Davis Polk Attorneys Help Trafficking Victim Tell Her Story, Secure T-Visa, and Aid in the Successful Prosecution of Her Traffickers

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. Read to learn more.

Sam Zeidman is a Software Developer at Red Rabbit, LLC in New York. From 2012 through 2017 he was an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell in the Litigation Department.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Davis Polk & Wardwell, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jie,” in her successful T-Visa application. The team consisted of former associate Lisa Doolittle, Associates Hanbing Zhang and Iris Hsiao, Partner Po Sit, and Special Counsel for Pro Bono Sharon Katz.

A Nexus of Vulnerability: From Domestic Abuse to Trafficking

Jie was living in China, married with children to an abusive husband. After their divorce her ex-husband took custody of their children because Jie lacked the financial resources to raise them. Jie sought employment so that she could earn money to win back custody of her children. She found what she thought was a promising job cleaning houses in the U.S. Despite not speaking English and having no connections in the U.S., she took the job.

Upon arrival in the U.S., it immediately became clear to Jie that the job she was promised was a sham. Instead, she was expected to engage in sexual acts in hotels and massage parlors. From the moment of entry to the U.S., every aspect of Jie’s life was controlled by her traffickers; unable to speak the language and with no one to reach out to, she felt helpless.

Despite the painful and frightening circumstances, Jie persisted in seeking a way out and never gave up hope that she would one day escape her traffickers.

After an Arrest, Another Legal Avenue

Jie was arrested on vice charges and was referred to New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Court, where she was referred to Sanctuary’s Queens Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project (QTIPP) that, among other things, allowed her to meet with lawyers to discuss possible legal and immigration options.

Lisa Doolittle and Hanbing Zhang were the QTIPP volunteer attorneys for Jie’s legal consultation. Doolittle credits Zhang, a native Mandarin speaker, for forging a strong connection in a short time, which helped them gather enough information to determine that Jie was a good candidate for a T-Visa and quickly volunteered to represent her.  Lori L. Cohen, the Director of the Anti-Trafficking Initiative at Sanctuary for Families, supervised the team and agreed Jie had a compelling case:

“This is a woman who was clearly trafficked, promised a job that didn’t exist, charged fictitious fees, kidnapped, held in a hotel, and raped by men paying to have sex when she did not agree.”

After an extensive series of meetings with Jie to establish their relationship, the DPW team began to advocate on her behalf as she cooperated with law enforcement into the investigation, arrest and prosecution of her traffickers, an emotionally challenging process. Sharon Katz noted that Jie “was initially very wary, even distrustful” of her new attorneys, understandable given her situation.

In addition to participating as a victim-witness in the criminal case, she was skeptical about the US immigration system, particularly the T-Visa process; like many other victims, she already had engaged an attorney who had filed an asylum application and said it was making progress. As Doolittle put it, “In her mind, why would attorneys who worked for free be high quality attorneys, especially compared to her paid attorney who repeatedly assured her he was making advancements in her asylum case?” (The team did not believe the asylum claim would prevail. Cohen said it was common for unscrupulous attorneys to charge women like Jie exorbitant fees up front but deliver very little. Because of the fees, women are drawn deeper in debt and may feel they need to continue working at massage parlors in order to pay it off.)

Meanwhile, the T-Visa process took time and required Jie to share information about some of the worst experiences of her life in great detail and to overcome cultural norms against speaking out about one’s bosses and revealing shameful events.  Moreover, she worried about retribution.

Patience and Persistence from Attorneys and Client

Over the course of a year, with great perseverance, the DPW team gradually gained Jie’s trust. Cohen said the team’s approach was key to making her comfortable with the process.

“They treated her with dignity, respect, patience, and compassion. Their humanity for this woman really came through as they quickly put together a strong, moving, powerful application.”

For their part, the attorneys believe Jie herself deserves most of the credit. Zhang stated,

“She was hesitant to share her story but also believed it was wrong for women to be treated as she was. She had a strong sense of justice and felt that the situation could not go on forever.”

Jie’s T-Visa application was eventually granted and her traffickers convicted.  The effect on Jie was noticeable. Katz said,

“A different part of her came through. She was smiling and outgoing, a change from the initial meetings.”

Iris Hsiao, who is working on the derivative visas for Jie’s children, noted that,

“[Jie] seems extremely hopeful and has more confidence in the process. Before she thought the application was pointless and would take forever, but she saw that waiting paid off in the end.”

As Doolittle put it,

“A burden was lifted. She has T-visa status and no longer has to live every day with the fear over her head that she will be sent back to China.”

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 Davis Polk 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.

Davis Polk Team Wins Custody Victory Against Abusive Father

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Anna” in her custody proceeding against the abusive father of her son “Eli.” The Davis Polk team included litigation associates Alyssa Beaver Gomez, Molly Greer Gurny, and Amanda Meyer, who helped Anna obtain sole legal custody of Eli as well as a final order allowing the father only supervised visitation.

Christina Pryor is an associate in the Government Enforcement and White Collar Crime group  in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.  She is also a  member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

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At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Anna” in her custody proceeding against the abusive father of her son “Eli.”  The Davis Polk team included litigation associates Alyssa Beaver Gomez, Molly Greer Gurny, and Amanda Meyer, who helped Anna obtain sole legal custody of Eli as well as a final order allowing the father only supervised visitation.

