Marissa Schwartz

The Project

Marissa (she/her/hers) will provide holistic custody law support to survivors of domestic violence to keep custody of their children through direct representation, pro se assistance, and community education.

Parents caught between the child welfare and custody court systems who are survivors of domestic violence are at an increased risk of losing custody of their children to an abuser who can weaponize prior child welfare involvement against them. Most often, the parents impacted are low-income Black or Brown parents. Survivors face an uphill battle in custody court. Without guaranteed representation, parents face many challenges, such as the impacts of trauma, the stress of facing their abusers in court, and, most importantly, the fear of losing their children.

The revictimization and penalization of survivors of domestic abuse in the family court system drive Marissa’s work for change. Throughout her years serving in the Custody and Support Assistance Clinic at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, countless parents made clear the need for trauma-informed legal support.

Fellowship Plans

Marissa will work to bridge the gap in legal services for parents navigating the custody court system after involvement in the child welfare court system. Marissa will provide trauma and systems-informed legal representation to survivors in custody court and strengthen relationships with parent defense organizations to facilitate referrals for parents involved in child welfare court. She will also collaborate with community organizations to educate and empower parents to navigate custody court against their abusers.

Through empowering Philadelphia parents to address the impacts of domestic violence on their families in custody court, I hope to help survivors protect their children and break from cycles of abuse.

Marissa Schwartz /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Tara (she/her/hers) will work at the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence by representing clients in Washington D.C. in Civil Protection Order, Extreme Risk Protection Order, and family law matters.

In 2019, the Council of the District of Columbia enacted legislation that created a new form of protection order aimed at gun violence: the Extreme Risk Protection Order. Like most “red flag” laws, this measure permits law enforcement to seek a restraining order against an individual who would be a danger to themselves or others if they possess or purchase firearms. However, these orders have been extremely underutilized, and fewer than 30 have ever been filed. This is compounded by the fact that there is also a massive shortage of services available for survivors in both Civil Protection Order and family law cases in Washington D.C. in general.

Fellowship Plans

Tara’s project will focus on representing survivors who have suffered gun violence or were threatened by gun violence. Her representation will focus on Civil Protection Order and Extreme Risk Protection Order cases; however, she will also provide representation in a limited number of family law cases where a child custody order or divorce decree would provide continued stability and violence prevention. Additionally, Tara will provide know-your-rights presentations and work with the DC Volunteer Lawyer’s Project’s community partners to educate the community about the availability of Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

The Project

Corina’s (she/her/hers) project will provide post-conviction legal services and legislative advocacy on behalf of incarcerated survivors of domestic violence who are eligible for resentencing or a new trial in New York state.

In 2019, New York passed the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), which recognizes domestic violence as a mitigating factor in certain criminal cases and allows eligible incarcerated survivors of domestic violence to apply for resentencing. Unfortunately, prohibitively high evidentiary standards have prevented survivors from obtaining the relief intended by the law. The legislation must be amended, but in the interim an alternate avenue of relief has emerged: reinvestigation of cases frequently reveals wrongful conviction issues, such as ineffective assistance of counsel.

Corina’s commitment to challenging gender-based violence and mass incarceration motivates her to secure tangible relief for system-involved survivors of domestic violence through both direct representation and policy advocacy.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Corina will bring ineffective assistance of counsel claims on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. She will also advocate for amendments to the DVSJA to eliminate the needless procedural barriers that bar clients from obtaining the relief the legislature intended to provide. Additionally, Corina will develop a comprehensive body of post-conviction advocacy materials to educate attorneys and judges on the evolving legal and legislative landscape.

Survivors of domestic violence deserve legal advocates who will infuse their humanity into a criminal justice system that often attempts to dehumanize them and decontextualize their cases.

Corina Scott /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Mary (she/her/hers) will apply the medical-legal partnership model to effectively reach and provide legal services to domestic violence survivors in the greater Boston community during pregnancy and early motherhood.

Domestic violence is integral to the leading causes of maternal death, and women who suffer domestic violence are three times more likely to experience perinatal death. The relationship between maternal health and domestic violence calls for a multi-disciplinary response. Medical visits, especially for pregnant women and new mothers, serve as a critical access point as they may be the only opportunity survivors have to disclose trauma.

By deepening and strengthening connections with health clinics, Mary will more effectively address the public health crisis that domestic violence toward perinatal women presents. Mary will build a coalition of medical and legal professionals addressing domestic violence at a time when healthcare is the safest entry point for offering protective legal assistance.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Mary will focus on the provision of legal representation, coalition building, legal education, and narrative/data collection. She hopes to create a path to legal assistance as an advocate who understands the intersection of family law and domestic violence, empowers perinatal survivors to make informed decisions about the safety and security of their families, and seeks to prevent unnecessary entanglement in the Family Court system.

