A pro bono attorney helps a survivor of domestic violence.
"Lakshmi" was looking forward to the future when she married her husband "Sunil", but right from the start, and for the entirety of their tumultuous 3-year marriage, Sunil hit her, pulled her hair and suffocated her, among other things.
In late 2016 Lakshmi sought help from the Domestic Violence Collaborative, a partnership between Bay Area Legal Aid, CORA (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse) and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County that helps low-income domestic violence survivors get essential protective orders and provides limited scope pro bono representation at their restraining order hearings.
After Bay Area Legal Aid helped Lakshmi obtain her Temporary Restraining Order, they referred the case to Legal Aid's Director of Pro Bono, Janet Seldon, to find an attorney to help Lakshmi obtain a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO), a court order which would keep Sunil away from her for three years. The case was assigned to Joel Silver, Corporate Counsel at Gilead Sciences, Inc.
Around the same time, Lakshmi's husband was arrested for domestic violence and disturbing the peace and ultimately charged with those crimes.
At the first DVRO hearing, the court granted a continuance on the grounds of the Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination because of Sunil's pending criminal case. This was the first of four continuances granted on Fifth Amendment grounds, over Lakshmi's objection. Aside from delaying separation and disentanglement from an abuser, repeated continuances of a hearing can be a form of abuse in and of itself, giving the perpetrator a chance to coercively control the survivor and intimidate or tamper with witnesses.
Recognizing these consequences, in spring of 2017, Joel, with the assistance of Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP), filed a Writ Petition on his client's behalf, requesting that the Appellate Court order the trial court to hear the case, irrespective of the pending criminal case.
This summer, with the criminal case still pending, the Appellate Court granted the Writ, finding that the DV court had abused its discretion and stating that "the fact that a man is indicted cannot give him a blank check to block all civil litigation on the same or related underlying subject matter."
One month later, the DV court heard arguments from both parties as to the competing interests in proceeding with the civil DV case ahead of the criminal case and found for Lakshmi. As a result, it scheduled an expedited evidentiary hearing. At the evidentiary hearing, the court heard testimony from four witnesses, including Lakshmi, and found in her favor, granting a three year restraining order.
Lakshmi was extremely happy with the result. With legal representation, Lakshmi was able to find her voice and ultimately prevail against Sunil's attempts to delay justice and coercively control her through litigation tactics. Thanks to pro bono representation, the justice system heard her loud and clear, and Lakshmi received much needed protection against her abuser.
And while he gave so much of his legal expertise to a case that was removed from his usual practice, Joel Silver felt grateful, stating "It was probably the most rewarding case I have ever worked on as a lawyer!"
Note: names changed for reasons of privacy