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Access to Justice Amidst Injustice: Using Tech to Prove Accountability for Child Abuse

Amy DeFelippis - Acorn Legal Solutions

“Relativity’s Justice for Change program gives us an advantage in an industry where we are always fighting uphill. It gives us an edge to be able to use RelativityOne and find that one detail that saves our case. We are in the business of protecting children, so we need to get around any biases and save these kids and these mothers,” said Cynthia Cummings, a case manager at Child Justice.

As a 501(c)(3) non-profit in the state of Maryland, Child Justice has a strong track record of advocating for children’s rights when the courts fail to protect them in cases of abuse and domestic violence. Recently, attorneys at Child Justice represented a complex family court matter involving child sexual abuse. Through Relativity’s Justice for Change program, they partnered with Acorn Legal Solutions to host and review case documents in RelativityOne.

Fighting Courts’ Biases to Protect Maryland’s Children

When claims of abuse are made, Child Justice steps in to protect Maryland’s children who are “lost in the system” after exposure to family violence, physical and/or sexual abuse, substance addictions, or neglect. Pro bono attorneys working with Child Justice provide abuse victims with highly skilled legal services for lower court and appellate court cases. These free legal services help keep children out of the hands of their abusers.

A substantial portion of Child Justice clients are mothers of color, many of whom are not proficient in English, who are trying to protect their children from abusive fathers. Utilizing RelativityOne makes a critical difference in a legal setting where racial and gender bias exists within courts: hard evidence is needed in these cases, as oral testimony is not often considered reliable.

Due to the allegations of abuse and common counter-allegations regarding mental health, Child Justice's cases involve multiple expert witnesses for multiple-day trials. And since many of the allegations in these cases involve medical and mental health records, each expert has a voluminous document load for their testimony. As a result, one of their biggest challenges for trial is managing and organizing the volume of documents they’ll need to review and, potentially, present to the court. 

“This program is a huge advantage for us. It raises respect for the victims in these cases, who so often fall through the cracks because this is an area where legal services are really expensive, finding good advocacy is hard, and issues are often not seen. This is an enormous improvement,” said Eileen King, founder and executive director of Child Justice.

To support their most recent case, Child Justice had to review thousands of documents—many of them PDFs—to determine patterns within the evidence and create a chronological timeline of abuse.

The Truth Behind the Documents: Using Case Dynamics to Determine History of Abuse

“We don’t have the time or manpower to handle reviewing 4,000 documents 200 times for one specific issue. It’s just not possible. We’re never going to get 100 percent of everything, but Relativity makes it very close once you get to know what search terms to use,” said Ada Husten, a paralegal at Child Justice.

When taking on their case surrounding a high-conflict divorce involving child sexual abuse allegations, Child Justice urgently reached out to the Justice for Change program, which provides free use of Relativity’s cloud-based e-discovery product to organizations doing legal work on behalf of social justice and racial equity. They were paired with Chicago-based Justice for Change partner Acorn Legal Solutions, who could provide access to the e-discovery technology and expertise they needed.

“Acorn had a lot of experience and advanced knowledge of the functionality of Case Dynamics in RelativityOne. They gave us suggestions to automatically load or tag certain things, which saved us so much more time. We didn’t have to explain our litigation experience to Acorn because they already knew what we were talking about, and there wasn’t any misunderstanding or lack of being able to jump from litigation lingo to IT lingo,” said Cynthia.

Through the Justice for Change program, Child Justice was able to use Case Dynamics to get specific about the facts they needed to find in a document and give each fact a timeline. By identifying each fact individually, they were able to create a chronology within Relativity and search by a specific issue or a specific person. They then were able to take those facts and documents, and package them through the reporting function to hand over to the attorneys so they would have a succinct issue packet which they could then use to prepare questions for witnesses at trial.

They also sent the report to the experts who were going to testify, coding relevant documents that were specific to each particular expert and giving them a narrative on that particular issue and any sub-issues.

“Our facts weren’t ambiguous at all. It was one fact after another. We hit them hard because Relativity allowed us to get down into the weeds to find that last detail. Instead of just having one document or a text message supporting that statement, we had 300,” said Ada.

The Power of Partnership

This partnership highlights one of the most essential factors of the Justice for Change program: creating a partnership that allows non-profits like Child Justice to have access to an organizational, time-saving tool along with project managers who have advanced knowledge and expertise.

“We are proud to be a hosting partner of the Justice for Change program, as it fosters an opportunity for us to have a positive impact on racial and social justice in our communities,” said Lia Majid, CEO at Acorn Legal Solutions. “I am grateful that our team can make a difference by democratizing access to e-discovery technology and providing support for those organizations in need of it.”

In this situation, with help from Acorn and RelativityOne, Child Justice was not only able to find one broad issue within the evidence, but had proof to back it up with mass quantities of documentation in that particular category. “We were able to get into the weeds with no stone unturned. Issues were arising that we didn’t even know were there,” Ada remarked.

The breadth of RelativityOne’s capabilities, along with Acorn’s expertise creating time saved, allowed the Child Justice team to protect this child, and turn the tables on the biases of the court system and society. “Because of Relativity, this child was safe, and mom was able to breathe again,” said Eileen.

Justice for Change partners like Acorn Legal Solutions make it possible for non-profit organizations to have access to the technology they need, without having to manually review a large number of documents in a short amount of time.

“We are seeing organizations with the same data challenges our customers face who often can't use technology because of the budget constraints of nonprofit work,” said Johnathan Hill, who leads Relativity’s Justice for Change program. “We’re proud to remove that barrier of technology and play a small role empowering organizations like Child Justice to pursue justice.”

These partnerships create access to justice for those who have been victims of abuse. We hope that stories like these will urge other law firms and non-profit organizations to take action, as there is always a way to create justice in the face of injustice.

Graphics for this article were created by Natalie Andrews.

Learn More about Relativity's Justice for Change Program

Amy DeFelippis is a sales and marketing analyst for Acorn Legal Solutions.