Media

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There are many survivors for whom domestic violence is just one piece of their struggle, survivors whose lives are complicated further by pregnancy and motherhood, and a lack of housing, food, healthcare, or financial security. It is my greatest privilege to meet these survivors where they are and advocate holistically for their needs.

Mary LeMay /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Lydia will help LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence in the Texas Rio Grande Valley through outreach, education, and direct representation.

Instances of violence, including family and intimate partner violence, have increased and become more severe since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has had exacerbating effects for LGBTQIA+ individuals, who experience violence at rates greater than or equal to their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. These survivors face unique barriers to access survivor support resources that are not also experienced by their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts.

LGBTQIA+ survivors in the Rio Grande Valley face systemic barriers related to poverty and lack of access to resources. This project focuses on the legal needs of LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence and will contribute to existing community resources.

Fellowship Plans

During the Fellowship, Lydia will help LGBTQIA+ individuals in the Rio Grande Valley with protective orders, divorce and custody orders, and name changes. They will also engage with LGBTQIA+ communities through community partnerships and Know Your Rights sessions. Lydia will seek to connect existing resources within the Rio Grande Valley and create a network of care for LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence.

As a queer person who has seen firsthand how difficult it is to access culturally humble, affirming resources for LGBTQIA+ survivors of violence, I knew I wanted to become that kind of resource for other LGBTQIA+ survivors.

Lydia Harris /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Through the LGBT Anti-Violence and Safety Project (LASP), Joey (he/him/his) will provide identity-affirming legal services, outreach, and education for low-income LGBT survivors of domestic violence with a focus on youth.

While most Domestic Violence (DV) services are designed to serve cisgender women in heterosexual relationships, research suggests that the LGBT community experiences DV at a higher rate. Some studies indicate that certain identities within the LGBT community experience DV and stalking at more than double the rate of their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts. The 2016 report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs outlines that 64% of LGBT survivors did not seek a protective order out of fear of further stigmatization by either legal service providers, courts, or law enforcement. The culturally responsive outreach, education, and services for LGBT survivors provided by this project will fill an unmet legal need and remove barriers to life-saving protections.

Fellowship Plans

Through LASP, Joey will help LGBT survivors of domestic violence seek Orders of Protection, Civil No Contact Orders, and Stalking No Contact Orders. Joey will also conduct outreach to and community building with LGBT youth and survivors living in poverty to spread awareness of culturally responsive resources provided by LASP. Lastly, Joey will provide advocacy and education on issues affecting LGBT survivors through training and collaboration with community partners and Legal Aid Chicago staff.

Media

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Chicago-Kent Public Interest Fellow to Tackle Domestic Violence Issues Within LGBT Community

The opportunity to combine my passion for LGBT rights, commitment to serving youth and low-income clients, and my practical experience in domestic violence litigation is honestly a dream come true for me!

Joey Carrillo /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Blair (she/her/hers) will provide domestic violence survivors, particularly survivors of color, living in high poverty areas of North St. Louis City and County with a path out of abuse through family law representation.

Women living at or below the poverty line are nearly twice as likely as the general population to be abused by a partner. Combined with systemic racism’s impact on scarce resources, under-serviced neighborhoods, and poor relations with law enforcement, abuse grows even more severe. This issue is readily apparent in St. Louis, an area with high rates of poverty and segregation.

Research has shown that access to civil legal services can significantly reduce the risk that a survivor will be abused in the future. In 2017, the Legal Services Corporation reported that 86% of low-income domestic violence survivors across the country received inadequate or no help at all with their civil legal issues. This leaves a desperate gap in legal assistance for marginalized survivors in high poverty areas who would benefit most from representation.

Blair’s commitment to serving domestic abuse survivors inspired her decision to become an attorney. Her understanding that not all survivors have equal access to resources motivated her to design a project to help those most in need.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, survivors living in North St. Louis City and County. Additionally, her project will create family law pro se clinics to expand the reach of services and provide support to survivors who cannot be represented directly. Her project will strengthen and expand partnerships with community agencies to ensure the project is tailored to the needs of North City and County residents.

As a social worker, I was unable to help my clients fully resolve legal issues that kept them trapped in cycles of abuse and poverty. After repeatedly seeing my clients impeded by legal barriers, I made the decision to attend law school.

Blair Pankratz /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Madison (she/her/hers) will create a medical-legal partnership that serves low-income survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of gender-based violence in immigration, protection order, and family law cases. 

