Alston & Bird attorney’s support and advocacy on behalf of domestic violence survivor enables client to find peace and safety

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring an attorney from Alston & Bird for her pro bono work in support of Maya, a survivor of domestic violence. Read to learn more.

Louisa Irving is a Co-Chair of the PBC.

Sometimes a victory isn’t just about a win in court, it is about supporting your client and giving them the tools and encouragement they need to make the decision that is best for them.  In Maya’s case, victory was having the strength to withdraw her order of protection petition against her abuser so that she could move forward with her life and free herself from a long and re-traumatizing family court experience.  Maya was empowered in making this decision by the compassionate and persistent advocacy of Elizabeth (Liz) Buckel, Senior Associate at Alston & Bird LLP and recipient of a 2018 Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Award

Extreme Abuse

For years, Maya suffered extreme physical and verbal abuse by her boyfriend Ray.  In addition to punching, shoving, and pulling Maya’s arm out of its socket, Ray repeatedly flipped the couch while Maya was laying down, causing her to sustain successive head injuries that eventually led to seizures.  One night in 2015, Ray became extremely violent again and Maya fled to her office to sleep because it had 24 hour security.  That night, Ray repeatedly called her and left multiple abusive and threatening voicemails. Fearing for her life, Maya filed a complaint with the police.  Criminal charges were brought against the abuser, resulting in a guilty plea and settlement that included a two year criminal order of protection.

Still terrified of Ray, Maya hoped for a longer order of protection from Family Court—given the extensive abuse and the physical injuries, Maya was likely entitled to a five-year civil order of protection.  Thankfully, Liz volunteered to represent Maya and, under the supervision of Betsy Tsai, Director of Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocate’s Project, assist with her petition for a civil order of protection from Staten Island Family Court.  In early 2016, Liz filed a detailed petition and the case was set for trial.

Trial Delays Lead to More Pain

Over the next two years, the trial inched painstakingly forward in 10 to 15 minute increments.  Although an appearance would be scheduled for a time certain, Liz, Maya, and Betsy would wait for hours in the small Family Court waiting room, only to be called in and informed that their hour-long time slot had been reduced to mere minutes before the Judge.  For each court appearance, Maya had to take a full day off of work, mentally prepare herself to confront Ray both in the tiny waiting room and in the courtroom, and recount the details of the violence she endured.

Maya struggled with understandable anger and anxiety as she processed the trauma of her years of abuse, making each court appearance and the days leading up to that appearance incredibly difficult.  Sensitive to Maya’s emotional state and the impact that it was having on her life and her ability to testify, Liz referred Maya to counseling services at Sanctuary for Families.  Liz also served as a comfort to Maya, calmly reassuring her in the days before and after each appearance. According to Betsy,

“[Maya] felt totally understood and empowered, due in large part to Liz’s consistency and understanding approach.  She was always there for the client, and the client knew that.”

In addition to providing Maya the support she needed, Liz was a skilled and fierce advocate for her client.  Liz fought hard to end the constant trial delays that were taking such a toll on Maya.  She filed a creative motion for judgment as a matter of law seeking to have the abuser’s plea in criminal court recognized as an admission to a family offense.

The motion was denied and the trial dragged on. Recognizing the harm this was doing to her client, Liz attempted to settle the case, but the abuser refused.  In the meantime, over the course of several court appearances, Liz conducted a powerful direct examination of Maya that included playing aloud, over opposing counsel’s objections, the terrifying voicemails left on that December night when Maya fled her home.  She also elicited detailed testimony about the numerous incidents of abuse.

Finding Peace

After Maya’s examination was complete, the case faced yet another delay.  Opposing counsel announced that he needed to withdraw from the case and Ray retained new counsel, who decided to move for a mistrial after noting that the transcripts from the proceedings indicated some “inaudible” testimony.  Liz filed a strong response opposing the motion for mistrial, but despite the fact that the inaudible pieces of testimony were minimal, the court messaged to the parties that it was inclined to declare a mistrial.

