Schulte Roth & Zabel team successfully advocates for domestic violence survivor against abuser and aggressive opposing counsel

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. 

Complicating Factors

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.

Funding for the Courtroom Advocates Project is Under Threat: Why it Matters

Since its founding in 1997, Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP) has been almost entirely funded by grants under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Today, funding for this critical program is in danger. Take a stand and join the effort to protect VAWA funding.

Brenna is a J.D. at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

Ana’s Story

In July 2016, Ana arrived alone at the Bronx Family Courthouse hoping to obtain an Order of Protection against her husband. Ana’s husband had subjected her to severe physical and emotional violence during their marriage. On that day, she had a bruise on her upper arm from when her husband bit her the week before and a puncture wound from when he stabbed her with a pen. Those physical scars were in addition to the devastating trauma Ana experienced from months of repeated rapes and strangulations by her husband. She was upset, afraid, and like many victims of domestic violence, had no money to hire an attorney to help her.

Unsure of where to go or who to turn to, she eventually found a free consultant at the courthouse who introduced her to two attorneys in Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP). Ana’s fortunes were about to change.

Finding Sanctuary

Ana was assigned to a team of law student advocates who had been trained by CAP to help Ana file for and obtain a temporary Order of Protection in Family Court. Sanctuary’s CAP attorneys then took Ana’s case on for direct legal representation.

Over the course of two years, they not only helped her obtain a final Order of Protection against her husband, but also referred Ana to Sanctuary’s social workers from whom she received counseling. Today, Sanctuary continues to help Ana with her housing and immigration issues, all at no cost to her.

Since connecting with CAP and accessing Sanctuary’s holistic services, Ana has flourished. She has become more confident and is in charge of her own life, happiness, and safety. In Ana’s words,

“Had it not been for [Sanctuary], I don’t know what I would have done.”

Currently, Ana is on the path to fulfilling a lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, and has completed a nursing education and training program. She is now able to leave her past behind and move forward.

The Courtroom Advocates Project(CAP)

CAP trains and supervises advocates, mostly law students, who provide in-court assistance to domestic violence victims seeking orders of protection in Family Court. Since 1997, CAP has trained nearly 12,000 advocates and has helped nearly 10,000 litigants in Family Court. Victims of domestic violence often come to court alone and intimidated. CAP advocates help them tell their stories more effectively, and provide needed reassurance.

CAP advocates can also direct victims to additional resources that may help them reach safety. Like Ana, many clients first connect with Sanctuary through CAP, and then receive help from Sanctuary with additional issues such as divorce, custody, spousal and child support, housing, public benefits, counseling, job training and immigration. For these clients, CAP serves as a crucial first stepping stone in their journey from an abusive relationship to freedom.

Not only does CAP provide vital assistance to victims of domestic violence, it also trains the pro bono attorneys of the future. CAP provides law students with an introduction to family law, a chance to meet with clients, and an opportunity to learn how to be litigators. Often, CAP may be a law student’s first experience working one-on-one with a client or appearing on the record in a courtroom, which can be invaluable lessons in their development as lawyers.  It also solidifies their passion for pro bono work, and sets them on a lifetime course of helping low-income clients.

How CAP Changed Me

I participated in CAP during the summer after my second year of law school. Paired with another law student, and under the supervision of a Sanctuary CAP staff attorney, I helped a high school student obtain an Order of Protection against her ex-boyfriend, who had attacked her in school several times.

I learned valuable skills in legal writing and courtroom advocacy and, more importantly, I was able to successfully advocate for a client. The experience and her gratitude for my help left a lasting impression. I returned to Sanctuary for an externship the following spring, and I have continued my involvement while working at a law firm by serving on Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and representing another Sanctuary client pro bono.

Protect the Violence Against Women Act

Today, funding for this critical program is in danger due to potential budget cuts recommended by the current federal administration. Since its founding in 1997, CAP has been almost entirely funded by grants under The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

VAWA classifies domestic violence and sexual assault as federal crimes and funds programs that provide life-saving services for victims, including legal and criminal justice services, counseling, housing, prevention programs, and much more. The current administration is intent on cutting the budget for the Department of Justice (among many other agencies), which could very well include cutting or eliminating VAWA grants that are funded through the Department of Justice budget—something that President Trump has indicated a willingness to do. Such action would jeopardize the future of CAP.

