Pro Bono Case Studies

Representation of a Woman after the Tragic Death of her Daughter

Patterson Belknap represented a woman who was in need of advice and support after the tragic death of her daughter. The woman’s daughter was killed by the father of her three children, in their home, in the presence of the children, twin teen-aged daughters and a three-year-old son. The children went to live with the woman as she sought custody and as she followed the criminal proceedings against their father. Patterson Belknap became the woman’s able and compassionate advocate in both the criminal and civil proceedings. The team regularly accompanied the woman to Criminal and Family Court, speaking reassuringly to her in Spanish, the woman’s first language. The criminal case was decided in March 2010, and in April of the following year, nearly four years after the death of her daughter, the woman became the adoptive mother of her late daughter’s three children. For the woman, who could not name or define the help she needed, it made all the difference to have legal advice and representation of the highest quality provided by compassionate advocates. Elizabeth Shofner, a former Patterson Belknap associate, led the team’s efforts, with support from the firm’s Co-Chair and Managing Partner, Lisa E. Cleary.

Class Action Suit against New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”)

The Patterson Belknap team, working with the Legal Aid Society, sued ACS alleging that children in New York City’s foster care system were being improperly held in very restrictive acute psychiatric hospitals, even after being cleared for discharge for months by doctors at the hospitals. Through extensive negotiations following certification of the class and entry of a preliminary injunctive order, plaintiffs and the City were able to reach a comprehensive settlement agreement, “so ordered” by the court, which implemented extensive and far-reaching oversight of New York City’s foster care agencies and their uses of acute psychiatric hospitals. Since the settlement was entered, PBWT and the Legal Aid Society have continued to closely monitor ACS’s implementation of the stipulation of settlement to ensure that the terms of settlement are being complied with by the City. There has been substantial improvement in the data relating to such acute psychiatric hospitalizations since the settlement.

Asylum Application for Client Persecuted on Account of Sexual Orientation

Patterson obtained asylum for our client, a gay man who fled Mexico after he was threatened by the family of his partner, who had recently died of AIDS. Our client feared that his partner’s family would physically harm him after they unjustifiably blamed him for his partner’s death, threatened him, ransacked his apartment and began following him around Mexico City. The Mexican authorities refused to offer our client protection because of his sexual orientation, and he traveled to the United States to seek asylum. Patterson prepared an asylum application that included statements from our client’s friends and family in Mexico and from professionals in the United States who helped him recover from the psychological trauma of being targeted in Mexico on account of his sexual orientation. We were able to demonstrate to the asylum officer that, even though Mexico has become increasingly tolerant of gay rights, the police force in Mexico refused to protect our client from persecution.

Representation of a Deserving Family in a Housing Matter

Patterson Belknap represented a family in its claim against their landlord, stemming from the landlord’s failure to make necessary repairs to keep the apartment in a habitable condition. The state of the apartment, including mold, adversely impacted the client’s son who had severe asthma. After numerous attempts at utilizing the courts to reach a satisfactory result for the client, the firm determined that the best course of action for the family was to find safer living accommodations. The firm assisted the client in finding new housing more appropriate for the family, and represented the client as they navigated the mired maze of the NYC Human Resources Administration and Section 8 housing. The firm’s representation did not end with legal work and letter writing; when representatives of the firm learned that the client had no furniture because of an earlier bedbug infestation, a call was sent out to all members of the firm to obtain donations for the client. When the family finally moved into their new home, it was fully furnished thanks to the generous donations received by Firm employees. Follow up letters found an appreciative family, with healthy children, and an overall sense of hope.