolittle put it,

“A burden was lifted. She has T-visa status and no longer has to live every day with the fear over her head that she will be sent back to China.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Davis Polk 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.