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Domestic Violence 2019: Skills and Key Considerations in Custody and Visitation Cases

Speaker(s): Angela Yeboah, Betsy C. Tsai, Charlotte A. Watson, Chitra Raghavan, Ph.D., Dara L. Sheinfeld, Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Hon. Judy Harris Kluger (Ret.), Hon. Tandra L. Dawson, Jill M. Zuccardy, Laura M. Fernandez, Mark J. Rand, Ph.D., M.P.H., Michael Scherz, Nancy S. Erickson
Recorded on: Feb. 8, 2019
PLI Program #: 251458

Charlotte A. Watson serves as Executive Director of the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts and as Special Projects Coordinator for the Office of Policy & Planning. She develops educational and training programs for local and state courts and creates economic, technological solutions for delivering high quality training across multiple venues and provides technical assistance to the courts on issues related to domestic violence and human trafficking. Ms. Watson brings over forty years of leadership experience in addressing violent crimes against women. She has been instrumental in strengthening New York’s laws on domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and human trafficking.

Her career began in Texas as a founder of one of the first programs to meet the needs of victims of rape and domestic violence. She moved to New York in 1986 to serve as Executive Director of My Sisters’ Place, an internationally recognized domestic violence organization. She served on the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence Board of Directors, chairing the legislative committee and on the Advisory Board of the National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women. In 1999, she was appointed by the Governor to serve as the Executive Director of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and later as the State Refugee Coordinator and Senior Advisor on Human Trafficking to the Governor. While working in the governor’s office, she crafted the New York State response to human trafficking and in 2006, organized the first statewide conference on human trafficking bringing together stakeholders from every sector to begin building a coordinated effort for change in New York.

Ms. Watson joined the Unified Court System in 2007 where she has presented numerous judicial educational programs on topics related to gender-based violence and assisted in the development of human trafficking and domestic violence courts.  In 2015, she co-edited the Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence, 6th Edition and organized the National Summit on Human Trafficking and the State Courts which brought together chief judges and their teams from forty-six states and four territories to develop action plans for their states.  In 2020, as executive director of the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts, she worked with the Committee to create and deploy a broad survey of attorneys practicing in New York State courts looking at gender bias and culminating in the release of the groundbreaking Gender Survey 2020 report.

Ms. Watson has created numerous coalitions and collaborations during her career to bring about unprecedented partnerships and change. She was one of the first in the country to involve men in the effort to end domestic violence and partnered with the NY Giants and the NY Yankees in this effort. She has been on numerous television and radio programs and quoted in many newspapers. Ms. Watson was named by Gannett Newspapers as one of the 100 Most Influential Westchester, Rockland, Putnam Citizens of the 20th Century, listed in Who’s Who of American Women; Who’s Who Among Young American Professionals; Who’s Who in the World and cited in the Congressional Record. She was honored by the Lawyers Committee Against Domestic Violence with the In the Trenches Award and has been named one of New York’s New Abolitionists.

Chitra Raghavan obtained her doctorate in Clinical and Community Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and furthered her postdoctorate training at Yale University. She is a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, where she pursues an interdisciplinary research agenda on intimate partner violence, rape, and sex trafficking. Trained as a clinical and community psychologist, the broader context of gender, culture, and power always informs her work. She is currently working on multiple projects examining sexual coercion, coercive control, and trauma in both partner violence and sex trafficking contexts. She has over thirty articles published in Violence against Women, American Journal of Community Psychology, Journal of Traumatic Stress and Journal of Interpersonal Violence. She has two edited books, Raghavan, C. & Levine, J. (Eds.). (2012). Self-Determination and Women’s Rights in the Muslim World. HBI Series on Gender, Culture Religion, and Law. Boston: Brandeis University Press and Raghavan C. & Cohen, S.J. (Eds.) (2013). Domestic Violence: Methodologies in Dialogue. Northeastern Series on Gender, Crime, and Law, Northeastern University Press. She is a practicing therapist and clinically, she is interested in feminist approaches to managing trauma, appropriate techniques for interviewing women with trauma, accurate screening for women in violent relationships, and ecologically valid measurement methods for court use and expert testimony. She routinely conducts psychological evaluations and provides expert witness testimony for survivors of partner violence, sex trafficking, and other violence for a wide variety of reasons including political asylum, therapy planning, civil and criminal litigation, and T-visas.

