Advocating for Survivors Before the U.S. Supreme Court

A spotlight on Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Karen R. King and her multi-year effort to ensure a domestic violence survivor and her child can remain safely in the U.S.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

Karen King is no stranger to appearing in court. Her 20 plus years of experience in complex commercial and regulatory litigation have seen her through successful tenures at firms such as Cravath, Paul, Weiss and now Morvillo Abramowitz; she has been recognized as a “Notable Woman in Law” by Crain’s New York Business, and she received the Thurgood Marshall Award for Exceptional Pro Bono Service from the Federal Bar Council in 2019, as well as the Pro Bono award from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

However, March 22, 2022 found this seasoned litigator on new terrain: arguing a family law case on child abduction in front of the United States Supreme Court.

Karen R. King

Rewind four years, and Karen, then Counsel at Paul, Weiss, was introduced to her client Narkis Golan. Sanctuary for Families referred Ms. Golan to Paul, Weiss in September 2018 after she fled Italy and her abusive husband, Jacky Saada, with her two-year-old son. Mr. Saada filed a petition for return of the child under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. A large trial team at Paul, Weiss led by Karen put on Ms. Golan’s defense, including a chilling record of violence and abusive behavior by Mr. Saada, often in front of the child. Ultimately, the District Court found serious and persistent domestic violence and determined that Ms. Golan’s son would be at grave risk of exposure to physical and/or psychological harm if returned to Italy, but the court nonetheless granted the return petition subject to certain “ameliorative measures”.

The decision was appealed and the Second Circuit held that the original ameliorative measures were not enforceable and did not have sufficient guarantees of performance. The case was remanded back to the District Court to develop new ameliorative measures. The parties continued to litigate the issue for two and a half more years. It became evident that the exercise of crafting ameliorative measures despite the grave-risk finding sourced to domestic violence was deeply problematic. There was also a Circuit split on whether mandatory consideration of ameliorative measures is consistent with the Hague Convention. Ms. Golan’s team ultimately petitioned the Supreme Court on that question and in December 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to hear their case, setting the stage for the rare opportunity to plead Ms. Golan’s case before the highest Court—something no one would have imagined when the case began in fall 2018. Karen, who had vigorously represented Ms. Golan over four years of litigation, was entrusted with the oral argument.

We sat down with Karen to hear more about the experience.

You have been involved in and recognized for your pro bono work, representing clients who are survivors of domestic violence, students with learning disabilities, victims of gun violence, targets of discrimination, and prisoners on civil rights issues.

What is something that appeals to you about pro bono work and why have you made it a priority in your career?

KK: Pro bono work is a great opportunity to do some good, to help people in need, and really make a difference in people’s lives. There are so many worthwhile causes and issues that could use help from the legal sector. I’ve always found it really important that lawyers be involved in matters broader than their day jobs. It’s also a great way for attorneys, especially young attorneys, to expand their knowledge base and skill set and get valuable opportunities to argue in court and try cases.

What has been one of the greatest challenges of pro bono work?

KK: Finding time can be tough; pro bono work has to be balanced with regular work and personal life obligations. And there is usually so much on the line in pro bono cases—you’re often looking at issues of liberty and life, family life, livelihood, etc. So there’s a strong emotional element.

Karen King arguing before SCOTUS on behalf of Sanctuary Client Narkis Golan. (Art Lien)

You worked on this case since Sanctuary first referred it to you, and continued representing Ms. Golan even through a change of firms. What was your experience like working with Ms. Golan on the case from its first trial all the way through to your SCOTUS argument?

KK: A lawyer’s relationship with her client is special.  You go through a lot together.  Inevitably, you build a very strong personal relationship which can be challenging but also rewarding. You become personally invested in the case and your client’s life, and sometimes that also demands personal sacrifice—time with your own family and vacations, etc.

How did you and Ms. Golan maintain your momentum throughout this four-year process?

KK: I think it’s not about momentum as much as it is about resilience—we vowed to keep fighting and not to give up. There was really no option for us to give up, not when the safety of a child is what’s on the line.

85% of the lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court are men, almost all of them white. Can you talk about what the experience of arguing in front of the Supreme Court as a woman of color meant to you personally and professionally?

KK: It certainly is the dream of many litigators, and I think the Supreme Court should be a place that is accessible and welcoming to all lawyers.  It is an amazing experience and for those lucky enough to have a case accepted for argument, they should have that moment.  I’m very grateful to my client that she asked me to do it.  I think every litigator brings something different to the table.  As a woman and mother, I probably approach the case a little differently, or present it a little differently, than another lawyer might.  Given the issues in this case, I think it was very nice to have a female advocate.  And I hope I was able to lend a voice to the many women who are invested in or will be affected by the outcome of this case.


Listen to Karen’s SCOTUS Oral Argument

Jennifer Barry: 2022 Pillars of Change Honoree

In recognition of her exceptional leadership and support of Sanctuary’s family law policy issues, coordination of our upcoming Family Law Conference, and facilitating a series of roundtable discussions.

Over the past year, Jennifer Barry has devoted her time and skills as a volunteer attorney with Sanctuary for Families. She has worked alongside Jennifer Friedman (Director, Bronx and Manhattan Legal Project & Policy) to bring awareness to policy issues in family law.

