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 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.
 All names have been changed.