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California Family Law for Low-Income Litigants: Child Custody, Visitation and Motions Practice


Speaker(s): Arati Vasan, Brenda Star Adams, Elizabeth A. Hom, Janet L. Frankel, Janice Cho, Stephanie E. Bilinski, Trina Chatterjee, Yasmine S. Mehmet
Recorded on: Oct. 31, 2017
PLI Program #: 226767

Arati Vasan has been a Staff Attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO) since 2011. She provides legal representation and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Her work includes representation in divorce, restraining order, child custody, support, property matters and domestic violence based immigration remedies. She has been coordinating the Domestic Violence Family Law Project. Arati works with survivors who are of all ethnicities and who are limited English proficient/monolingual, have immigration complications, disabilities, are low-income, and/or have other barriers to access and remedies.

Arati regularly trains and presents on issues of intimate partner violence, family law, language access, trauma -informed representation and cultural awareness.  She has provided training at public agencies, community based organizations, college and law school classes and at statewide organizations and conferences.  These include the trainings and presentations at the SF District Attorney’s Office, APA Family Support Services, the Legal Aid Association of California, Casa de Esperanza and the Vera Institute. She is a regular trainer and presenter at Asian Women’s Shelter, the SF Police Academy, and the domestic violence law class at UC Berkeley law. She is an advocate for changes in police and court procedures regarding language access and working with survivors of domestic violence. She has been a co-chair of the SF Domestic Violence Consortium and member of the SF Police Department’s Language Access Working Group.

Before joining APILO, Arati had her own family law practice.  She was also a family law pro bono and contract attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid in Oakland. She received her domestic violence counselor certification through Asian Women's Shelter. Arati volunteered with Narika for many years including teaching classes for their economic empowerment program.  She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Law.  She received her license practice law in California in 2008.


Janice Cho earned her Bachelor's Degree, with honors, from the University of Chicago and her Juris Doctorate degree from Northwestern University School of Law.  After law school, Ms. Cho began her career representing low-income monolingual domestic violence survivors in family law and immigration law matters. She thereafter opened her own private practice continuing to work exclusively in the areas of family law and immigration law.

Ms. Cho has supervised legal clinics, provided technical assistance to pro bono attorneys, and provided trainings on family law and immigration law.  In addition to being an Adjunct Professor at John F. Kennedy School of Law where she taught “Racism and the Law,” she is a member of the Alameda County Bar Association’s Family Law Section and the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s Family Law Section.  She is currently President of Alameda County Bar Association’s Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC). When not working, Ms. Cho enjoys camping, hiking and biking with her husband and her two daughters.


Stephanie E. Bilinski is the Supervising Attorney for Family Law at the Justice & Diversity Center of The Bar Association of San Francisco.  Ms. Bilinski oversees the Justice & Diversity Center’s family law pro bono project, reviewing cases for placement, conducting training of volunteers and providing guidance and supervision to volunteer attorneys.  Prior to joining the Justice & Diversity Center, Ms. Bilinski was a family law litigator and mediator, working in all courts in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Ms. Bilinski received her J.D. cum laude from Seton Hall University School of Law, and her B.A. in Political Science from Bryn Mawr College.


Janet Frankel earned her JD from Hastings in 1992, and opened her private law practice.  Janet is a certified family law specialist, certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization, was awarded the Wiley W. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services from the State Bar Board of Governors, and was named as a Northern California Super Lawyer.

Janet co-authored Dissolution Strategies, published by CEB, and regularly serves as a Judge pro tem in the Unified Family Courts of the San Francisco Superior Court. She was appointed to and served as Chair of the State Bar Board of Legal Specialization Family Law Advisory Commission, and eventually served as its Chair. Janet also served on the Executive Committee of the Family Law Section of the San Francisco Bar Association, also eventually serving as Chair.

Janet is an Adjunct Professor at San Francisco Law School (Alliant University), teaching Community Property Law. Janet volunteers monthly in KALW’s public service radio program “Your Legal Rights,” where listeners can "Call a Lawyer" to pose their legal questions to certified specialists off the air. She mentors attorneys who accept pro bono family law matters through the Justice and Diversity Center of the San Francisco Bar Association, and mentors Hastings Law School and San Francisco Law School students interested in family law.  Janet also volunteers as a sailing instructor at her yacht club’s annual Women’s Sailing Seminar and is learning to play classical guitar.

Janet and her husband Tony enjoy spending time with their family, and when Janet is not teaching or practicing law (or sailing), she and her husband go on family vacations.


