Schulte Roth & Zabel team successfully advocates for domestic violence survivor against abuser and aggressive opposing counsel

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (SRZ) for their incredible and tireless efforts on behalf of “Rose”, a woman who fled her abusive spouse and faced numerous obstacles in Family Court as she fought for custody of her eight-year-old son.

Jaclyn Neely is an litigation associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP.  She works on a number of pro bono matters with Sanctuary, including the Human Trafficking Intervention Court Pro Bono Project, and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Taleah E. Jennings, Mari S. Dopp, and Carly J. Halpin of leading law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (SRZ). They are being recognized for their incredible and tireless efforts on behalf of “Rose”, a woman who fled her abusive spouse and faced numerous obstacles in Family Court as she fought for custody of her eight-year-old son and navigated a Child Neglect and Abuse case brought by the Administration for Children’s Services against her child’s father.  The SRZ team addressed the ever-increasing challenges in stride, achieving successes along the way and ensuring that Rose was not subjected to the aggressive tactics of her husband’s attorney. 

Complicating Factors

When Rose fled her home with her eight-year-old son to relocate to a safe space away from her abusive husband, she had no idea what legal obstacles lay ahead.  Shortly after she left, Rose sought a temporary order of protection from her husband and also filed for custody and child support in Family Court.  Mere weeks after Sanctuary for Families began working with Rose and referred her case to the Schulte Roth & Zabel team—consisting of Taleah E. Jennings, Mari S. Dopp, and Carly J. Halpin—the Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) filed a Child Neglect and Abuse case against Rose’s husband.

The ACS action, otherwise known as an “Article 10” case, greatly complicated the legal tableau and was an additional stressor on Rose, who was already going through a great deal of stress after finally escaping a long-term abusive relationship.  While the Article 10 case was filed against Rose’s husband, not Rose, the case was based on his abuse of Rose and their son’s exposure to that abuse, and Rose was thus compelled to play a central role.  The strain on Rose was heightened when Rose’s husband hired an unduly aggressive private attorney.

Combatting Aggressive Tactics

Instead of seeking documents and testimony from ACS, the opposing counsel sought unreasonably broad categories of documents from Rose and tried to submit Rose to a deposition and her son to a mental health evaluation.  Both experiences would have been extremely traumatic, and would have forced Rose and her son to revisit the abuse she suffered in explicit detail.

Luckily, Rose had the support of Sanctuary and the Schulte Roth team, who were able to effectively counter the opposing counsel and win over the Family Court Judge, as well as the attorney assigned to the child.  Taleah, Mari, and Carly put their strong legal writing and oral advocacy skills to use, and the team successfully opposed the motion to submit the child to a mental health evaluation.  Their tenacity led the father’s attorney to withdraw many of his previous unreasonable requests.

Thanks in large part to their strong advocacy, the opposing counsel approached Rose’s legal team and proposed a settlement for the various other pending legal actions on very favorable terms—including full custody for Rose and an agreement that the father would go to therapy.  The parties continue to work toward a global resolution to resolve the various outstanding legal actions.

Reflecting on the Case so Far

This experience has been both rewarding and challenging for the SRZ team.  They appeared in court on numerous occasions, drafted voluminous court filings, and negotiated with the husband’s lawyer at length.  For Mari, a mid-level associate, this case has been a great opportunity for her to appear and argue in court and establish a strong relationship with a client whom she could help on a personal level.  “Safety is something I take for granted,” Mari explained.  “To be able to use the skills I have as a lawyer to help ensure the safety of someone else has been incredibly rewarding.”

Taleah, a partner in the Litigation Group at SRZ (and also a member of the Sanctuary for Families’ Board or Directors), praised the collaboration between Sanctuary and her SRZ team, explaining that they all worked together throughout the case—from strategizing to drafting and appearing in court.  Sanctuary provided support and institutional knowledge but also allowed the SRZ team to take ownership at every stage.

Maria Zhynovitch, the Sanctuary attorney supervising Rose’s case, applauded the work of the Taleah, Mari, and Carly, and the trust they were able to cultivate with Rose right from the beginning.  Maria noted,

“this was uncharted territory for myself and some of my supervisors . . . a lot of the issues raised in the process were really novel for us.  There was no blueprint.  But the Schulte attorneys were completely undeterred by this.”

Maria praised both the quality of the team’s research and writing and the compassion they exhibited toward Rose.  “The way in which they related to Rose was quite tremendous.”

