Fighting Domestic Violence

By Adam Brink and Stephanie Tang

Clorox lawyers regularly engage in pro bono work to aid their communities while flexing different legal muscles than they use in their day jobs.

Recently, four Clorox attorneys — ourselves, Melissa Hung and Mark Danis — engaged in a new pro bono initiative. We acted as moot judges to help an attorney with the Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP) prepare for oral arguments before California’s First District Court of Appeal.

The result was a victory for domestic violence survivors in California. (Read a San Francisco Chronicle article about the case here.)

With this win in de la luz Perez v. Torres-Hernandez, the California Court of Appeal held for the first time that evidence of child abuse is relevant to deciding whether to include children as additional protected parties on a protective order. The court also clarified that certain types of actions are relevant and should be considered when deciding whether to renew a restraining order — for example, emotional abuse and abuse against a party’s children.

FVAP got this case published, and trial attorneys throughout the state can now rely on it to help countless abuse survivors and their children gain protection.

We’re so proud of this work to increase access to justice and safety for all domestic violence survivors in California. 

In honor of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Adam and Stephanie discuss the experience volunteering as moot judges for this case.

Adam: The primary goal of the FVAP (which has its offices just a few blocks away from Clorox’s Oakland headquarters) is to help low-income domestic violence victims appeal their cases. An important secondary goal is to build up precedential case law that will bring consistency and clarity at the trial court level. 

Clorox’s involvement in this new initiative was particularly meaningful to us because the Clorox pro bono program started 10 years ago with a commitment to domestic violence victims through day-of court representation of victims pursuing restraining orders. Over the years, the opportunities to get into court have waned, so acting as a moot judge allowed us to continue our commitment and be a part of the next-level domestic violence work occurring in California — right here in our backyard!

Representing a client in the courtroom before a presiding judge is extremely satisfying, exhilarating and scary at the same time. You create a very personal connection with the client — you’ve read her case file, she has confided personal details and she’s looking to you to guide her emotionally and physically through the process that day. The stories you hear and the people you meet stick with you a lifetime. This is very important work. 

The work with the FVAP is special in a different way.  We’re helping to mold how the law is applied through clarification and written opinions. These decisions are followed across the state of California, and may even help shape the application of law in other states. These written opinions are important because they provide clearer guidance on how trial judges deciding future cases should apply the law, which means that a single appellate case can impact trial cases for many individual domestic violence victims.

The FVAP is thinking broadly and potentially impacting thousands of future victims of domestic violence.

Stephanie: The FVAP moot itself was exciting and a little intimidating in its own way. As a non-litigator who does not specialize in family law, sitting in a room surrounded by domestic violence and family law attorneys — people who are intimately familiar with family law, trials and litigation — I wasn’t sure what I was bringing to the table to help the FVAP attorney prepare.

It turns out, though, that most appellate judges, or even trial judges, are not family law experts either. Having an “outside,” broader legal perspective allowed me to ask questions and suggest ways for the FVAP attorney to argue her case in a way that makes clear even to the lay lawyer why her client deserves to win.

Family law experts or not, we were all there to make sure the FVAP attorney was as prepared as possible for potential questions from the appellate judges, and it was gratifying to see the court decide in favor of FVAP’s client.

FVAP is doing important, great work and I’m looking forward to the next moot.