Paul, Weiss Team Wins Major Victory for Domestic Violence Survivor

Emily Suran is an associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. She is a Co-Chair of the Above & Beyond Benefit, the editor of the Above & Beyond blog posts, and 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 a team of attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their skilled litigation on behalf of a domestic violence survivor. Paul, Weiss former associate Michael Nadler (currently a 2nd Circuit judicial clerk) and Paul, Weiss associate Allison Penfield, supervised by partner Liz Sacksteder, argued that past incidents of domestic violence, although committed more than a year prior to petitioning for an order of protection, were enough to give their client, “Susan,” a continuing reasonable fear of her abuser. The judge agreed with their deftly-made arguments and granted Susan a one-year order of protection. This result was a major victory with immense precedential value.

A History of Abuse

In 2014, Susan’s former partner, Todd, became physically violent and menacing, and in 2015, Susan ended the relationship. At one point, Susan obtained an order of protection against Todd, but it was subsequently dismissed.

A New Incident Leads to a New Case

Over a year later, Susan was at a restaurant when she saw Todd standing next to her car outside. Terrified, Susan called 911.

Luba Reife, a senior staff attorney with Sanctuary for Families’ Family Law Project, enlisted the help of Paul, Weiss partner Liz Sacksteder, associate Allison, and then-associate Michael to secure a new order of protection for Susan. While the latest incident did not independently rise to the level of an offense, the team crafted an argument that all the prior incidents of abuse, taken together, gave Susan a reasonable and continuing fear of Todd and justified an order of protection.

Michael and Allison developed a strong relationship with Susan, and did extensive research and witness preparation before heading into the courtroom. Michael single-handedly conducted the direct examination of Susan, and he also cross-examined Todd.  Allison conducted the direct examination of another witness, who testified to the history of abuse.

Paul, Weiss partner Liz Sacksteder recalls,

“Mike and I strategized before every hearing date and talked through all the evidentiary issues and strategy for each examination.  I was very impressed by all the care and thought and depths of analysis going into Mike’s and Allison’s preparation. I thought the two of them were a great team, and Mike was a great leader of the team.”

A Positive Outcome

Thanks to the efforts of the Paul, Weiss team, the court issued a decision granting Susan a one-year order of protection.

Upon receiving the positive decision from the court, Luba enthused:

“Michael and Allison did a fantastic job eliciting testimony as to all the past incidents of domestic violence and, what’s most important, were able to convey to the Court, through the testimony, that Petitioner is still in need of an order of protection … This decision is great case law and a major win for Sanctuary and for Paul, Weiss. But above all and most importantly, this is a tremendous and well deserved victory for Susan!”

In Memoriam

Tragically, Susan passed away shortly after receiving the court’s decision. In an email sharing the devastating news, Luba wrote, “She was a lovely person, a trooper, with a wonderful sense of humor, smart and gutsy. She was going to present the award at Above and Beyond for the Paul, Weiss team. I am absolutely heartbroken over this loss.”

Michael and Allison were shocked. After such an exhilarating win, it was difficult to process Susan’s untimely death. Allison recalled Susan as vibrant and a wonderful role model for women. “I think a lot of people would have not gone through the hell she went through to get this order of protection in place,” she said. “Working with her was the most rewarding part of this case.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Paul, Weiss 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 Families’ work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.