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24th Annual Children's Law Institute

Speaker(s): Cristina Manzano, Cristina Ritchie Cooper, Danny Alicea, Emily S. Wall, Gary Solomon, Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson, Hon. Lillian Wan, Keisha Francis, LMSW, Kelley Burns, Kenneth Sokol, Kevin Ruiz, Lauren Wenegrat, Melissa Friedman, Mikila Thompson, Perry A. Cerrato, Randy A. Hertz, Shomari Ward
Recorded on: Jul. 9, 2021
PLI Program #: 305051

Cristina Ritchie Cooper is a Senior Attorney with the ABA Center on Children and the Law. As Director of the Center’s Immigration and Child Welfare Project, Cristina supports courts and agencies working with immigrant families in or at risk of entering the dependency system, and child welfare and immigration attorneys who seek to understand their clients’ legal needs in both fields. Project resources Cristina has helped develop include Immigrants in the Child Welfare System: Case Studies and recommendations regarding federal custody of unaccompanied immigration children with no reasonable prospect of being placed with a sponsor (publication pending).

Cristina provides training and technical assistance on a number of other issues, including hearing quality and judicial decision-making, permanency planning for youth in foster care, and effective implementation of federal law and policy. Recently, she led creation of a Legal Guide on incorporating provisions of the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018 into state and local child welfare practice and development of an ABA policy on youth engagement in child welfare cases. And as a member of the Children’s Bureau’s Capacity Building Center for Courts and Center’s Permanency Barriers Project, Cristina supports juvenile court reform efforts.

Prior to joining the ABA, Cristina represented children and youth in child protection cases with the Legal Aid Society of New York’s Juvenile Rights Practice in the Bronx and represented teen dating violence survivors in protection order and family law matters in Washington, DC. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and Princeton University.

Gary Solomon is the Director of Legal Support for The Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice. In that capacity he participates in the training of staff and acts as a supervisor, consultant and advisor to staff; prepares practice memoranda and other continuing legal education materials and maintains the Juvenile Rights Practice’s electronic legal research system; and works closely with the Juvenile Rights Practice’s Appeals Unit and, in that capacity, has handled appeals raising important practice issues and prepared and edited amicus briefs.

Mr. Solomon participates in New York State Appellate Division-sponsored training programs for assigned counsel, and Unified Court System-sponsored training programs for judges and court attorneys. 

Mr. Solomon prepares the weekly JRD Newsletter, a compilation of annotated court decisions which is made available to judges, lawyers and other professionals throughout New York state and elsewhere, and is the principal author of Volumes One, Two and Three of the Practice Manual for Children’s Attorneys. He has authored chapters on child abuse and neglect and termination of parental rights proceedings which appear in West Publishing's New York Family Court Practice. 
In 2003, Mr. Solomon was awarded the Howard A. Levine Award For Excellence in Juvenile Justice And Child Welfare by the New York State Bar Association, Committee on Children and the Law.  In 2006, Mr. Solomon received the Kathryn A. McDonald Award For Excellence in Service to Family Court from the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. In 2007, Mr. Solomon received the Orison Marden Award For Outstanding Service and Dedication to the Organization and to the Clients from The Legal Aid Society of New York City.


Cristina Manzano is a staff attorney at Lawyers for Children in New York City.  In her role as staff attorney, Cristina represents children ages 0-21 in the various types of cases that come before the New York Family Court including custody and visitation proceedings, guardianship proceedings, abuse and neglect proceedings, voluntary proceedings, and adoptions.  Cristina is also the Legal Director of the Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation Project (“CSAE”) at Lawyers for Children.  Cristina handles most the cases within Lawyers for Children that involve allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation/trafficking, and serves as a resource to the Lawyers for Children staff to assist with the complexities of such cases.

Prior to joining Lawyers for Children, Cristina was an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow at The Door Legal Services Center in New York City.  As an IJC Fellow, Cristina represented undocumented youth within New York City and the surrounding areas who were facing deportation from the United States. Cristina is fluent in Spanish and used this skill set to help families navigate the complexities of the United States immigration system. 

Cristina graduated from Boston College Law School in 2016.

Emily Wall is the Senior Appellate Attorney at the Center for Family Representation in New York City.  In that role, she pursues, defends, and oversees interim and final appeals in the First and Second Departments.  In addition, she conducts training for program staff and provides supervision to staff attorneys on appellate and litigation-related writing.  She previously spent five years at the Center for Family Representation as a staff attorney. She has also worked at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, as a Motions Attorney and Director of Clerk's Office Training, and at the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley as a Children's Advocacy Attorney.  She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and Barnard College.

