Justice by Chocolate
On September 23, more than 150 young professionals attended Justice by Chocolate, an exclusive chocolate tasting and cocktail party hosted by our Junior Advisory Board, at William Bennett Gallery in Soho, to learn how inMotion’s work impacts the lives of our clients and volunteers. View event photos on Facebook!
Our guests met Nancy Ludmerer (pictured right), a volunteer attorney from Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, and her inMotion client, Monica. They learned how Nancy helped Monica sever her ties to her abuser and reclaim her confidence and financial independence.
Thanks to Nancy’s ardent legal representation in a highly contested divorce, Monica obtained a divorce from her abusive husband and custody of her 10-year-old daughter. Nancy not only helped Monica secure child support—but also payments from her ex-husband to cover her daughter’s education expenses and medical insurance—as well as spousal maintenance and a share of her abusive husband’s pension benefits. Monica’s divorce judgment also gave her the right to remain in the marital residence until she could find safe, affordable housing for herself and her daughter.
Shortly after the divorce was finalized, Monica called Nancy, distressed that she’d just lost her job, a temporary position with the Postal Service. Nancy encouraged Monica to apply for a position in the firm’s mail room. Monica now has a secure, full-time job as a page, with benefits, and is thriving and receiving glowing evaluations from her supervisors.
We would like to share some of the words Nancy spoke at Justice by Chocolate about her experience and special friendship with Monica and and her daughter:
By Nancy B. Ludmerer, Esq. — Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP
When I was asked to speak at a chocolate tasting event, I wondered how I could relate the journey that Monica and I began over two years ago to the subject of the evening: chocolate.
At first it seemed impossible. I couldn’t find any quotations about chocolate that could be applied to a divorce and custody case. While searching online, I discovered a group of middle school students—aged 13 and 14—who, as a class project, came up with metaphors for chocolate. Their teacher posted their “chocolate metaphors” on the Internet.
Chocolate is bitter darkness, wrote one student.
Chocolate is a mysterious friend, wrote another.
Chocolate is power, wrote a third student.
Bitter darkness. Mysterious friend. Power.
Suddenly chocolate seemed a perfect
vehicle for describing the work that Monica
and I have done together on her case.
When I met Monica, in May 2007, she had been unemployed for several months. In addition to trying to support herself and her 10-year-old daughter, she was struggling to maintain her dignity in the face of demeaning conduct and verbal abuse—and sometimes physical abuse—by her husband.
In her husband’s eyes, Monica had no worth, no voice and no power. For Monica at that time, and for so many inMotion clients at the start of their journey, bitter darkness had descended over her life.
Yet when Monica walked into my office at Davis Polk, she had already taken major steps toward helping herself. In addition to assistance with her legal case, Monica reached out to inMotion for help applying for food stamps and other important benefits that helped her care for her daughter. InMotion also connected Monica and her daughter to early-morning counseling sessions to help them cope with the emotional fall-out of their situation. With many fundamental day-to-day needs met, Monica had the peace-of-mind to concentrate fully on her case.
Mysterious friend—and practice area
And, of course, chocolate is not all bitter darkness, as we know. Far from it. As another middle school student wrote, chocolate is a mysterious friend—and that metaphor provides a good analogy for the relationship that Monica and I developed as we worked on her case together.
At our earliest meetings in May and June 2007, we had to learn to trust each other. And as we became partners in the endeavor—and yes, friends—each of us had to reveal certain mysteries to the other. I had to explain the mysteries of New York family law to Monica; indeed, as a volunteer lawyer who had never handled a divorce or custody case before, I had to unravel those mysteries for myself.
Because marriages, whether good or terrible, are mysterious to anyone looking in from the outside, Monica had to be willing to bare her soul in order for me to understand what had occurred in her marriage.
Monica’s honesty was key in our being able to lay out the facts before the Judge. Monica's resilience, her devotion to her daughter and her focus on what was important—creating a safe and nurturing environment where she could raise her daughter—were critical factors in the decisions we made in the course of her case. We initiated divorce proceedings, moved for pendente lite relief and enlisted the assistance of a court-appointed mediator to address custody issues.
I want to add that although matrimonial law may have mysteries for first-timers—don’t be scared off from volunteering for inMotion because you lack experience in this area. InMotion provides quality supervision by experienced staff attorneys. InMotion will guide you along the way.
For me, that person was Margie Bechara, supervising attorney in inMotion's Bronx office. I attribute much of the success Monica and I had in her case to the advice and guidance I received from Margie. Margie was there for me throughout my work on Monica's case.
Then there’s the third “chocolate metaphor” suggested by one of the middle school students: Chocolate is power. The day we served Monica’s husband; the day we prevailed on our order show cause, getting the temporary support Monica needed; the day the Judge signed the divorce decree giving Monica custody of her daughter and allowing Monica to remain in the matrimonial home until she could find safe, affordable housing elsewhere—with each step, Monica grew stronger, more confident.
Chocolate is “power” is of course linked to the serotonin “high” you get from eating chocolate. If you have the opportunity to take on a case for inMotion, do it! I guarantee it will give you a “high” unlike anything else in your practice.
There is one more day I want to celebrate. Shortly after Monica became a client she went from being unemployed to working for the Postal Service. This temporary position, which provided no health benefits, meant that she had to get up at 5:00 am six days a week to deliver the mail—nonetheless Monica still was there for every court appearance, every prep session at the firm, and—I might add—every parent-teacher conference at her daughter’s school.
When I heard that my firm might have an opening in our mail room, I encouraged Monica to apply. She got the job! Now one of the “highs” of my day is often chatting or having lunch with Monica.