After more than 2 years of seeking relief from the Family Court, Maya was faced with a difficult choice: begin this painful process again at square one or withdraw her case.  In light of the active criminal order of protection, the toll that the trial was taking on Maya, and the inevitable stress of starting all over again, Liz worked very closely with Maya so that she could understand and weigh her options.  Maya ultimately determined that she did not want to proceed with her case.

Because Liz invested so much time and energy in developing a relationship with Maya, tuning into her needs and wishes, and building trust, she was able to support Maya through the court proceedings and the decision to withdraw her case. According to Betsy,

“Liz had the perfect balance of both, litigating the case at a very high level, while also understanding the dynamics of domestic violence in a way that enabled the client to trust her and rely on her for years.”  In her nomination of Liz for this Above & Beyond award, Betsy wrote: “The legal work, which was excellent, is not why I think Liz deserves this award.  She was committed to this case and to this client in a way that was remarkable.”

Reflecting on her experience, Liz says that on a professional level, working on Maya’s case taught her how to be a trial attorney in family court. On a personal level, working on Maya’s case was a real eye opener to the ways the judicial process can wear down a victim.  But according to Liz, when she and Maya rode the ferry after that final court appearance, she “never saw her look so happy and free.”

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 Liz Buckel’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.

WSGR Team Triumphs in Trafficking Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati for their committed and compassionate advocacy on behalf of “Elizabeth”, a trafficking survivor. Read to learn more.

Claire Stubbe is a Senior Associate in Arnold Bloch Leibler’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution group Melbourne, Australia. She is also a Master of Laws Candidate at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati for their committed and compassionate advocacy on behalf of “Elizabeth”, a trafficking survivor. 

The WSGR team has worked tirelessly with Elizabeth for more than three years, assisting her and her husband to obtain T nonimmigrant status and to vacate multiple criminal convictions that Elizabeth accrued as a result of being trafficked.

The WSGR team continues to advocate passionately for Elizabeth. They plan to assist her and her husband to apply for lawful permanent residency and they continue to facilitate her cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement in its human trafficking investigations.  

The WSGR team includes Tonia Klausner (Partner), Justin Cohen (Associate), Jason Mollick (Associate), Lee Ann Almeida (Paralegal) and Melisa Desperak (Paralegal).

Elizabeth’s Story

Elizabeth was lured to the United States from Mexico by her trafficker, a man from her neighborhood whom she believed was her loving boyfriend. After arriving in the United States, however, Elizabeth’s dreams were shattered. Her “boyfriend,” an experienced trafficker, forced her into prostitution using brutal tactics of abuse and manipulation. Elizabeth eventually escaped her trafficker but was tragically deceived and trafficked by a second pimp who beat her viciously and drove her back to prostitution.

After years of abuse and exploitation, Elizabeth was arrested and deported to Mexico. Elizabeth returned to her hometown but was ruthlessly stalked and threatened by her first trafficker and his family. Fearing for her life and the safety of her family in Mexico, Elizabeth fled to the United States, where she was ultimately connected with Sanctuary for Families and, subsequently, with WSGR. 

Rebuilding with WSGR

The WSGR team began working with Elizabeth in 2015 to help her obtain T nonimmigrant status. At that time, Elizabeth was severely traumatized as a result of her horrific trafficking experiences. Elizabeth was terrified of men and, in particular, men she perceived as holding positions of power. Because of her trauma, at first Elizabeth did not feel comfortable discussing her experiences with the WSGR male attorneys.

Over time and with the assistance of Sanctuary for Families, WSGR worked tirelessly but sensitively to gain Elizabeth’s trust and to learn and understand her struggle and story. While the process was slow and delicate, WSGR ultimately forged a strong and fruitful relationship with Elizabeth. By her choice, Elizabeth began to work with the entire team and became empowered as she forged mutually respectful relationships with the male associates.

