John Loranger joined the Brooklyn Defender Services Family Defense Practice as a Staff Attorney in September 2018, after graduating from the City University of New York School of Law in May. At CUNY, John was a Graduate Fellow and volunteered with the Parole Preparation Project, where he and a partner helped two men incarcerated for decades win their freedom through parole hearings. In 2017, he published a note in the CUNY Law Review Footnote Forum on the First Amendment implications of the spate of anti-protest bills in state legislatures targeting a wide array of progressive social movements.
During his law school years, John became committed to working in the field of Family Defense after interning with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem and BDS Family Defense Practices. He also interned with the New York County Defenders and the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the Legal Aid Society.
Prior to attending CUNY, John worked on a small organic farm just north of Seattle, Washington. He graduated cum laude with a B.A. in History from Whitman College in 2011.
John was born in Anchorage, Alaska and grew up outside of Houston, Texas.
Noran Elzarka joined BDS’s Family Defense Practice in 2018. Noran is a graduate of The City of New York School of Law, where she participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic and served as a student attorney with CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility). Through CLEAR, she worked to counter post- 9/11 policies and practices that have particularly affected Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and other communities in NYC and facilitated numerous Know Your Rights workshops. Noran was also active with the National Lawyers Guild’s Parole Preparation Project, collaborating with and advocating for people eligible for parole who are serving indeterminate sentences in NY State prisons. During law school, Noran interned with BDS’s Immigration Practice, The Federal Defenders of New York, The Legal Aid Society, and The New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
Noran graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Drew University in Madison, NJ. Her honors thesis examined the intersections between the prison-industrial complex and the military-industrial complex and the ways in which two racialized wars, the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror”, exacerbate one another and the implications of militarization for Black, Brown, and Muslim communities.
Amy Mulzer happily re-joined the Family Defense Project in 2018 as a Staff Attorney for Law and Appeals. Prior to that, she was a Clinical Instructor in Brooklyn Law School’s Disability and Civil Rights Clinic, where she supervised students in their representation of low-income New Yorkers with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She also taught for two years in New York University Law School’s 1L Lawyering program.
Amy has previously represented parents at the trial level as a staff attorney at the Brooklyn Family Defense Project and the Bronx Defenders, and on appeal as a member of the 18B appellate panel for the Appellate Division, Second Department. She began her legal career as a clerk for Judge Jack B. Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York, and then as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, where she represented families seeking access to the NYC shelter system.
Amy received her JD from Columbia University School of Law and her BA from Bard College. She is originally from Detroit, Michigan.
Hady joined BDS’s Family Defense Practice in July 2018. He was born and raised in Florida and is a 2015 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. At Georgetown, he took part in the asylum law clinic, the Center for Applied Legal Studies, while also concentrating his studies on international humanitarian and human rights law.
After graduating from GULC in 2015, Hady worked with the International Refugee Assistance Project’s Amman, Jordan Field Office, where he represented Syrian and Iraqi refugees in resettlement proceedings before US Citizenship and Immigration Services and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. From January to June 2018, Hady worked as a consultant for a UN Development Programme project based in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
An avid urban cyclist, Hady is excited about living in a place where he can bike to work!
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.
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.
Prior to joining BDS, Heather worked to defend the rights of low-income tenants in Brooklyn. Heather joined the Brooklyn Defender Services Family Defense Practice as a Staff Attorney in May 2017. She is very excited to be a part of this holistic team that is fighting for justice on behalf of parents and families!
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.
Ashley is excited to be a part of BDS’s Family Defense Practice.
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.
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.
Moshammet A.K. Rhodd was born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. Moshammet fell in love with law in the fifth grade, where she was first introduced to the Supreme Court by a program that was sponsored by the Brooklyn ADA office.
Moshammet attended Middle College HS at Medgar Evers where she later interned at the Center for Law and Social Justice. She also attended BMCC and the College of New Rochelle. Moshammet began working at Brooklyn Defenders Services Family Defense Practice as a Receptionist in 2012; she challenged herself as she transitioned into other roles, first as an Administrative Assistant and now FDP’s Court Coordinator.
Moshammet believes that there is no other kind of work that can be more satisfying than helping individuals that live in the community where she was born, raised, and still lives. “I’m also working on being a better person and helping to create a better tomorrow.”
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.
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 the Supervisor for Medically Complicated Cases at Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Practice. She first joined BDS’s Family Defense Practice in 2009. In 2014, Emma developed a specialized practice for Res Ipsa and Medically Complicated child welfare cases. As supervisor of these cases, she has helped to build BDS’ institutional knowledge of medical issues; cultivates our network of experts with whom to consult; and trains attorneys in effective trial strategies for clearly and persuasively presenting medically complex evidence to the Court.
When she joined BDS, Emma was a Yale Law School Public Interest Fellow focusing on the intersection of housing and child welfare. Throughout the years, she has continued to engage in housing advocacy at the individual and policy levels and participates on behalf of BDS in several city-wide committees aiming to improve housing opportunities for families involved in the child welfare system.
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, majored in English, and wrote her Honors Thesis in Art History. 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