OUR MISSION

DV LEAP makes the law work for survivors of domestic violence by challenging unjust trial outcomes; advancing legal protections through expert pro bono advocacy; training lawyers, advocates, and judges on best practices; and spearheading domestic violence litigation in the supreme court.

We Are National Thought
Leaders

Judges, survivors, lawyers, people from across the nation seek our advice, resources, training and expertise. Decades of litigation work on domestic violence make us uniquely qualified to fill the gaps in pursuit of justice.

We leverage every
dollar

In 2018 we rallied over 3.5 million dollars worth of pro bono legal work from the nation’s top law firms. This means your support goes farther. Every dollar donated has 10 times the impact! 

We Mobilize Top-Notch Lawyers To advocate for survivors

Our pro bono lawyers are some of the best legal minds in the world from top law firms. DV LEAP brings the highest quality resources to bear on the side of vulnerable people.

our core values

Justice
We value justice for survivors and strive for an accessible, fair, legal system that provides for safety and holds offenders accountable.  

Intersectionality*
We value intersectionality and recognize the linkages between, and multiplicity of, a person’s identities, perspectives, abilities, and lived experiences; and intentionally collaborate with diverse individuals and communities to strengthen our work on behalf of survivors.   

Client-centeredness
We value client-centeredness by believing survivors, elevating their voices, supporting their self-empowerment, and using trauma-informed approaches in our work. 

Transformation
We value the transformation of individuals, communities, and systems for a more just, healed, and equitable society, free of domestic violence.  

Integrity
We value integrity and hold ourselves accountable for authenticity, self-awareness, and uprightness in character and action.  

*Definition of intersectionality: Intersectionality describes the multiple identities that people hold simultaneously. It also captures the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups. Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the theory of intersectionality, the idea that when it comes to thinking about how inequalities persist, categories like gender, race, and class are best understood as overlapping and mutually constitutive rather than isolated and distinct.  

Sources: Merriam-Webster. (n.d.).Intersectionality. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/intersectionality Crenshaw, K. (1993). Demarginalizing the interaction of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of anti discrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. In D.Weisberg, (Ed.), Feminist legal theory: Foundations (pp. 383–411).Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Vision

a world where the courts understand abuse and apply just laws to protect survivors

Our History

DV LEAP was founded in 2003 in response to an urgent need for expert appellate litigation to reverse unjust trial court rulings and to protect the legal rights of women and children victimized by family violence. DV LEAP's founder Joan Meier litigated domestic violence cases and participated in local and national law reform effort for decades. Yet she and her colleagues met with increasing resistance in the courts to their advocacy for battered women.

A major turning point occurred in 2002 with the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling in United States v. Ba, concerning Civil Protection Orders. The decision created a loop hole for abusers to claim that their victim actually consented to the violation of the CPO. Since a violation had to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, such a claim was virtually impossible to disprove. This inspired DV LEAP’s Founder to intervene.

This intervention resulted in an alliance with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and six domestic violence organizations. Together they forced a change in the appellate decision. For Joan Meier, this case crystallized her recognition that victims' voices were absent at the appellate level and inspired the founding of DV LEAP.

Our Founder's Story

The satisfaction of seeing the court vindicate true justice for a victim of domestic abuse is like nothing else.

When I began DV LEAP, my greatest fear was that, in the end nothing would change. As a practicing lawyer and professor at George Washington University Law School, I witnessed first-hand survivors of domestic violence reaching out to the courts for protection, both for themselves and their children, only to be denied that protection - often in ways that humiliated or disrespected them, or increased the danger to them and their children.

Most survivors assume that if they come forward honestly, risking their lives and their children’s lives by defying their abuser, the justice system will be there to provide protection and justice. For many reasons thousands of victims experience the very opposite in our nation’s courts.
 
Fifteen years later I can say that we’ve seen progress, but it’s been a hard one. Our successes run the gamut from landmark supreme court victories, to a mother finally seeing the abuse of her child come to an end. Every inch of protection and justice we have obtained for survivors required substantial effort from the lawyers, but even greater courage and sacrifice from the survivors who have persevered in seeking justice and safety through appeal, despite earlier defeats.

