Paul Weiss Helps Domestic Violence Survivor Overturn Court Order, Remain in Apartment

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Weiss for their tireless pro bono work on behalf of “Lisa,” a survivor of domestic violence facing court-ordered exclusion from her apartment.

Sharon Barbour is an associate at Cohen & Gresser and co-chair of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council. 

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul Weiss for their tireless pro bono work on behalf of “Lisa,” a survivor of domestic violence facing court-ordered exclusion from her apartment. The team consisted of partner Dave Brown; associates Sofia Reive, Katarina Broeksmit, and Luke Phillips; former associates Mahalia Boyd and Lance Polivy; and former paralegal Erin Nunes. 

For years, Sanctuary’s client Lisa endured an unimaginable situation in her own home, a rent-controlled apartment where she had lived since childhood.  Her family had been fractured by domestic violence.  As children, Lisa and her siblings witnessed their father violently abuse their mother, which left lasting trauma on the entire family.  Lisa’s sister, Nina, who was in an extremely abusive relationship, ultimately killed her batterer and was sentenced to two decades in prison.  Lisa left college to care for Nina’s children.  Back in her childhood home, Lisa faced psychological abuse by her brother, who had learned how to abuse from their father.

By 2017, Lisa was in poor health and unable to work.  Her brother had his own home but, seeking a buy-out from the building’s management, launched a vicious campaign to force Lisa out of hers.  He installed cameras in the apartment to monitor Lisa’s every move and left menacing notes, threatening her and disparaging her with racist and misogynistic names.  He even went so far as to install a roommate in the apartment without Lisa’s permission to monitor and harass her.  He eventually obtained an order of protection based on spurious claims that Lisa abused him and that the apartment was his only residence.  Claiming that Lisa violated the order of protection, he sought a court order excluding her from the apartment.

In July 2017, after Sanctuary successfully advocated for parole on behalf of Lisa’s sister Nina, Lisa approached Sanctuary for legal assistance.  Sanctuary contacted Paul, Weiss about representing Lisa pro bono.  Mahalia Boyd, then a Paul, Weiss associate, jumped at the opportunity.  Because domestic violence is often understood to involve romantic partners rather than siblings, “that made me want to learn more about those issues and how to protect someone in that space because I don’t think it gets enough attention,” Mahalia said.

The Paul, Weiss team, which included Mahalia, partner Dave Brown, associate Sofia Reive, former associate Lance Polivy, associate Katarina Broeksmit, associate Luke Phillips, and former paralegal Erin Nunes, fought for over two years to keep Lisa in her home.  For the team, Lisa’s success felt personal.  As Sofia put it, “the stakes could not have been higher, since she was in such fragile health and was at risk of becoming homeless.”  “We felt that pressure personally,” Lance said.

The team worked tirelessly with Lisa to prepare for trial.  The team prepared Lisa to testify about years of abuse by her brother and undertook thorough investigative work to expose the brother’s lies.  “It was really important for us to establish trust with Lisa at the beginning,” said Mahalia.  “Lisa started to feel like she was really heard and could contribute to the success of her case.”

During the highly contested year-long trial, as a result of careful preparation and skillful direct examination, the team exposed the brother’s abusive behavior and undermined his credibility.  Yet inexplicably, the court found in favor of Lisa’s brother and ordered Lisa’s exclusion.  The team immediately sought an emergency stay of the exclusion order from the Appellate Division, which was denied.  Undeterred, the team filed an emergency appeal of the denial of the stay, which a full panel of the Appellate Division granted.  The team then briefed an appeal of the family court order on the merits.  After oral argument in September 2019, the Appellate Division overturned the portion of the family court order that excluded Lisa from the apartment.  Finally, after years of hard work, Lisa’s right to stay in her home was secured.

“I am forever grateful to this extraordinary group of lawyers. Their skill and dedication kept me in my home and gave me hope.” — Lisa, survivor.