Keisha Francis, LMSW is a Social Work Supervisor in the Juvenile Support Unit of The Legal Aid Society-Juvenile Rights Practice.  In her role, Keisha advocates for the needs of her clients while assisting them in navigating the systems that are involved in their lives. Keisha is also a certified expert in Complex Trauma, which helps inform her clinical practice.  Ms. Francis received her B.A/B.S. in Black Studies, with a strong concentration in Psychology from Hunter College and a Master's in Social Work from The Silberman School of Social Work.

Keisha considers herself an agent of change; therefore she is committed to ensuring that every interaction with her clients is intentional and mindful of their generational or lived experiences.

Kenneth Sokol is a Litigation Supervisor at CFR’s Queen Practice. Mr. Sokol started at CFR in 2019. Prior to CFR, Mr. Sokol was an attorney and team leader at the Administration for Children’s Services Family Court Legal Services from 2008 until 2015.  Mr. Sokol was an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) for the Department of Motor Vehicles from 2015 to 2019 and was the Senior ALJ in the Brooklyn office from 2018 to 2019.

Mr. Sokol received his law degree in 2008 from New England Law – Boston. Mr. Sokol is a graduate of SUNY Binghamton where he double majored in History and the Philosophy, Politics, and Law program.

Lauren has represented Good Shepherd Services in all 5 boroughs of NYC since 2012.  Her primary responsibility is litigating TPRs, but Lauren also provides support to case planners by providing trainings, assisting with information and document gathering, and helping with court reports.  Lauren also appears occasionally on neglect cases to help her clients make clear to the court all the work they’ve done and to facilitate communication with other attorneys to best serve families.  Before joining Good Shepherd Services Lauren spent over a decade at FCLS in the Bronx litigating child abuse and neglect cases and supervising less senior attorneys.  Lauren is a firm believer in cultivating good relationships with other attorneys so we can work together toward the best outcomes for children and families.

Lauren earned her JD at Fordham University, where she was a Stein Scholar, and a Bachelor of Music degree at Manhattan School of Music.  Even before law school, when Lauren was a working classical vocalist, it was clear that she was destined for the law because of the number of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas she appeared in.  It is a well known fact that 1/3 of any G & S audience is made up of lawyers, and at least 1 or 2 cast members of any G & G production were, are, or will be lawyers (and maybe even a good judge too!).  If you keep your eyes peeled, you may catch Lauren performing with the Oratorio Society of Queens, or in the occasional concert around the city.

Melissa Friedman is the Director of Child Welfare Training at The Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice where she trains and oversees staff representing children in family court across New York City.  Ms. Friedman also serves as the Chair of the Children & the Law Committee of the New York City Bar Association.  Ms. Friedman started her career as a Skadden Fellow and later a Staff Attorney at the Legal Aid Society's Juvenile Rights Practice representing children in both child welfare and juvenile delinquency proceedings.  She then joined the law firm WilmerHale as a Senior Associate in the Business Trial Group before returning to Legal Aid.  Ms. Friedman earned her bachelor's degree in Latin American Studies and Spanish at Washington University in St. Louis and her J.D. at Harvard Law School. 

Mikila J. Thompson, Esq. is a Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP) where she currently works as an education advocate for the Kathryn A. McDonald Education Advocacy Project (EAP).  Prior to her role in EAP, Ms. Thompson was an attorney for children  who were the subject of Child Protective and Custody cases.  Throughout her tenure with JRP, Mikila has served as a trainer for new attorneys, interns, and colleagues across The Legal Aid Society. In addition to her training work at The Legal Aid Society, Ms. Thompson has served as a trainer in other disciplines including career preparation and coaching, real estate and finance, and personal finance.  Mikila is an active member of the NYC Bar Association, serving as secretary of the Mental Health Law Committee.

Perry Cerrato currently serves as the Deputy Chief of the Citywide Special Victims Unit of the New York City Law Department, Family Court Division, Juvenile Delinquency Practice. Perry’s career has been devoted to working with special victims and those with special needs.  He started his career as an Assistant District Attorney in the Crimes Against Children Bureau of the Kings County District Attorney’s office. He was later promoted to Deputy Bureau Chief where he continued to prosecute complex child homicide, physical abuse, and sexual assault matters, as well as supervise a team of attorneys. In 2014, he was recruited by the newly created New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs, where he served as the inaugural Deputy Inspector General in the Office of the Special Prosecutor/Inspector General.  His role included overseeing investigations of allegations of abuse and neglect of individuals in state certified or operated facilities and seeking appropriate criminal and administrative remedies for substantiated allegations.  He simultaneously served as the Director of the Office of Performance Management and Continuous Improvement for the agency. 

Throughout his tenure, Perry has interviewed hundreds of children and people with special needs in connection with matters involving abuse and neglect.  He is certified in Forensic Interviewing of Children and was a contributor to the creation of Forensic Interviewing Best Practices for Vulnerable Populations.  Perry is a graduate of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and Fordham University School of Law.

