Understanding the Other Side

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By Jake Giovati ’23

Growing up I never imagined myself going to college, let alone attending law school. I had a very simple mission: I was the son of a single mother working in law enforcement and I wanted to follow in her footsteps. After some failed attempts at the New York State Law Enforcement Agility Test I decided to enlist in the Air Force and pursue a 4-year career in improving how many push-ups I could do in 60 seconds. After my time on active duty, I transitioned into the Air Force Reserves and began my undergraduate studies in criminal justice. Both my reserve unit and one very special professor in my undergraduate courses pushed me into training that would shape my passion for law: domestic violence prevention. After attending Monroe Community College’s Mentors in Violence Prevention training and helping the 914th Air Refueling Wing roll out their Violence Prevention Program in 2016 I was sure that advocating for the survivors of domestic violence was my calling. I pursued and earned a place in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s class of 2023.

After surviving the ups and downs of a Zoom-based 1L curriculum I was lucky enough to be able to spend my summer with the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo’s Civil Team’s Matrimonial Unit. The Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo represents clients within a certain percentage of the federal poverty line, essentially to provide services to members of the community who cannot afford traditional civil representation. The Civil Team provides housing and bankruptcy assistance, veteran assistance, appellate and reentry assistance along with matrimonial services. When I was first expressing interest in a summer role with the unit in a conversation with Supervising Attorney  Nadine Patterson, I expressed my passion for violence prevention and eagerness to work with survivors of domestic violence. I was informed that, while the bureau did have a lot of cases dealing with domestic violence, they represented the alleged perpetrator more often than not.

At first, I expressed absolutely no interest in working with the defendants of these allegations, I had all intentions of sequestering myself to working on contested or uncontested divorces and lending a helping hand to any cases where they represented a domestic violence survivor. But mere minutes after I arrived for the first day, I was approached by Lillian Medina Esq. to attend an in-person court appearance observing her representing a defendant in Integrated Domestic Violence Court. What is the Integrated Domestic Violence Court? It involves cases of domestic violence that have reached the court system which often have elements of both criminal and civil law. In such situations, while the survivor is seeking orders of protection and pressing criminal charges. they are often in tandem with initiating civil procedures such as divorce filings or custody orders. The dual nature of these cases and the complicated elements of both the civil and criminal claims being handled by one judge provides much needed stability and continuity throughout these proceedings. 

Though I thought the experience would be in tension with my interests, I was wrong. I found that understanding where these alleged perpetrators were coming from, what they did and how they treated everyone in the court system, was an invaluable experience. The difference between a defendant who was struggling with mental health issues, facing trauma from their past and were repentant for their actions were a stark contrast to the defendants who thought the entire system was rigged against them, filled with female attorneys, judges and social workers all out to get them for their role as a father. While I was exposed to some truly nightmarish accusations and gut-wrenching stories, there were other cases. too. These other cases opened the door to understanding, but certainly not excusing, some of these defendants and their behaviors.

I would like to sincerely thank those of you who have donated to the Terry M. Richman Fellowship. As a veteran student I have my own set of challenges unique to other students who have served. Your contributions not only allowed me to attend this internship without financial anxiety, but also allowed for my emotional support dog Penny to have some supervision throughout the summer, something my apartment neighbors are probably just as thankful for! Thanks to you I was able to walk away from this summer with a deeper understanding of the Integrated Domestic Violence Court, the position of these alleged offenders, and civil procedure in general. I’m carrying this knowledge with my passion into my second year of law school as I work as a student attorney with the Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic this fall. Once again thank you for making this a possibility!

Name: Jake Giovati ‘23

Name of Fellowship: Terry M. Richman Fellowship  

Placement: Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo’s Civil Team’s Matrimonial Unit

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “I was able to walk away from this summer with a deeper understanding of the Integrated Domestic Violence Court, the position of these alleged offenders, and civil procedure in general.”