What's Happening in 2015

Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project


December, 2015


DV LEAP's dear friends and major supporters Mary and Dan Pence began financially supporting our organization last year.  We asked them to share their reasons for investing in our work with the thought that others would be inspired by their support and consider supporting DV LEAP to help end unjust outcomes in the trial courts for survivors of domestic violence and their families. As you will see, Mary and Dan have seen up close the need for change and the impact that DV LEAP's work has--as well as the passion and expertise that our team brings to the work. We hope you will join them in making your own gift to DV LEAP today.

3 Reasons Why DV LEAP Is Receiving Our Largest Charitable Contribution This Year


(1)  As a couple, we have been concerned about the issue of domestic violence ever since the early 70’s, when we were part of a network providing emergency housing to battered women and their children, and played a small role in starting the first shelter for victims of domestic violence in the state of Michigan. 

(2)  In her representation of domestic violence survivors in her Family Law practice, Mary has, at times, been frustrated by the biases or lack of understanding of trial court judges.  DV LEAP develops impactful appellate case law which can be cited to trial courts all across the country to overcome this shortcoming.

(3) DV LEAP’s Founder and Legal Director, Joan Meier, has the passion, depth of experience, and commitment that make her an unparalleled asset. Utilizing pro bono attorney time and financial contributions from people from all walks of life, DV LEAP is able to significantly leverage the impact of this remarkable woman on our judicial system and on the world. We are grateful to be able to support DV LEAP in the vital work it does.
Mary and Dan Pence
Washington, D.C.


November, 2015


DV LEAP’s Work

We have been able to take on more appellate cases than ever. We currently have vetted and are working on 11 cases, six from the DC area, four cases from states across the country and one Supreme Court case. As we have previously reported, with the ongoing support of our donors, DV LEAP is able to increase our caseload due to our funded legal director and staff attorney positions, filled by Joan Meier and Sasha Drobnick respectively.

One of the cases that Sasha is currently working on, with the pro bono support of Brown Rudnick, addresses the constitutionality of the New York Family Court practice of issuing custody orders without holding an evidentiary hearing.

In this case, the court granted custody in the trial court to the father based on party affidavits and a forensic evaluation, without holding a hearing. Neither parent had the opportunity to testify, present evidence, or cross-examine adverse evidence because the court found it had “adequate relevant information” to rule on custody. New York family courts use this standard (“adequate relevant information”) frequently to issue custody orders that impact parents’ fundamental right to raise their children. The mother appealed the ruling to New York’s middle appeal court. In a three paragraph decision, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s finding of “adequate relevant information” sufficient to justify its order.

In response, the mother’s attorney asked DV LEAP to provide an amicus brief in support of the mother’s request to have the decision reviewed by the New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest appellate court. DV LEAP agreed to provide amicus support due to the serious constitutional due process issues raised, along with the knowledge that the highest court had declined to review the exact same issue just last year. It was an exciting surprise when the Court of Appeals ruled that it would accept the appeal. The party brief is due at the end of the year and DV LEAP’s amicus brief will be filed shortly after. We will be sure to keep you posted on the outcome!


October, 2015



September, 2015


Meet the newest member of
DV LEAP' Board of Directors: 

Mr. James Rizzo


Jim Rizzo serves as the Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer for the National Association of Home Builders (“NAHB”). Jim advises and counsels NAHB on corporate, governance, litigation, compliance and transactional matters. He also provides guidance to NAHB’s for-profit subsidiary, three related charitable organizations and a large political action committee.

When asked why it was important to Jim to be a part of DV LEAP he responded, "I first became involved in DV LEAP when I was a partner at McDermott Will & Emery and was impressed by the passionate commitment and excellent legal work of the organization. I look forward to helping this dynamic organization continue its growth and reach here in the DC appellate courts as well as in courts across the country." 

Prior to joining NAHB, Jim was a partner with the international law firm of McDermott Will & Emery LLP in Washington, DC. He has represented Fortune 500 companies, financial institutions, trade associations, academic institutions, and professionals for more than 20 years.  Industry experience includes financial services, health care, high tech, insurance, life sciences and textile.
Jim holds a J.D. degree from Fordham University School of Law and is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia, New York and Connecticut. Jim received a B.A. degree in English from Georgetown University. Jim and his wife, Patty, a medical oncologist, live in Northern Virginia with their 4 children and 2 dogs.
In August our flagship program, DC LEAP -- which handles appeals in the District, took on three new appeals where we will be representing the domestic violence survivor on each case.
I. A case referred to us by partner organization Break the Cycle where we are defending the granting of a Civil Protective Order for stalking behavior perpetrated by the domestic violence abuser. 
II. A case referred to us by partner organization Bread for the City. We are partnering with Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP to appeal the denial of a Civil Protective Order to a domestic violence survivor.
III. Another case referred to us by Break the Cycle. We will defend the granting of a Civil Protective Order for threatening behavior perpetrated by the domestic violence abuser. For this case we are partnering with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.


July, 2015


2nd Annual Strong Brew was an Amazing Success!

