Davis Polk Team Wins Custody Victory Against Abusive Father

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

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

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

Davis Polk Stands by Former Client

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

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

The Team Prevails at Trial

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

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

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

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

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

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor the Davis Polk team’s outstanding pro bono work.  Learn more about the event here.

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

Cravath Attorneys Support Mother and Child’s Effort to Flee Domestic Violence

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cravath attorneys for their pro bono work in support of Sanctuary’s efforts to persuade an appellate court that it should not return a child to an abusive father because his pattern of domestic violence against the child’s mother poses a grave risk to harm to the child.

Adam Snyder is a Pro Bono Intern at Proskauer Rose LLP and is currently an undergraduate student at Columbia University. Erin Meyer is Proskauer’s Pro Bono Counsel and a graduate of Columbia Law School.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team of Cravath attorneys for their pro bono work in support of Sanctuary’s efforts to persuade an appellate court that it should not return a child to an abusive father because his pattern of domestic violence against the child’s mother poses a grave risk to harm to the child.  Cravath partner Rachel Skaistis and associates Rachel Fritzler and Amal El-bakhar submitted a compelling amicus brief educating the court about the dynamics of domestic violence, its effects on children, and the correlation between spousal abuse and child abuse.

Escaping an Abuser

Miranda escaped to the United States in 2015 with a single, all-important objective: to protect herself and her baby girl from harm. Her daughter’s Italian father raped and hit Miranda throughout her pregnancy. He also abused and threatened the well-being of their infant daughter. Miranda fled from Italy with her daughter after suffering physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

After Miranda fled, her ex filed a petition under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in a district court in Ohio, demanding that his daughter be returned to him in Italy. Miranda countered that the court should not return her baby to the child’s father because doing so would expose the baby to a grave risk of physical and psychological harm.  Under the Hague Convention, a court is not required to order that a child be returned to her abducted-from country if there is a “grave risk” that the child would face physical or psychological harm in that country. Although the court found Miranda’s testimony about her ex’s acts of domestic violence to be credible, the court ordered that Miranda return her baby to the abusive father in Italy within forty-five days. Despite the proven history of the father’s domestic violence, the court did not believe that the child would face a grave risk harm. Miranda appealed this devastating and erroneous decision to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Supporting her Appeal

Recognizing the serious injustice caused by the court’s decision and the danger facing Miranda’s daughter, the pro bono attorneys at Cravath quickly answered Sanctuary’s call for help in supporting Miranda on appeal. The pro bono team decided to represent Sanctuary as an amicus curiae not only to fight for the baby’s safety, but also to seize the opportunity to educate the appellate court that exposure to domestic violence does in fact create a grave risk of harm to a child, despite unfavorable decisions from other courts that have failed to recognize domestic violence as a grave risk.

In just two months, partner Rachel Skaistis and associates Rachel Fritzler and Amal El-bakhar took a deep dive into case law and social science research to draft a persuasive amicus brief arguing that the appellate court must protect Miranda’s baby against the very real threat of harm. The team also recruited several academics and non-profit organizations to join Sanctuary for Families in authoring the amicus brief, including Legal Momentum, Lawyers Committee Against Domestic Violence, Battered Women’s Justice Project, New York Legal Assistance Group, National Network to End Domestic Violence, Merle H. Weiner, Jeffrey Edleson, Ph.D, and Stephanie Brandt, M.D.

Recalling their work, Rachel Fritzler observed:

“We all felt tremendous empathy for the victim and child on whose behalf we were submitting the amicus brief. It was a challenge and a privilege to get to put our legal skills to work in service of that empathy, to work to help someone in a terrible position.”

Cravath’s arguments reflected what we know to be true in so many cases involving intimate partner violence: abusive spouses are substantially more likely to also abuse and neglect their children, and the exposure to intimate partner violence can have profoundly negative effects on a child’s behavior, development, and ability to succeed in school. Moreover, separating a child from her supportive parent, when there has been abuse or neglect, can cause the child to suffer additional psychological trauma. Although the “grave risk” exception to returning a child to her abducted-from country has been interpreted by some courts in a very narrow way, in this case the pattern of abusive and neglectful behavior by Miranda’s ex should have led the court to exercise its discretion under the Hague Convention to prevent Miranda’s baby from being returned to an intolerable and dangerous situation.

Said Fritzler:

“We are confident we presented the best arguments from many of the foremost authorities in support of the victim-petitioner’s position, an important step in shedding light on the domestic violence issues that must be considered in Hague Convention abduction cases.”

