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Domestic Violence 2018: Survivors as Defendants, Respondents, and Parole or Clemency Applicants


Speaker(s): Dawn M. Hughes, Ph.D., ABPP, Hon. Alice Schlesinger (Ret.), Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson, Hon. Tandra L. Dawson, Jill M. Zuccardy, Laura M. Fernandez, Lauren Shapiro, Michael G. Dowd, Michelle Kaminsky, Nicole Fidler, Sara Bennett, Susan Xenarios, LCSW
Recorded on: Feb. 2, 2018
PLI Program #: 221889

Dawn M. Hughes, Ph.D., ABPP, is a clinical and forensic psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of interpersonal violence and traumatic stress.  Dr. Hughes maintains an independent practice in clinical and forensic psychology in New York City and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical Center - New York Presbyterian Hospital where she participates in the psychology faculty and conducts trainings for interns.  Dr. Hughes is Board Certified in Forensic Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology. 

Dr. Hughes has over 20 years experience within the field of traumatic stress and interpersonal violence, including intimate partner violence, rape, sexual assault, adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and other non-interpersonal traumatic experiences.  Dr. Hughes has treated or evaluated hundreds of individuals who have experienced psychological trauma or victimization in their lives.  She holds distinctions and membership in numerous professional organizations, such as the Trauma Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association and is the immediate past President of the NYC-based Women’s Mental Health Consortium, an interdisciplinary group focused on the treatment of women’s mental health across the lifespan.  Dr. Hughes has conducted trainings for the Courts, Judges and attorneys; has taught members of the National Guard on how to live violence-free in relationships; and has conducted trainings to mental health professionals, in both clinical and forensic settings, to work within the area of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, posttraumatic stress disorder, and complex PTSD. 

Her forensic work comprises comprehensive psychological evaluations, attorney consultations, and expert witness testimony in the area of forensic psychology, interpersonal violence, and traumatic stress.  She has been admitted as an expert witness in the States of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania and in the United States District Court for the Southern and Northern Districts of New York.  She has served as an expert witness in numerous criminal cases involving battered women who have killed their abusive partners and childhood abuse survivors who have acted against their perpetrators.  She has consulted on hundreds of criminal and civil cases of involving the multiple and varied psychological and traumatic effects of intimate partner violence, rape and sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, clergy abuse, Boy Scout abuse, sexual harassment, and other non-interpersonal traumatic experiences.


Edwina G. Mendelson was appointed Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives in July 2017.  Judge Mendelson heads the newly expanded Office for Justice Initiatives (OJI), which is tasked with ensuring meaningful access to justice for all New Yorkers in civil, criminal and family courts, regardless of income, background, or special needs. 

Judge Mendelson is charged with directing several court initiatives including the Access to Justice Program.  Judge Mendelson also provides leadership to many of the state judiciary’s child welfare, juvenile and adolescent justice initiatives, including implementation of the new law raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State.

In addition to her administrative and policy work, Judge Mendelson remains active on the bench.  She presides over the Youth Part in New York County Supreme Court, where she hears cases of children charged with violent felonies under the Juvenile Offender law, and felony matters of those 18 years of age or younger.  Previously, she also frequently presided over criminal court arraignments in New York City.

Judge Mendelson joined the court system as a Court Attorney-Referee in Queens County Family Court.  Earlier in her career, she represented parents and children in New York County Family Court and in matrimonial matters in Supreme Court.  Judge Mendelson served as the very first staff attorney for the Sanctuary for Families Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services.  She also served as an attorney with The Legal Aid Society, Bronx County Civil Division, where she represented indigent clients in Housing Court and in benefits entitlement proceedings. 

Judge Mendelson was first appointed to the Family Court as a judge in 2003.  She served as a trial judge in Queens County Family Court until 2008, when she was appointed Supervising Judge of that Court.  One year later, she was elevated to Administrative Judge of all New York City Family Courts. In October 2015, Judge Mendelson resumed the trial bench to preside over the Youth Part in New York County Supreme Court.  In June 2017, Judge Mendelson was appointed to the Court of Claims by Governor Andrew Cuomo.  She now serves by designation in the New York County Supreme Court Criminal Term. 