Trina Chatterjee is a partner at MVTC Family Law. She is a certified as a family specialist with the California Bar Association. Since 2007, Trina has practiced primarily in family law and appears in court regularly in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Depending on her client’s needs, Trina can assist clients with finalizing an amicable divorce or vigorously represent her clients in high-conflict cases including domestic violence restraining orders, custody disputes and complex property division.

Trina currently conducts a legal clinic twice a week at the Alameda County Family Justice Center whereby she advises clients on domestic violence and family law issues. She is co-chair of the Alameda County Family Law Association. She presents regularly on family law issues for Practising Law Institute and provides trainings in family law for local legal associations. She was on the Executive Committee for the Solo and Small Firm section of the California Lawyer’s Association. She is a member of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California, Contra Costa Bar Association Family Law Section, the Alameda County Bar Association, and California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

Trina has deep roots in the Bay Area non-profit community. She was previously a volunteer attorney with Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach, served on the Board of Directors of Narika, a Berkeley-based organization that aids South Asian victims of domestic violence, and served on the Board of Directors of the South Asian Bar Association of Northern California.

Trina obtained her J.D. from U.C. Hasting College of Law in 1998 and her B.A. from San Francisco State University in 1994. Prior to joining the firm, Trina worked on criminal appeals as a panel attorney with the First District Appellate Project and Sixth District Appellate Project and worked as an associate attorney at Katzoff & Riggs specializing in real estate litigation. She currently lives with her husband and two children in Oakland, California.


Brenda Star Adams has been litigating cases on behalf of low income clients for over ten years. She began her career representing low income tenants in unlawful detainer jury trials with the Eviction Defense Center in Alameda County. After four years, she began representing survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in family law and immigration cases with Bay Area Legal Aid. She is currently the Family Law Coordinator of the Domestic Violence Unit in Alameda County where she supervises the direct legal services provided to survivors of domestic violence and coordinates regional advocacy efforts.  The unit's work involves contested custody matters, restraining orders, paternity, legal separation, and dissolution cases, as well as U-Visas and VAWA petitions. Ms. Adams' specializes in complex and lengthy trials and enjoys training other legal professionals on trial practice. Ms. Adams is a native of San Francisco and when she is not working she enjoys hiking, gardening, and spending time with her parents, husband, and daughter.


Yasmine S. Mehmet is a certified family law specialist and has been practicing family law both in Vancouver, Canada and in San Francisco for over 25 years.  Her practice involves a broad range of cases from pro bono matters to complex high asset matters.  She was the prior Legislation Chair of the Family Law Executive Committee of the State Bar of California and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.  She was the Education Chair of the Family Law section of the Bar Association of San Francisco for a dozen years and has been a standing member of the Sargent Shriver grant committee since its inception in 2011.  She has been designated a Super Lawyer each year since 2010 and is the recipient of the 2009 State Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award.  She has also been honored with a number of other local awards, including the 2006 and 2012 James P. Prevolos award and the Bar Association of San Francisco Outstanding Volunteer in Public Service Award for many years.


Elizabeth A. Hom is a Program Supervisor at the State Bar of California, Office of Access & Inclusion where she is responsible for grant administration, and works with the legal services community and other stakeholders including providers, pro bono programs, lawyer referral services, law firms, law schools, bar associations, and courts to develop, coordinate, and support policy and innovation to improve access to justice, and diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

Prior to joining the State Bar, from 2015-2017, Elizabeth served as Pro Bono Counsel at Bay Area Legal Aid, where she managed the firm’s pro bono projects portfolio, which reached across a seven county region. Her responsibilities included stewarding law firms and corporate legal departments to develop pro bono projects that ranged from legal clinics to affirmative and impact litigation opportunities. Elizabeth also managed recruitment, training programs, and support for law clerks, interpreters and other volunteers. From 2004-2015, Elizabeth served in various roles at the Alameda County Bar Association (ACBA,) including as Director of Access Programs, where she oversaw the Lawyer Referral Service and the ACBA Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC,) the pro bono arm of the ACBA. Elizabeth was responsible for developing and improving pro bono projects, building strong relationships with local legal services providers, the court, and the private bar as well as fiscal oversight, including budget monitoring, developing and executing a diverse fund development plan, and grants management. Elizabeth has also worked extensively on board relations, board development, and strategic planning, and is a graduate of the OneJustice Executive Fellowship Program for Nonprofit Management. Elizabeth is committed to developing, evaluating, and shaping policy and programs to promote and advance social justice. Elizabeth participates regularly in regional and statewide pro bono forums. She has served on the board of directors for Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA), and on the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Standards Review Team.

Elizabeth holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Psychology and Legal Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Juris Doctor and a Masters in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago.