NEW YORK (February 8, 2010) — McDermott Will & Emery LLP is pleased to announce that two of its lawyers, partner Lauren E. Handel and associate Lisa Gerson, have been named as recipients of inMotion’s 2010 “Commitment to Justice” Award. The award will be presented to the team at the annual Commitment to Justice event on February 9, 2010, at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Ms. Handel and Ms. Gerson are being honored in recognition of their exceptional representation and extraordinary dedication to a pro bono client who, after marrying in 1994 in the Dominican Republic, moved with her husband to New York City, where they lived together through mid-2007. In July 2007, after an extreme incident of domestic violence, the client moved out of the couple’s home with their son. The following month, she learned that her husband had obtained a divorce decree in the Dominican Republic seven months earlier, without her knowledge. She subsequently learned that the divorce had been granted on the basis of a number of false statements. In addition to falsely stating that the parties were domiciled in the Dominican Republic, had no children and owned no property, the documentation also included a fraudulent statement of consent on which the client’s signature was forged and in which she allegedly waived her rights to equitable distribution of property and spousal support.
In December 2007, McDermott filed an action on behalf of the client in the New York Supreme Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Dominican Republic divorce was invalid and of no legal effect in the state of New York because it was obtained through fraud. The complaint further sought a valid divorce on the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment and sought additional ancillary relief. The husband disputed the grounds for divorce and the terms of visitation with the parties’ son. After months of settlement conferences and negotiations, during which Ms. Handel and Ms. Gerson remained determined to achieve terms favorable to their client, the husband agreed to the grounds of cruel and inhuman treatment, to consent to judgment against him on both claims, and to settle the case without increased visitation beyond what had been provided for in an existing family court order. The client won sole custody of the child, favorable maintenance terms and the majority of the equity value in their jointly owned home. The McDermott team also obtained for the client an order of child support from the Bronx County Family Court.
inMotion provides free legal services to low-income women in New York City, particularly those who suffer from abuse and who live in immigrant communities and are isolated by language and cultural barriers. In 2009, inMotion’s legal volunteers donated more than 74,000 hours of representation to clients who otherwise might have been unable to obtain matrimonial, family and immigration law services. The organization’s annual “Commitment to Justice” awards are given to individual lawyers, legal teams and law firms that provide exceptional pro bono representation and demonstrate an uncommon commitment to their clients.
McDermott's pro bono program seeks to bridge the gap for low-income individuals by providing critical legal services in the areas of family law, housing, government benefits, special education, school discipline, adoption and guardianship, elder abuse, and asylum and immigration. McDermott also provides much-needed legal assistance to not-for-profit organizations and small businesses whose focus is to develop and revitalize low-income communities, and to environmental organizations to help ensure a clean, safe and healthy environment for all. Through its pro bono program, McDermott also seeks to alleviate poverty, protect human rights and effect legal and social change around world by collaborating with international organizations and providing legal advice on a myriad of complex and global issues.