On Wednesday, June 10th DV LEAP held our 2nd annual Strong Brew event at the brand new Penthouse Pool & Lounge at The Yards. This year, we were happy to welcome 200 guests to the Navy Yard pool deck where they were able to enjoy beverages from Capitol City Brewing Company, Cervantes Coffee, Denizens Brewing Co., Devils Backbone Brewing Company​Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales, Mad Fox Brewing Co​mpany, and Misha's Coffeehouse and Roaster​.


After the celebration, the work here at DV LEAP has continued in order to ensure more just outcomes for survivors and their children. If you weren't able to participate, you can still be part of the Strong Brew that helps lead to change by clicking here and making your gift today!


Recent Opinion
Ohio v. Clark Supreme Court Case
We are thrilled with the recent opinion on the Ohio v. Clark Supreme Court case. The Ohio Supreme Court held that a man accused of abusing a child could exclude the child’s disclosures to “mandatory reporters” (i.e., teachers) because their status makes the child’s statements “testimonial” (that is, given in anticipation of use at trial) and inadmissible, under the Court’s new confrontation rights jurisprudence. 

DV LEAP filed two amicus briefs during this case, arguing that (1) many civil courts apply the Court’s confrontation doctrine even though it technically only governs criminal courts, and (2) it is already difficult to protect child victims of abuse in family courts and this kind of disclosure is essential.  DV LEAP’s brief on the merits added a third argument that before and after the Constitution’s adoption, children’s hearsay “outcries” of sexual assault were admitted in criminal courts despite general hearsay exclusions.  

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that a child’s statements to his teacher about who it was that hurt him could be used in court against the defendant, even though the child did not testify. Six of the Justices signed an opinion that portends increasing flexibility toward out of court statements in the future. Many thanks to our pro bono partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, for their guidance as co-counsel on this brief.


June, 2015


On Monday, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Elonis v. United States, a case in which DV LEAP filed an amicus brief with the superb help of Bingham McCutcheon LLP (now Morgan Lewis).

The issue in Elonis was whether a threat may be prosecuted under federal law based on a finding that a reasonable listener would have felt threatened, or whether the prosecution must prove that the speaker specifically intended to threaten.  In this case, Elonis posted on Facebook multiple disturbing threats against his co-workers, his estranged wife, the FBI agent who interviewed him, and an un-determined kindergarten.  Elonis framed his claim as a first amendment issue.
DV LEAP argued in our amicus brief that neither the first amendment nor criminal law requires proof of a specific intent to threaten.  Moreover, we pointed out that this case would affect not only criminal cases brought under the federal statute, but also state criminal cases and state civil protection order cases, which in many states like DC, also require proof of a crime. Finally, with the support of expert Chicago-Kent first amendment scholar Steven Heyman we argued that if the Court requires an intent" standard it should be "recklessness," which we are confident is easily met in this case, and in most others of concern.
The Court's decision rejected both sides' positions.  While declining to reach the first amendment at all, in a 7-2 decision the majority held that some kind of intent (greater than negligence) is required under the federal law as a matter of general criminal jurisprudence. While declining to specify what standard, it held that proof of a defendant's "purpose" or "knowledge" that his words would be received as threats, is sufficient.  It declined to decide whether "recklessness" is also sufficient, as several amici and DV LEAP had suggested.  Justice Alito's partial concurrence/dissent strongly argued that recklessness is sufficient; Justice Thomas' dissent argued (as DV LEAP had) that "general intent" to state the words with their generally recognized meaning - as a majority of states have held until now - should be sufficient.
While we would have preferred to see Justice Thomas' opinion become law, we are not too troubled by this outcome.  The majority's refusal to choose a standard indicates some division among the seven Justices on that question - and the decision pretty clearly rejects the specific intent claim that would have been devastating for those trying to restrain threats and keep people safe.  We also think that, with the help of Justice Alito's concurrence, it is likely that recklessness will eventually win out.  In the meantime we hope to be able to assist lower courts in developing that standard, in anticipation of the next (likely) Supreme Court appeal.





May, 2015


Meet our 2015  STRONG BREW Guest Speaker: 

Mary Margaret Farren


Wednesday, June 10th
In 2010, Mary Margaret (formerly of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP)  was the victim of domestic violence- that nearly left her dead- at the hands of her abusive husband, who previously served in the role of deputy White House counsel. She was recently featured on the television news magazine program 20/20 and has chosen DV LEAP’s Strong Brew to be her first public speaking event. Mary Margaret will share her experiences from the abusive marriage and subsequent legal battles and will discuss how greater community awareness and legal accountability can help curb domestic violence by ensuring perpetrators are held responsible for their actions.

We look forward to having Mary Margaret as our guest speaker at this year's 
Strong Brew event. This will be her first public speaking event since the attack. We applaud Mary Margaret's courage for bravely sharing her story to raise awareness about the realities of domestic violence and how many people can make a difference by playing a role in ending this epidemic. 



April, 2015


Victory for DV LEAP!