Dara Sheinfeld is the Pro Bono Attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. In this role, she helps manage the firm’s  pro bono practice and supervises may pro bono matters, including custody/visitation, abuse/neglect, child support, family offenses, and matrimonial matters, criminal and family law appeals, immigration cases, civil litigation, parole and clemency maters, name change cases, and elder law matters.  Ms. Sheinfeld also provides monthly family law advice at three separate clinics – at the New York City Family Courts, through the Family Court Volunteer Lawyers Project; at the Manhattan Family Justice Center, through collaboration with Sanctuary for Families; and at Taconic Correctional Facility, through the Incarcerated Mothers Law Project, facilitated by Volunteers of Legal Services.

Ms. Sheinfeld previously worked as a Family Law Director at Sanctuary for Families, where she oversaw the practices in the Bronx and Manhattan Family Justice Centers, supervised staff attorney and pro bono attorneys working on contested family court cases, carried her own caseload of family court matters, and provided legal advice to clients seeking services at the Family Justice Centers. During her time at Sanctuary for Families, Ms. Sheinfeld also facilitated numerous family law trainings.

Prior to working at Sanctuary for Families, Ms. Sheinfeld was a litigation associate at David Pol, during which time she worked on pro bono family court matters and supervised other associates at the firm handling similar cases.

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.

Mark J. Rand, PhD, MPH

Mark J. Rand, PhD, MPH, psychologist, has conducted more than a thousand custody evaluations, including countless cases involving domestic violence over the past 30 years. Dr. Rand has been qualified as an expert in numerous courts in New York City, including the Family Courts in the five boroughs, as well as in Supreme Courts and IDV courts. He was qualified as an expert in the Federal Court in the Eastern District as well. In 2016, an evaluation he conducted was referenced in an appellate division decision that addressed the issue of severe mental illness in a family forensic evaluation.

Dr. Rand has been licensed in New York State since 1984. He earned his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Yeshiva University in 1983. He completed an APA-accredited internship at the Post-Graduate Center for Mental Health. He did his psychoanalytic training at the New York Center for Psychoanalytic Training. He earned a Master’s in Public Health at the Mailman School in 2007.

After more than 25 years in various roles as a psychologist, working in hospitals and in research and teaching, including a period as Chief Psychologist in a large clinic treating children and families in a multi-cultural setting, Dr. Rand has for the past 12 years been in full time private practice in forensic psychology, primarily doing Family forensic evaluations in custody and visitation matters.

Michael Scherz has more than thirty years’ experience in public interest law, specializing in work with children and families, legal issues affecting people in poverty, and ethics.  Michael is Director of the Domestic Violence Project at Lawyers for Children, responsible for representation of children in custody, visitation, family offense, child protective, matrimonial and related proceedings as part of a collaborative interdisciplinary team.  Previously, as Senior Litigation Counsel, he was responsible for appeals, stay applications, and other litigation. 

Before joining Lawyers for Children, Michael was senior staff attorney and coordinator of training at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI).  Previously, Michael led the government benefits and special litigation units at New York Legal Assistance Group.  He began his career representing children in Family Court with the New York Legal Aid Society (Juvenile Rights).

Michael teaches the Legal Services and Public Interest Externship at Pace Law School.  He previously taught evidence, legal research, and criminal law classes at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY).  Michael has trained lawyers, social workers, and community organizers on a wide range of issues, including representation of children exposed to intimate partner violence, ethics, empowering people in poverty, examining bias and navigating cultural difference, rights of people with disabilities, access to health care, and legal issues relating to pro bono work.

Michael received his Bachelor’s degree from Columbia College (Columbia University), majoring in anthropology.  He received his J.D. from the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.

Nancy S. Erickson (J.D. Brooklyn Law School, LL.M. Yale Law School, M.A. Forensic Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice) is an attorney who acts as a consultant to attorneys and mental health professionals on issues relating to law and psychology, particularly child custody evaluations, D.V., and the application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to litigants who need accommodations in court, such as D.V. survivors with PTSD. 

