Cahill Partner and Associates Fight for Mother and Her Special-Needs Child

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a powerful and dedicated team from Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, for their successful representation over two years in Manhattan Family Court of an immigrant victim of domestic violence who was the sole caretaker of her a disabled daughter. Read to learn more.

Jamie Stinson is an associate in the Special Matters and Investigations practice in the New York office of King & Spalding. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a powerful and dedicated team from Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP, including Partner Joel Kurtzberg and Associates Kerry Burns and Kathleen Farley, for their successful representation over two years in Manhattan Family Court of an immigrant victim of domestic violence, a hardworking young woman from the Caribbean, who was the sole caretaker of her a disabled daughter. 

The team tirelessly worked to take both an order of protection and a visitation case to trial, obtain an order of protection and extremely limited visitation, and ultimately win an appeal that not only provided maximum protection for both mother and daughter but set important precedent.  

Protecting Mother and Daughter

The case began when Helen’s abusive ex-partner filed for custody of their five-year-old daughter, Anabel.  The little girl had been diagnosed with autism, asthma, sleep apnea, and cerebral palsy and needed round-the-clock, intensive care, which Helen uncomplainingly provided. Thanks to Helen (a pseudonym), Anabel was attending a wonderful school with expertise in her disabilities. After surviving a pattern of violent acts at the hands of Anabel’s father, which resulted in two hospitalizations and put Anabel, who was present, at physical and psychological risk, Helen entered a confidential domestic violence shelter and later found permanent housing. 

In 2012, Anabel needed surgery, and Helen contacted the child’s father to tell him about it.  Subsequently Helen permitted limited visitation, wanting her little girl to have her father in her life.  Unfortunately, Anabel’s father resumed his abusive behavior, demonstrated that he was unable to provide the safe and structured environment Anabel needed, and began putting pressure on Helen to move back in with him. Helen explained to Anabel’s father that their relationship was over.

In 2014 in retaliation, Anabel’s father filed a custody petition, falsely alleging that he had been denied visits with the child.  Cahill Associate Kerry Burns volunteered to take the case, with Partner Joel Kurtzberg supervising, and Associate Kathleen Farley later joining the team.

Fighting for Helen and Anabel

When Kerry took the case, she recognized that the abuse Helen suffered at the hands of her ex-partner was severe and escalating, put Anabel in harm’s way, and warranted a five-year Order of Protection that included the child.  This would require proving at trial that the violence committed against Helen in Anabel’s presence constituted “aggravating circumstances,” which is necessary for obtaining a five-year (as opposed to a two-year) Order of Protection.

In September 2016, the Cahill team represented Helen in a highly contested trial in Manhattan Family Court, which included discovery, the introduction into evidence of exhibits, and a cross-examination of Helen’s abuser, who was represented by a skilled, aggressive attorney.  Following the trial, the judge issued a disappointing decision that failed to protect Helen to the full extent possible.  While the judge found Helen to be a credible witness and found that her ex-partner had been violent to her in Anabel’s presence, he declined to find aggravating circumstances and issued an Order of Protection only two years, in part due to the amount of time that had passed since the specific instances of abuse (occurring in 2009-2010).

Believing that they could achieve a better result for Helen , the Cahill team appealed the decision, arguing that the severe abuse she suffered did in fact constitute aggravating circumstances.  On January 16, 2018, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court issued its decision, finding that the abuser had assaulted Helen so severely that she suffered physical injury, had assaulted her in the presence of Anabel, and that these factors, as well as the ongoing risk to Helen’s safety, constituted aggravating circumstances, entitling Helen and Anabel to a five-year order of protection, the longest possible.  About this sweeping appellate victory, Kerry stated,

“The judge credited everything our client said, and the [Appellate] decision was essentially 100% the brief that we filed on appeal.”

A New Trial and Another Victory

After prevailing in the Order of Protection case, the Visitation case went to trial. Although Helen’s abuser consented to Helen having full custody since it was apparent to all concerned that she was doing an extraordinary job caring for Anabel and he was not prepared or interested in taking on that level of responsibility, he petitioned for expansive, unsupervised visitation with the little girl. Helen was alarmed and the Cahill team agreed to fight for supervised visitation.

In preparation for the trial they obtained and studied Anabel’s extensive medical records and met with her school psychologist to understand more about Anabel’s medical and educational needs. Joel, Kerry, and Kathleen quickly realized that the psychologist would make a strong expert witness about the magnitude of Anabel’s needs and began to prepare her to testify. They also worked for hours with Helen to prepare her to testify about the vigilant, knowledgeable level of care that she provided Anabel on a 24-hour basis.