While the SRZ team continues to represent Rose in her ongoing legal matters, the positive effects of their advocacy are already apparent.  Empowered by her legal team, Rose is not only living a life free from abuse, but she is also enrolled in an educational program and living in a safe space with her son.  The SRZ team is committed to representing Rose as long this fight continues.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Schulte Roth & Zabel team’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event 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.

About Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP

Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP (www.srz.com) is a full-service law firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and London. As one of the leading law firms serving the financial services industry, the firm regularly advises clients on corporate and transactional matters and provides counsel on regulatory, compliance, enforcement and investigative issues. SRZ has a long history as a leader in pro bono legal work and a firm-wide legacy of contributing to the greater good.

Cahill Associate Fights for Mother and Her Special-Needs Child

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Cahill associate Margaret Barone for her dedicated representation of Maria, a mother with a special-needs child, who escaped the abuse of her partner after being pressured into leaving her professional career in her home country.

Jamie Stinson is an associate in the Special Matters and Investigations practice in the New York office of King & Spalding. She 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 Cahill associate Margaret Barone for her dedicated and compassionate representation of Maria, a mother with a special-needs child, who escaped her abusive partner after he pressured her into leaving behind her professional career in her home country—making her financially dependent on him. Through Margaret’s tireless efforts, Maria won court-ordered enforcement of critical provisions of her post-divorce agreements, allowing her to provide the support and care that her son so desperately needed.

Isolated by an Abuser

Maria had a thriving career in Mexico before being tricked into moving to the United States by her abuser.  Subject to abuse and the loss of her economic freedom, Maria struggled to provide for herself and her son, who has special needs.  Through a long and hard-fought legal process, in part with prior assistance from Sanctuary, Maria finalized her divorce, and procured a custody agreement as well as a financial settlement.

Various issues related to the agreements arose.  Maria is the primary custodial parent, but shares joint legal custody with her ex-husband.  Maria is a fierce advocate for her son to receive better services through the Board of Education to meet his complex needs but her ex-husband was effectively blocking her efforts and failed to participate in parent coordination meetings as required by the custody agreement.  In addition, he missed many deadlines on financial obligations and deliberately misinterpreted the financial agreement so as to deprive Maria and her son of support that he was required to pay.

Enforcing Her Client’s Rights

When Margaret took over the case, she dove head first into addressing the myriad issues related to both Maria’s rights under the custody and financial agreements, as well as those related to addressing the needs of Maria’s son.  The stakes were clear as emotions ran high in Margaret’s first meeting with Maria, who explained that all of this work was in service of fighting for her child. Recalling the meeting, Margaret said, “It makes you want to do everything you can as quickly as possible.”

Margaret worked closely with Sanctuary’s Director of the Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project, Amanda Norejko, in order to formulate next steps. Margaret drafted an extensive, several-inches-thick motion and memorandum of law (totaling 51 pages) to help Maria enforce her agreement in Manhattan Supreme Court. This motion required in-depth analysis of evaluations by medical and educational experts to show how the abuser’s obstruction impacted their special needs child.  In the course of organizing more than thirty motion exhibits, Margaret poured over custody agreements, a lengthy financial stipulation, and countless emails in order to demonstrate exactly how the abuser had violated relevant provisions and disrupted their child’s special needs services.  She also made herself available for late night and weekend telephone calls and meetings with Maria to assist her both with legal strategy and with her emotional response to the abuser’s hostile communications with her regarding their son.

As a result of Margaret’s efforts, the court ordered the abuser to comply with the terms of the custody agreement and to make the payments he was refusing to make.  In addition, Maria’s educational hearing against the Board of Education to get her son into a special school can now proceed unobstructed by the abuser.  When asked about how she approached the case, Margaret explained that she worked to tell a compelling story with the motion so that the judge could understand the unique situation.

Working Together to Move Forward

Margaret’s dedicated efforts continue.  While Maria has already begun to receive funds owed to her, there will be ongoing representation related to enforcement of the order, including court appearances and client meetings.  In addition, Margaret continues to assist Maria in preparing proposals to present at parent coordination meetings to obtain the father’s cooperation in enrolling the child in a special school.  Margaret looks forward to continuing to work with Maria and with Sanctuary.