Jill M. Zuccardy, Esq. has practiced family and matrimonial law for more than 20 years.  She has extensive experience in Family Court, Supreme Court and appellate cases involving custody, visitation, child support, domestic violence, orders of protection, accusations of child abuse and neglect, and financial and property issues arising from the marital relationship.  Jill also regularly represents clients who are involved in child protective services investigations and those who are challenging "indicated" reports before the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Jill has worked successfully in both the public and private sectors, and has represented clients on both the highest and lowest ends of the income spectrum.   Among other public service jobs, from 1999 through 2006, Jill worked at Sanctuary for Families Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services in New York City, first as the legal-clinical coordinator and then as the Director of Sanctuary’s Child Protection Project.  She also worked at the Women’s Prison Association, as the Program Director of the Incarcerated Mothers Law Project, providing services to criminal-justice system involved mothers seeking to reunify with their children. 

Jill was trial and appellate co-counsel in Nicholson v. Williams, the landmark class action lawsuit in which a federal court found the City’s practice of removing children from battered mothers and prosecuting the mothers for child neglect to be unconstitutional, and the related state court case Nicholson v. Scoppetta, which changed the legal landscape for abuse and neglect cases in New York.   While working with the law firm of Lansner & Kubitschek, Jill also litigated federal civil rights lawsuits on behalf of children abused in foster care and families illegally separated based on accusations of abuse or neglect. 

In 2012, Jill established her own law practice in New York City, where she handles all aspects of family and matrimonial law cases.  Jill serves on the appellate assigned counsel panel in the Second Department.  Jill is a co-author of the two-volume legal treatise New York Law of Domestic Violence (Thomson Reuters, 2013) and its annual updates. She has conducted trainings and given presentations nationally and internationally on issues of domestic violence and child welfare, for audiences including advocates, legislators, judges, attorneys and social workers.

Jill is a 1987 magna cum laude graduate of the University of Connecticut, and a 1990 graduate of New York University School of Law, and the recipient of numerous awards for her legal activism in protecting the rights of parents, women and children.


Judge Tandra L. Dawson has presided in the New York County Integrated Domestic Violence Court since January 2007.  This unique problem solving court handles a family’s related criminal, matrimonial and family court cases.  Judge Dawson also presided over the Intimate Partner Sex Assault Part which adjudicated sex offenses between intimate and former intimate partners from 2012 to 2013.  She previously served as a Family Court Judge in Bronx County from 1998 to 2006, where she presided over family offense, custody and visitation proceedings. 

Judge Dawson has participated in many panels and presentations on a variety of topics dealing with domestic violence and family related matters including,  Family Violence Task Force Seminar, Hot Topics In Domestic Violence (White Plains, New York); Practising Law Institute, Domestic Violence 2018: Survivors as Defendants (New York, N.Y.); Conference of Chief Justices/Conference of State Court Administrators, IDV Courts-Reducing Burdens on Victims and Families (Jackson, Wyoming ); 20th Annual Fordham Forum on Domestic Violence, Specialized Courts: New Approaches to Domestic Violence and Trafficking; We All Really Matter, Raising Awareness in the Community About Domestic Violence (Harlem, N.Y.); Women and Incarceration (New York County Lawyers Association); CUNY School of Law, Diversity in the Judiciary; Domestic Violence Courts: National Models and Promising Practices (Boston); The Role of the Judiciary in promoting Gender Justice in Africa (Accra, Ghana); The Battered Woman’s Justice Project Conference (Saint Paul, Minnesota); Understanding Children’s Communications in Custody Conflicts, Lincoln Hearings and Beyond (Association of the Bar of New York City); Integrated Domestic Violence Court Legal Training Program (New York, N.Y.).

Judge Dawson has served on several boards and committees including, The Independent Review Board of the New York State Office of the Ombudsman, The Family Court Advisory and Rules Committee, The Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts, The Matrimonial Commission and The Board of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.  As a former member of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, she served on several committees including the Children and the Law Committee, the Domestic Violence Task Force and the Matrimonial Law Committee.

Judge Dawson was a recipient of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association’s Jurist of the Year Award in 2011, Sanctuary for Families CAP Recognition Award in 2005 and The Lawyers Committee Against Domestic Violence In the Trenches Award in 2016. 


Laura Fernandez provides leadership, management and strategic direction for all of Sanctuary’s clinical services citywide. She oversees a team over 40 clinicians, along with case managers and support personnel. Before coming to Sanctuary in 2015, Laura served as Assistant Executive Director of Programs for Edwin Gould Services.  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Tufts University and her Masters of Science in Social Work from Columbia University.

