Domestic violence is a monumentally complex social and legal issue.
“One agency alone can’t resolve this,” says Julie Sullivan Saffren ’80 (printing management).
In an effort to address some of the issues, Saffren and her colleague, Fariba Soroosh, established a program to help low-income litigants in Family Court. For their work on the Domestic Violence Limited Scope Representation (DVLSR) program, the two attorneys received an “Angel Award” from California Lawyer magazine as two of California’s outstanding pro bono lawyers. They were pictured on the cover of the December 2006 issue.
Saffren, a native of Maine, worked for many years in the printing industry after graduating from RIT. She worked for Autologic and Xerox in Southern California, then moved to the Silicon Valley for a job as a product manager with Sun Microsystems. At Sun, she was involved in negotiations to obtain Japanese fonts for Sun workstations – a task that piqued her interest in law.
With the encouragement of her husband, David Saffren, she decided to go to law school, and began studies at Santa Clara University Law School in 1998, attending part time while still working at Sun. She received her law degree in 2002.
“I wasn’t quite sure what area of law I wanted to go into,” Saffren says. “I started working at a local domestic violence agency as a volunteer attorney, which led to a staff job.” When funding for the position was cut, she opened her own law practice in San Jose, focusing on domestic violence, custody and related family law issues.
Soroosh, an employee of the Santa Clara County Superior Court, conceived of DVLSR in 2004, and Saffren joined the planning team a few months later. The project launched in Family Court in January 2006. Volunteer attorneys and certified law students are trained in domestic violence and mentored by more experienced attorneys. The unique program is designed to provide low-income litigants an attorney, whether they are asking for a restraining order or defending against one.
“Domestic violence is a high-stakes arena,” says Saffren, “and yet just a tiny percentage of people have legal representation in Family Court. It’s important that both sides have lawyers, because it’s really a challenge for parents to understand and follow through on what the court orders them to do. Besides representing them in court, we help connect parents to resources. When violence affects a family, both sides need a lot of services, in order to stop the violence, ensure safe contact with children and promote healing.”
Law students aid in the project, and Saffren enjoys the teaching and mentoring aspects of the project. The pro bono project has been very rewarding on many levels.
“I feel like in a small way we’re putting something together to help people deal with the issues they face,” she says. “It’s very gratifying.”
The University Magazine, Spring 2007