The team likewise expressed great admiration for Lisa.  “Lisa is a fighter,” said Lance, who praised Lisa for attending school and volunteering at a senior center while coping with an extremely difficult home situation and working on her litigation defense.  “Each time she left [the apartment], she was taking a risk that her belongings would be thrown out in the street, as they had in the past.  On top of this, she spent many long days meeting with the Paul, Weiss team to go over everything and prepare for her trial.” As Dave observed, “We had a better outcome because she was so invested in this process.”  Sofia added, “During several years working closely with Lisa, I was astounded by her courage and resilience – never more so than in the days following an exclusion order by the lower court.”  Mahalia agreed, noting that “despite everything that happened to her, she tried to be positive and . . . make the best of her situation.  It was really inspiring to see that come out and shine through her.”

Reflecting on the successful outcome—the result of intensive factual development, trial preparation, direct examination, motion practice, post-trial submissions, and multiple appellate briefs—Dave said that the case “really highlighted the broad base of skills that Paul, Weiss can bring to bear.  Fortunately, we had the ability to bring all of that to the table to help Lisa.”  He added that he was “really happy to continue the legacy of Paul, Weiss’s support of Sanctuary.” 

For Sofia, “It was invaluable to work on this matter from start to finish: through trial, an emergency stays, and, finally, to a successful appeal.  Ultimately, though, keeping Lisa in her home and turning back her abuser was far and away the most rewarding aspect of the case.  This experience was only possible through our firm’s commitment to pro bono representation and longstanding partnership with Sanctuary for Families.”  Lance echoed these sentiments, noting, “There’s nothing more gratifying than using our legal training to help those in need.  That was what this case was all about.”

“The team never stopped fighting.  We didn’t give up.  This was a case of perseverance.” — Dave Brown, partner, Paul Weiss.

Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families, said “It was perseverance coupled with strategic brilliance and top-notch lawyering skills that [the Paul Weiss team] used every step of the way.” She praised each member of the team for being “committed, hardworking, and talented,” calling their work on Lisa’s behalf “extraordinary.”  Dorchen further noted that, because Lisa suffers from multiple chronic illnesses and would have been rendered homeless in the midst of the ongoing COVID pandemic, “They prevented a catastrophe for the client.  It was life-saving.”

Join us at our virtual Above & Beyond virtual celebration on October 29, 2020, as we honor the outstanding pro bono work of Dave, Mahalia, Sofia, Lance, Katarina, Luke, and Erin. Click here to RSVP for free.

If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Family’s work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

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

At this year’s Above and Beyond Awards, Sanctuary 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.

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.

My Voice Is Powerful and So Is Yours

Survivor Leader Alida Tchicamboud discusses her advocacy work and the importance of shelter and affordable housing for survivors of domestic violence.

Alida is a domestic violence advocate, Survivor Leader at Sanctuary for Families, and founder of Healing Hands International, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting victims of Domestic Violence.

Last week, I testified to the New York City Council about my experience in a domestic violence shelter and the challenges other survivors face in the shelter system when looking for affordable housing.

I am so excited to have been quoted in this article about a city council hearing I testified at alongside Helen Rosenthal, a Council Member and chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity:

“Some of the issues raised by the Council members were echoed by survivors who testified as well. Alida Tchicamboud, a survivor leader at Sanctuary for Families, a domestic violence survivor service provider, emphasized how the city’s shelter system saved her life. But there were hurdles along the way, she explained. ‘It seems like the system works against survivors, especially for single women with dependent minor children, by forcing them to go back into the cycle of lifetime public assistance,’ she said.”

