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 “Nancy”, 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 “Nancy”, 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 Nancy was not subjected to the aggressive tactics of her husband’s attorney.
When Nancy 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, Nancy 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 Nancy 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 Nancy’s husband.
The ACS action, otherwise known as an “Article 10” case, greatly complicated the legal tableau and was an additional stressor on Nancy, 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 Nancy’s husband, not Nancy, the case was based on his abuse of Nancy and their son’s exposure to that abuse, and Nancy was thus compelled to play a central role. The strain on Nancy was heightened when Nancy’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 Nancy and tried to submit Nancy to a deposition and her son to a mental health evaluation. Both experiences would have been extremely traumatic, and would have forced Nancy and her son to revisit the abuse she suffered in explicit detail.
Luckily, Nancy 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 Nancy’s legal team and proposed a settlement for the various other pending legal actions on very favorable terms—including full custody for Nancy 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 Nancy’s case, applauded the work of the Taleah, Mari, and Carly, and the trust they were able to cultivate with Nancy 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 Nancy. “The way in which they related to Nancy was quite tremendous.”
While the SRZ team continues to represent Nancy in her ongoing legal matters, the positive effects of their advocacy are already apparent. Empowered by her legal team, Nancy 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 Nancy 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.