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.

O’Melveny & Myers & Paul Weiss Attorneys Assist Mother in International Child Abduction Prosecution

At this year’s Above & Beyond Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison for their pro bono assistance in an international parental kidnapping prosecution. Read to learn more.

Nicole Vescova is an associate at Klein Zelman Rothermel Jacobs & Schess, advising management in labor, employment and employee benefit issues, and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from O’Melveny & Myers (O’Melveny) and Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison (Paul Weiss) for their pro bono assistance in an international parental kidnapping prosecution.

The dedicated and hardworking team included partners Andrew Frackman and Mark Racanelli, and associate Emilie Winckel of O’Melveny; and of counsel Daniel J. Beller, associates Gregory Pruden (now an associate at Binder & Schwartz LLP), Kristina Bunting, and Benjamin D. Gitlin, and partner Aidan Synnott of Paul, Weiss.

A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

After graduating from medical school, Dr. Hind Kettani and her husband moved from their native Morocco to the United States to begin their careers in the medical field.  Following their move to the US, Dr. Kettani and her husband had two boys.  After the birth of their children, Dr. Kettani and her husband’s relationship started to swiftly deteriorate.

Dr. Kettani’s husband became extremely controlling and subjected her to verbal abuse and constant surveillance. As she attempted to balance the demands of her residency program with the care of her children and increasingly difficult marriage, Dr. Kettani accepted what she thought was her mother-in-law’s generous offer to have the children visit their grandparents in Morocco for a few weeks. But when Dr. Kettani traveled to Morocco to bring the children back to the US, she discovered that her husband and his family were withholding the children’s passports, preventing them from leaving the country.

It became clear that Dr. Kettani would need to obtain a divorce and sole custody of the children in order to bring them back to the US, so she immediately instituted proceedings in Morocco. After almost two years of shuttling between the two countries, she finally obtained a Moroccan custody order, which she registered in New York, and obtained new passports for the children. She believed their time apart would end soon.  That is until she returned to Morocco to pick up the children to find that her husband had already left the country with them.

Criminal Justice

From November 2011 to November 2015, Dr. Kettani’s ex-husband ignored court orders, hiding her children from her. She tirelessly pursued all possible means of finding and reuniting with her children. She worked with courts in the U.S. and Morocco, as well as authorities in various countries. The FBI located the children in Saudi Arabia and brought them home. Her ex-husband was placed in custody and, after four excruciating years of separation, Dr. Kettani was finally reunited with her children. Her ex-husband was charged with international parental kidnapping and ordered to stay away from Dr. Kettani and the children as a condition to his bail.

Fearful that her ex-husband or his family could kidnap her children again, Dr. Kettani reached out to Sanctuary for Families for help. Dorchen Leidholdt, Sanctuary for Family’s Legal Director, instantly recognized the severity of the situation and recruited outside counsel to ensure the criminal case would not be pled down or resolved in a way that would leave Dr. Kettani’s family without the protection they so desperately needed.

Paul Weiss advised Dr. Kettani on child custody law issues arising from proceedings in both New York and Morocco, and enlisted the expertise of O’Melveny to assist Dr. Kettani in the criminal proceedings.

O’Melveny’s Emilie Winckel describes Dr. Kettani as “incredibly strong and determined” and someone who “put the safety and wellbeing of her children above all else.” The firm assisted Dr. Kettani in her interactions with the U.S. Attorney’s office as a witness for the prosecution. In response to her ex-husband’s application for deferred prosecution, O’Melveny drafted a strong opposition, ensuring Dr. Kettani’s voice was heard.  When the Court denied his application, the O’Melveny team made sure the denial would not be reversed on appeal. Further, after he pled guilty to international parental kidnapping, O’Melveny worked with the prosecution to ensure that his sentence would reflect the severity of his crime.

Working Together While Moving Forward

While Dr. Kettani’s ex-husband is currently incarcerated, Paul Weiss continues to assist Dr. Kettani in ensuring she maintains custody of the children. Both teams look forward to continuing to work with Dr. Kettani and Sanctuary.

Winckel credited everyone at Sanctuary, Paul Weiss and O’Melveny who worked on the case and made “sure we had a cohesive strategy across both the criminal and family court proceedings.” She also noted how grateful she is to O’Melveny for its support of the matter, which entailed a significant amount of attorney time.

Paul Weiss’s Gregory Pruden praised Sanctuary’s Dorchen Leidholdt and Sanctuary volunteer Lynn Beller for their tireless dedication, “as well as the bravery of our FBI agents,” all of whom were “integral to the success of our work.”