Fighting for Justice

Thanks to the hard work of Cravath’s talented pro bono lawyers, Sanctuary was able to file a strong amicus brief and reply amicus brief in support of Miranda’s appeal. The case is still pending before the Sixth Circuit, but the team hopes for a favorable result. When asked about her firm’s commitment to pro bono work, Fritzler explained:

“I believe we have a responsibility as lawyers to represent those less fortunate, and help do what we can to bend the arc a little further toward justice.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on October 17, 2017 at the Highline Ballroom as we honor Cravath’s outstanding pro bono work.  Tickets are available for purchase here.

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

Davis Polk Team Changes Lives of U-Visa Applicants with Impact Litigation

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP has been a pro bono partner of Sanctuary for Families for more than 25 years, assisting Sanctuary on a variety of matters. When Sanctuary asked for help pursuing precedent-setting impact litigation on behalf of crime victims facing excessively long processing times when petitioning for U-nonimmigrant status (also known as “U-visa applications”), Davis Polk stepped up again.

Alex is an associate with Pollack Solomon Duffy LLP and a member of Sanctuary’s Pro Bono Council.

Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP has been a pro bono partner of Sanctuary for Families for more than 25 years, assisting Sanctuary on a variety of matters.  When Sanctuary asked for help pursuing precedent-setting impact litigation on behalf of crime victims facing excessively long processing times when petitioning for U-nonimmigrant status (also known as “U-visa applications”), Davis Polk stepped up again. 

U-visa applicants forced to wait 2 years for employment eligibility

The Davis Polk team, led by associate Scott Wilcox, with Special Counsel for Pro Bono Sharon Katz, and associates Caroline Stern and Surya Gopalan, represented a group of Sanctuary clients with pending U-visa applications. Over the past 10 years, Sanctuary and its pro bono partners (including Davis Polk) have filed hundreds of U-visa applications on behalf of some of Sanctuary’s most impoverished and marginalized clients.

U-visa applicants now typically face processing times by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) of approximately two years.  During that time, applicants are often not granted Employment Authorization Documents (EADs).  Without EADs, it is difficult for victims (many of whom are survivors of domestic violence) to support their families and rebuild their lives free of abuse.  Facing a 22+ month processing time before they are eligible to receive EADs, clients remain in fear of removal and vulnerable to homelessness, ongoing abuse, and poverty.  Sanctuary reached out to Davis Polk to help these clients obtain EADs while their U-visa applications were pending. 

Davis Polk team gets to work

The Davis Polk team quickly got to work. The team conducted extensive legal research and developed a litigation strategy to maximize the likelihood of a positive outcome for the clients. The Davis Polk team prepared a federal complaint and motion papers, engaged in extensive settlement negotiations with the United States Attorney’s Office (which represented the various government agencies involved), and ultimately reached a favorable resolution for all of the plaintiffs.

Thanks to the team’s efforts, the clients, who had been forced to live in fear while USCIS held their applications in abeyance, have received considerable protection, solace, and comfort. Many of the plaintiffs already have obtained full-time employment and are now able to support their families in the United States.  For Surya, working on the case was a stark reminder of the importance of being part of a community that is compassionate and provides support where it’s most needed—in this case, to crime victims struggling for the basic right to work and support themselves and their families.

Reflecting on a successful outcome

Scott, who also serves on Sanctuary’s Legal Advisory Council, is thankful for the continued opportunity to collaborate with Sanctuary, noting that Sanctuary’s “team of professionals has proven time and time again that they’re amazing to work with, and this experience was no exception.”  Carolien Hardenbol, Co-Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families, praised the Davis Polk team:

“They left no stone unturned in preparing the strongest possible case for our clients.”

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

Simpson Thacher team fights for trafficking survivor whose testimony led to successful prosecution of international trafficking ring

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

Sarah Pfuhl is a former partner in WilmerHale’s Investigations and Criminal Litigation group.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Simpson Thacher for their dedicated advocacy on behalf of Maria, a trafficking survivor who was instrumental in helping U.S. law enforcement successfully prosecute members of an international trafficking syndicate.

For more than six years, the Simpson Thacher team has worked tirelessly to obtain T-visas, and later legal permanent residency, for Maria and her young daughter, Estella. With Simpson’s guidance, Maria provided invaluable evidence and testimony to the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York during the course of two major criminal investigations, ensuring that the man who trafficked her and other senior members of his trafficking ring were extradited from Mexico and brought to justice. 