At DV LEAP, we take cases where an abuse victim has been wrongfully denied justice, and we appeal their case to a higher court -- mostly free of charge. In winning an appeal we protect the victim and their children, but in doing so, we also impact the law, which wraps all future survivors in that same protection. We believe this unique work creates a ripple effect, which is the key to lasting change in justice for victims of abuse. And we need your help.

I invite you into this work with a determined and hopeful heart.

Sincerely, Joan Meier
Founder, DV LEAP

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Evelyn Becker, Esq.
Board Chair
Pro Bono Consultant
Partner
Baker Botts LLP
Board Treasurer
Partner
CohnReznick
Partner
McGuireWoods LLP
Senior Associate
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
EVP & Chief Legal Officer
National Association of Home Builders
Board Secretary
Partner
Jones Day
Adjunct Professor
Georgetown University
Principal
Joan Wood & Company

Advocacy Council

DV LEAP's Advocacy Council members serve as ambassadors by promoting DV LEAP's mission and programs; organizing educational & outreach events; and hosting fundraisers to support pro bono representation of domestic violence survivors. As a compliment to the DV LEAP Board of Directors, the Advocacy Council is also an opportunity for young professionals to gain exposure to a nonprofit governing body.

Emily Booth
Associate
Morgan Lewis
Amanda DeGroff Munger
Founder/President
The AM Group
Julia Duke
Law Clerk
U.S. District Court, U.S. Virgin Islands
Danielle Fuhrman
George Washington Law Student
Class of 2021
Christa Nicols
Policy Counsel
Brady United Against Gun Violence
Emma O'Rourke-Friel
Law Clerk
U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
Iulia Padeanu Mellon
Associate
Foley Hoag LLP
Taryn Rath
Associate
Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP
Katie Smithgall
Associate
Jones Day
Katherine Sochacki
Associate
Venable LLP
We are expanding!
Email flora@dvleap.org for more information! 

Pro Bono Legal Volunteers

Pro Bono Team of the Year 2019
Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP
Attorneys Claire Chapla, Charlotte Lawson, Kellam Conover, and Amir Tayrani accepting the award at DV LEAP's Tip the Scales 2019 Celebration.

Missing: Gibson Dunn Attorneys Melanie Katsur and Shannon Han

The Gibson Dunn team is recognized for their extraordinary talent and dedication to a critical international child custody case which was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in December of 2019. The attorneys filed brief after powerful brief in multiple courts on behalf of our client, a mother who fled her abusive husband in Italy with their 8-week-old daughter only to have a U.S. court order the child returned to Italy.

This heartbreaking case required the team to master the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Their arguments on the first appeal to the 6th Circuit convinced a vocal dissent in a 10-8 en banc opinion. Refusing to give up, their cert petition was one of the less than 1 percent SCOTUS grants each year. DV LEAP is proud to celebrate the Gibson Dunn team’s superb work on and commitment to this case.            

PRO BONO NETWORK:

  • Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
  • Arent Fox LLP
  • Arnold & Porter LLP
  • ‍Baker McKenzie
  • ‍Ballard Spahr LLP
  • ‍Blank Rome LLP
  • ‍Brown Rudnick LLP
  • ‍Bryan Cave
  • Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
  • ‍Covington & Burling LLP
  • Crowell & Moring LLP
  • Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
  • ‍Dykema Gossett PLLC
  • Faegre Baker Daniels LLP
  • Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell & Bank LLP
  • Foley Hoag LLP
  • Freshfields Bruckhaus & Deringer LLP
  • Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP
  • Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP
  • Goodwin Procter LLP
  • ‍Groom Law Group
  • Herrick Feinstein LLP
  • Hogan & Hartson LLP
  • ‍Hunton & Williams LLP
  • Jenner & Block LLP
  • Jones Day 
  • K & L Gates LLP
  • Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP
  • King & Spalding LLP
  • Kirkland & Ellis LLP
  • Kramon & Graham PA
  • Manatt Phelps & Phillips, LLP
  • Mayer Brown LLP
  • McCarter & English LLP
  • McDermott Will & Emery
  • McGuireWoods LLP
  • Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo P.C.
  • Morgan Lewis & Bockius
  • Morrison & Foerster LLP
  • O'Melveny & Myers, LLP
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP
  • Paul Hastings LLP
  • Perkins Coie LLP
  • Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP
  • Ropes & Gray LLP
  • Schiller DuCanto & Fleck LLP
  • Seyfarth Shaw LLP
  • Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP
  • Sidley Austin LLP
  • Steptoe & Johnson LLP
  • Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP
  • The Kaplan Law Firm PLLC
  • Troutman Sanders LLP
  • Venable LLP
  • Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
  • Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
  • Winston & Strawn LLP
  • Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