Ms. Fernandez has over 25 years of experience working with families and violence, including as a Child Protective Worker in Massachusetts, as a school counselor, and as a social worker in a New York City domestic violence shelter.   She served as an expert witness on the overlap between domestic violence and child protective issues in the Federal class action lawsuit, Nicolson v. Williams, which influenced major changes in the Administration for Children Services’ policies towards domestic violence victims.

Ms. Fernandez has initiated several programs for young people that promote positive youth development and inter-disciplinary collaborations.  She created an after-school program based on promoting an awareness of human rights, using the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and presented research on this program at an the XII  World Congress of Comparative Education Societies in Havana, Cuba.  A young person from that after-school program was chosen to represent children of prisoners on an international children’s jury for the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of a Child in Sweden.

Ms. Fernandez is also a field instructor for social work students and has been an adjunct professor at Hunter School of Social Work in the areas of Child Welfare Policy and Research.


Lauren Shapiro is the director of the Family Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services which represents over 2,500 parents each year in child welfare cases in Brooklyn Family Court.  Ms. Shapiro oversees an interdisciplinary staff of over 80 attorneys, social workers and administrative staff and directs the litigation and policy activities of the practice.   She founded the practice over 10 years ago as an office of Legal Services NYC – one of three institutional parent representation offices funded by the City of New York.  She moved the practice to Brooklyn Defender Services in 2013 where parents receive comprehensive legal representation in all matters related to their child welfare case.

Ms. Shapiro has devoted her legal career to representing low income communities.  After graduating from New York University School of Law in 1986, she worked at South Brooklyn Legal Services for over 20 years where she was director of the Family Law Unit for 10 years and the director of the HIV Project for seven years before that.

Ms. Shapiro is the chair of the NYC Bar Association’s Council on Children and co-chairs the ASFA Task Force, a collaboration of child welfare advocates and agencies. Ms. Shapiro co-chaired the Kings County Family Court Domestic Violence Working Group for many years.  She taught a civil externship class at Brooklyn Law School for six years, including a semester with the Kings County Family Justice Center which she helped found.  Ms. Shapiro has published extensively on child welfare and family law, including Moving On: UCCJEA, The Hague Convention, and Relocation, Appellate Division First Department, Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence, Fourth  Edition (2005): Representing Domestic Violence Victims in Neglect Proceedings, Appellate Division First Department, Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence, Third Edition (2000) and Co-author, Charging Battered Mothers with “Failure to Protect”: Still Blaming the Victim, Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. XXVII (February 2000).


Michael Dowd is dedicated to confronting and fighting injustice. He has been long-recognized by his peers and the press for his courtroom skills, particularly his zealous courtroom advocacy on behalf of his clients.  Mr. Dowd   is a pioneer in the battered women’s movement. Back in the 1980 when the few heard of the problem of domestic violence, Mr. Dowd successfully defended a battered woman who killed her husband. He is also the founding director of the Pace University Women’s Justice Center and the recipient of awards for his work on behalf of battered women. He successfully handled the trial of a woman using post-partum depression in an insanity defense and then kept the woman out of a psychiatric hospital.  He has written articles for the Fordham Urban Law Journal, The Cardozo Woman’s Law Journal and the Pace Law Review.

Mr. Dowd’s legal advocacy efforts have attracted the attention of local, national and international media throughout his long career.  He was recently selected as Women’s Enews, 21 leaders for the 21st Century for 2010.    Numerous interviews with him have appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, New York Post and he has appeared on numerous television news programs like the CBS Evening News, ABC’s Primetime Live, and all the major New York metropolitan local news shows.

Even before the scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in 2002, Mr. Dowd singularly stood out as a tireless champion of victims of sexual abuse. And since 2002, he has   represented more victims of clergy sexual abuse in the New York metropolitan area than any other attorney. In fact he was the first attorney after the scandal broke to actually go to trial against a New York area diocese, winning 11.45 million dollars on behalf of two persons who were molested by a youth minister in a Catholic parish. He also has represented victims against the Boy Scouts of   America, the Harlem Boys Choir, a synagogue and a number of large corporations.  

Michael Dowd was born in Queens, New York. He attended Xavier High School, Fordham University and received his law degree from St. John's University School of Law in 1966. He is admitted to practice law in New York and U.S. District Court, Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. He has also had pro hac vice admissions in a number of other states during his career.  He has been practicing as a trial attorney in New York City and the surrounding areas for more than fifty years.


