Saskia joined BDS’ Family Defense Practice in 2018. She graduated from American University Washington College of Law in 2015, where she was a symposium editor on the Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law; director of Students United, a mentoring program for incarcerated youth; and a student attorney in the Criminal Justice Clinic where she represented youth in delinquency proceedings in Montgomery County, MD. While in law school, Saskia interned at Youth Represent; the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia; Advocates for Children of New York; and for the Honorable Maribeth Raffinan of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Prior to joining BDS, Saskia worked as a Skadden Fellow at Youth Represent where she implemented the organization’s first medical-legal partnership (MLP) dedicated to providing reentry legal services to youth with mental illness. Following her fellowship, Saskia remained with Youth Represent where she continued working with and supervising the MLP, while also helping to implement the organization’s first project focused on working with immigrant youth involved in the criminal justice system.
Prior to law school, Saskia worked as a family therapist at Children’s Village in the community-based Multi-Systemic Therapy program where she worked with New York City families to help keep their children out of the juvenile justice system. She also worked in San Diego, CA where she provided wraparound services and individual and family therapy to homeless and at-risk youth and families.
Saskia earned a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and a M.A. in Marital and Family Therapy from the University of San Diego. Saskia was born in Mexico, and raised in California and Pennsylvania.
KIM, ELISA BOKYUNG
Elisa Bokyung Kim is a Korean licensed social worker and educator. She holds a BS in Applied Psychology from New York University and a MSW from Columbia University. She is committed to centering the lived experiences of marginalized folks and supporting youth and families in living a life without unwarranted state intervention and structural violence. She uses an anti-oppressive, trauma-informed approach to transform punitive practices and meet the needs and wants of communities of color.
Prior to her work at BDS, Elisa was a high school social worker. At the school, she provided individual and group therapy and built a restorative justice program to reflect the needs of youth of color. In addition, she has experience in other court systems, as she worked at The Center for Court Innovation at their Bronx alternative to incarceration youth program and at Bronx Legal Services supporting families impacted by issues of immigration, domestic violence, education, and housing.
LEVITSKAYA, ALEXANDRA (SASHA)
Sasha Levitskaya was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine and immigrated to America as a refugee with her family when she was nine years old. Sasha grew up in Southeastern Massachusetts, with many other immigrant families from places like Cambodia, Portugal, the Dominican Republic and others, which greatly contributed to Sasha’s passion in working with folks from all over the world, to ensure that their voices are heard loudly and that their rights are not infringed upon. Sasha studied Psychology and Eastern Religion at Boston University, focusing on how to use mindfulness and meditation as a way to cope with trauma, stress, and other mental health concerns. Before obtaining her Masters of Social Work from NYU, Sasha worked at the Stanley Street Treatment and Resource Center (SSTAR), one of the oldest dual-diagnosis clinics in New England, as a case manager for the chronically homeless population who were suffering from opiate addictions. In addition, Sasha also led several evidence-based PTSD groups for veterans as well as survivors of domestic violence.
After receiving her MSW, Sasha was employed as a case planner and supervisor at a foster care agency, working with children who have medical and therapeutic needs. It was her work in the foster care system, and seeing how much more support and advocacy parents deserve within the child welfare system that led her to join the Family Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services in April of 2018. Sasha is incredibly impassioned by the tireless work that BDS does for families every day within NYC, and is honored to be a part of such important work.
Brooklyn Defender Services celebrates 10 years of the Family Defense Practice on Thursday June 15th from 7-PM at Ramscale Studio (463 West Street, Penthouse). The night will honor Chris Gottlieb of the NYU Family Defense Clinic, the Child Welfare Organizing Project, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
Brooklyn Defender Services has joined with legal service providers and non-profit organizations that work with child welfare-involved children and families from across New York State to preserve family connections after the termination of parental rights. This statewide coalition is calling itself the Preserving Family Bonds Coalition.
Research shows that children benefit from strong, healthy family bonds. Under current New York law, family court judges are not allowed to protect the rights of children to contact or visit with their biological parents and siblings after parental rights have been terminated, even when the court deems it in the best interest of the children. The Preserving Family Bonds Act (S.5790 – Savino/A.8020 – Joyner) provides that, if it is truly in the best interest of the children to stay connected with their families, then judges may allow them to do so, in a manner that is safe and appropriate.
On July 23rd BDS family defense attorney Wendy Cheng (third from right) presented on a panel with Judge Lillian Wan of Brooklyn Family Court and Lana Yang, an attorney with the Administration of Children’s Services, hosted by the Chinese American Social Services Center. The event focused on explaining the process and procedures of Family Court to new immigrants from China. Information about family court and child neglect proceedings are hard to come by in many immigrant communities, who experience different legal systems and cultural norms in their home countries. Language access creates a major barrier to people learning, and affirming their rights. BDS’s Family Defense Practice has recently translated our “Know Your Rights” materials into Mandarin Chinese. Approximately 50 community members attended this event, and a second panel is being organized as a follow-up.
William is a 2014 graduate of American University Washington College of Law and a native of Queens, NY. Prior to joining BDS, he worked to preserve low income housing in New York’s Lower East Side, leveraging the court system to halt illegal evictions and discourage discriminatory housing practices. Prior to this work, he also served the International Services Division of the American Red Cross, where he engaged the Department of Defense and State to promote the observance of the Geneva Conventions.
During law school, William focused on human rights law. He represented death row inmates and political refugees as part of the International Human Rights law Clinic. He was also a part of the War Crimes Research Office, through which he has worked with the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the Federal Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. William also serves as the chair of Odanadi-US, a NGO supporting the rescue and rehabilitation of human trafficking survivors in southern India.
Kate Blanco is deeply committed to advocating for the public interest and advancing civil rights. Prior to joining the BDS Family Defense Practice in September 2014, she was a Berkeley Law Public Interest Fellow for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. where she assisted in class action litigation and advocacy efforts challenging discriminatory employment, housing, and lending practices.
Ms. Blanco earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law where she served as Senior Articles Editor for the Asian American Law Journal, 3L Class Co-President for the Boalt Hall Student Association, and Organizer for the Women of Color Collective’s Human Trafficking Symposium. She was a law clerk for the East Bay Community Law Center’s Immigration Practice where she assisted undocumented immigrants who have been victims of crime successfully apply for temporary legal status. She also served as a Workers’ Rights Clinic Counselor for the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center where she assisted clients from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds with their employment-related legal issues.
Ms. Blanco earned a B.A. in Political Science from University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, she served as a student counselor for Samahang Philipino Education and Retention project, a student-run program dedicated to addressing institutional and cultural barriers to education and retention. She was born and raised in the Philippines, and immigrated to California with her parents and siblings in 2002.
NOV 6TH CITY BAKERY
Sabrina Calloway joined the BDS team in August 2014 as a PA for Family Defense. Ms. Calloway received her BA in Psychology from York College, CUNY in 2007 where she advocated for student interests as President of the Student Club Council and as a Student Government Senator for 2 terms.
Ms. Calloway previously worked as a Senior Case Planner where she gained substantial experience seeking to meet the best interests of children in the foster care system. It was that experience that made her realize that the rights and needs of parents often are overlooked. This realization ignited her desire to advocate for parents and ensure that they had voices in a one sided system that only seemed to cater to the needs of children and not the family as a unit.
Ms. Calloway’s zeal for advocacy was also honed when she served as the National Director of Philanthropy for the Greek organization Delta Sigma Chi Sorority, Inc., an organization in which she has been a member since 2006.
A longtime resident of Brooklyn, NY, Ms. Calloway will always fight for the needs of those in her community, and is in the process of working to attain her Masters in Social Work to continue that fight from a new perspective.
Julia Hernandez was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York and received her B.A. in Anthropology from SUNY New Paltz. She is a graduate of CUNY Law School where she participated in the Immigrant and Non-Citizen’s Rights Clinic and the Suspension Representation Project. Prior to joining the Family Defense Practice, Julia worked with non-citizens as they fought deportation in U.S. Immigration Court.
Jessica Marcus has been representing indigent parents in Brooklyn who are trying to keep their children out of foster care for more than 15 years. She was a founding member of Brooklyn Family Defense Project (BFDP) which began in July 2007 as the first institutional provider of representation for parents in child protective proceedings in Brooklyn. In 2013, BFDP merged with Brooklyn Defender Services. Prior to the founding of BFDP, Ms. Marcus worked as a staff attorney in the Family Law Unit at South Brooklyn Legal Services, where she represented parents and relatives of children in foster care seeking to reunite their families, and conducted education and outreach regarding the rights of parents with children in the child welfare system.
She began her career as an attorney in 2001 with a two-year fellowship from Equal Justice Works, focusing on the effects of the Adoption and Safe Families Act on families in the permanency hearing stage of child welfare cases. In addition to her work on individual cases, she developed a joint project with the Legal Aid Society and Lawyers for Children to advocate for the Administration for Children’s Services to expand access to housing assistance for families seeking to reunify with children in foster care, or whose children are at risk of foster care placement due to lack of adequate housing.