Every day in Washington, D.C., survivors of gender-based violence go without needed legal services. 88% of petitioners in the D.C. Superior Court Domestic Violence Division lack legal representation. Survivors may fear seeking protection orders or a divorce without representation due to concerns about retaliation or losing custody of their children. Survivors also experience immense immigration needs, but they often do not know their legal remedies, usually due to immigration-related abuse. Seeking legal services referrals from police or state actors or walking into a courthouse can be inaccessible for survivors. Two D.C. health care clinics, Children’s National Primary Care and AIDS Healthcare Foundation, noted a need among their patients for on-site legal services, particularly for domestic violence and immigration issues. 

Fellowship Plans

In collaboration with DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP), Madison will implement a medical-legal partnership co-located at Children’s National Primary Care in Columbia Heights and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Madison will conduct legal intakes on site and provide survivors with direct representation in protection order, immigration, and family law cases. Madison will also train health care providers to spot potential signs of violence and identify immigration issues to refer to her clinic. 

Access to legal services can drastically impact a survivor’s life—I am dedicated to creating this medical-legal partnership to aid D.C.’s survivors.

Madison Glennie /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Alyssa (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of survivors of domestic violence by representing them in both the early stages of their child welfare cases—a form of preventative legal representation—and in their family law matters.

In Massachusetts, low-income survivors of domestic violence, many of whom are people of color, are not guaranteed representation in this early stage of a child welfare case, putting their rights to their children at risk. Alyssa’s project addresses this need by providing early, prophylactic representation to survivors of domestic violence embroiled in the child welfare system to protect their rights and to prevent further exacerbation of trauma and poverty.

Alyssa is inspired by the survivors that she has worked with and is driven by a firm belief in keeping families together to prevent further poverty and trauma.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Alyssa will provide individual representation to survivors of domestic violence in both the early stages of their child welfare cases and in their family law matters.  She will also develop and deliver “know your rights” trainings for survivors of domestic violence who are involved with the child welfare system.

As her representation continues, she will identify the outcomes of these domestic violence cases within the child welfare system to identify system-wide policies or policy implementations that are harmful to survivors of domestic violence.

Throughout the Fellowship, Alyssa will also create new relationships between domestic violence advocates and the child welfare system to foster collaboration on efforts toward systemic reform.

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The survivors of domestic violence that I work with are incredibly devoted to their families and their children. I try to match that passion in protecting survivors’ rights and keeping their families together.

Alyssa Rao /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Meghan provided legal advocacy to domestic violence victims in Bexar County, Texas, to deter and reduce the growing number of violations of civil family law court orders through direct representation services and the development of a comprehensive community education program.

Meghan provided litigation services to seek enforcement and modification of g court orders for domestic violence survivors, to ensure that survivors received promised safety and resources. Additionally, she developed and conducted comprehensive training for local law enforcement, social services providers, legal professionals, and survivors to enable those parties to effectively identify and prevent violations of court orders. The goal was to not only deter violations of court orders regarding domestic violence, but, more importantly, to enable survivors and their families to achieve protection and stability through increased community support.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Meghan:

  • Provided full representation to 41 clients, the majority of whom sought protective orders, and enforcement and/or modification of existing civil court orders regarding conservatorship, child support, and property division
  • Provided more than 50 general advice and counsel letters to educate her clients about Texas family and domestic violence law, as well as other issues
  • Established systematic referral relationships with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc. and the Crisis Response Team of the San Antonio Police Department (SAPD)
  • Developed and presented domestic violence law workshops to various community stakeholders, including SAPD’s Special Victims Unit and Crisis Response team
  • Co-presented “How to Effectively Represent Victims of Domestic Violence” at the 2014 Texas Poverty Law Conference
  • Developed and conducted the weekly know-your-rights class to the residents of the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter of Bexar County

Next Steps

After the completion of her fellowship in 2014, Meghan joined the Policy Department within the Office of Chief Counsel for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, focusing primarily on policy and legislative matters regarding women’s health, family violence services, and Medicaid service delivery for children in state conservatorship. In 2020, Meghan became Associate Director for the legal team providing support for state-operated mental health facilities and community programs for mental health, behavioral health, and intellectual and developmental disabilities services. In this role, she oversees a team of attorneys that collaborate with statewide mental health and IDD services stakeholder groups, legislative and advocacy organizations, and local courts, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to work towards ensuring and bettering access and quality of care to individuals and their families.

In 2019 Meghan was recognized as the Distinguished Young Alum by the St. Mary’s School of Law Alumni Association and in 2018 as the Outstanding Young Lawyer by the Austin Young Lawyers Association.

Media

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