Davis Polk Stands by Former Client

Dara Sheinfeld, Sanctuary’s former Legal Director at the Bronx and Manhattan Family Justice Centers, had previously represented Anna pro bono in her initial custody case as an associate at Davis Polk.  The case settled on the first day of trial, resulting in the grant of joint legal custody as well as physical custody and final decision-making to Anna.  When Anna needed to file custody modification and violation cases years later due to the respondent’s increasingly controlling behavior towards Eli, Sheinfeld reached out to Davis Polk, who quickly agreed to represent Anna in this new proceeding.

The Davis Polk team assisted Sheinfeld with multiple aspects of pre-trial and trial work, including organizing exhibits, preparing witnesses, conducting cross examination, and drafting summations.  Sheinfeld noted that the Davis Polk team took the lead in drafting and conducting cross examination of the supervised visitation social worker as well as in responding to motions filed by the respondent regarding evidentiary issues, which enabled her to focus on preparing Anna for her direct examination.  In addition to their work in family court, the Davis Polk team also advocated on behalf of Anna in the related criminal case against the respondent for contempt.

The Team Prevails at Trial

The team ultimately won big at trial – not only getting Anna sole legal custody of her son, but also obtaining a decision that restricted the father’s visitation.  While the father previously had the right to visitation with Eli every weekend at his home, his visits are now limited to one day a week and take place at Comprehensive Family Services.

Sheinfeld, who is now the Pro Bono Attorney at Davis Polk, praised the team’s tireless work, stating:

“We spent countless hours on this case, and the Davis Polk team always produced top notch work, quickly and efficiently. . . .  The fact that we were able to get a final order with supervised visits speaks volumes!  The client and child were thrilled, and can finally, after many years, move on with their lives in peace.”

Anna also stated her appreciation for the team’s efforts:

“We no longer live our lives in fear of violence but in freedom we’ve never experienced before.  I can never thank them enough for what they’ve done for us and how they’ve changed our lives.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Davis Polk 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.

Davis Polk Team Achieves Tremendous Financial Victory for Mother of Two

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

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Davis Polk & Wardwell attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Fiona,” a survivor of domestic violence whose abusive ex-husband owed thousands of dollars in child support arrears. The Davis Polk team of partner Joel Cohen and associates Daniel Spitzer, Nick DiMarino, and Rachelle Navarro, working hand in hand with Sanctuary lawyers, not only won a court order compelling the husband to pay $20,000 in overdue support, but also doubled the amount of child support that the children would receive going forward.

When Fiona came to Sanctuary for Families several years ago, a pro bono team of Davis Polk attorneys helped her obtain a divorce judgment with a stipulation for child support.

In the divorce judgment, Fiona’s ex-husband stipulated to biweekly child support payments and the annual exchange of financial information so the child support order could be updated accordingly. After discovering that her ex-husband had secured a job making significantly more income than he had at the time of the divorce judgment, Fiona returned to Sanctuary for assistance in enforcing the judgment and increasing the child support payments. Once again, Sanctuary turned to Davis Polk for pro bono assistance, and once again, Davis Polk delivered. Partner Joel Cohen and associates Daniel Spitzer, Nick DiMarino and Rachelle Navarro deftly navigated complex procedural questions and obtained a huge financial victory for Fiona and her children.

Procedurally, this case presented “quite a thicket” said Joel Cohen, a litigation partner at Davis Polk. But “the great thing about working with Sanctuary,” he continued, “is that you’re working with experts.” He credited Sanctuary attorneys Dara Sheinfeld and Amanda Norejko with providing excellent guidance and advocacy as the Davis Polk team strategized how to get Fiona the best possible result. Rachelle, a litigation associate at the firm, concurred, adding that “it was wonderful and challenging to constantly be in discussions about the correct procedural path.”

The first filing in Family Court was a petition for enforcement of the divorce judgment, which was supplemented by a petition for modification a few months later. The Family Court granted the team’s request for modification of the amount of child support going forward but denied the petition to enforce and collect past arrears because it believed it lacked jurisdiction to do so.  The pro bono team then prepared an enforcement action in Supreme Court, where they ultimately negotiated an extremely advantageous settlement for Fiona and her children. As a result of their diligent efforts in two separate courts, Fiona now receives twice as much in biweekly child support payments as she did previously, and she was awarded $20,000 in child support arrears.

This was the first Sanctuary for Families case for these Davis Polk litigators, but it certainly won’t be the last. “The work [Sanctuary] does for its clients is broad-ranging and essential,” says Daniel, “and goes far beyond just providing legal services.”Fiona was a particularly engaging client, and the team agrees that the relationship they were able to develop with the client was the most rewarding part of working on her case. As for Fiona, she says she will be forever thankful to her wonderful attorneys:

Thank you and please continue with your selfless help to other families such as ours. You have left such an indelible mark in our lives forever. We are truly grateful.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 19, 2016 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Davis Polk’s outstanding pro bono work.  

Emily Suran is a Project, Energy and Infrastructure Finance associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP and currently represents a Sanctuary client seeking asylum. She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.