DV LEAP is thrilled to announce a significant win in the D.C. Court of Appeals!  In this case, a victim of sexual assault, while meeting with her building manager to talk about her difficulty in making the rent, was given a drink that apparently was drugged.  The next morning, she woke up in the perpetrator’s bed, naked from the waist down and was told by the perpetrator that "what had to happen, happened."  The trauma of her victimization was compounded daily as she had to walk by his apartment every time she went in or out of the building.  

The victim had been fortunate to receive the pro  bono services of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP in obtaining a civil protection order, which required the perpetrator  to move out of the building.  But this order was vigorously challenged on appeal by the perpetrator's lawyer.  
DV LEAP became involved when Skadden reached out to us for a consultation on the defendant's emergency stay motion asking the Court of Appeals to suspend the eviction order.  After the stay motion was narrowly granted (resulting in the victim's moving into a homeless shelter with her two children), Skadden requested that DV LEAP support their defense of the appeal by filing an amicus brief.  Our brief was prepared with the dedicated pro bono assistance of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, and in partnership with the Network for Victim Recovery of DC and the National Crime Victim Law Institute (in Portland, Oregon).

On March 26, 2015, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a broad and unanimous decision agreeing with our position and resoundingly endorsing the authority of the trial court to issue the vacate order.  
This decision is the first of its kind since the Act was expanded to protect non-family/intimate partners. In sum, the Court’s decision was an important victory that should both help other victims of sexual abuse obtain meaningful relief, and continue to ensure that the CPO statute is designed to provide genuine protection for victims of abuse. 
Postcript: On April 10, the perpetrator's lawyers filed a Petition for Rehearing En Banc. Should the petition be granted, the case will be heard by the entire appeals court. Stay tuned. 



March, 2015




On Wednesday, June 10, DV LEAP will be hosting its 2nd Strong Brew, our premier event, with the sponsorship of our hosts Vida Fitness at their new Penthouse Pool & Lounge at The Yards, conveniently close to Capitol Hill.
Strong Brew describes how DV LEAP works with our law firms, community partners, and clients to address the injustices that survivors of domestic violence face when they seek legal remedies.
Strong Brew also highlights the coffee and craft beer featured at the event. We salute women leaders in the locally roasted coffee and craft beer industries. This framework allows us to not only honor those who are working to end violence, but also gives us the opportunity to highlight women who work against the grain to establish themselves as well as change norms.
We are thrilled that our special speaker this year is Mary Margaret Farren-formerly of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom-who will share her story of surviving abuse and near death at the hands of her abusive husband-previously serving as deputy White House Counsel. 








February, 2015



DV LEAP Recent Cases: R v. S

Must a sexual assault victim (and her young children) choose between living directly above her rapist and losing her home?

The DC Court of Appeals will consider this very question on February 26th, when it hears oral argument in S v. R. With generous pro bono support from Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, LLP, DV LEAP urges DC’s high court to say a resounding “no.” The case stands to make cutting edge law and advance desperately-needed protection for sexual assault victims.

In this case, the trial court granted a female tenant in a small apartment building (R) a civil protection order (CPO) against the on-site “building manager” (S) after she woke up in his bed, naked from the waist down and terrified, with no memory of how she got there.  She had gone to his apartment the prior night in response to his text about overdue rent, accepted his offer of sangria, took a sip that tasted bitter, vomited and blacked out. The judge appropriately ordered S to stay at least 100 feet away and vacate his apartment, which is 30 feet directly below R’s and located such that she cannot enter or exit the building without passing his door.

On appeal, S argues that DC’s Civil Protection Order statute does not give the court authority to order him out of his home, so long as his victim did not live there, too.  Indeed, he remains living there in comfort while she, too traumatized to remain in her home, has floated (with her young children) among friends and risks homelessness. In support of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom’s powerful appellant’s brief arguing that the court has the authority to order him to vacate, DV LEAP’s amicus brief lays out national trends for increased civil protections to sexual assault victims, as well as the District’s own embarrassing history of cruel responses to such victims.  The brief makes clear that the statute’s 2008 expansion to cover sexual assault victims entitles them, as well as domestic violence victims, to a zone of safety and “peace of mind” after being traumatized.  




January, 2015


DV LEAP's  Founder and Legal Director, Joan Meier, is participating in the planning of the Vice President’s White House Summit on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women, set to take place in April 2015. Joan brings the necessary voice of the many DV LEAP clients and other protective parents who face unfair and dangerous responses when they seek justice and safety for themselves and their children in the family courts.  Joan has already managed to get this problem on the agenda for the Summit.

Vice President Biden is hosting this Summit in part because he is troubled that 20 years after he sponsored the Violence Against Women Act in the US Senate, too many of the problems continue. In his words, “we know our work here is never done….we know bias against victims of rape and sexual assault still exist in our criminal justice system -- and we must make clear every victim has a basic civil right to equal protection under the law.” Here at DV LEAP we expect to add important value to the discussion as we help inform next steps in the national anti-domestic violence movement, and applaud Joan for being selected to participate for this impactful Summit!