BY MICHAEL R. ADDAMS
Janae11 Janae is a pseudonym. Due to the sensitive nature of her case, the client’s real name is not being used. was born and raised in a beautiful little town in France. After graduating from high school, she moved to the United States for college, choosing to study at the University of Washington. After majoring in English, she was hired by Microsoft to work as a translator. She had made it. She accomplished her dream of life in America.
But it got even better. During her time with Microsoft, Janae had been immersed in the IT world. Having picked up a thing or two, she was eventually hired by the city of Seattle as an IT project manager. Even more, she met someone, fell in love, got married, and had a child. Life was great.
Until it wasn’t.
After 20 years of marriage, the conflict between Janae and her husband had gotten so horrible that Janae finally filed for dissolution of marriage in King County. She was represented by counsel while her husband chose to represent himself. A guardian ad litem was appointed to represent the interests of the child. The proceedings were long and drawn out. While no divorce case really has a “winner,” the trial concluded with the court entering findings and an order in Janae’s favor. It seemed like the case was finally over.
But it wasn’t.
Janae’s now ex-husband was not satisfied with the conclusion of the trial, so he appealed the findings and the custody determination—twice. Both times, the trial court’s decisions were upheld. It seemed like maybe now the case was over.
But it still wasn’t.
Janae’s ex-husband was furious with Janae, Janae’s attorney, and the guardian ad litem. He brought multiple tort actions in superior court against Janae, her attorney, and the guardian ad litem. The torts were alleged in a 400-page complaint filed against all three. Janae’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss due to abusive use of litigation. The court dismissed the entire case against the three respondents with an award of attorney’s fees to Janae.
And yet, it still wasn’t over.
The ex-husband once again appealed. Janae’s attorney worked hard on a response, but she too was now overwhelmed by the relentless efforts of the ex-husband. Janae would assist her attorney in whatever way she could, but the endless litigation was costly and exhausting. Janae hit the internet hard in search of someone who might be able to help put an end to the madness. She was especially hoping to find expert legal aid that would be willing to take on this latest appeal without depleting her finances.
Eventually, she found an organization that could help: the Family Violence Appellate Project.
THE FAMILY VIOLENCE APPELLATE PROJECT
The Family Violence Appellate Project, commonly known as FVAP, is a nonprofit organization made up of staff attorneys and other legal professionals. FVAP assists individuals who have experienced abuse (in various forms), have a family or civil court order that they want to appeal or defend, and have an order from a Washington court that is less than 30 days old (or a California court order that is less than six months old).
The appeals process can be extremely stressful and confusing to a pro se victim of abuse. It can be a stressful and confusing process for attorneys as well, as not all attorneys are familiar with appellate practice. To meet the needs of the victims they seek to serve, FVAP needs appellate attorneys who are willing to help. The attorneys who volunteer a portion of their time to FVAP have varied areas of expertise and are matched to particular cases and clients where they can be the most helpful.
One of those attorneys is Adrian Urquhart Winder, an attorney at Foster Garvey in Seattle. She first got involved with FVAP after a colleague asked if she could help with a case. She has volunteered with the organization ever since. Sometimes she provides direct representation, while other cases are best served by one of her well-drafted amicus briefs. She also dedicates a portion of her time to mentoring other attorneys who work with FVAP.
Foster Garvey supports and encourages Adrian’s pro bono work. According to Foster Garvey’s website, “Pro bono service is more than just a commitment for us; it is an enduring tradition and an essential part of our firm’s culture.”22 www.foster.com/ourfirm-probono. Washington attorneys are encouraged and charged with a responsibility to provide 30 hours of pro bono legal services annually to low-income and underserved populations. Attorneys who perform more than 50 hours per year are eligible to receive special service recognition. (RPC 6.1.)
ADRIAN MEETS JANAE
After Janae completed an intake with FVAP, its staff got to work finding an attorney who might be able to assist her. Having worked with Adrian before, FVAP contacted her about taking Janae’s case. Adrian reviewed the case and was familiar with the issues that needed to be briefed in a response. She accepted the case and filed a notice of appearance with the Washington Court of Appeals, Division I.
Janae’s ex-husband alleged 14 different errors by the trial court regarding his multiple tort claims and the court’s dismissal. Part of skilled appellate work includes not only responding to the appellant’s brief, but also knowing how to redirect the court’s focus to the things that truly matter in the case. Adrian applied her years of appellate experience to her representation of Janae and her appellate response. She briefed the court in thorough detail about the ex-husband’s abusive use of litigation, arguing that the only reason for the tort action in the first place was retribution against Janae and everyone who could be blamed for the court’s findings in the divorce matter. Once again, the court ruled in favor of Janae. The ex-husband sought review from the Washington Supreme Court, which was denied. At least on this issue, the case was finally closed.
Following the appeal and the denial of review by the Washington Supreme Court, Janae sought and was awarded a five-year restraining order against her ex-husband. When the five-year period was nearly up, she sought a renewal; this time for 20 years. Again, she was granted her order.
Without organizations like FVAP and volunteers like Adrian, many victims of abuse would go without representation in matters where professional assistance is needed most.
As attorneys, we have a very in-demand skillset. Giving a small portion of our time to those in need or to organizations that provide pro bono services is encouraged by way of the Rules of Professional Conduct, but it is also the right thing to do. Whether it’s by partnering with FVAP, joining one of many volunteer lawyer programs, or discounting fees for services to low-income clients, you can make a difference in the lives of Washingtonians like Janae.
1. Janae is a pseudonym. Due to the sensitive nature of her case, the client’s real name is not being used.