Schulte Roth Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Through Complex and Challenging Custody Battle

Elizabeth Buckel is a senior associate in the Litigation and Trial Practice group at Alston & Bird LLP 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 Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Macey,” throughout a complex and challenging custody battle.  We are pleased to honor this incredible team consisting of former associate Cara David, partner Taleah Jennings, and associates Thomas DeFranco, Thomas Przybylowski, and Elizabeth Sullivan.

In early 2015, Macey and her children were locked out of their family home by Macey’s violent and controlling abuser, the father of her children, following incidents where he threatened Macey and destroyed her belongings in fits of rage. Seeking to protect her children, Macey went to Family Court to file a family offense petition. Once there, Macey was assisted by Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP)

Sanctuary senior staff attorney Sadie Diaz took on Macey’s cases and helped her secure temporary custody of her children, and then continued to navigate a trial on cross-custody petitions in Family Court. During trial, Sadie was able to obtain key testimony and evidence showing the father’s violence, destruction, and abusive control (exerted at times in the children’s presence) and establish that he was completely unwilling to take care of the children’s various medical and educational needs. However, in August 2017, mid-trial and before Macey had completed presenting her evidence, the Family Court inexplicably granted the father’s motion for temporary custody of the children pending a final determination of the proceeding.

That’s when the pro bono team from Schulte stepped in. According to Sadie, who nominated this team,

“The Schulte team immediately went to work on an interim appeal to the Second Department, digesting the extremely complex record, which included three years of multiple orders, transcripts from approximately 10 days of trial, and multiple exhibits, and working tirelessly to draft persuasive briefing.”

Due to the Schulte team’s gold standard work in briefing the case and impressive advocacy at oral arguments by Cara David, the appellate court reversed the grant of temporary custody to the father, and the children remained with Macey for the remainder of the Family Court proceedings.

As the Family Court trial continued in 2018, the Schulte team remained dedicated to Macey and her children. They attended trial to lend moral support and advice, and witnessed the procedural and systemic challenges of Family Court and the father’s abuse of the litigation process.  At the end, the Judge once again transferred custody to the father despite the additional evidence that had been presented in favor of Macey, issuing her decision at the eleventh hour before the 2018 Labor Day weekend to make it difficult to appeal the decision and obtain a stay before the start of school.

The Schulte team immediately dove back into the case. The team worked over the holiday weekend to try to obtain a stay of the final custody order, and continues to handle the ongoing appeal. The team described that they wouldn’t have it any other way—

“We saw a Family Court that wasn’t getting it right and was therefore failing the people who needed its protection the most. Here, we have an opportunity to try and correct these errors.”

The team remains steadfastly devoted to the case, and to Macey and her children. As Sadie highlighted,

“The Schulte team has been genuinely concerned about Macey and her children throughout this process, and is truly dedicated to obtaining the best possible result for this family.”

The team noted that it is Macey who deserves the credit for keeping them going:

“It is a huge honor to represent Macey. Macey simply cannot be more invested in the day-to-day lives of her children. Despite this challenging process and devastating judicial determinations, Macey is fiercely committed to her children and is doing everything possible in her power to make sure they are safe and protected.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor the outstanding pro bono work by the team from Schulte. 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.