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Addressing Domestic Violence Across Practice Areas 2020

Speaker(s): Betsy C. Tsai, Charlotte A. Watson, Chitra Raghavan, Ph.D., Dorchen A. Leidholdt, Hamra Ahmad, Hon. Abena Darkeh, Jennifer Friedman, Jill M. Zuccardy, Kim Susser, Lauren Shapiro, Michelle Kaminsky, Susan Xenarios, LCSW
Recorded on: Feb. 7, 2020
PLI Program #: 276447

Abena Darkeh is a judge of the Criminal Court of the City of New York. Currently, she presides over a misdemeanor trial part in Brooklyn.

Judge Darkeh began her career in public service as a prosecutor in the Kings County District Attorney’s office. While there, she developed an expertise in the investigation and prosecution of domestic violence offenses, which led to her appointment as Domestic Violence Coordinator/Court Attorney for the New York City Criminal Court. In this capacity, she designed and implemented strategies to improve the adjudication of domestic violence cases and conducted training programs for judges, court staff and stakeholders. She presented these strategies at national domestic violence symposia and at an international conference on women’s rights in Guyana. In 2005, Judge Darkeh was honored by Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes for her leadership in the field of domestic violence.

In 2003, Judge Darkeh was appointed assistant deputy counsel to the Chief of Policy and Planning for the New York State Court System. In this role, she helped to establish specialized domestic violence, mental health and sex offense courts across New York State. In 2011, Judge Darkeh received a gubernatorial appointment to serve as Deputy Commissioner for Regional Affairs at the New York State Division of Human Rights. There, she managed the agency’s 11 investigative offices, oversaw its federal programs and housing unit and successfully implemented a case management plan that eliminated the agency’s decades long case back log. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed her to the criminal court bench.

Judge Darkeh is a member of the board of directors of Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert and the Judicial Friends Association and she serves on the Nominating Committee of the New York City Criminal Court Judges Association. She is a member of the National Association of Women Judges and the National Bar Association’s Judicial Council, as well as the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association, the Kings County Bar Association, the Metropolitan Black Bar Association and the New York City Bar Association. Judge Darkeh is a founding member of the Association of Ghanaian Lawyers of America and served as its first Vice President. In 2018, she was admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Judge Darkeh received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgetown University and a Juris Doctor from Hofstra University School of Law.

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.

Hamra Ahmad is Director of Law and Policy at Her Justice, a nonprofit organization providing legal services to women living in poverty throughout New York City by training and mentoring volunteer attorneys to address individual and systemic barriers.

Prior to joining Her Justice, Ms. Ahmad was Executive Director of the Hudson Valley Justice Center (HVJC), a nonprofit organization providing civil legal services to immigrants.   She has also served as Director of the Center for Legal Services at My Sisters’ Place, a nonprofit organization working with victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.  She co-authored a chapter in the Services for Trafficking Victims: A Brief Guide for Lawyers on best practices when working with trafficking survivors. She is a leading expert in the area of Immigration and Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking, conducting trainings and presentations to law enforcement, judges, and social service agencies.

Ms. Ahmad also implemented the Immigration Project of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, providing a variety of immigration services to the large East African resettlement population.  Ms. Ahmad received her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Minnesota Law School.  She is licensed to practice law in New York and Minnesota.

Jennifer Friedman has dedicated her legal career to public interest law, primarily focusing on the rights of survivors of gender-based violence.  She recently rejoined Sanctuary for Families, where she is the Director of Family Law and Policy for the agency’s practices in the Bronx and Manhattan Family Justice Centers.  Previously, when Friedman graduated from law school with an Equal Justice Works public interest fellowship, she created, and for ten years directed, the Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP) at Sanctuary for Families, which remains one of the largest and most successful pro bono domestic violence programs in the country.  Prior to returning to Sanctuary, Friedman served as the Managing Director of the Center for Legal Services at My Sisters’ Place in Westchester County, where she supervised a family law and immigration legal practice providing representation and advocacy to survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking. Before joining My Sisters’ Place, Jennifer worked at Pace University School of Law, where she served as the Founding Executive Director of the Pace Community Law Practice (PCLP), an innovative legal services center dedicated to representing low and moderate income immigrants, and training recent law graduates for legal practice.  Prior to that, she served as the Director of the Public Interest Law Center at Pace, where she created and managed pro bono and public interest career development programs for law students.  Ms. Friedman is a 1993 graduate of Columbia College, and a 1998 graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was a Kent and Stone Scholar.   Ms. Friedman is the recipient of many honors and awards, including the New York City Bar Association’s 2008 Katherine McDonald Award for Service to the Family Courts, and the Columbia Alumna Association’s 2003 Alumna Achievement Award. 

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.

Lauren Shapiro is the Managing Director of the Family Defense Practice (FDP) at Brooklyn Defender Services.  FDP represents over 4,000 parents and caretakers each year in Abuse and Neglect and related cases in Brooklyn Family Court.  Ms. Shapiro oversees an interdisciplinary staff of over 90 attorneys, social workers and administrative staff and directs the litigation and policy activities of the practice.   She founded the practice I 2007 as an office of Legal Services NYC – one of three offices funded by the City of New York.  She moved the practice to Brooklyn Defender Services in 2013 where FDP clients receive comprehensive legal representation in all matters related to their family court cases, including criminal, education, housing, benefits and immigration matters.

Ms. Shapiro has devoted her legal career to representing clients in 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 founded and directed the HIV Project for seven years, one of the first in the country to represent low income people with HIV.  She then directed the Family Law Unit for 10 years where she did domestic violence and child protective cases before starting the Brooklyn Family Defense Project.

Ms. Shapiro is the chair of the NYC Bar Association’s Council on Children. She formerly co-chaired 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).

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.   

Susan Xenarios is a clinical social worker and founder and former Director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center in 1977 and 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 Survivors of Gender Based Violence Initiative in NYC. Ms. Xenarios is currently retired. She serves on several Boards and was recently appointed by the Mayor’s Office to the NYC Nightlife Advisory Board.  

Considered an expert in the area of domestic violence and family law, Ms. Susser has more than 25 years of experience litigating in the Family, Supreme and Integrated Domestic Violence Courts of New York State. She has published articles on domestic violence in the Fordham Urban Law Journal and the Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence, and has presented to and trained hundreds of professionals throughout the State.  

Ms. Susser is currently in private practice serving as a consultant to non-profits and government funded agencies, including the Fund for Modern Courts and Footsteps.  She also represents children with special needs in education matters, as well parents in family and matrimonial law cases. 

Ms. Susser was the former Director of the Matrimonial and Family Law Unit at New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) where she developed a law student clinic to represent victims of domestic violence.  As Director of the NYLAG, she managed a staff of fifteen lawyers and paralegals until leaving to launch her independent practice in 2017. In addition to litigating complex matrimonial and family law matters, she has experience training and supervised new attorneys, developing programs, extensive fundraising and serving on leadership teams.  

Ms. Susser’s early career included work as a staff attorney at Victim Services (now known as Safe Horizon) and as a trial attorney in the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society. She has served as a Visiting Assisting Clinical Professor and Director of the Family Law Clinic at Touro College Jacob Fuchsberg Law Center and as an Adjunct Professor at St. John’s University School of Law and taught at New York Law School.

Ms. Susser received her J.D. from George Washington University National Law Center in 1989 and her B.A. in Psychology from Clark University in 1986.  She received the Kathryn A. McDonald Award for Excellence in Service to the Family Court in 2009 and in 2015 she received the Legal Services Award, both from the NYC Bar Association.  She published articles in the regarding orders of protection and custody issues in domestic violence cases.

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.

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.