When reflecting on the early days working with Elizabeth, WSGR Associate Justin Cohen commented:

“It was certainly a challenge working with Elizabeth at the outset. She had suffered so much trauma and there was such incredible fear underlying her whole case. We needed to establish a bond and earn her trust. It was a slow process but, eventually, she looked to us as a resource to help rebuild her life; it was a remarkable transformation.”

With WSGR’s help, Elizabeth obtained T nonimmigrant status in the United States. She was also able to establish a strong and loving relationship with a man who is now her husband and the father of her two little boys. Happily, WSGR also succeeded in securing Elizabeth’s husband T derivative status, so that the couple can continue to build a life together in the United States.

Jessica-Wind Abolafia, a Senior Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families who supervised the team remarked:

“From the beginning, the Wilson Sonsini Team demonstrated great initiative, sensitivity and dedication. They have been a ‘dream team’ to work with and an ideal match for the client.”

The Partnership Continues

WSGR is still advocating relentlessly and passionately for Elizabeth. More recently, the team has helped her to vacate her prostitution-related convictions in New York State and is now seeking vacatur of similar convictions in New Jersey.

As WSGR Associate Jason Mollick explains,

“We filed successful vacatur motions in New York and have a further motion pending in New Jersey, which is one of the first applications of its kind in that State. We are hopeful that, soon, Elizabeth’s entire record regarding trafficking-related offenses will be entirely clean, as it should be. For Elizabeth, this is a completely unanticipated but very welcome development; it is an important part of rebuilding her life and forging a future here in the United States.”

WSGR is also assisting Elizabeth to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in its ongoing investigations of large scale human trafficking rings.  Finally, the WSGR team is committed to continuing to represent both Elizabeth and her husband in their applications for lawful permanent residency in the future.

In short, despite numerous hurdles, WSGR’s commitment to Elizabeth’s plight did not falter. The team showed tremendous dedication to their client and as a result of that persistence and passion, WSGR has achieved incredible outcomes for Elizabeth.

Looking back at WSGR’s work with Elizabeth, Partner Tonia Klausner reflected,

“Elizabeth’s case was the first trafficking work our office had taken on. We were incredibly eager to help Elizabeth, but also a little nervous, given we did not have an established track record in the area. Initially, we only envisaged assisting Elizabeth with the T-visa application process but, before long, we had all fallen in love with her. She is one of the strongest most resilient people I have ever met. Since then, we have worked to support Elizbeth in a variety of different ways. We are committed to continue that relationship as she moves towards the T-adjustment application process.”

A Promising Future

Elizabeth continues to heal from her trauma and rebuild her life in the United States. She has completed vocational training and English courses through Sanctuary for Families, is in a happy and stable relationship with her husband and is a proud mother of their sons. For the first time in as long as she can remember, Elizabeth is a free woman looking forward to her future with her family.

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 WSGR’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.

Proskauer attorneys file a compelling amicus brief to protect child from his abusive father and others like him

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of Proskauer attorneys for their pro bono work in support of Sanctuary’s efforts to persuade an appellate court that it should not return a child to an abusive father because his pattern of domestic violence. Read to learn more.

Adam Snyder is a Pro Bono Intern at Proskauer Rose LLP and is currently an undergraduate student at Columbia University. Erin Meyer is Proskauer’s Pro Bono Counsel and a graduate of Columbia Law School.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Proskauer attorneys for their pro bono work in support of Sanctuary’s efforts to persuade an appellate court that it should not return a child to an abusive father because his pattern of domestic violence against the child’s mother posed a grave risk of harm to the child. 

Proskauer associates William Dalsen and Jim Anderson skillfully marshaled social science evidence in a compelling amicus brief educating the court about the effects of pre- and post-separation power dynamics on children.

Fleeing from Abuse

After suffering years of debilitating psychological abuse and ever-increasing violent behavior from her five-year-old son’s father, Carolyn[1] and her son Bobby had no choice but to escape from St. Martin to the United States.