Randy Hertz is the Vice Dean of N.Y.U. School of Law and the director of the law school’s clinical program.  He has been at the law school since 1985, and teaches the Juvenile Defender Clinic, first-year Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, and a simulation course titled “Criminal Litigation.”  Before joining the N.Y.U. faculty, he worked at the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, in the juvenile, criminal, appellate and special litigation divisions.  He writes in the areas of criminal and juvenile justice and is the co-author, with Professor James Liebman of Columbia Law School, of a two-volume treatise titled “Federal Habeas Corpus Law and Practice”; the co-author, with Professor Anthony G. Amsterdam of N.Y.U. Law School, of “Trial Manual for the Defense of Criminal Cases”; and the co-author, with Professor Amsterdam and N.Y.U. Law Professor Martin Guggenheim, of “Trial Manual for Defense Attorneys in Juvenile Delinquency Cases.” He is an editor-in-chief of the Clinical Law Review.  In the past, he has served as the Chair of the Council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar; a consultant to the MacCrate Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap; a reporter for the Wahl Commission on ABA Accreditation of Law Schools; a reporter for the New York Professional Education Project; and the chair of the AALS Standing Committee on Clinical Legal Education.  He received the New York State Bar Association’s Howard Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare in 2020; NYU Law School’s Podell Distinguished Teaching Award in 2010; the Equal Justice Initiative’s Award for Advocacy for Equal Justice in 2009; the Association of American Law Schools’ William Pincus Award for Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Legal Education in 2004; the NYU Award for Distinguished Teaching by a University Professor in 2003; and the American Bar Association’s Livingston Hall award for advocacy in the juvenile justice field in 2000.

Shomari Ward worked for years at community-based organizations focusing on youth development before pursuing a career in law. Shomari was a litigation attorney at a corporate law firm in New York City where he focused on a broad range of complex commercial litigation. Shomari then joined the Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Division (JRD) in 2014 where he managed a litigation docket, which included child protective and juvenile defense proceedings. Currently, he serves as a JRD staff attorney in their Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit representing children in systemic, class action litigation and legislative reform efforts. In addition to serving as an attorney in JRD, Shomari facilitates trainings on race, class, and community issues for practitioners, who work directly and collaterally with indigent families of color.

Danny Alicea has been the Litigation Supervisor in CFR’s Immigration Practice since 2018.  Mr. Alicea supervises a team that directly represents clients applying for immigration benefits and defends clients in deportation proceedings. For any CFR non-citizen youth or adult client facing criminal charges, Mr. Alicea helps evaluate the potential immigration consequences that may result from the proceedings. He provides similar advisals on family defense cases as necessitated by recent changes in immigration enforcement. Prior to joining CFR, Mr. Alicea worked as a staff attorney at Immigration Equality, as the first Immigration Special Counsel to the Brooklyn District Attorney, and as the Fragomen Fellow at the City Bar Justice Center where he handled many SIJS cases. Mr. Alicea has served as a part-time adjunct professor in CUNY Law’s Immigrant and Non-Citizen’s Rights Clinic and also regularly presents at conferences about working in an interdisciplinary immigration practice as well as the overlap between immigration and other areas of law such as criminal and child protective law.

In 2017, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Edwina Mendelson was appointed to head the newly expanded New York State Unified Court System’s Office for Justice Initiatives, tasked with ensuring meaningful access to justice for all New Yorkers in civil, criminal and family courts, regardless of income, background, or special needs. To serve this mission, the Office for Justice Initiatives administers pro bono attorney and other volunteer programs, self-help services, Help Centers, and many other resources designed to serve unrepresented court users, including resources to assist those navigating virtual court operations ushered in by the Covid-19 crisis.

Additionally, Judge Mendelson leads the Equal Justice in Courts Initiative, a top priority for New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, to implement the recommendations of Special Adviser on Equal Justice, Jeh Johnson, in his October 2020 report examining racial bias in the state court system, as well as the implementation of the November 2020 recommendations of the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts to enhance gender fairness in the New York State Courts.

Judge Mendelson also directs several juvenile and family justice initiatives, including the New York State Unified Court System’s Child Welfare Court Improvement Project, its Advisory Council on Child Fatalities, the ongoing implementation of the seminal law raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York State, and the Child Support and Guardianship Working Groups of the Unified Court System/New York State Bar Association’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force.  Additionally, as a member of Chief Judge DiFiore’s Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts, Judge Mendelson serves on the Regulatory Innovation and Online Dispute Resolution Working Groups.

As of January 2021, Judge Mendelson now also oversees the Unified Court System’s Office of Policy & Planning, which is responsible for administering the state’s 343 problem-solving and accountability courts, including groundbreaking opioid courts, drug courts/judicial diversion parts, veterans’ treatment courts, mental health courts, human trafficking intervention courts, domestic violence courts, integrated domestic violence courts, young adult parts, juvenile treatment courts, community courts, and impaired driving courts. Each model has the advantage of specially trained judges and staff, dedicated dockets, intensive judicial monitoring, and coordination with outside services and agencies. In addition, the Office of Policy & Planning oversees special projects and other endeavors providing guidance and support to the court system.