At trial, Helen covered the intensive caretaking that Anabel required and the school psychologist educated the court about the nature of Anabel’s disabilities and the techniques the father would need to but hadn’t learned in order to care for her.  Although the judge has a reputation for granting noncustodial parents generous, unsupervised visitation schedules, this time he did not. After a highly contested trial superbly litigated by Kerry and Kathleen, the court ordered that the father’s visitation be supervised and limited to a few hours each week.

A Victory for the Client and for Other Survivors

As a result of the Cahill team’s extraordinary efforts, not only was Helen awarded a five-year Order of Protection against her abuser, but the Appellate decision established important precedent for other domestic violence cases. Kerry noted,

“For the client, the decision was significant because it was such a great outcome for her. From a broader standpoint, the holding and reasoning in the Appellate decision can be used as precedent for many other cases.  This decision can be used to support the argument that the passage of time after incidents of domestic violence should not reduce the likelihood of a finding of aggravating circumstances when there has been physical injury.”

Reflecting on her work on this case, Kathleen appreciated her first drafting experience:

“It was great to get my first drafting experience, and to do it on a case where we could set significant precedent and clarify the law.”

Kerry was thrilled to be able to assist such a courageous, devoted mother:

“This experience was very rewarding. For me, the driving motivation was always the client.  I became close to her and really care about her.  She is a wonderful, positive person who is raising her special-needs daughter on her own.  It was very rewarding to be able to achieve a positive result for her.  In addition, it was definitely an eye-opening experience to see the family law system, and it was great to have a hand in creating precedent that will help other women and children.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 13, 2018, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, New York as we honor this Cahill team’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.

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Secure Appropriate Housing for Son with Autism

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cahill Gordon & Reindel attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Julie” and her four-year-old child “Luis” who has autism.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Julie” and her four-year-old child “Luis” who has autism.  The Cahill team, consisting of partner Jason Hall, and associates Krista Friedrich (currently of the New York City Law Department), Tara Curtin, Komal Patel, and Jamie Stinson (currently of King & Spalding) helped Julie and Luis obtain an apartment with a private bedroom for Luis in their federally-subsidized housing complex as a reasonable accommodation for Luis’s autism.


Pro Bono Council Co-Chair Ben A. Schatz talks with Tara Curtin and Komal Patel about their experience working with Sanctuary on this matter.

Ben: Tell us briefly about the work you and your team did on behalf of Julie and Luis.

komalKomal: Luis was diagnosed with autism when he was just over a year old, and received intensive, in-home therapy five days a week to help him manage the physical and behavioral symptoms of his disability. Julie, Luis, and another family member were living in a small, one bedroom apartment in a federally-subsidized housing complex.  The only available space in the apartment for Luis’s therapy sessions was in the corner of a small living area connected to the apartment’s kitchen, restroom, and entrance doorway.  However, because of his autism, Luis is easily distracted and hypersensitive to noise.  Luis’s therapists advised that Luis needed a closed, designated space for his in-home therapy to be productive, in order for him to sleep, and for Luis to generally manage the symptoms of his disability.  Julie had informed her landlord of Luis’s disability, and requested to be placed at the top of the waiting list for a larger apartment as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, New York State and City Human Rights Laws, and HUD policies.  The landlord denied her request on multiple occasions. 

The Cahill team, in collaboration with Sanctuary, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Julie and Luis in the Southern District of New York.  After multiple court appearances and a lengthy negotiation process, we reached a favorable settlement agreement on behalf of Julie and Luis, which allowed them to move into a two-bedroom apartment suitable for Luis’s needs.

Ben: How did working on this case help you grow professionally?

tara-cahillTara:  This case offered the opportunity for some incredible litigation experience.  We drafted and filed a civil rights complaint in federal court, prepared discovery papers, and I personally appeared before Judge Sullivan in the Southern District of New York on two occasions.  We also negotiated a settlement on behalf of Luis, which was approved by the Court.  This case taught me what it truly means to advocate for your clients.

Komal:  Yes!  This case afforded me the opportunity to draft a complaint—a first for this defense-oriented litigator.  I also learned a great deal working so closely with Julie, who fought incredibly hard to get Luis the tools he needs to manage his symptoms and develop as a child.  Knowing how much this case meant to Julie and Luis made us even more determined to achieve a favorable outcome.

Ben:  Sanctuary takes a holistic approach to helping its clients. How did you and Sanctuary help Julie and Luis in ways outside the courtroom?