Without CAP, thousands of clients like Ana would be less safe, and thousands of law students would be denied the invaluable experience of advocating for vulnerable clients. In Ana’s words, “[CAP] gave me a reason to stand up and fight.”

Now, it is time to stand up and fight for the program that has helped Ana and thousands of others take their first steps toward freedom.

What You Can Do

Tell your Representatives that you want them to make a strong public statement now that they will never approve a budget that reduces VAWA funding.

  • Schedule a meeting with your Representative to discuss the importance of VAWA, or see if there are any town halls you can attend and ask them to fight for VAWA funding now.
  • Call, write/e-mail, and tweet.

Ask your networks to advocate – spread the word to your contacts and ask them to advocate on behalf of VAWA.

Organize an informal “30 minutes of activism” breakfast or lunch.

  • Use these talking points to educate attendees on the issue, explain its importance to you, and ask them all to call, tweet, email, etc. together during the 30 minutes.

Post this article on social media and send it to your contacts.

Draft Op-eds. Use your connections to get op-eds published and get the issue out there!

Together we can make sure victims like Ana have access to the lifeline that she had. Take a stand today to preserve VAWA and its critical life-saving funding.

First Year Skadden Attorney Wins Five Year Order of Protection for Survivor of Domestic Violence

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Tansy Woan, a litigation associate at Skadden, for her pro bono work on behalf of Ms. G, a woman who was seeking a full five-year order of protection against her husband, who subjected her to severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during their relationship.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Tansy Woan, a litigation associate at Skadden, for her pro bono work on behalf of Ms. T, a woman who was seeking a full five-year order of protection against her husband, who subjected her to severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse during their relationship.

From the Dominican Republic to Maryland

Just over four years ago, Ms. T, then 21-years old and living in the Dominican Republic, thought that she had met the love of her life when she came across Mr. S, a charming older American man in his 30s. They hit it off immediately and began dating.

They continued to date long distance after he returned to the United States. As their relationship progressed, Mr. S asked Ms. T to consider moving to the United States to be with him. She agreed and moved in with him in Maryland, and they were engaged shortly thereafter. That was when Ms. T’s life shattered. 

After Ms. T moved to Maryland, Mr. S became a different person. He became increasingly angry with her and started yelling at her and threatening her. He then began physically abusing her. Six months into their relationship, his violence intensified to severe sexual abuse and threats against Ms. T’s life with a firearm that Mr. S kept in their shared bedroom. Ms. T was living in constant fear, with no friends or family nearby and no means of support. When the abuse became too much for her to bear, Ms. T fled to New York City and found Sanctuary for Families. Sanctuary assisted Ms. T in obtaining a temporary order of protection against Mr. S.  But Ms. T still needed a full and final five-year order of protection, and Sanctuary turned to Skadden for assistance.

Tansy Woan steps in

twTansy Woan, then a newly-minted first year associate at Skadden, immediately stepped in.  Tansy had worked on domestic violence cases when she was in college, and had hoped that once she began practicing, she could incorporate her passion into her legal practice as well.  The March 2014 e-mail that came across her inbox, seeking an attorney interested in working on Ms. T’s order of protection application pro bono, seemed almost fortuitous and Tansy jumped at the opportunity.

Thus began an 18-month long bench trial in Bronx Family Court.  Determined to prove Mr. S’s cruelty, Tansy, under the guidance of Dara Sheinfeld, Sanctuary’s Legal Director at the Bronx and Manhattan Family Justice Centers, skillfully advocated for Ms. T throughout the trial.  Tansy gently elicited Ms. T’s story during her emotional direct examination.  And she skillfully handled the long and challenging cross-examination of Mr. S, carefully highlighting the many inconsistencies in his testimony, and the inconsistencies between his testimony and the evidence, succeeding in badly damaging his credibility. According to Dara, Tansy was “fierce during cross examination,” in spite of Mr. S’s aggressive and unpleasant demeanor during the trial.

