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Partners’ Pro Bono Firm Profile: McCarter & English

May 23, 2013

 

 

Judah Skoff, Gloria Ribeiro and Gerard G. Brew

Partners for Women and Justice is pleased to recognize the McCarter & English team of Gerard G. Brew, Judah Skoff, Lauren Jones, Karen Golubieski, and Gloria Ribeiro for their extraordinary pro bono efforts on behalf of one of our clients - a young, mentally handicapped woman escaping an abusive, coerced marriage.

McCarter & English spared no expense and every person connected to the case showed true personal commitment to this young woman and her family.

“Patty” was 26 years old, with the mental capacity of a nine-year-old.  A 44-year-old acquaintance who had gained her trust over several years induced her into secretly marrying him and took her away from her family.  Patty’s family feared for her safety; they attempted to obtain guardianship, but lacked the resources.  The husband systematically isolated Patty from the outside world; he controlled every aspect of her life, assaulted her, and forced her to have sex against her will.  After five months, in fear for her life, Patty escaped the abuser and sought refuge with her parents. 

This was truly a horror story and our collective hearts broke for Patty and her parents.  Our staff helped Patty obtain a final restraining order against the abusive husband.  Then, in an ironic twist, the husband filed divorce papers against Patty, citing extreme cruelty. 

This is when McCarter & English stepped in.  Since 2010, as part of its Domestic Violence Project, led by Pro Bono Director Emily Goldberg and Gerard Brew, McCarter attorneys have helped Partners’ clients obtain final restraining orders against their abusers.

This time, however, McCarter agreed to go above and beyond, and offered to handle a divorce even with the understanding that Patty’s case could involve potentially time-consuming matters involving legal capacity, guardianship, marital tort, and annulment.  In fact, the McCarter team eventually devoted nearly 200 pro bono hours to Patty and her family over the course of the next year.   

Brew said he thought the case was deserving of attention because it involved “scary circumstances, almost like the horrible trafficking or sex slavery cases, which a solo practice probably would not have the resources to handle.” 

A McCarter partner practicing mostly in trusts and estates, Brew has 20 years of experience handling pro bono domestic violence cases.  The New Jersey State Bar Association recently recognized his exemplary contributions by awarding him its 2012 Pro Bono Award.

Upon their initial meeting with Patty and her family, the McCarter team realized that the extent of Patty’s impairment was sufficient to render her legally incapacitated.  They obtained three medical assessments and decided to proceed along two fronts: guardianship and annulment.  

Brew and Judah Skoff, a McCarter associate, commenced a guardianship action, with Brew acting as plaintiff under New Jersey rules, seeking to protect a disabled client.  The husband attempted to dispute the action, but the McCarter team prevailed and the court ultimately appointed Patty’s mother guardian.   

With guardianship established, Brew and Skoff worked with Patty’s mother and eventually convinced the court to grant an annulment, declaring the marriage void as of the date it occurred. 

Brew praised the work of two additional members of the McCarter team: Karen Golubieski, a paralegal in Brew’s practice area, did a “tremendous” job assisting in all facets of the case; and Gloria Ribiero, a legal secretary, provided constant assistance in translation, as well as emotional support to Patty and her family.

Brew concludes that “although [Patty] is impaired, she understands that, through the efforts of Partners as well as all of my colleagues here, her life has been restored (to the extent that is possible) to where it was before the alleged marriage.  Perhaps equally important, her mother now has the legal authority to protect her from those who might prey upon her.”

Patty’s mother’s gratitude is heartfelt.  “Everyone who helped us was excellent, professional, dedicated.  They treated this awful case as if a member of their own family was going through it,” she said recently, recounting her daughter’s story in light of news accounts from Cleveland of three young women escaping their captor after ten years.  “We are so grateful for all the work done for us.  If we hadn’t gotten help, there might have been a situation similar to what happened to those three girls in Ohio. There are scary people out there . . . What if today I was telling a different story?” 

“There are bad people, but also good people like the lawyers who were willing to stand up to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again,” Patty’s stepfather added.  “In some ways, there is a good outcome because now we can protect [Patty],” he emphasized.  “We didn’t understand about guardianship until this . . . It is important for other people to understand it.  There is hope for the future, and something positive did come from this.”  

The McCarter team’s deep personal care for the plight of victims like Patty and the firm’s willingness to provide its support for the long haul ensures not simply competent legal counsel, but meaningful, life-altering assistance.  The combination of Partners’ staff and McCarter’s pro bono representation of our client meant she received the professional and sensitive representation her case needed.