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 O’Melveny & Myers and Paul Weiss’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.

Breaking Chains: Paul Weiss’ Tireless Advocacy Results in Orthodox Woman Obtaining Long Awaited Jewish Divorce

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team of attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their pro bono work that resulted in a young Orthodox Jewish mother of four receiving long sought after relief in both civil and religious court. Read to learn more.

Steven Cordero is a litigation partner in the New York office of Akerman LLP. He is also a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council and Co-Chair of this year’s Above and Beyond Pro Bono Awards and Benefit.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their pro bono work that resulted in a young Orthodox Jewish mother of four receiving long sought after relief in both civil and religious court.

The multifaceted strategy and tireless advocacy of the Paul Weiss team, comprised of partner Audra Soloway and associates Joshua Kaye, Naomi Morris, Samantha Weinberg, and Jacob Taber (now an associate at Richards Kibbe & Orbe LLP), led to a hugely favorable settlement that provided for the client to receive a religious divorce from the Jewish court, child support arrears in civil court, and the withdrawal of her husband’s appeal.

When a Civil Divorce is not Enough

Rachel (not client’s real name) filed for divorce in 2012 (prior to finding Sanctuary for Families). The proceeding languished for several years until Rachel successfully obtained a divorce awarding her full custody of her four children and financial support to help her rebuild her and her children’s lives. Importantly, the judge also directed Rachel’s ex-husband to grant Rachel a Get, which is a Jewish writ of divorce, within 90 days of the court’s decision, or face a financial penalty. Rachel’s ex-husband, however, refused to provide the Get, failed to pay child support, and appealed the divorce judgment.

Rachel was particularly devastated by her ex-husband’s refusal to grant her a Get. According to Jewish law, a marriage can only be dissolved once a husband voluntarily gives the Get to his wife. Even if there is a civil divorce, the couple remains married under Jewish law without the Get. The Get is tied to the wife’s identity.  Orthodox Jewish women who are refused a Get by their husbands are called agunot, or chained women. They cannot remarry, any new relationship is considered adultery, and any children from those new relationships would be deemed to be illegitimate.

A husband’s refusal to grant a Get when the marriage is over is a form of domestic violence because it is an assertion of power and control over the wife, with potential economic and social ramifications that are unique to Orthodox communities. The husband may withhold the Get to extort concessions from the wife in divorce negotiations, such as the waiver of financial support, the payment of a large sum of money to the husband, or even the surrender of custody of the children.

Indeed, here Rachel’s ex-husband wielded his refusal to grant a Get in an attempt to force Rachel to agree to vacate the divorce judgment and sign a stipulation more favorable to him. Desperate, Rachel turned to Sanctuary for Families’ Orthodox Jewish Matrimonial Project for help.

Paul Weiss’ Multifaceted and Steadfast Advocacy

Recognizing the pressures Rachel faced, the pro bono team at Paul Weiss went on the offensive and filed a motion for contempt against Rachel’s ex-husband for his failure to pay child support.  The Paul Weiss team deftly countered the ex-husband’s dubious litigation tactics that included filing a baseless downward modification of child support petition and changing litigation counsel while having his personal lawyer outside of court attempt to assert pressure on Rachel to sign away her rights.

The Paul Weiss team mounted a multi-tiered strategy that included simultaneously preparing for trial on the contempt hearing, analyzing the ex-husband’s appellant brief and preparing to draft Rachel’s respondent’s brief, and negotiating a settlement that would protect Rachel’s rights and enable her to receive a Get.

The Paul Weiss team skillfully engaged in challenging negotiations, leveraging their strong appeal arguments and excellent trial preparation in the contempt matter. Because of their steadfast representation, Rachel’s ex-husband ultimately relented in his strategy shortly before the contempt hearing and agreed to a favorable settlement in May 2018.

Rachel’s ex-husband paid her a lump sum for the child support arrears, withdrew his appeal, and gave her the Jewish divorce she was entitled.  The Paul Weiss team accompanied Rachel to the Jewish court, the Beit Din, where she finally received her Get. Reflecting on their work, Joshua Kaye said:

“It was a tremendously rewarding experience. We faced new challenges and used our tools as litigators to make the client’s life better.”

Securing a Better Life

Thanks to the hard work of Paul Weiss’ talented pro bono lawyers, Rachel is able to move forward with her life in a far better position than she was when she came to Sanctuary for help more than a year ago.