Sanctuary’s Amanda Norejko praised Margaret, stating,

“Margaret’s hard work, diligence, excellent legal analysis and writing skills have given this mother the opportunity for a brighter future for herself and her son that she desperately desired.”

Reflecting on her experience so far, Margaret said, “It was wonderful working with Amanda [from Sanctuary], to have the opportunity to work with someone who is an expert in this field.  You can lose sight of how much legal work can matter.  Working one-on-one with a client makes you realize that you can make a huge difference in someone’s life.”

Maria also stated her appreciation for Margaret’s dedicated efforts:

“My son and I have been enormously blessed . . . with the valuable assistance of Margaret whom I can only thank forever with all my heart as a mother and as a woman and as a minority.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Margaret’s outstanding pro bono work. Learn more about the event 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.

Thank you for supporting our 2016 Annual Giving Campaign

Thanks to the generosity of people like you, we raised nearly $765,000 to benefit the thousands of gender violence survivors we will serve in 2017.

Thanks to the generosity of people like you, we raised nearly $765,000 to benefit the thousands of gender violence survivors we will serve in 2017. We’re incredibly grateful for your support. To say thank you we asked Amy, a survivor of domestic violence and star of our Annual Giving Campaign, and our Executive Director, Hon. Judy Harris Kluger, to say a few words on behalf of all of us at Sanctuary for Families.

Davis Polk Team Achieves Tremendous Financial Victory for Mother of Two

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Davis Polk attorneys for their for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Fiona.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Davis Polk & Wardwell attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Fiona,” a survivor of domestic violence whose abusive ex-husband owed thousands of dollars in child support arrears. The Davis Polk team of partner Joel Cohen and associates Daniel Spitzer, Nick DiMarino, and Rachelle Navarro, working hand in hand with Sanctuary lawyers, not only won a court order compelling the husband to pay $20,000 in overdue support, but also doubled the amount of child support that the children would receive going forward.

When Fiona came to Sanctuary for Families several years ago, a pro bono team of Davis Polk attorneys helped her obtain a divorce judgment with a stipulation for child support.

In the divorce judgment, Fiona’s ex-husband stipulated to biweekly child support payments and the annual exchange of financial information so the child support order could be updated accordingly. After discovering that her ex-husband had secured a job making significantly more income than he had at the time of the divorce judgment, Fiona returned to Sanctuary for assistance in enforcing the judgment and increasing the child support payments. Once again, Sanctuary turned to Davis Polk for pro bono assistance, and once again, Davis Polk delivered. Partner Joel Cohen and associates Daniel Spitzer, Nick DiMarino and Rachelle Navarro deftly navigated complex procedural questions and obtained a huge financial victory for Fiona and her children.

Procedurally, this case presented “quite a thicket” said Joel Cohen, a litigation partner at Davis Polk. But “the great thing about working with Sanctuary,” he continued, “is that you’re working with experts.” He credited Sanctuary attorneys Dara Sheinfeld and Amanda Norejko with providing excellent guidance and advocacy as the Davis Polk team strategized how to get Fiona the best possible result. Rachelle, a litigation associate at the firm, concurred, adding that “it was wonderful and challenging to constantly be in discussions about the correct procedural path.”

The first filing in Family Court was a petition for enforcement of the divorce judgment, which was supplemented by a petition for modification a few months later. The Family Court granted the team’s request for modification of the amount of child support going forward but denied the petition to enforce and collect past arrears because it believed it lacked jurisdiction to do so.  The pro bono team then prepared an enforcement action in Supreme Court, where they ultimately negotiated an extremely advantageous settlement for Fiona and her children. As a result of their diligent efforts in two separate courts, Fiona now receives twice as much in biweekly child support payments as she did previously, and she was awarded $20,000 in child support arrears.

This was the first Sanctuary for Families case for these Davis Polk litigators, but it certainly won’t be the last. “The work [Sanctuary] does for its clients is broad-ranging and essential,” says Daniel, “and goes far beyond just providing legal services.”Fiona was a particularly engaging client, and the team agrees that the relationship they were able to develop with the client was the most rewarding part of working on her case. As for Fiona, she says she will be forever thankful to her wonderful attorneys:

Thank you and please continue with your selfless help to other families such as ours. You have left such an indelible mark in our lives forever. We are truly grateful.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Davis Polk’s outstanding pro bono work.  

Emily Suran is a Project, Energy and Infrastructure Finance associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP and currently represents a Sanctuary client seeking asylum. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.