Ms. Marcus graduated from New York University School of Law, where she was a Sinsheimer Public Service Scholarship recipient and participated in the Family Defense Clinic, which represents parents and relatives of children involved in the child welfare system. In 2006, Ms. Marcus published an article in the NYU Law Review of Law and Social Change on the effects of the federal Welfare Reform Act of 1996 on families involved in the child welfare system.
Sarah joined the BDS Family Defense Practice in June 2014. She received her B.A. from Haverford College in 2005 and her J.D. from Fordham University in 2010.
Before joining BDS, Sarah served as a law clerk to the Honorable Joan N. Ericksen in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, and to Hon. Boyce F. Martin in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Following her clerkships, Sarah joined Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler as a litigation associate. While at Patterson Belknap, she worked on a variety of civil matters and dedicated many hours to the pro bono representation of civilian detainees in a suit against a military contractor.
During law school, Sarah interned at the Capital Appeals Project in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she represented inmates on death row. She also participated in the International Justice Clinic where she assisted in the representation of an individual detained at Guantanamo Bay. At Fordham, Sarah was a Notes & Articles Editor on the Fordham Law Review.
Prior to law school, Sarah worked as a paralegal at the Federal Defenders of New York. She grew up in Maryland and has been living in New York City for more than seven years. She is honored to represent parents as part of BDS’s Family Defense Practice.
Laura Gomez was born in Medellin Colombia and immigrated to NY as a young child. Laura earned a Masters in Mental Health Counseling from Marist College and practiced as a youth and family therapist for two years. After relocating from upstate New York Laura worked in a public school in South Bronx providing individual counseling to middle schoolers, primarily minority and undocumented youth. It was then that Laura learned of the different systemic problems that impact the physical and mental wellbeing of underprivileged youth in New York City. This inspired Laura to seek employment in the child welfare field. Laura worked for several years as a case planner for The Children’s Aid Society, there she worked to reunify families whose children had been placed in therapeutic foster care. In 2014 Laura joined BDS’s Family Defense Practice with the goal of using her experience and drive to advocate for parents impacted by family court.
BDS’s own Shijuade Kadree (Staff Attorney, Family Defense Practice) and Gittel Kagan-Follman (Director of Social Work) discuss foster care in Brooklyn on BK Live.
Chas Budnick received his J.D. and M.S.W. degrees from the New York University Schools of Law and Social Work in 2009. He graduated from Haverford College in 2002, earning his B.A. in Political Science, with a concentration in Peace and Conflict Studies.
Chas has been involved in family defense since 2008. As a law student, he participated in the N.Y.U. Family Defense Clinic, and wrote his student note on incarcerated parents and their children. Since graduating, he has worked at the Brooklyn Family Defense Practice, advocating for indigent parents in abuse, neglect, termination of parental rights, custody, visitation and family offense proceedings.
During graduate school, Chas interned at the Brooklyn Treatment Court, an alternative-to-incarceration program for nonviolent felony and misdemeanor drug offenders arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y. As an intern, he assessed clients’ clinical needs, and developed and recommended treatment plans for clients. Chas also interned at the Center on Violence and Recovery, where he participated in researching and developing projects to address intimate partner violence. Prior to graduate school, Chas worked as a research assistant for syndicated columnist Richard Reeves, and as a Governance Studies Intern at the Brookings Institution.
Chas was born in Charlotte, NC and raised in New Haven, CT.
Emma Alpert is a Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. She first joined BDS’s Family Defense Practice in 2009 as a Yale Law School Public Interest Fellow, focusing on the intersection of housing and child welfare. She has continued to engage in housing advocacy at the individual and policy levels on behalf of families involved in the child welfare system. Since December 2014, Emma has specialized in litigating res ipsa abuse cases.
Emma is a graduate of Yale Law School, where she was a managing editor of the Journal of Law and Feminism and participated in the Capital Punishment, Immigration, and Domestic Violence Clinics. While in law school, she also worked with the San Francisco Affirmative Litigation Project and spent summers interning with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Legal Aid Society of New York’s Homeless Rights Project.
Prior to Law School, Emma earned her B.A. with High Honors from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where she was Phi Beta Kappa, and majored in English, though she wrote her Thesis with the Art History Department. She has worked in Brooklyn and Manhattan as a paralegal, a restaurant server, and a researcher at the Vera Institute of Justice.
Every year more than 300,000 people are arrested in New York City and roughly 100,000 people cycle through the city jail system at a cost to the taxpayer of $167,731 per incarcerated person per year. Most people held on Rikers Island and other borough specific facilities — 75 percent — are awaiting the disposition of their cases and are, thus by law, innocent. More