Jennifer Friedman describes Jennifer Barry as being committed, dedicated, and professional.

Jennifer has organized and facilitated 10 round table sessions – each over 2.5 hours long – with family law expert practitioners that focused on the challenges survivors of gender violence face in the New York City legal system. These sessions brought to light a multitude of pressing issues Sanctuary clients and others face in family court, including systematic bias. Jennifer also drafted a report, documenting the process and conclusions of that roundtable, which will provide valuable insight to those who didn’t take part in the sessions.

Most recently, Jennifer has become an instrumental part of the planning team for an upcoming two-day conference that will further address the challenges and posit solutions to issues impacting survivors of gender violence. Jennifer Friedman stated, “I never could have gotten this large-scale project off the ground without Jennifer! She has been working alongside me for over a year, and her collaboration and contributions have been an enormous help.”

All of us at Sanctuary for Families are grateful for Jennifer’s expertise and invaluable support.

To learn more about Jennifer and her work, please join us on April 27th from 12:30 – 1 PM at our virtual Pillars of Change.

Register on Zoom

Diane Steiner & Emma Brown: 2022 Pillars of Change Honorees

This grandmother/granddaughter lawyer duo has been instrumental in our matrimonial cases by assisting with backlogged referrals and providing legal information and other resources to survivors.

Diane Steiner and Emma Brown have been an instrumental grandmother/granddaughter duo to Sanctuary’s Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project (MAT/EJP). Together they tirelessly worked through backlogged referrals, providing legal information, and legal advice for specific cases. Together they have used their legal skills, passion, and dedication to assist survivors towards a life free of abuse.

Diane Steiner

After working for over 30 years as a Lawyer, Diane sought volunteer opportunities knowing she had the desire and time to give back. She stated, “I was ready to wind down from private practice and give back to the community. Sanctuary for Families is the gold standard for not for profit agencies.”

Diane’s extensive background as a Lawyer and her involvement in American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, has resulted in an abundance of knowledge and resources for the MAT/EJP staff and clients. Lisa Vara, Director of the Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project stated, “Her decades of experience in the field have been invaluable to us all, both in terms of discussing particular cases, but also in offering more general career advice. She has been a valuable member of our litigation team on countless complex cases, she has assisted in answering Helpline calls, particularly during the pandemic, and followed up with callers, and she has provided brief services and consultations to countless other clients.”

Diane expressed how proud she was to be working alongside the attorneys and staff that are dedicated to the mission. The appreciation shown by clients, and being able to work beside and mentor her granddaughter Emma Brown, has also been a highlight.

Emma Brown

After taking the bar exam, Emma decided to look for volunteer opportunities before heading into her corporate career. Her grandmother had spoken highly of her time with Sanctuary, and she was excited to volunteer for an organization she believed in. Like Diane, Emma supported the Matrimonial/Economic Justice Project by conducting intakes, preparing uncontested divorce paperwork for clients, and assisting with various cases alongside the team.

Lauren Patel, Senior Staff Attorney, stated, “Thanks to Emma’s very valuable contributions, we were able to submit a series of motion papers throughout the summer of 2021 in a highly contested, complex matrimonial case. It was a true team effort, where every person’s contribution helped immensely.”

Emma views her volunteer experience as rewarding and a positive impact to both her and the clients she served. She states, “I believe that when there is a volunteer on a client’s case, the client feels as if their situation/issue is being heard. They feel as if someone is dedicating their free time to help them and that their issue is in fact real and important.”

Lisa and Lauren emphasized that both Emma and Diane functioned as full time staff members despite them being volunteers. They shared, “We cannot express our gratitude enough for this extremely high level of dedication to Sanctuary, our staff, and our clients.”

Thank you, Diane and Emma, for being such a dynamic duo!

To learn more about Diane & Emma’s work, please join us on April 27th from 12:30 – 1 PM at our virtual Pillars of Change.

Register on Zoom

Dante Matero: 2022 Pillars of Change Honoree

For his incredible commitment to our LGBTQIA+ survivors seeking asylum providing over 100 hours of translation and interpretation.

Dante Matero is a Columbia Grad student at Harriman Institute for Russian Literature and has been a huge asset to Sanctuary’s Legal Center through his work with the Immigration Intervention Project (IIP).

With his caring demeanor and language skills, he has served as a skilled interpreter and translator for countless survivors of gender-based violence. Dante is extremely trauma-informed in part due to being a prestigious member of the RUSA LGBTQ+ network. The mission of RUSA LGBTQ+ states that it is a network for Russian-speaking LGBTQ+ individuals, their friends, supporters, and loved ones. They have welcomed asylum seekers from many different countries and provided support, as well as fought for equality, acceptance, and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people within the Russian-speaking public.

“Dante’s voluntary work has allowed traumatized asylum seekers to build trust, and therefore, process their applications efficiently and faster”. Dante is extremely passionate about his work and it shows by the care and dedication he provides to whomever he is supporting. His valued skills, compassion, and professionalism is greatly appreciated. Thank you Dante for all of your hard work and commitment to IIP and survivors of gender violence.” — Fernanda Bertolaccini, IIP Staff Attorney

To learn more about Dante Matero and his work, please join us on April 27th from 12:30 – 1 PM at our virtual Pillars of Change.

Register on Zoom