When asked about her firm’s pro bono experience with Sanctuary, Naomi Morris said:

“I appreciated our co-counsels’ insight into the process, their experience, and their willingness to take the time to explain what to expect, while giving our team the autonomy to draft papers, counsel the client, and manage the case.”

Mr. Kaye added:

“I encourage any lawyer considering partnering with Sanctuary to just do it. It is a great way for young lawyers to grow, impact someone’s life, and make a real difference.”

 As Rachel herself said about this excellent team: “They were professional, kind and very dedicated!”

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 Paul Weiss’ outstanding pro bono work.

You can learn more and buy tickets here.  If you can’t join us, but would like to support Sanctuary for Families’ work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.

 

 

Paul, Weiss Team Wins Major Victory for Domestic Violence Survivor

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their skilled litigation on behalf of a domestic violence survivor. Paul, Weiss former associate Michael Nadler (currently a 2nd Circuit judicial clerk) and Paul, Weiss associate Allison Penfield, supervised by partner Liz Sacksteder, argued that past incidents of domestic violence, although committed more than a year prior to petitioning for an order of protection, were enough to give their client, Susan, a continuing reasonable fear of her abuser. The judge agreed with their deftly-made arguments and granted Susan a one-year order of protection. This result was a major victory with immense precedential value.

Emily Suran is an associate at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP. She is a Co-Chair of the Above & Beyond Benefit, the editor of the Above & Beyond blog posts, 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 Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP for their skilled litigation on behalf of a domestic violence survivor. Paul, Weiss former associate Michael Nadler (currently a 2nd Circuit judicial clerk) and Paul, Weiss associate Allison Penfield, supervised by partner Liz Sacksteder, argued that past incidents of domestic violence, although committed more than a year prior to petitioning for an order of protection, were enough to give their client, “Susan,” a continuing reasonable fear of her abuser. The judge agreed with their deftly-made arguments and granted Susan a one-year order of protection. This result was a major victory with immense precedential value.

A History of Abuse

In 2014, Susan’s former partner, Todd, became physically violent and menacing, and in 2015, Susan ended the relationship. At one point, Susan obtained an order of protection against Todd, but it was subsequently dismissed.

A New Incident Leads to a New Case

Over a year later, Susan was at a restaurant when she saw Todd standing next to her car outside. Terrified, Susan called 911.

Luba Reife, a senior staff attorney with Sanctuary for Families’ Family Law Project, enlisted the help of Paul, Weiss partner Liz Sacksteder, associate Allison, and then-associate Michael to secure a new order of protection for Susan. While the latest incident did not independently rise to the level of an offense, the team crafted an argument that all the prior incidents of abuse, taken together, gave Susan a reasonable and continuing fear of Todd and justified an order of protection.

Michael and Allison developed a strong relationship with Susan, and did extensive research and witness preparation before heading into the courtroom. Michael single-handedly conducted the direct examination of Susan, and he also cross-examined Todd.  Allison conducted the direct examination of another witness, who testified to the history of abuse.

Paul, Weiss partner Liz Sacksteder recalls,

“Mike and I strategized before every hearing date and talked through all the evidentiary issues and strategy for each examination.  I was very impressed by all the care and thought and depths of analysis going into Mike’s and Allison’s preparation. I thought the two of them were a great team, and Mike was a great leader of the team.”

A Positive Outcome

Thanks to the efforts of the Paul, Weiss team, the court issued a decision granting Susan a one-year order of protection.

Upon receiving the positive decision from the court, Luba enthused:

“Michael and Allison did a fantastic job eliciting testimony as to all the past incidents of domestic violence and, what’s most important, were able to convey to the Court, through the testimony, that Petitioner is still in need of an order of protection … This decision is great case law and a major win for Sanctuary and for Paul, Weiss. But above all and most importantly, this is a tremendous and well deserved victory for Susan!”

In Memoriam

Tragically, Susan passed away shortly after receiving the court’s decision. In an email sharing the devastating news, Luba wrote, “She was a lovely person, a trooper, with a wonderful sense of humor, smart and gutsy. She was going to present the award at Above and Beyond for the Paul, Weiss team. I am absolutely heartbroken over this loss.”

Michael and Allison were shocked. After such an exhilarating win, it was difficult to process Susan’s untimely death. Allison recalled Susan as vibrant and a wonderful role model for women. “I think a lot of people would have not gone through the hell she went through to get this order of protection in place,” she said. “Working with her was the most rewarding part of this case.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Paul, Weiss 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 Families’ work, please consider making an Above & Beyond donation here.