For over ten years, she was a professor of law, teaching Family Law, Sex Discrimination Law, Constitutional Law, Women’s Legal History and other subjects at New York Law School, Cornell Law School, Ohio State U. College of Law, New York University, and Seton Hall Law School. For eight years she was a Senior Attorney at Legal Services for NYC representing low income clients – primarily battered women – in divorce and other family cases.  She has also been an attorney for the City of New York, a Legal Services attorney with the National Center on Women and Family Law, and an attorney with two law firms. She has been honored for her pro bono work by the Brooklyn Bar Asso. and Network for Women’s Services (now Her Justice) and has lectured to judges, attorneys, psychologists, battered women, and other audiences.

She has written books and articles on many areas of family law, especially domestic violence and custody. She is currently researching and writing on custody evaluations and custody cases involving LGBT parents and abused women. Dr. Mo Hannah, editor of the Family and Intimate Partner Violence Quarterly, has stated:  “Few can argue as persuasively as Nancy Erickson against the bogus psychological theories (“parental alienation”) and dubious practices (e.g., co-parenting therapy [for relationships in which there has been abuse]) that are used to neutralize domestic abuse allegations made against batterers by their victims. [She is] an expert on domestic violence law, but when the tidal wave of psychological pseudo-science hit the courts a couple of decades ago, she felt she needed more ammunition to defend her clients [and therefore studied] forensic psychology, earning a master’s degree.”

Nancy Erickson’s master’s degree thesis was published in the ABA family law journal:  Use of the MMPI-2 in Child Custody Evaluations Involving Battered Women:  What Does Psychological Research Tell Us?  39 Family Law Quarterly 87 (Spring, 2005). Her most recent article on so-called “parental alienation” is Fighting False Allegations of Parental Alienation Raised as Defenses to Valid Claims of Abuse, 6 FIPVQ 35 (2013).

Since 1994 Dorchen A. Leidholdt has served as the Director of the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services at Sanctuary for Families in New York City.  The largest legal services program for domestic violence victims in the country, the Center provides legal representation in family law, criminal, civil rights, public benefits, and immigration cases and advocates for policy and legislative changes that further the rights of abused women and girls.  Under Dorchen’s leadership, the Center has grown from two to forty lawyers and has strengthened its advocacy efforts on behalf of underserved populations. In 2014 working in partnership with more than 400 pro bono lawyers, the Center provided legal assistance to more than 6,000 women, men, and children.

The Center has spearheaded state litigation that has established new legal precedent expanding the protections available to domestic violence victims petitioning for orders of protection and federal litigation preventing child protective agencies from charging battered mothers with “engaging in domestic violence.” The Center has successfully advocated for laws requiring New York State courts to consider evidence of domestic violence in custody and visitation cases, adding the crimes of stalking and strangulation to the New York State penal code, and enabling domestic violence victims in same sex relationships to pursue civil protective orders. Through its Anti-Trafficking Initiative, the Center has provided direct representation to hundreds of victims of sex and labor trafficking.

Dorchen has been an activist and leader in the movement against violence against women since the mid-1970’s, counseling and advocating for rape victims, organizing against the media’s promotion of violence against women through pornography and the media, serving on the legal team for the plaintiff in a precedent-setting sexual harassment case, and representing hundreds of women victimized by practices of violence against women, including domestic violence, prostitution and trafficking, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, the threat of honor killing, and the internet bride trade.  She has lectured internationally on violence against women and has published numerous articles and book chapters and an anthology she co-edited with Dr. Janice Raymond. With Jill Goodman, she edited the Lawyers Manual on Human Trafficking and the 4th and 5th editions of the Lawyers Manual on Domestic Violence.  Dorchen has taught Criminal Procedure at City University School of Law and teaches Domestic Violence and the Law at Columbia University School of Law.

In 1994 Dorchen was awarded the United Nations Capitol Association Human Rights Award; in 1999 the New York City Bar Association’s Legal Services Award, and the City of New York Award for “outstanding leadership in breaking the cycle of domestic violence”; in 2000 the New York University School of Law Public Interest Law Foundation Award for “outstanding contributions in public interest law” and the Lawyers Committee Against Domestic Violence “In the Trenches” Award; in 2002 the “Women of Power and Influence” Award by the National Organization for Women—New York City Chapter; in 2007 the League of Women Voters of the City of New York “Woman of Distinction” Award; in 2008, the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s “30 Years, 30 Leaders” Award; in 2009 New York University School of Law’s Alumna of the Month Award; and in 2013 the Edith I. SpivackWomen’s Rights Award from the New York County Lawyer’s Association.

