Lisa Wang Lachowicz, associate at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, has received an “Above & Beyond Pro Bono Achievement Award” from Sanctuary for Families for her representation of “Alison”, a client who was initially referred to the firm for a limited-scope representation through Sanctuary’s Courtroom Advocates Project (CAP).
In 2018, Alison went to New York Family Court and sought an order of protection for herself and her son to protect them from her abusive, live-in boyfriend. Before that, for more than two years, Alison lived in fear because of her boyfriend’s physical, verbal, emotional and cyber abuse. Among other things, he had threatened to post intimate photos and videos of her online if she reported his threats and violence.
At the courthouse, Alison was connected with Ms. Lachowicz, and together they filed a family offense petition and appeared before the magistrate judge, where Ms. Lachowicz obtained a temporary order of protection on her client’s behalf. Over the following months, Ms. Lachowicz supported Alison with her safety planning and other concerns while awaiting her next court appearance.
When it became clear that Alison’s abuser was going to contest the order of protection, Debevoise expanded this to a full representation, and Ms. Lachowicz set out to secure a strong final order of protection for Alison and her son.
The case was uniquely challenging because at the time of the hearing, New York State did not recognize cyber sexual abuse as a family offense. Ms. Lachowicz was creative in successfully compiling persuasive evidence to establish the repeated cyber sexual abuse that Alison had suffered. She also prevented her client’s abuser from entering text messages into evidence to muddy the record.
Ultimately, the judge issued a two-year order of protection, which included a provision prohibiting the abuser from posting, distributing or threatening to post or distribute any intimate images or videos of Alison. This protection is particularly noteworthy because at the time, not all New York judges were willing to include this protection because the state did not have a criminal penalty or family offense law in place that related directly to cyber sexual abuse. In July 2019, after Ms. Lachowicz secured this important order of protection for Alison, New York State passed a law making the unlawful disclosure of an intimate image a criminal and family offense.
Ms. Lachowicz was supervised by counsel Wendy B. Reilly on this matter.
Sanctuary for Family’s Courthouse Advocate Project (CAP) trains and mentors summer associates and new law firm associates not yet admitted to the bar to advocate for pro se domestic violence victims when they first enter family court seeking orders of protection.
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