Pro Bono News

Legal Incubators: Pathways to Justice and Hope for Survivors of Violence and Abuse

Monday, March 25, 2019

Legal Incubators: Pathways to Justice and Hope for Survivors of Violence and Abuse

"After her son, Diego, was born, the violence continued. He didn’t “choke” her every time he hurt her, but it was his “go-to” assault when his rage reached a fevered pitch. It was always her fault for real or imagined wrongs that she committed against him. When her son was two years old, she had no choice but to run. One night while her husband was at a business meeting, she packed and fled to the United States. She had a residency card from living in the United States in middle school and high school with her sister, who lived just outside of San Diego, California. Her sister welcomed her without questions. She could see a pathway to a new life with her son was possible.

Two months after arriving in San Diego, her husband hired an attorney and filed a civil action against her for removing her son from Mexico without any court order. The legal action was authorized under The Hague Convention. It provides for an expeditious method to return a child abducted by a parent to the child’s country of “habitual origin.” Francisca had no financial resources, and her husband’s resources were unlimited. She contacted San Diego County’s legal aid program and was told there was a six-month waiting list for pro bono assistance. Days later, she walked into a free legal clinic sponsored by Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, operated under the leadership of Adjunct Professor Lilys D. McCoy. A law student told her of the Center for Solo Practitioners, a legal incubator/accelerator program of Alliance for HOPE International (Alliance; The program, created in partnership with Thomas Jefferson School of Law, was one of the first legal incubators focused on survivors of domestic violence and their children.

Weeks later, Lee Vernon, an attorney with the Alliance’s Justice Legal Network, agreed to take her case, and the Alliance agreed to pay him a “low bono” legal fee of $1,500 to provide legal assistance to Francisca. Alliance develops and pilots local initiatives in San Diego to assist victims of violence, and then promotes replication of its evidence-based models across the United States and around the world. Its flagship programs include the Family Justice Center Alliance (multi-agency, multi-disciplinary collaboratives), the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention (focusing on non-fatal strangulation assaults), and Camp HOPE America (the first camping and mentoring initiative in the country for children exposed to domestic violence). Lee Vernon needed an expert on domestic violence and strangulation assaults and was able to tap Casey Gwinn, the Alliance’s president, to donate his time to testify for Francisca. In the absence of any evidence, police report, or medical documentation to substantiate her abuse in Mexico, Francisca faced a difficult burden of proof to win her Hague case in the San Diego Superior Court. But she had expert legal representation from a young, experienced family law attorney who was operating his solo practice out of the offices of the Alliance..."

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