Tansy’s skilled advocacy resulted in the granting of a full and final five-year order of protection for Ms. T. Tansy’s effective representation was achieved in no small part because of her ability to connect and establish trust with Ms. T. It was extraordinarily difficult and re-traumatizing for Ms. T to recount her difficult story, both during prep sessions and at trial. The process of having to go through all the details was excruciating and emotional, and it was only with Tansy’s ability to comfort Ms. T and create a safe space for her to tell her story that Ms. T was able to do so. As Dara explained, Tansy showed “extraordinary empathy” for Ms. T, “always giving her the time she needed to deal with the feelings and emotions that trial preparation evoked.” And as Tansy reflected, “A lot of the advocacy that I did was just to comfort her, and to give her strength. My job wasn’t just to prepare for trial, it was to be there for her.”

Reflections and advice

In April 2016, after a long and drawn out trial, and shortly after Tansy left Skadden for a judicial clerkship, Ms. T received the protection for which she had fought so desperately. The Family Court granted Ms. T a full and final five-year order of protection, the longest possible under the law. Tansy was ecstatic with the outcome.

“It was an honor to have this experience, and to help Ms. T work through a very difficult period of time.  Not only was I doing a full-blown trial with Sanctuary as a first year associate, but I was giving Ms. T the chance to have her side of the story heard, and to help her fight back against this man who terrified her for years.  It felt so good to tell her that it was all worth it, and to say to her:  ‘Your courage got you through this.’”

Tansy reiterated that she was only able to do what she did because of the support that she received from Sanctuary, particularly Dara:

“Dara was amazing.  She was there with me at every client meeting and every court appearance, and always made herself available to answer any questions I had, no matter how often or what time of day.   Without her, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the trial – she helped me practice my cross examinations, my openings, everything, really.  It was my first trial ever and she really helped me to feel at ease.  I can’t imagine having gotten through it without her.  I can’t thank her and Sanctuary enough for all of the mentoring, support, and encouragement they have provided.  It is so inspiring to work with someone as passionate as Dara.”

Tansy also marveled at how Skadden rallied the full weight of their resources behind Ms. T. Other attorneys at the firm, including Steve Kolleeny, Jay Kasner, Scott Musoff, Lauren Aguiar, and Rob Fumerton, took time out of their busy schedules to offer advice and guidance and to run through arguments.  Steve, who was the Skadden attorney overseeing Tansy’s representation of Ms. T, was particularly instrumental during the case. Tansy reminisced, “He was phenomenal, so incredibly busy, but always made time to help this anxious first year associate.” Tansy had wanted nothing more than for Steve to see the trial through, to show him that all of the hard work that went into it eventually paid off, but to everyone’s great loss, Steve passed away in September 2014.

With Tansy now back from her clerkship at Skadden, she is even more determined to take on another domestic violence matter for Sanctuary.  She even has some advice for future young attorneys hoping to make a true difference in the life of another:  “Prepare for the unexpected.  Know your facts and the law by heart.  And, above all, remember to be human.  So much of Ms. T’s testimony required that she maintain her cool under pressure, and that she trust me.  For me to gain her trust, and to be there for her, required that I be so much more than an attorney.” 

Ms. T was incredibly grateful and thrilled with the outcome:

“[Tansy] earned my trust and respect for the way and dedication with which [she] perform[ed] [her] work.  Tansy was always there listening to my story and looking for the best way to help me get my order of protection.  I felt very privileged that among the many cases she could work on[,] [that she chose] mine the way [she] did.  [A]ll I can say is thank you very much and God bless her and allow her to continue to have success in her work.”

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

Etienne Barg-Townsend is Senior Legal Counsel at KGS-Alpha Capital Markets, L.P., a New York-based institutional fixed income broker-dealer.  She was formerly a litigation associate at Shearman & Sterling LLP, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, LLP, and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.  She has worked on several pro bono matters with Sanctuary, and is in the process of developing a pro bono program at KGS-Alpha.  She is a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and is Co-Chair of this year’s Above & Beyond gala. 