Judge Mendelson was appointed to the Court of Claims by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2017 and remains active on the bench, conducting pro se trials in state correctional facilities.  Judge Mendelson also serves in Supreme Court Criminal Term, New York County.  Previously, she presided over New York County Supreme Court’s Youth Part, hearing cases of youth charged as adults.

Judge Mendelson first joined the court system as a Court Attorney-Referee in Queens County Family Court, after representing clients in New York City Housing Court, Family Court, and Supreme Court. She later became a Family Court Judge in 2003, the Queens County Supervising Family Court Judge in 2008, and a year later, was elevated to Administrative Judge of all New York City Family Courts.

Judge Mendelson, a graduate of CUNY Law School whose motto is “Law in the Service of Human Needs”, also holds a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, and has been an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Hofstra Law School.  She maintains active membership and leadership positions in bar association and court committees advancing professional development and system improvement in the delivery and quality of justice services.

Judge Wan was appointed to the New York State Court of Claims by Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 20, 2018.  Judge Wan is currently designated as an Acting Supreme Court Justice in New York County Supreme Court, Civil Division.  Judge Wan presides over an Integrated Guardianship Part, where she hears cases involving tenants who are the subject of both a Civil Court, Housing Part case and a Supreme Court Mental Hygiene Law Article 81 case.  Prior to that Judge Wan was a Family Court judge, appointed to the bench by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2012, and served in both Bronx County Family Court and Kings County Family Court hearing cases involving child abuse and neglect, custody, visitation, family offenses and juvenile delinquency.  Judge Wan also presided over “crossover youth” cases which involved children in foster care who are subsequently arrested and enter the juvenile justice system.  Prior to taking the bench, Judge Wan was a Court Attorney-Referee in Kings County Surrogate's Court where she handled adoption, guardianship, and trusts and estates matters.  In this capacity, Judge Wan conducted pre-trial and settlement conferences with attorneys and self-represented litigants and presided over guardianship hearings involving disabled adults and kinship hearings to determine who inherits an estate.  Judge Wan also served for nine years as a trial attorney at the Administration for Children's Services (ACS) in the Family Court Legal Services Division, where she tried and supervised hundreds of abuse and neglect trials.  

Judge Wan earned her undergraduate degree from Binghamton University and her law degree from Albany Law School, where she served on the Albany Law Review.  Judge Wan formerly chaired the Family Court and Family Law Committee at the City Bar, served on the City Bar’s Nominating Committee, and is now serving on the Encourage Judicial Service Committee.  Judge Wan was also appointed to serve on the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics.  Judge Wan also serves as a board member for the Brooklyn Women's Bar Association.  Judge Wan also served on the board of the New York State Family Court Judges Association and was the past Vice President and Secretary of the New York City Family Court Judges Association.  Judge Wan was recently elected as President of the Asian American Judges Association of New York.    
Judge Wan has also been selected to serve on the Unified Court System’s Advisory Committee on Court Interpreting and the Appellate Division Second Department Mental Health Professional Certification Committee, a committee charged with assessing the qualifications of potential court appointed mental health experts.  Judge Wan is the former co-chair of the Government and Public Sector Committee for the Asian American Bar Association of New York.  Judge Wan has been an active participant in the National Association of Women Judges “Color of Justice” Program, which has been geared towards introducing NYC high school students to the legal profession.  Judge Wan regularly participates in various “Meet the Judges” events in the community and has presented on career panels at various NYC schools.


Kelley Burns is the Director of Training in the Legal Support and Training Unit at Family Court Legal Services, a division of the Administration for Children’s Services.  Family Court Legal Services provides legal representation for Children’s Services in the five Family Courts of New York City in child abuse and neglect proceedings, custody and juvenile delinquency proceedings.  The Legal Support and Training Unit provides litigation support and legal training to attorney and casework staff as well as other types of support to the Division.   Prior to joining the Legal Support and Training Unit, Ms. Burns practiced in the Administration for Children’s Services, Family Court Legal Services in Queens Family Court as a staff attorney since 2001.  Ms. Burns received her undergraduate degree from Fordham University and received her Juris Doctorate from Cardozo School of Law.

Kevin Ruiz is a supervisor in the Bronx County office of Family Court Legal Services, the division of the Administration for Children’s Services responsible for appearing in child neglect, child abuse, and interrelated proceedings in NYC Family Courts. As a supervisor, he assists in training front-line attorneys on litigation techniques, while also handling his own complex cases. Kevin joined the Administration for Children’s Services in 2015 and is a graduate of Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.