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Justice for Domestic Violence Survivors

June 27, 2022

Equal Justice Works Fellow Corina Scott L’22 will advocate for the rights of incarcerated domestic violence survivors eligible for re-sentencing or a new trial in New York.

As an Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellow with the Center for Appellate Litigation’s (CAL) Justice First project, Corina Scott L’22 will spend two years advocating on behalf of domestic violence survivors, both in individual capacities and on a broader scale.

“I came to law school because I wanted to challenge mass incarceration,” Scott said. “I wasn’t sure what type of legal work that would ultimately be, but I’m very excited that it’s going to be at CAL, a client-centered appellate defense organization.”

Scott is one of two University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School graduates preparing to embark on an EJW Fellowship dedicated to representing survivors of domestic violence.

About the Project

Scott’s project is designed to address a complicated gap in the New York legal system that has left survivors of domestic violence in a challenging position.

In 2019, New York state passed the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA), which recognized domestic violence as a mitigating factor in certain criminal cases and enabled eligible incarcerated survivors of domestic violence to apply for re-sentencing in accordance with the contemporary legal scheme.

Though the DVSJA was meant to help domestic violence survivors by giving them an avenue by which to pursue justice, errors in the legislation’s drafting render the DVSJA difficult to apply. Prohibitively high evidentiary standards continue to keep many out of the courtroom, and despite the fact that experts have estimated that hundreds of women may be eligible for re-sentencing under this law, fewer than 10 have actually been re-sentenced.

DVSJA will likely be amended, but it is unclear how long that process will take. In the meantime, the attorneys at CAL identified an alternative means to pursue justice for survivors: ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

Advocating for Domestic Violence Survivors

During her Fellowship, Scott will work alongside CAL attorneys to advocate for the rights of incarcerated domestic violence survivors on multiple fronts. For Scott, it was important to design a fellowship that tackled the individual and systemic aspects of how gender-based violence intersects with the criminal justice system.

“I’m grateful to Ropes & Gray for funding my Fellowship because the benefit of it is that I was able to design a very specific proposal that could take an integrated advocacy approach incorporating litigation, policy, and also educational and community outreach,” Scott said.

First, Scott will provide individualized post-conviction legal assistance to incarcerated clients. Working directly with clients – and ensuring that their voices are at the center of her work – was essential to Scott, who specifically sought out a Fellowship with CAL because of their reputation for and philosophy of practicing client-centered lawyering.

Scott’s Fellowship will also include work geared toward advancing long-term legislative solutions. Specifically, she will work with CAL attorneys to amend the DVSJA so that the claims can be brought under the existing statute as was intended, instead of through the alternative avenue of relief identified by the CAL attorneys, the ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

Lastly, Scott will develop a comprehensive body of post-conviction advocacy materials that serve to educate attorneys and judges about both the purpose of New York’s new statute and the reasons why it is crucial for domestic violence to be considered as a cognizable mitigating factor in sentencing.

“The Fellowship is meant to increase access to meaningful representation by educating attorneys and judges on the new mitigation legislation,” Scott said. “It’s also meant to increase the public awareness of the reality that a lot of people who have been victimized by perpetrators of domestic violence are more likely to become enmeshed in the criminal justice system themselves.”

Education for Change

Scott first began working in criminal defense as an undergraduate, where she volunteered with the Appalachian Prison Book Project in Morgantown, West Virginia and interned with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, engaging in a lot of prison-related work. Those experiences inspired her to further explore criminal justice and advocacy in law school.

At the Law School, Scott prioritized opportunities for experiential learning. She pointed to her participation in the Legislative Clinic with Louis S. Rulli, Practice Professor of Law and Director of the clinic, as a pivotal aspect of her growth as a lawyer.

“It was incredibly valuable to get a lot of policy exposure both at my [Clinic] placement with the Brennan Center for Justice in their Democracy Program and in Professor Rulli’s seminar class,” Scott said. “I learned how to draft bills, what language to use in legislation, and pitfalls to avoid in drafting legislation, which are all applicable to the work I’ll be doing at CAL, which is basically rewriting – and hopefully amending – existing legislation. Before this past semester, I didn’t have a strong grasp over what the legislative process entails and strategic ways to go about advocating for amendments to existing statutes. My experience in the Legislative Clinic made me more confident about implementing some of those strategies in my own policy work at CAL.”

In addition to her clinic work, Scott engaged in two externships during her time as a law student – one with the ACLU National Prison Project and one with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights – both of which she credits with augmenting her understanding of how to use impact litigation and policy advocacy together when working toward a strategic goal.

“Both [the ACLU and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights] model an integrated advocacy approach to ensure that litigation doesn’t operate in a vacuum. There are alternate avenues of advocacy that are sometimes more effective,” Scott said. “My externship experiences propelled me to design my fellowship in this multi-pronged way, which I hope will make the project more beneficial and successful for the clients. I feel very lucky to have been able to have these experiences as a law student.”

Launching a Meaningful Career

In reflecting on the work entailed in attaining her EJW Fellowship, Scott emphasized that many people extended their support.

“There was an incredible fellowship team that I felt very supported by,” Scott said. “They were very hands-on in my fellowship process and I’m so grateful.”

Scott noted that Senior Lecturer of Legal Practice Skills Karen U. Lindell acted as an “invaluable mentor;” as did Emily Robb, an attorney at the Youth Sentencing and Reentry Project who supervised Scott’s pro bono work throughout law school, and Demelza Baer, an attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights who supervised Scott’s externship.

Moreover, a team of Law School faculty and staff, including Jamie Reisman and Neta Borshansky in the Office of Career Strategy, helped Scott workshop her Fellowship project proposal and coached her through mock interviews.

Scott’s CAL supervisor, Claudia Trupp, assisted Scott in designing a project that filled a substantial gap within CAL’s existing client services. Additionally, Scott noted that she is grateful to Ropes & Gray, for both their funding and enthusiastic support of her project.

Scott is looking forward to learning from the attorneys at CAL, particularly in their capacity of providing intentionally client-centered direct legal services.

I’m really excited to work at CAL. All of the attorneys I worked with to develop the proposal were helpful, resourceful, insightful and deliberate in helping me craft a proposal that fills an existing and meaningful need and centers the clients,” Scott said. “I wanted to be in a direct legal service sphere that prioritized intentionality in client representation and robust training. I’m very grateful to have ended up in a holistic, client-centered program and I look forward to learning from the CAL attorneys through various litigation and policy initiatives.”

Read more about Fellowship opportunities for law students.