2019 Grantors:

The Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
DC Bar Foundation

Want to get in touch with us? Please submit inquiries here

Please fill out the form below if you need help or would like to volunteer your services.  Please note that sending us information does not form an attorney-client relationship and we cannot guarantee that we will be able to help you. Please be sure to include your contact information as well as any upcoming court or fiing deadlines.
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One of the toughest moments for me was during my work with a survivor, who was a recovered crack addict. The way she could make enough to provide for her son was to work as a prostitute at a migrant work camp. It was just a really difficult situation for her and her son. What struck me was just how shrewd and practical she was about it. I remember her saying how it’s the way she can make enough money to support her son because it’s such a large amount of people in a small area.

Her husband was abusive and also a crack addict, but she had gotten herself clean. There were so many layers stacked against her: she was a DV victim, she was a woman of color, she was a single mother, she couldn’t go back to him, and honestly I just came to a place of realizing my own limitations to help. I mean, I could help her get a protective order so he couldn’t hurt her, but there were so many layers.

On the other side of the coin, what I’ve learned is that sometimes just listening to clients’ stories and acknowledging their struggles and pain is meaningful. They are so grateful. It really makes a difference. Just that small act seems so little compared to all the issues clients are facing, but it can be both healing and far reaching.

A recent New York case is a good example of the long term impact our work can have. A custody evaluator who clearly did not like our client, the mom, wrote a very negative report and the court took away her custody based on that report without giving her an opportunity to challenge the information or defend herself. It was a clear violation of her due process rights. We had a positive outcome in that case, and within a one year turnaround, other cases have cited it saying: we can’t do this, because of this ruling -- we can’t take away a parent’s custody rights without giving them an opportunity to be heard in some kind of hearing.

I feel so fortunate to work with the attorneys in our pro bono network, they are smart, professional and truly committed to our mission. For example in one case we had, the abusive father lost custody, but his mother was attempting to gain custody of the child as a roundabout way of maintaining access for her son. The pro-bono legal team devoted endless hours to the case. We spent days getting the briefs just right for the appeal. 

The team is from one of the top law firms in the country and their work is so impressive. And it’s not just the quality of the lawyers--it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. And we could offer this mom the support of a whole legal team--something she never would have been able to afford. This mom had very limited financial resources but that type of legal support is not something even the average middle class person could ever access or afford.

It’s leveled the playing field. You can hear the change just in her voice. She had felt so beaten down. The grandmother has money and is well-respected in the community. Mom takes great care of her son but couldn’t always afford a lawyer and had to represent herself at times. Grandmother’s lawyer took advantage of that and tried to paint her as crazy and unable to properly care for her child. She felt alone, outgunned. But DV LEAP’s involvement has given her her life back. She feels she has a voice, the tables are turned. Mom is harder to bully now.

She is growing more confident with this team behind her; more hopeful.

When the public has trouble believing courts would do this to survivors, first, I try to put myself in their shoes. That was me before I came to DV LEAP. I was a clerk for this really great judge. I practiced in a small town and felt that, for the most part, my clients got justice. Then I came to DV LEAP and there were these cases that were so absurd and contradictory to justice-- I didn’t want them to be true and just had a hard time absorbing it. But over time, the things that we’ve seen... there is no easy way to explain it. The desk is stacked against survivors in so many ways.

So what DV LEAP was able to do is explain to me all these surprises that I wasn’t expecting in the court system. But also, moving forward, they really helped me strategize, like witnesses, how we’re gonna present things, because they’d already seen where things go wrong. It actually helped me a lot in the trial phase. We strategized how we presented the evidence in the custody trial to help us prepare for what we thought was going to be an appeal.  It ended up working out that I got full legal custody. At that point, they ordered like 6 months of supervised visitation which we ended up fighting about for years, and eventually visitation was terminated completely.