Dorchen hold a Masters Degree from the University of Virginia and a law degree from New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Snow scholar.

Since assuming the role of Executive Director at Sanctuary for Families in 2014, Judge Kluger has secured substantial new sources of private and public funding, growing the agency budget from approximately $15 million to a budget of $27 million today. Under Judge Kluger’s leadership, Sanctuary’s Legal Center launched new programs to address the unique needs of college sexual assault survivors seeking Title IX advocacy or legal representation, incarcerated gender violence survivors seeking parole, clemency, and resentencing under the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act and Orthodox Jewish survivors seeking religious and civil divorces. Sanctuary’s innovative Economic Empowerment Program has also expanded, adding a second location at the Manhattan Family Justice Center and introducing new training programs to address skill gaps in a wider array of clients. To better support families on their paths to recovery, Sanctuary’s Clinical Department has implemented a family-focused, evidence-based therapeutic model to help rebuild parent-child relationships.

Beyond programmatic growth, Judge Kluger has fostered structural change within Sanctuary. In 2015, she worked with staff and the Board to develop a five-year strategic plan which has expanded high-need programming, driven impact-focused assessments of services, and advanced Sanctuary’s strategic leadership in the movement to end gender violence through legislative advocacy and community outreach. As the agency grew from 150 to nearly 240 staff, Judge Kluger oversaw the agency’s move to a larger office in downtown Manhattan and implemented agency-wide anti-racism work which includes two-day training workshops for every staff and the creation of a permanent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Prior to joining Sanctuary, Judge Kluger served for 25 years as a judge in New York State. Her last judicial position was as Chief of Policy and Planning for the court system where amongst her responsibilities was oversight of New York State’s 300 problem-solving courts. Judge Kluger’s experience as a judge instills in her a deep knowledge of and commitment to the issues facing Sanctuary’s clients. Over the course of her career, Judge Kluger has been recognized with the New York Women’s Bar Association’s President’s Special Award; the New York Law Journal’s Lawyers Who Lead by Example award; the New York State Bar Association, Excellence in Public Service award; the Lawyer’s Committee against Domestic Violence in the Trenches award; and Sanctuary’s Abely Award for Leading Women and Children to Safety; Fund for Modern Courts 2020 Career Public Service Award.

Betsy Tsai is the Director of the Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP) at Sanctuary for Families, Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services. CAP is a volunteer-based program that trains law students and law firm summer associates to assist victims of domestic violence obtain orders of protection in Family Court. Betsy provides legal representation for domestic violence victims in family law matters, including family offense, custody, visitation, child and spousal support, and matrimonial cases. She was also an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University School of Law teaching Legal Research and Writing to foreign lawyers in the LL.M. program for seven years.

Betsy graduated from Harvard College in 1992 with a degree in Biology and from Columbia University in 1997 with an M.S. in social work. As a social worker, Betsy worked for the Criminal Court of the City of New York on designing and implementing programs relating to specialized domestic violence courts. She graduated cum laude from Fordham University School of Law in 2001 where she was a member of the Order of the Coif and an editor of the Fordham Law Review. She spent a year as a litigation associate at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, LLP before clerking for the Honorable Denny Chin in the Southern District of New York from 2002-03. She then spent three more years at Patterson as a litigation associate from 2003-06 before joining Sanctuary.

Angela Yeboah currently works as an attorney for Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) providing technical assistance, drafting and editing legal web content on behalf of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.  She previously worked for Sanctuary for Families, Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services as the Director of the Bronx and Manhattan Family Law Projects housed at the Manhattan and Bronx Family Justice Centers, where she litigated family and matrimonial cases on behalf of domestic violence survivors for over a decade. She has dedicated her legal career to serving victims of gender-based violence. She has lead legislative and policy advocacy initiatives to advance the rights of domestic violence and sex trafficking survivors. She collaborates with key stakeholders within government agencies and community-based organizations to improve systemic responses to domestic violence and human trafficking survivors. She conducts local and national trainings on domestic violence and other legal topics critical to advocacy for survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking.  She is an appointed member of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Advisory Council. She serves as an appointed Commission Member of the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and recently served as a co-chair of the Lawyers Committee Against Domestic Violence.  She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and her J.D. from Regent University School of Law.