Tara:  While we were working on this case, Julie had a bed bug infestation in her apartment and she was forced to throw away almost all of the family’s bedroom and living room furniture, clothing, and many other household items.  Julie was devastated and did not have the financial means to replace these items.  Fortunately, Sanctuary was able to secure a grant for Julie and her family, which allowed her to replace all of Julie’s damaged property.  Julie was incredibly grateful to Sanctuary’s generous donors, and to the entire Sanctuary team.

Ben:  Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

Komal:  I think I can speak for a number of Cahill associates in saying that the pro bono matters we’ve worked on with Sanctuary have been amazing learning experiences.  I feel fortunate to work at a firm with such a strong commitment to pro bono work—and such a longstanding relationship with Sanctuary—and I am grateful to Nicole Fidler and Kevitt Adler at Sanctuary who provided us the opportunity to work on this case and guided us along way.

Ben:  We asked Julie if she had anything she wanted to express to the Cahill team, and here was her response:

Julie: There are no words nor money to show how grateful I am for everything you did for me and my family. It has been a true honor, help and pleasure to have been able to count on you in the moments where I felt the most oppressed. Thanks to you, my family has a decent roof over their heads, especially my son who has autism, because as a mother his development and progression every day are the most important things to me. . . . . Really thank you so much for all the help. God bless you always.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Cahill 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.

 

Cahill Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Keep and Protect Her Kids

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cahill Gordon & Reindel attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “ZN.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “ZN,” a young, immigrant mother of four children. The Cahill team, consisting of partner Joel Kurtzberg, and associates Sara Ortiz, Chloe Sauer (currently of Barclays), and Ben A. Schatz (currently of the Center for Appellate Litigation) helped ZN obtain a finding of neglect against her husband, full custody of her children, and an Order of Protection, including all of her children, against her husband.

sara-ortiz

Pro Bono Council Co-Chair Ben A. Schatz talks with Sara Ortiz about her experience working with Sanctuary on the ZN matter.

Ben: Tell us briefly about the work you and your team did on behalf of ZN.

Sara: ZN is a young immigrant mother of four who had suffered years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband. She came to Sanctuary a few years ago after her husband lied to police to have her falsely arrested, only to find his plan backfiring, and resulting in a neglect case against him in Bronx Family Court.

Working with Dara Sheinfeld, Sanctuary’s Legal Director in the Bronx and Manhattan, we prepared ZN for a trial in the neglect matter in Bronx Family Court, and filed petitions for custody and an order of protection, to be heard simultaneously.

At an emotional hearing in the neglect matter, ZN and her oldest son testified about the extensive physical and emotional abuse her husband inflicted on the family. In July 2015, the court made a finding of neglect against ZN’s husband, and granted ZN full custody of her children and a full five-year order of protection for herself and her children. We also then assisted ZN in obtaining a favorable child support order against her husband. We’re continuing to advocate on ZN’s behalf in other pending legal matters.

Ben: Has working with Sanctuary on ZN’s case helped you grow as a lawyer?

Sara: Absolutely. My work at Cahill primarily focuses on long-term, large-scale commercial litigation matters and investigations.  Working with Sanctuary on ZN’s case as a junior associate has given me a great chance to take the lead on a completely different and incredibly important case.

Also, I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from, Dara.  I could not ask for a better legal mentor.  Dara is a brilliant advocate, and made herself available day and night to answer any questions that came up during the case. Dara clearly loves her job, and working with her and with Sanctuary undoubtedly has made me a better advocate.  

Ben: Sanctuary takes a holistic approach to helping its clients. How did you and Sanctuary help ZN in ways outside the courtroom?

Sara: Sanctuary lawyers are always looking to support their clients in ways that extend beyond the clients’ immediate legal needs. Inspired by this approach, we referred ZN to our holiday Adopt-a-Family program, helped ZN obtain public assistance benefits, got her children signed up for free summer camp, and made sure she left each of our meetings with anything she needed to care for herself and her four children, whether it be food, clothing, or a MetroCard.

I also personally helped ZN become more comfortable taking public transportation by exchanging text messages with photographs of our respective locations to make finding each other near the subway easier.  ZN even gained the confidence to take the train alone from the Bronx to Manhattan.

Ben: How has Cahill supported your pro bono work with Sanctuary?

Sara: Cahill has been unwavering in its support of my work with Sanctuary. The Firm has a deep and longstanding relationship with Sanctuary, spearheaded by Joel Kurtzberg when he was an associate (that was nearly two decades ago—Joel is now a partner).

In addition to its pro bono efforts, the Firm sponsors holiday drives, collecting hundreds of gift cards for Sanctuary clients, and has hosted resume review and interviewing skills workshops for survivors of domestic violence enrolled in Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.  It’s a privilege to work at a Firm that enables me to pursue pro bono work I feel passionate about.

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Cahill Gordon & Reindel’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.