On September 21, 2023, a Rutgers Law Associates (RLA) fellow met a young boy at a ticket counter in Newark Liberty International Airport, handed his passport to United Airlines personnel, and secured his safe return to his father in Ireland. It was the final step in a case that began in April, when the US State Department first reached out to RLA regarding a dispute between an Irish national and his wife, a US citizen who brought their son to live stateside without his consent.
RLA is on a list of law firms occasionally asked by the State Department to take on cases involving individuals from countries falling within The Hague Convention. RLA’s first case of this kind entailed representing a Croatian man who sought to keep his children in New Jersey. This time around, RLA represented an Irish citizen, whose wife brought their son to New Jersey and then determined never to return to Ireland. Once RLA Managing Attorney Andy Rothman determined that the case was viable—and educationally valuable—RLA fellow Olesya Rosner '20 jumped at the chance to try it.
“Being involved in this case was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as international child abduction cases under The Hague Convention are not very common,” she says. “After learning the circumstances of this case, it evolved from a matter of obtaining quite a unique experience into a passionate project of righting a wrong and reuniting a father with his abducted son.”
Rosner handled all the pre-trial preparation, including interviewing witnesses, researching Hague Convention laws, determining the best approach for the trial, and maintaining communication with the client. When her fellowship ended, she passed the baton to Sara Callow '22, who had a week and a half to learn the case and meet daily deadlines for briefs, witness lists, and more before appearing in federal district court. Opposing counsel mounted a fierce defense and included a team of accomplished attorneys from a prominent New Jersey law firm, but Callow held her own. Ultimately, in a 66-page opinion, the court ordered the child’s return to Ireland and his father, and invited RLA’s application for attorney fees (amounting to about $60,000).
“This was my first case in front of a federal judge and it was pretty intimidating because I was up against two partners from a large firm,” Callow says. “My confidence has skyrocketed because of this experience. I know I did my absolute best, I am very proud of the work I did, and my client was ecstatic with the outcome. That means a lot to me because I came into law wanting to help people.”
Notably, the judge invited Callow into judge’s chambers after her win, praised her courtroom skills, and offered a critique of her performance along with an invitation to follow up.
“For a federal district court judge to offer mentorship to a fellow is, frankly, unbelievable; but it’s also incredibly validating that the judge recognized Callow’s win against a team of lawyers from one of New Jersey’s most highly respected law firms,” Rothman says. “It goes to show that RLA is truly an experience like no other.”
RLA offers recent law school graduates a one-year residency option in Camden or Newark, modeled after medical school residencies, in which participants practice law full time under close supervision and instruction, providing a variety of legal services to low and moderate income New Jersey residents.