When visitation was terminated, *Stephanie was 8. And I said to her, “The judge said you don’t have to go back anymore.” And she looked at me and said, “Are you serious, is this real?” And I said, “It’s very real.” She looked at me and said, “This is the best day ever.”  And she just looked off, and that was the end of it. It was incredible. And ever since then, she’s not had to go back. She is a completely normal and happy kid because she no longer has that fear.

I read articles on a daily basis of somebody [who] tried to leave; their kids were forced back to see the abuser, and those kids are dead. Or the kids and their mom are dead. Nobody who’s in that situation should have to feel like there’s death on either side. You know what I mean?

Every time my kids went to unsupervised visitation, I was worried I’d never see them again.

I am so lucky. I totally lucked out. I think it’s a very rare outcome to be where I am, and I attribute a lot of that to my fortunate circumstances in being able to have Joan guide us through what we were doing.

So what DV LEAP was able to do is explain to me all these surprises that I wasn’t expecting in the court system. But also, moving forward, they really helped me strategize, like witnesses, how we’re gonna present things, because they’d already seen where things go wrong. It actually helped me a lot in the trial phase. We strategized how we presented the evidence in the custody trial to help us prepare for what we thought was going to be an appeal.  It ended up working out that I got full legal custody. At that point, they ordered like 6 months of supervised visitation which we ended up fighting about for years, and eventually visitation was terminated completely.

When visitation was terminated, *Stephanie was 8. And I said to her, “The judge said you don’t have to go back anymore.” And she looked at me and said, “Are you serious, is this real?” And I said, “It’s very real.” She looked at me and said, “This is the best day ever.”  And she just looked off, and that was the end of it. It was incredible. And ever since then, she’s not had to go back. She is a completely normal and happy kid because she no longer has that fear.

Sasha Drobnick
Legal Director
Legal Director
Sasha Drobnick

One of the toughest moments for me was during my work with a survivor, who was a recovered crack addict. The way she could make enough to provide for her son was to work as a prostitute at a migrant work camp. It was just a really difficult situation for her and her son. What struck me was just how shrewd and practical she was about it. I remember her saying how it’s the way she can make enough money to support her son because it’s such a large amount of people in a small area.

Her husband was abusive and also a crack addict, but she had gotten herself clean. There were so many layers stacked against her: she was a DV victim, she was a woman of color, she was a single mother, she couldn’t go back to him, and honestly I just came to a place of realizing my own limitations to help. I mean, I could help her get a protective order so he couldn’t hurt her, but there were so many layers.

On the other side of the coin, what I’ve learned is that sometimes just listening to clients’ stories and acknowledging their struggles and pain is meaningful. They are so grateful. It really makes a difference. Just that small act seems so little compared to all the issues clients are facing, but it can be both healing and far reaching.

A recent New York case is a good example of the long term impact our work can have. A custody evaluator who clearly did not like our client, the mom, wrote a very negative report and the court took away her custody based on that report without giving her an opportunity to challenge the information or defend herself. It was a clear violation of her due process rights. We had a positive outcome in that case, and within a one year turnaround, other cases have cited it saying: we can’t do this, because of this ruling -- we can’t take away a parent’s custody rights without giving them an opportunity to be heard in some kind of hearing.

I feel so fortunate to work with the attorneys in our pro bono network, they are smart, professional and truly committed to our mission. For example in one case we had, the abusive father lost custody, but his mother was attempting to gain custody of the child as a roundabout way of maintaining access for her son. The pro-bono legal team devoted endless hours to the case. We spent days getting the briefs just right for the appeal. 

The team is from one of the top law firms in the country and their work is so impressive. And it’s not just the quality of the lawyers--it takes a tremendous amount of time and energy. And we could offer this mom the support of a whole legal team--something she never would have been able to afford. This mom had very limited financial resources but that type of legal support is not something even the average middle class person could ever access or afford.

It’s leveled the playing field. You can hear the change just in her voice. She had felt so beaten down. The grandmother has money and is well-respected in the community. Mom takes great care of her son but couldn’t always afford a lawyer and had to represent herself at times. Grandmother’s lawyer took advantage of that and tried to paint her as crazy and unable to properly care for her child. She felt alone, outgunned. But DV LEAP’s involvement has given her her life back. She feels she has a voice, the tables are turned. Mom is harder to bully now.

She is growing more confident with this team behind her; more hopeful.