The Simpson Thacher team included pro bono counsel Harlene Katzman; partner Mark Stein; associates Matthew Levy, Kristina Green, Alyssa Watzman (formerly of Simpson), Lara Pomerantz (formerly of Simpson), and Jonathan Lieberman (formerly of Simpson); former pro bono specialist Carola Beeney; and former pro bono coordinator Hillary Chadwick.

Breaking free from her traffickers

After being trafficked to the U.S. from Mexico by the notoriously brutal Granados-Hernandez sex trafficking syndicate, Maria spent more than ten years being victimized by her pimp and other members of the syndicate. Finally, fearing for the safety of her young daughter who was still in Mexico, Maria found the courage to flee to the Mexican consulate in New York.  The Mexican consulate reached out to Sanctuary for Families and Sanctuary’s immigration and anti-trafficking staff immediately mobilized, moving Maria into a Sanctuary shelter to keep her safe.

A law firm able to help Maria – and help take down a trafficking syndicate

The next steps would be complicated, as the Director of Sanctuary’s Anti-Trafficking Initiative, Lori Cohen, explained:

“In addition to her own legal and immigration issues as a trafficking victim stranded in the U.S., we realized Maria brought with her a huge trove of potential evidence against the Granados-Hernandez trafficking ring.  We needed a law firm that could not only handle the immigration issues Maria was facing, but also wade through a mountain of evidence and help Maria assist the U.S. authorities in what could potentially be a huge take-down of an international trafficking syndicate.  We knew Simpson Thacher would be able to handle this kind of complex case.”

The Simpson team dug into Maria’s case, helping her navigate meetings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Department of Homeland Security investigators, as well as federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of New York, as they all worked to develop criminal cases against members of the syndicate with Maria as a key source of information.  At the same time, Simpson worked to successfully obtain a T-visa for Maria, and T-derivative status for her daughter, who had been paroled into the U.S., ensuring that they were reunited and could remain in the U.S. together legally.

Justice is done

The information Maria provided was instrumental to the charges announced at the end of 2012 by the then-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Loretta Lynch, against multiple members of two Mexican trafficking rings, including Maria’s own trafficker, Antonio Lira-Robles.

Despite already successfully obtaining a T-visa for Maria and T-derivative status for her daughter, the Simpson team continued working with Maria to help her prepare a victim impact statement and were at her side when she stood up in Brooklyn District Court to speak at the 2014 sentencing hearing of her trafficker.  The Simpson team was at Maria’s side again two years later when she spoke at the sentencing hearing of the mastermind of the trafficking ring, Paulino Ramirez-Granados.  Ultimately, both Antonio Lira-Robles and Paulino Ramirez-Granados were sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison and ordered to pay restitution to Maria in the sum of $1.2 million each.

In the midst of all of this, Maria learned she had Stage III breast cancer.  The Simpson team didn’t waver, working to quickly finalize and file permanent residency applications for both Maria and Estella while Maria underwent chemotherapy.  Tireless advocates for their client, the Simpson team coordinated with Maria’s doctors and provided Maria with critical emotional support.  When Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were filed in October 2014, Simpson requested expedited review, unsure whether or not Maria’s cancer treatment would be successful.

Rebuilding

By the time Maria and her daughter’s permanent residency applications were granted nine months later, Maria’s cancer was in remission and she and her daughter had started to rebuild their life.

For more than six years the Simpson team fought for Maria and her daughter every step of the way.  Today Maria is cancer free.  She has witnessed her trafficker successfully prosecuted and sent to jail (along with other members of his trafficking ring), and seen her daughter flourish.

Earlier this year, in a fitting end to Maria’s brave journey, members of the Simpson team were on hand to celebrate as Maria got married.  The Honorable Judge Pamela Chen, who had been one of two lead E.D.N.Y. prosecutors on the team that put Maria’s trafficker in jail, officiated at the wedding.

Reflecting on his experience working on Maria’s case, Simpson associate Matthew Levy, said:

“Maria was extremely brave to endure the case after what she has been through.  I am glad that our team was able to play a part in helping Maria and Estella get their lives back.”

Maria is certainly glad as well. When asked about her legal team, Maria praised their skill and commitment saying:

“I am grateful to the Simpson Thacher legal team for helping me with such a long and complicated case. It has been so many years, but Simpson has supported and protected me at every turn. Thanks to them, I have been able to start a new life with my husband and daughter.”

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