Sara Bennett has been a public defender specializing in battered women and the wrongly convicted, book author (The Case Against Homework), and anti-homework advocate (founding the non-profit Stop Homework. She has won clemencies from both Governors George Pataki and Andrew Cuomo and has successfully taken several clients through the parole board process.

Her photo essay about her pro bono client, Spirit on the Inside: Reflections on Doing Time with Judith Clark, was selected for the 2014 INFOCUS Juried Exhibition of Self- Published Books at the Phoenix Art Museum. Her series, Life After Life in Prison, has been exhibited more than a dozen times, and been featured in, among others, the New York Times, PBS New Hour/Art Beat, the Marshall Project, Everyday Incarceration, and the Washington Post photo blog.


Susan Xenarios is a clinical social worker and founder and former Director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in 1977, whose hospital based rape crisis program, domestic violence identification and intervention project and sexual assault forensic examiner program have become signature programs, replicated locally and nationally.

Ms. Xenarios has served on multiple commissions and task forces including the NYS Department of Health Rape Crisis Advisory, NYS Attorney Generals Crime Victims Advisory Board, NYS Forensic Commission and National Governor’s Association Forensic DNA Policy Project and NYS Office of Victim Services Advisory Council.  She has been the recipient of numerous awards including Outstanding Crime Victims Advocate from NYS Office of Victim Services; the NYS Governor’s Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Award and the Susan B. Anthony Award from National Organization for Women.

Ms. Xenarios served as Co-Chairperson for both the Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims and the Manhattan Sexual Assault Task Force and is active on many statewide and national coalitions. She was appointed by NYS Chief Justice Lippman to the NYS Justice Task Force and is a founding member of the Mental Health Professionals for Domestic Violence and the NYC Alliance against Sexual Assault where she has been a board member since 2000 and is currently on the Executive Board. Ms. Xenarios is a member of the newly formed Initiative for Incarcerated Survivors of Gender Based Violence in NYC. 


The Honorable Alice Schlesinger (Ret.) began work as a Criminal Defense Attorney with the Legal Aid Society in 1969. Her service at Legal Aid for the next 16 years included locations in both Manhattan and the Bronx.  She also supervised a complex with 20 attorneys on staff.

In 1973-74, Judge Schlesinger taught a Criminal Law Clinic at New York University Law School.

In 1984, she was elected to the Civil Court, where she sat until 1991, when she became an Acting Supreme Court Judge in New York County, sitting in the Civil Court. In 1999, Judge Schlesinger was elected to the position of New York Supreme Court Judge and served in that capacity until she left the bench on December 31, 2016. All of her 31 years as a judge were spent in Manhattan.

After retiring from the bench, Judge Schlesinger has served and is now serving as a Judicial Hearing Officer (JHO).

Judge Schlesinger attended Beaver College, now Arcadia, in PA and is a graduate of New York University Law School.


Ms. Fidler coordinates and supervises Sanctuary's pro bono practice, which currently consists of over 1000 pro bono attorneys and approximately 60 law firms and in-house legal groups.  She also represents survivors of gender based violence in family offense and child/spousal support cases, contested divorces, and criminal vacatur cases.

Prior to joining Sanctuary for Families, Ms. Fidler worked for Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP, where she represented individuals, corporations, and financial institutions in a range of complex commercial litigation, bankruptcy, and regulatory and enforcement matters. She was also actively involved in pro bono work, with an emphasis on matters relating to gender-based violence, sex trafficking, and immigration.


Michelle Kaminsky is Chief of the Domestic Violence Bureau at the Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney's Office.  In that position, she oversees the prosecution of ten thousand cases a year and a staff of one hundred, including the Victim Services Unit.  Ms. Kaminsky is also responsible for the Office’s domestic violence policy initiatives, which entail extensive coordination with local, state and federal agencies.    Ms. Kaminsky started in the District Attorney’s Office in 1992, right after graduating from Brooklyn Law School.  In 1997, she joined the Domestic Violence Bureau as a felony trial attorney.  In that capacity, she has investigated, prosecuted and tried numerous intimate partner assaults and complex homicides, and has successfully defeated claims of self-defense, extreme emotional disturbance, alcohol induced dementia and not guilty by reason of insanity.