When the public has trouble believing courts would do this to survivors, first, I try to put myself in their shoes. That was me before I came to DV LEAP. I was a clerk for this really great judge. I practiced in a small town and felt that, for the most part, my clients got justice. Then I came to DV LEAP and there were these cases that were so absurd and contradictory to justice-- I didn’t want them to be true and just had a hard time absorbing it. But over time, the things that we’ve seen... there is no easy way to explain it. The desk is stacked against survivors in so many ways.

Unfortunately, my advice to any survivor is: be strategic. You think, I’ll do the right thing, I’ll go into the court and tell them what’s happening. I’ll report what’s happening and I will be able to protect myself and my children. But often that is not what happens. They need to know, the court might not be a friendly place to a survivor. It’s a sad and depressing piece of advice about this institution that is supposed to protect you, but I can’t tell you how many survivors and mothers have come to me saying: I went in and told them, I did what I was supposed to do, and now I’ve lost everything.

Sasha Drobnick is the Legal Director at the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP) in Washington, D.C., where she litigates appeals, conducts trainings and provides consultations on family violence issues. Sasha formerly practiced family and domestic violence law in Maryland with a focus on low income communities and received service awards from both the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence and the Mid-Shore Pro Bono Center. In her early career, Sasha worked extensively in South Africa to promote women’s equal access to higher education. Sasha received her B.A. from Georgetown University and J.D. from New York University School of Law.

Executive Director
Lee Ann De Reus

Lee Ann brings a unique combination of nonprofit leadership and academic scholarship to her role as Executive Director of DV LEAP. An ardent advocate for women's and human rights, she has over two decades of experience linking research and action for change to benefit vulnerable groups in the US and in Africa. Dr. De Reus is an internationally recognized expert on gender, sexualized violence, women’s rights, and activism with speaking engagements at TEDxPSU, the Oslo Freedom Forum, and France24 TV.

She is the co-founder and chair of the board of directors of Panzi Foundation USA, a nonprofit that assists survivors of gender-based violence at Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under her leadership, the funds raised by the Foundation increased tenfold in only four years. Her efforts on behalf of PFUSA were recognized by Purdue University, her alma mater, with the 2017 Distinguished Service Alumni Award. At Penn State Altoona, Dr. De Reus was an associate professor for 20 years in the departments of Human Development and Family Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies where she conducted research on gender-based violence and taught courses on intimate partner and family violence.

Staff Attorney
Elizabeth Vogel

Elizabeth (Lizzy) is a staff attorney at DV LEAP where she contributes to DV LEAP’s efforts to make the law work for survivors of domestic violence.  Lizzy is thrilled to be using the skills and knowledge she gained as a family law litigator over the past five year to create structural change by supporting DV LEAP’s expert pro bono advocacy that advances legal protections for survivors by challenging unjust trial outcomes at the appeals level.  Prior to joining DV LEAP, Lizzy was a family law staff attorney at Bread for the City where she advocated on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. Lizzy started her legal career at Neighborhood Legal Services Program, first as a Howard C. Westwood Fellow and then as an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by The Morrison & Foerster Foundation. Her Equal Justice Works Fellowship focused on the family law needs of teen parents.  

Lizzy obtained her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center,  where she was a recipient of the Jeffrey Crandall Award (awarded annually by Georgetown to one graduating law student for their commitment to legal aid), Equal Justice America Fellowship, and J.W. Saxe Memorial Fund Award. Lizzy received her B.A. from Swarthmore College with a special major in Educational Studies and Political Science. Prior to law school, Lizzy spent five years teaching middle school English in the Bronx. She also received a Master’s Degree in Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education.

Development Associate
Flora Patel

As the youngest hire to the team, Flora brings passion and dedication to her role as Development Associate. In addition to running DV LEAP’s social media pages and website, Flora analyzes data, coordinates events, and cultivates relationships with donors.

Flora discovered her passion for nonprofit work and college football as a student at the University of Georgia where she double majored in International Affairs and Political Science, with a minor in Women’s Studies. She’s has worked for the Human Rights Campaign and with the University of Georgia’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, which opened her eyes to the world of fundraising and development. As a first-generation American and survivor herself, Flora’s desire to help others stems from her own experiences, and she takes pride in that she is able to use her skills to advocate for survivors.

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