Skadden Attorneys Help Client Secure Dismissal with Prejudice in Contentious Hague Petition Abduction Case

At this year’s Above & Beyond Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary is honoring a team of attorneys from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jocelyn Brown” throughout a contentious and complex international abduction case. 

Victoria O. Abraham is an associate in the Mergers & Acquisitions group at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP and a co-chair of the Above & Beyond Committee on 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 Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP for their dedicated and powerful advocacy on behalf of their client, “Jocelyn Brown” throughout a contentious and complex international abduction  case.  We are pleased to honor this incredible team consisting of former associates Erin Simmons and Donna Farag, partners Lea Haber Kuck and Pat Rideout, and associates Mackenzie Newman, Christina Pryor, Maria da Silva, Chris Fredmonski, Tamar Lisbona, Caitlyn Cheleden, Joshua Atkinson, Molly Brien, Belinda Huang, Grace Jun and Pippa Hyde.

In December of 2018, a team of attorneys from Skadden took on the representation of Jocelyn Brown (“Ms. Brown”), a mother of three young children, in a case brought by her husband and the children’s father under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Hague Convention”) in the Eastern District of New York. The Hague Convention is an international treaty that provides a mechanism for addressing international child abductions. Under the Hague Convention, if a child is removed without consent from a Hague Convention signatory country to another Hague Convention signatory country, the left-behind parent can file an action in the court system of the country where the children have been removed to.  In this case, Ms. Brown had fled from the U.K. to New York with her three children to escape the domestic violence perpetrated by her husband.  The children’s father initiated an action in United States District Court, Eastern District of New York demanding the return of the children to the U.K.

Due to the nature of the relief sought, the Skadden team worked tirelessly to defend Ms. Brown from the “abduction” allegations brought against her by her husband.  Hague Convention cases are required by law to move quickly through the system and so immediately after Sanctuary contacted Skadden about representing Ms. Brown, the team had to hit the ground running. Under an extremely expedited timeframe, the Skadden team appeared in Court to respond to allegations that Ms. Brown and her family had evaded service. The team also answered the Hague Petition, propounded and responded to discovery requests, engaged a forensic psychologist to interview Ms. Brown and the children and to prepare a report documenting the effects of the domestic violence on the family, and ultimately prepared the case for trial in federal court.

“We had a team of attorneys who pulled together to work under demanding timeframes over the holidays to respond to the Hague Petition that was filed against the client,” said former associate Erin Simmons.  “Our team leveraged a wealth of experience and worked around the clock to achieve the best possible outcome for the client and her family.”

According to Erin, Sanctuary’s resources and connections were invaluable in helping the Skadden team prepare for trial:

“Sanctuary is a leading nonprofit in Hague representations for domestic violence survivors and they have significant expertise in this practice area.  Sanctuary connected us with the pro bono team from Paul Weiss, also working on a Hague Convention case in the E.D.N.Y, who was instrumental in helping our team navigate the representation.  Sanctuary also connected us with a forensic psychologist willing to perform the evaluations under the expedited timeframe set by the federal court.  That connection made a tremendous difference in our ability to defend our client.”

“The Hague Convention as drafted and implemented does not provide adequate protection for primary caretaker parents—typically mothers—who come to the United States to protect themselves and their children from dangerous domestic violence perpetrated against them by the left-behind parent,” said Sanctuary Pro Bono Director Nicole Fidler.  “For that reason, the expedited nature of the cases, and the high stakes, Hague litigation can be very challenging and I am deeply grateful for our dedicated Hague Convention partner law firms, like Skadden, who take this challenge on without question.  The work Skadden did on behalf of Ms. Brown was off the charts.” 

The Skadden team benefited directly from partner Lea Haber Kuck’s international legal experience and partner Pat Rideout’s trial experience as well as invaluable contributions from associates Mackenzie Newman, Christina Pryor, Maria da Silva, Chris Fredmonski, Tamar Lisbona and Caitlyn Cheleden and former associates Erin Simmons and Donna Farag, who approached the enormous task of litigating a federal case in three months with confidence and enthusiasm.

On the eve of trial, the Skadden team suggested a mediation and ultimately brokered a favorable settlement that secured the dismissal of the case with prejudice, which means that the case cannot be re-filed,  allowing Ms. Brown to remain with her children in New York subject to modest access terms for the children’s father. The settlement also provided for a dismissal with prejudice of a family court case that was pending in the U.K.

Mackenzie Newman said,

“Working with the kids was very rewarding. They were the ones who the whole case was about.”