I am also appreciative of Council member Brad Lander who tweeted my intervention and qualified it as “Smart & courageous”

By sharing my experience, thoughts and opinions, I encouraged HRA to take action where needed. I believe that my suggestions carry a lot of weight and I hope that it will influence policy decisions, because it is without a doubt that survivors of domestic violence need:

  1. At least one year stay in transitional shelters to build themselves first
  2. Imperatively an increase of the City vouchers every year to match the rent stabilization guidelines
  3. Building more affordable permanent housing units with survivors of domestic violence as the top priorities to occur those facilities
  4. Trauma-focus approaches while exiting shelters…

There are many ways to get involved in the effort to support survivors of domestic violence.

IN THE WORKPLACE

Domestic violence is not a “personal” issue, because it has no boundaries, it does not stay home. Approximately 60% of adults in the U.S. work, so chances are that in a given workplace, many employees are victims, perpetrators, or have a friend or family member who is a victim. Employers have to prepared to deal with domestic violence. Below are some ideas that can be explored in the workplace:

  • Educate yourself on the subject
  • Review the Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP) services if you have them, to ensure that they identify services related to exposure to trauma and offer options and resources available to victims
  • Train managers and supervisors on how to recognize and respond to signs of domestic violence / how to address related issues such as privacy and confidentiality
  • Leaders should help and not judge and show concern for employees well-being
  • Build awareness because domestic violence is not always “visible”
  • Managers, don’t discriminate allow victims to take the time off to appear in court, apply for a protection order or seek medical attention…

I advocate to help survivors get the help they need to build a new future. Do you advocate?

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month!

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – check out our list of exciting ways you can get involved!

Domestic violence is one of the most common, yet least discussed issues affecting Americans today. Even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, odds are we love someone who has suffered (or is currently suffering) at the hands of their intimate partner – According to the NCADV,  1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking, among other forms of abuse that fall under the umbrella of domestic violence

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of Public Law 101-112, which designates October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM) and calls on the people “to observe this month by becoming more aware of the tragedy of domestic violence, supporting those who are working to end domestic violence, and participating in other appropriate efforts.” As usual, Sanctuary is joining millions of survivors and advocates throughout DVAM to bring the issue of domestic violence to the forefront of the public’s attention, raise awareness about our services, honor the memory of those we’ve lost, and celebrate strength and courage of our clients and of survivors across the country.

We hope that you, too, will honor the survivors in your life by joining us as we break the silence around domestic violence. Check out a list of exciting opportunities below and stay tuned for more DVAM updated throughout this month!

ATTEND AN EVENT

Oct. 1st & 8th: NBC’s Domestic Violence Vigils: Commemorating Victims of Domestic Violence

Oct. 4th: CLE:  Investigating and Prosecuting Intimate Partner Traffickers

Oct. 5th: Bronx 5K Run/Walk/Roll to End Domestic Violence

Oct. 24thThe Intersection of Intimate Partner Violence and Cyber Abuse

Oct. 25th & 26th: Gibney & Sanctuary for Families Present: Cracks of Light

Oct. 27th2019 Vision for Change: A Survivor-Led Conference to End Gender-Based Violence

SPEAK OUT

Stand with survivors of domestic violence! Talk to your friends, family, and colleagues; share information through social media; let your representatives know that the silence surrounding domestic violence must end!

On Facebook: Show your support for survivors by adding a #StandWithSurvivors temporary frame to your profile picture

On Instagram & Twitter: Go purple to raise awareness about domestic violence!

  • Change your profile pictures to all-purple for the month of October by downloading this image or by taking a screenshot of our latest Tweet and Instagram post
  • Share graphics from our Social Media Toolkit using the hashtags #StandWithSurvivors & #NoLoveInViolence and tagging @sffny
  • Drive the conversation on why we must #StandWithSurvivors using our graphics (or create your own!) and tag @sffny

Tag us @SFFNY (Twitter & Instagram) or @SanctuaryforFamilies (Facebook) and use the hashtags: #NoLoveInViolence #StandWithSurvivors

VOLUNTEER

We engage over 2,000 volunteers annually. Learn more about our diverse volunteer and internship opportunities by clicking here.

DONATE

You can make a difference for thousands of adults and children every year. Give today.