September Volunteer Feature: Fried Frank Fellowship at inMotion
Fried Frank Fellowship: Corporate practice meets public service
This article has been reprinted with special permission from What's New, Summer 2008, inMotion, Inc.
For the past year, Erin Abrams, Esq., a second-year litigation associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, has worked full-time with inMotion as our Fried Frank Fellow. Her ardent legal advocacy and forceful litigation skills have brought freedom, safety and financial security to 28 indigent women and their children-most of whom are victims of domestic violence-in highly contested divorces and family law cases. We would like to share just two of Erin's hard-fought victories on behalf of inMotion clients living in Queens.
Battered mother and abused infant find safety
After abusing Malaya,* a 28-year-old immigrant mother from the Philippines, and their infant daughter, Malaya's husband forcibly threw his wife and daughter out of their family home.
Malaya recounts, "Gabat did not want a daughter-he wanted a son. Eight days after I gave birth, he beat me with his fists until I was black and blue. Our daughter was in the room and crying. He would not let me go to her. In a rage he screamed, 'Shut-up! Shut-up! You are a bitch just like your mother,' and shook our baby daughter violently."
After fleeing with her daughter to her parent's small apartment in Queens, Malaya went to Family Court to seek an order of protection, legal custody of her daughter and an order of child support. Gabat did not want to pay child support. He immediately filed a cross-petition for custody and visitation. The Administration of Children's Services (ACS) reviewed the petitions and initiated neglect and abuse proceedings against Gabat based on Malaya's allegations.
Malaya contacted inMotion when her husband served her with divorce papers. Erin immediately took on the divorce and Family Court matters and helped Malaya file an answer to her husband's divorce complaint in Queens Supreme Court. The divorce action soon became hotly contested, as complex issues of equitable distribution arose, including appraising the marital residence and the value of the husband's pension.
In May of 2008, Erin settled the divorce case for Malaya on extremely favorable terms. As a result of Erin's forceful advocacy, Gabat was required to buy out Malaya's share of their co-op and distribute her legal share of his pension on an accelerated schedule. Malaya was also allowed to reclaim the property that she left in the marital residence when she fled. In addition, Erin helped Malaya secure an order of protection, custody of her daughter and statutory child support.
Gabat currently has only supervised visitation with the child, and a trial in ACS's child abuse case is scheduled for the fall. The outcome of this trial will determine the final visitation and custody issues.
"InMotion gave me Erin-and she in turn gave me the courage to stand up to my ex-husband and fight to protect my daughter," states Malaya. "We are safe now and don't have to be afraid."
Mail-order bride escapes violent marriage
Elena* met her future husband, Georgios, in 2006 on a web site for mail-order brides while she lived in Russia. Two months after their first online encounter, Georgios flew Elena to the United States and, after a brief courtship, they married. Elena's honeymoon soon turned into a violent nightmare.
Georgios quickly took control of Elena's life. He became increasingly abusive-first verbally, and then physically. Georgios treated her like a servant and demanded that she call him 'sir.' He often flew into uncontrollable rages; severe physical and sexual abuse became a daily torment.
During their six-month marriage, Elena fled several times but, without family or money, she was persuaded to return by her husband's promises to change. But sadly, nothing changed. Georgios continued to abuse and rape Elena. After a particularly severe incident where her husband threatened to kill her and attempted to break her arms, Elena called the police. Georgios was arrested and charged with criminal assault and harassment. Elena fled to a domestic violence shelter. When her husband filed for divorce a month later, Elena hired a private attorney to answer her husband's complaint with the last of her savings, but quickly ran out of money. She then turned to inMotion for help, and Erin took on her case.
As soon as Erin began representing Elena, the order of protection petition, criminal case and divorce action were consolidated in Queens County Integrated Domestic Violence Court. During the course of the family offense proceedings, Elena's husband defaulted. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but he did not appear in court. Elena bravely testified at the inquest about the violence she had suffered and the judge granted Elena an order of protection for five years-the longest the law allows. Erin finalized Elena's divorce at the inquest and obtained a default judgment against Elena's husband which required him to pay spousal maintenance of $1,000/month for six months and awarded all marital possessions to Elena.
Elena was ecstatic with the outcome of her cases. Although there is still a warrant out for her ex-husband's arrest, she feels safe knowing that she has a five-year order of protection.
Elena spoke recently at an inMotion event and shared, "When I came to the United States, I believed that I would be happy in this country, and I found out that people here care about others and help you if you ask for help. I was all alone, no friends or family, but I found my family in inMotion. Erin Abrams was the first person who helped me with my divorce case. She was so attentive to my problems. Since I found Erin through inMotion, things have been getting better and better every day. Thank you, Erin. You're such a wonderful person and God bless you for all the work that you do for women in need like me."
* Client names have been changed to protect their identities.