Join us at our Above & Beyond celebration on November 12, 2019, at the RUMI Event Space, 229 W 28th St, New York, NY as we honor the outstanding pro bono work by the team from Skadden.  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.

Skadden Arps Team Secures Asylum Status for FGM Survivor and Helps her Build a New Life in the U.S.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, we’re honoring a team from Skadden Arps for their dedicated pro bono work on behalf of an asylum seeker from Guinea. Read to learn more.

Todd Schmid is Legal Counsel at HSBC Bank and member of Sanctuary’s PBC.

At this year’s Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Awards and Benefit, Sanctuary for Families is honoring a team from Skadden Arps for their dedicated pro bono work on behalf of an asylum seeker from Guinea.  The Skadden team includes Mariam Adamashvili, Avelina Burbridge, Sarah D. Kalin, Ana Maria Pearce, Sarah R. Ridel, Victoria Smallwood, and Gabrielle E. Wolf.

Aimée

Picture this: a group of women huddled nervously but hopefully around a desk counter at a quiet government building on the fringes of New York City, awaiting a decision that would directly impact the life of one, and would ultimately affect the lives of every woman in the room.

When Aimée received the news that she had been granted asylum in the United States, she grew weak in the knees, falling back into the arms of her legal team. It was an emotional and powerful moment. It was the culmination of the hard work of a dedicated team of attorneys and legal staff at Skadden Arps and the consistent determination of their ever-brave and motivated client, Aimée (not her real name), a woman from Guinea, all with the incredible support of Sanctuary for Families over the course of two years.

Female Genital Muilation

Aimée, as a child, endured female genital mutilation or cutting (“FGM/C”), and other domestic abuse, in her home country, Guinea, where the practice has deep family and sociocultural roots and is often considered a rite of passage, despite the immediate complications and long-term physical, sexual and psychological consequences that so often result. “It is often viewed as a way to control a woman’s desire, as a way to inhibit her freedom,” noted Gabrielle Wolf, Director at Innisfree M&A Incorporated and a former Skadden attorney.

Guinea formally banned FGM/C in the 1960s but still has the second highest rate in the world, with virtually no enforcement or cases brought to trial. International political recognition of the problem is a key step forward, as the human rights issue rarely attracts the public attention it deserves, let alone political resolve.

The United Nations, the World Health Organization and many other international and national government organizations fully recognize this practice as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, reflecting deep inequality between the sexes, and an extreme form of discrimination against women. However, there are many ongoing challenges to building an effective on-the-ground public health and advocacy response, and the practice has far from disappeared in many countries, including Guinea.

Sanctuary Turns to Skadden Arps

When Aimée came to Sanctuary for Families, they quickly discovered that the original asylum application she had filed was patchy and did not adequately detail the abuse she had suffered as both a child and an adult.   Sanctuary turned  to Skadden Arps to prepare a more robust application on her behalf. The firm quickly assembled a team of attorneys and legal assistants, who began working to understand Aimée’s case and to fortify her application in an ever-evolving political and legal environment. Representing Aimée was not without its challenges. Skadden attorney Sarah Kalin explained:

“Asylum work is not our day job, so trying to remain abreast as laws, policies, even as the sentiments of these agencies were changing day to day quickly became more of a full-time job than we expected.”

The women who endure FGM/C often lack the political voice to share their stories. “But for Aimée, working with a talented group of dedicated women, who not only met with her on legal matters but often accompanied her to medical and other appointments, was empowering,” said Skadden attorney Avelina Burbridge.  In reflecting upon her team, Aimée shared:

“These wonderful and brave women lawyers have spared no effort to get me where I am today.”

Yet the women who had the chance to represent her felt that Aimée inspired them, too. Sarah Kalin shared:

“She is not unlike each of us: she’s about our age; she’s smart and educated, but she just happened to grow up in a different part of the world. To see how she made her way to the U.S., without speaking the language, without much in the way of support; to witness her story evolve and watch her integrate into American society, always with the support of Sanctuary, and to really build a life for herself is inspiring. She is a real asset to American society.”

Looking Toward the Future

The team still stays in touch with Aimée today, and with Sanctuary’s talented support, they have watched her confidence soar, as she improves her English skills and receives robust job training to further her aspirations to pursue a career in health services. Recently, she obtained a Home Health Aid Certificate and graduated from Sanctuary’s Economic Empowerment Program.

“I’ve regained the humanity, the self-confidence, and the appetite for life that I thought I’d lost forever. Today I have a good head on my shoulders and find fulfillment in the unconditional love of my son. If there exists an American dream, mine is my encounter with Sanctuary for Families.”

– Aimée

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 Skadden Arps’ 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.