 

Akerman Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Win Final Protective Order

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring Akerman associates Steven Cordero and Vanessa Garcia for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Ms. C.”

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Akerman attorneys for their pro bono work on behalf of Sanctuary client “Ms. C,” a survivor of domestic violence.  Akerman associates Steven Cordero and Vanessa Garcia worked tirelessly on a difficult family-court trial that lasted eighteen months.  In July 2016, they ultimately prevailed, obtaining for Ms. C a five-year final order of protection against her abuser. 

Securing the protective order

For years Ms. C has been struggling with a rare degenerative illness, while also suffering from on-going abuse by her husband.  Ms. C sought help after a particularly frightening incident in 2014, which culminated in her husband threatening to kill her. Her husband was arrested, but the criminal court only granted Ms. C a two-year protective order. Fearing what could happen to her after the order expired, Ms. C reached out to Sanctuary, and Sanctuary reached out to Akerman.

Akerman associates Steven Cordero and Vanessa Garcia met Ms. C in January 2015, and, with the assistance of Amanda Norejko, Director of Sanctuary’s Matrimonial and Economic Justice Project, immediately began preparing for a trial in Family Court to seek a five-year protective order so that Ms. C would still have an order of protection in place after the two-year criminal order expired.

Amanda nominated Steven and Vanessa to receive the Above & Beyond award because of their incredible dedication to their client:

“Steven and Vanessa devoted many hours to preparing for trial to ensure Ms. C received the longest possible order of protection.  They introduced compelling evidence and carefully prepared Ms. C. for her testimony. The client was extremely nervous about testifying, but they did an excellent job working with her to be able to present a very solid case.  They skillfully represented a very anxious client with incredible sensitivity and understanding. They took all the client’s concerns into consideration and answered her many questions with great care and patience.”

The family court ultimately granted Ms. C a five-year final order of protection in July 2016.  The team was thrilled with the court’s ruling—it is difficult to win a protective order of such length because it requires specific factual findings by the court that aggravating circumstances (for example, serious physical injury) exist.

Going above and beyond

In addition to their exceptional legal representation, Steven and Vanessa have truly gone above and beyond for Ms. C.  Domestic violence victims often have to wait around the courthouse for long periods of time following each court appearance, in order to get their temporary orders of protection from the court clerk.  This experience is made even more uncomfortable and scary for victims by the fact that their abusers are also present at the courthouse waiting for the orders. But Steven and Vanessa always went the extra mile to ensure that Ms. C felt safe, by waiting as long as two hours with her to receive her temporary orders of protection, and walking her out of the courthouse.  In addition, Vanessa is continuing to assist Ms. C. with her other legal needs.

Ms. C is incredibly grateful to Steven and Vanessa:

“I am so grateful for all the time, effort, and skill that Steve and Vanessa have put into my case over the past two years. Steve and Vanessa worked tirelessly to prepare me properly for my court appearance.  They also gave me the reassurance and comfort I needed throughout the process to persevere.  Thanks to their remarkable ongoing efforts before, during, and after each court appearance—not only from a legal point of view, but also in terms of their kindness, compassion, and sense of humor—Vanessa and Steve helped make this unpleasant process as pleasant as possible.”

Fighting for a worthy cause

Reflecting on his experience working with Ms. C, Steven explained that this case showed him that domestic violence is an issue that touches people of all walks of life, regardless of social-economic status.  He also appreciated that representing a domestic violence survivor in a case that would help protect her from harm gave him an opportunity to use his legal skills to fight for a good and worthy cause.

“It is very rewarding to have such a close client relationship, and to have someone like Ms. C put her trust in you,” Vanessa added.  In addition, “the pro bono work has given me the opportunity, even as a junior associate, to really get involved in a case and see it through.”

Both associates expressed their appreciation for Akerman’s support of its attorneys’ pro bono work, and their excitement about the firm’s recently expanded pro bono practice.

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

Emilie Winckel is a white-collar associate at O’Melveny & Myers LLP and currently represents a Sanctuary client in connection with a federal criminal case.  She is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.