Weil Team Wins Major Victory for Incarcerated Survivor of Domestic Violence

At this year’s Above and Beyond Awards, Sanctuary is honoring the pro bono work of Richard Rothman, Senior Counsel at Weil, Gotshal and Manges and Co-Chair of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative, and Nigar Shaikh, formerly an Associate at Weil and currently Counsel at Everytown for Gun Safety, for their representation of “Amy,” an incarcerated survivor of severe domestic violence.

Vanessa Gutierrez is the 2018-2019 Tow Policy Advocacy Fellow at the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services from John Jay College of Criminal Justice – CUNY.

At this year’s Above and Beyond Awards, Sanctuary for Families is honoring the pro bono work of Richard Rothman, Senior Counsel at Weil, Gotshal and Manges and Co-Chair of the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative, and Nigar Shaikh, formerly an Associate at Weil and currently Counsel at Everytown for Gun Safety, for their representation of “Amy,” an incarcerated survivor of severe domestic violence.

Rich Rothman has long been a pro bono advocate for survivors of gender-based violence, primarily survivors of intimate partner violence and sex trafficking.  In 2017 Rich, in conjunction with Sanctuary Legal Director Dorchen Leidholdt, founded the Incarcerated Gender Violence Survivors Initiative (the “Initiative”)—a collaboration of professionals and survivors focused on three main goals:

  1. Representation on parole, clemency, and re-sentencing matters
  2. Systems-change advocacy to improve the rate of release for incarcerated survivors
  3. Education and training on issues related to the intersection of gender-based violence, trauma, and incarceration

Nigar Shaikh was an early member of the Initiative and was instrumental in helping the Initiative implement its three-fold strategy to assist survivors.

The Initiative strives to help survivors who have been in prison for many years.  As Rich points out,

“Many of these older convictions took place in an era where domestic violence and trauma weren’t really understood by many, but especially the criminal justice system.  The women we help are victims whose crimes are directly related to the abuse they suffered, which landed them in prison. These women pose no risk to society, and deserve to live their lives outside of prison.”

Amy was one of the Initiative’s first referrals. Like the vast majority of women in prison, Amy was a victim of horrific violence prior to her incarceration.  She grew up witnessing domestic violence perpetrated by her father against her mother and was so distraught by what she saw that she attempted suicide at the age of twelve. A year later she moved to a new school and started dating an older boy who preyed on her vulnerability. This marked the beginning of an eleven-year relationship during which Amy was subjected to increasingly violent and dangerous abuse, as well as psychological torture.  Her abuser threatened to kill her, her family, and her friends if she tried to leave him.  It was right after he threatened to kill Amy’s sister, who was visiting her, that Amy made the terrifying decision to flee.

Amy and her sister were hiding at their step-mother’s house for approximately six weeks before they began to fear that her abuser had found her.  During an argument with her step-mother and sister about how to stay safe now that she had been discovered, Amy’s relentless stress, terror, and untreated PTSD took over and, without conscious knowledge of what she was doing, Amy killed her step-mother, with whom she’d had a close, loving relationship. She was convicted in 1991 for murder in the second degree and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Amy was eligible for parole in 2015, but despite an impeccable record inside prison, a strong release plan, and deep remorse for the crime she committed, she was denied parole.  Instead of considering the many factors that warranted her release, the parole board focused solely on the severity of the crime, completely disregarding the governing statute, regulations, and case law.

Amy was referred to the Initiative for help preparing for her next parole interview in 2018. After his first meeting with Amy at Taconic Correctional Facility, Rich knew that the Initiative had to try to help her.  Soon after, he and Nigar agreed to represent Amy.

Rich and Nigar worked on updating and supplementing her parole packet. Understanding how important it would be to explain Amy’s extreme trauma and the effect it had on the commission of the crime, they hired a trauma expert to meet with Amy and deliver an expert report to the parole board. Rich and Nigar compassionately worked with Amy to prepare her for the parole board interview—an experience that is often incredibly re-traumatizing for many survivors.  With the expert support and guidance of Rich and Nigar, Amy was finally, after more than 25 years in prison, granted parole in 2018.

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 Richard and Nigar’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.

Garrard Beeney, Recipient of the 2019 Law Firm Leadership Award

Each year, at our Annual Benefit, Sanctuary for Families celebrates individuals who have shown time and again, their commitment to ending gender-based violence. This year we are honoring Garrard R. Beeney, partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, for his tireless efforts and pro bono counsel on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients.

Every year, at our Annual Benefit, Sanctuary for Families honors those who have made significant contributions to the movement to end gender-based violence. This year, we are thrilled to present the 2019 Law Firm Leadership Award to Garrard R. Beeney, partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, for his tireless efforts and pro bono counsel on behalf of Sanctuary’s clients.

