Cleary Gottlieb: Sanctuary Pro Bono Partner Spotlight

Sanctuary teamed up with Cleary Gottlieb to submit an amicus brief highlighting how Florida’s proposed 15-week abortion ban would disproportionately endanger survivors of intimate partner violence.

Sanctuary for Families’ Pro Bono Project has the honor of working with hundreds of extremely dedicated and expert pro bono attorneys per year. As part of our new Pro Bono Spotlight, we’ll be highlighting some of the great work done by Sanctuary pro bono attorneys!

*Please note that this blog contains descriptions of physical and sexual abuse that could be triggering*

Florida’s House Bill 5 (HB 5) is the latest in a string of proposed state laws restricting access to safe abortions and reproductive care. This controversial bill, which proposes a ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, is currently before the Florida Supreme Court—the highest state court in Florida— in the case of Planned Parenthood Southwest and Central Florida v. Florida. This law, like any law curtailing reproductive rights, gives abusers another powerful tool by which to control their victims. Sanctuary’s Reproductive Rights Working Group, co-chaired by Sanctuary attorneys Anne Glatz and Luba Reife, recently teamed up with Cleary Gottlieb to submit an amicus brief highlighting the danger this proposed ban would disproportionately pose to survivors of intimate partner violence (IPV). We reached out to authors Jennifer Kennedy Park, Sarah Gutman, Lilianna Rembar, and Caroline Soussloff—all of whom are Floridian or have Floridian family members themselves—to learn what participating in this project meant to them.

Partner Jennifer Kennedy Park explained, “I was raised in Florida and still have family living there so I was horrified at the passage of HB5.  … Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, we’ve seen the terrible impact of the reversal of Roe v. Wade.  As we feared, states are passing increasingly restrictive and dangerous bans on abortion—with no regard for women’s lives, health or autonomy. I personally, along with thousands of other law firm partners, committed to fighting for reproductive freedom in a call to action in the American Lawyer that, to date, more than 2,650 women partners from nearly 200 law firms have signed on. This brief is part of that commitment.” Associate Sarah Gutman added, “Abortion bans like Florida’s HB5 harm all people, but the devastating consequences will fall heaviest on those who are already the most marginalized. That’s why it’s so important for all of us—including law firms—to work to protect and expand access to abortion. It can literally be a lifesaver.”

While clear logical links exist to suggest that pregnant people in abusive relationships will be disproportionately impacted by such legislation – for example, the fact that many abusers attempt to restrict their partner’s birth control options as a means of imposing control and restricting their bodily autonomy – the statistics nonetheless are truly staggering. Women who have experienced IPV are nearly three times more likely to report that their partner made it difficult to use birth control, increasing the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Sarah Gutman noted, “I was particularly glad that [the amicus brief] highlights the links between gender-based violence (GBV) and denial of abortion access.  Abortion bans and GBV are different sides of the same coin—both are attacks on bodily autonomy.  They create barriers to full social, economic, and political equality regardless of gender.” As the amicus brief explains, in addition to facing universal barriers to care, such as financial restrictions, etc., pregnant victims of IPV are frequently subjected to harassment, surveillance, intimidation, or interference by their abusive partners while attempting to access reproductive health services. Research also shows that pregnant people subjected to GBV are more likely to seek abortion or prenatal services later into their pregnancy than others. Given that most people do not know that they are pregnant until six or seven weeks into the pregnancy, a ban at 15 weeks would force a survivor of IPV to consider their options and make all necessary arrangements to overcome these challenges in a very short period of time. Associate Lilianna Rembar adds, “Forcing pregnant Floridians to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the 15-week ban will especially harm victims of gender-based violence who face physical, psychological, and financial adversities, along with other barriers to obtaining abortions.”

“Forcing pregnant Floridians to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, the 15-week ban will especially harm victims of gender-based violence who face physical, psychological, and financial adversities, along with other barriers to obtaining abortions.”

-Lilianna Rembar, Associate

Due to sexual violence or reproductive coercion, IPV increases the risk of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies, which in turn increase the risk and severity of IPV. Resulting pregnancies from these abusive relationships threaten to create lifelong legal ties tethering the victim to their abuser and are often used as tools of control themselves. Additionally, pregnancy places victims of IPV at severely heightened risk of an escalation of physical violence: Femicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant and post-partum women in the United States, which has the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries. Pregnant and postpartum women in the United States are more than twice as likely to die by homicide than by any other cause. Associate Caroline Soussloff reflected, “I was galvanized to learn that the leading cause of death in pregnant women in the United States is homicide—I hope that Florida’s judges and politicians will be too. I hope that fact, and the other data and stories included in our brief, will help to root their decision-making in the experiences of the one in four American women who obtain abortions.”

“The pro bono team from Cleary Gottlieb exceeded expectations at every step of the process. Faced with a very short deadline, the Cleary team immediately jumped into action and impressed us with their keen insights and erudite, nuanced grasp of the issues. The end result was a compelling and highly persuasive brief that concisely but thoroughly illustrated the impact of reproductive rights restrictions for survivors and victims of gender-based violence in general, and the impact of HB5 on Floridians subjected to GBV in particular.”

Anne Glatz
Senior Staff Attorney, Sanctuary for Families

We are incredibly grateful to Cleary Gottlieb for representing Sanctuary for Families in this advocacy. The brief, which was submitted on March 9, was signed by organizations and individuals including Legal Momentum, The National Organization for Women Foundation, The Rapid Benefits Group Fund, Women for Abortion and Reproductive Rights, Margaret A. Baldwin, JD, Professor Cyra Choudhury, Professor Donna K. Coker, Professor Zanita E. Fenton, Doctor Kathryn M. Nowotny, PhD, and Jodi Russell. We are thrilled to work in collaboration with these outstanding individuals and organizations and are committed to conducting continued advocacy from the perspective of GBV service providers as the reproductive rights landscape continues to change in dangerous ways for survivors.

Join the Cleary team in standing with our clients. Your gift supports Sanctuary’s life-saving work with survivors of gender violence.

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Proskauer attorneys file a compelling amicus brief to protect child from his abusive father and others like him

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re 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. Read to learn more.

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[1] 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. 

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.

[1] All names have been changed.