However, after Carolyn escaped in 2016, the father filed a petition in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, demanding that Bobby be returned to him in St. Martin.

Following a grueling trial, the District Court found that forcing Bobby to return to St. Martin would pose a grave risk of harm—a high threshold to meet under Hague Convention case law—and that Bobby should remain in the U.S. with his mother. But Bobby’s father appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The father’s appeal challenged the District Court’s finding that Bobby was in grave risk of psychological harm, arguing that there was no evidence that the father physically threatened Bobby or that Bobby was afraid of the father.  Despite having presented mountains of evidence at trial, the appeal still posed a challenge given that courts across the country have traditionally interpreted the “grave risk” exception to be a very narrow one.

Sanctuary for Families’ goal in filing an amicus brief was to demonstrate through comprehensive social science research that intimate partner violence against a mother not only shows the perpetrator is dangerous to the mother, but poses a grave risk of psychological abuse to a child.  Recognizing the high stakes for Carolyn and her son, Proskauer attorneys William Dalsen and Jim Anderson jumped in to help.

Collaborating with Experts

In response to the father’s petition, William and Jim worked closely with Sanctuary for Families to prepare and submit a compelling amicus brief to the appellate court in support of Carolyn and her son.  The Proskauer duo represented a diverse group of experts and organizations with unique experience and expertise regarding the dynamics of domestic violence, the perpetration of domestic violence before and after separation, and the impacts of domestic violence on victims and their children.

The amicus brief brought the experience and expertise of those organizations and individuals to bear on Carolyn’s case to show why the Second Circuit needed to affirm the District Court’s decision.  The coalition supporting Carolyn and her son included Sanctuary, Legal Momentum, Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell, the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Projects, My Sister’s Place, University of Oregon School of Law Domestic Violence Clinic, Her Justice, New York Legal Assistance Group, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Battered Mother’s Custody Conference, Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center, and the Lawyer’s Committee Against Domestic Violence.

Reflecting on the process, William recalls,

“Through the amicus brief, we were able to echo and amplify Carolyn’s arguments by showing the Second Circuit how established social science about domestic violence and its effects on children supported the District Court’s decision.”

William and Jim collaborated with the experts supporting Carolyn and her son to turn their collective experience into advocacy—a process that posed an exciting challenge for the attorneys.  According to Jim,

“the process was about finding a way to get all of the experts’ meaningful points into the brief while ensuring that it was an effective piece of legal writing that was going to persuade the Court.”

Sanctuary Pro Bono Director Nicole Fidler, who worked with the team on the brief, was impressed with the way they approached the project:

“From the very first day, William and Jim were eager to learn as much as they could about the dynamics of coercive control, the lethality factors at play in the case, and the effect of intimate partner violence on children.  They read, and gathered from the experts on the brief, an immense amount of information and then skillfully synthesized it all into a brilliant legal advocacy piece.  The learning curve on this was high – and they were more than ready for the task.”

An Assurance of Safety

In December 2017, the Second Circuit affirmed the decision of the District Court to deny the father’s petition, marking a crucial victory for Carolyn and her son.  In part due to William and Jim’s outstanding efforts in preparing the amicus brief, Carolyn and Bobby were able to enjoy a moment of long-awaited and life-changing relief.

When asked about the victory, William explains,

For me, meeting Carolyn and her family in person after the hearing was the most rewarding part of the whole experience. It was an incredible feeling to finally meet this person who we were trying to support at the moment she needed it most.”

Reflecting on the importance of engaging in pro bono work to protect survivors of domestic violence and their children, Jim shares,

Domestic violence is particularly tough because it’s not always visible; people often silently struggle with these issues. By working with Sanctuary for Families, we were able to give a voice to one pair of survivors and hopefully to make a broader impact by educating the court to combat what is a very real and serious problem.”

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 Proskauer’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.

[1] All names have been changed.

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.