INTRODUCING GARRARD

Garrard is co-head of Sullivan & Cromwell’s Intellectual Property and Technology group. He is recognized as a leading lawyer for his counsel to clients on intellectual property, licensing transactions, and litigation matters around the world. He has handled patent and intellectual property matters before the U.S. Supreme Court, the International Trade Commission, the U.S. Patent Trademark Office, and federal district and appellate courts.

Beyond litigation, Garrard’s work includes an outstanding trajectory of public and social service. He served as deputy mayor of Irvington, New York, for over a decade, and has served on the board of several non-profits including Graham Windham, Mercado Global, and ProBono.net.  Garrard regularly represents clients in pro bono litigation, including a recent successful First Amendment trial and matters involving child adoptions in Arkansas and Nebraska in which he successfully argued issues before both State Supreme Courts.

Garrard holds a B.A. from Swarthmore College and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School. He has taught various trial advocacy courses and served as a member of the faculties of the National Trial Skills Program of the National Institute for Trial Advocacy and the Cardozo School of Law.

PARTNERING TO END GENDER VIOLENCE

In a recent interview, Garrard spoke to Sanctuary about his pro bono work and overall involvement with the organization. He first learned about Sanctuary through his daughter Carola, a fellow Sanctuary supporter and former Pro Bono Specialist at Simpson Thacher. The two would often discuss strategy for the numerous Sanctuary cases that Carola’s outstanding team was taking on.

Inspired by our clients’ stories of survival, Garrard formally joined Sanctuary’s Legal Advisory Committee in 2016. Since that time, Garrard has become a strong ally in our work to end gender violence by supporting Sanctuary’s legal staff with expert litigation training and by taking on pro bono cases on behalf of Sanctuary clients.

Where does your commitment to Sanctuary’s mission stem from?

A lot of my pro bono activities have included voting rights and LGBTQ+ rights. To me, it’s about trying to help those that the system has neglected and whom others are trying to exploit. Sanctuary’s work certainly aligns with this objective– The organization uplifts the voices of survivors and those who have been left behind.

Another aspect that makes Sanctuary attractive for us, in terms of partnering with a non-profit organization, is that it has an enormous number of talented, passionate staff members and supporters  ̶  it’s the mission, it’s the people who are part of it, and it’s the voices that Sanctuary raises up that make this organization so appealing.

Is there a particular experience, throughout your work with Sanctuary, that has impacted you?

There are a few that really stand out. The first would be when I led a litigation training program for several Sanctuary attorneys. It was an incredibly impressive group of people. Through the course of talking about getting a case to trial, presenting a case to a judge or a jury, and trial strategy, I learned about their particular cases, the issues that they faced, and what they were trying to achieve. It was enormously educational.

I also had the pleasure of working on an appellate brief with some Sanctuary lawyers on a case involving an abused woman’s right to use a record she had created in trying to attain safety from her abusive spouse – something that was denied to her during the divorce proceedings. On another occasion, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Sanctuary in reuniting a sex trafficking survivor with her son, who had been kept in Mexico as retaliation by her trafficker.

These experiences really spoke to me and made me appreciate the organization and its members even more.

What are some of the biggest challenges we collectively face when addressing gender-based violence?

I think one of the biggest challenges is education. I remember reading a U.N. report that found that the most unsafe place for a woman is her home, yet there is still a widespread lack of understanding of the prevalence and impact of domestic violence.

I also think that we don’t provide fair access to the judicial process to those who have not been as fortunate as many of us. We deny survivors the resources they need – resources that are available but not afforded to them without the assistance of organizations like Sanctuary for Families.

We have to raise awareness in our communities about the effects of gender violence and the resources available to survivors. We also have to raise awareness about how individuals can take action and support organizations like Sanctuary for Families, whether that be through volunteering, providing pro bono services, or by making financial contributions We must all speak up when it comes to these issues.

The theme for this year’s Annual Benefit is #WeAreSanctuary. What does being a part of Sanctuary mean to you?

I think of #WeAreSanctuary in terms of belonging to a community that strives to improve the broader communities of which it is part. Through its work, Sanctuary goes beyond helping survivors – it makes our Sanctuary city better, and many New Yorkers prouder.

In a sense, we are all Sanctuary – not only clients, staff, and board members – because Sanctuary addresses one of the most basic forms of evil that affects all of us. Whether or not we are directly impacted by it, I think we all ought to live in a world free from all forms of gender-based violence and discrimination.

To purchase tickets to our 2019 Annual Benefit, click here.

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.

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.