Liz’s story involves extensive cross country and cross jurisdictional assistance. Liz had been employed by the Defendants (a wife and husband) as a housekeeper during the First Defendant’s deployment in Berlin by the US State Department. During her employment by the Defendants, Liz was subjected to involuntary servitude, forced labour, human trafficking and sexual abuse. Liz managed to escape Berlin and the Defendants by the skin of her teeth. Liz has never been able to tell her husband about her experiences.
Liz was initially represented pro bono in this matter by a U.S. law firm that conducts pro bono work in a broad range of areas from human rights and civil liberties matters to death penalty challenges.
Liz was brought to the United States by the Government of the United States. She was told at the time that she would serve as a witness in a criminal case against the Defendants, and it was for this purpose that she agreed to relocate to the United States. Liz has a T-visa that allows her to remain in the United States and in the future she may adjust her status to that of a legal permanent resident. Liz currently resides in the United States in conditions of severe poverty, unable to work because of the trauma she suffered at the hands of the Defendants. She resides with her husband in a small, basement apartment and the family lives on public assistance due to their very low income.
With the assistance of her US pro bono attorneys Liz commenced a civil action against the Defendants in the US District Court in 2011, with her claim resulting from her employment in Germany by the Defendants and subsequent subjection to sexual servitude and human trafficking. In 2012 Liz was awarded over US$3.3 million in damages. An asset search in the US did not reveal any assets for enforcement of this judgment and the Defendants ultimately fled the jurisdiction before the judgment was able to be enforced against them.
Salvos Legal became involved in Liz’s case when the founder and president of The Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Centre in Washington DC contacted Luke via The Salvation Army’s safe house for trafficked persons in Australia. The Defendants had moved to Victoria, Australia and given the nature of the case and the commitment of The Salvation Army to combat all forms of human trafficking, Salvos Legal was willing and able to assist Liz.
In 2013, Salvos Legal engaged private investigation firm Wise McGrath to conduct investigations into the whereabouts of the Defendants and determine, if possible, if they owned assets in Australia.
With the expert assistance of Wise McGrath (pro bono), Salvos Legal was able to track down the First Defendant, conduct a stakeout of her premises so as to serve her with an order freezing all her assets within Australia and commence formal proceedings against her in the Supreme Court of Victoria in 2014 asking the court to recognise the US judgment and allow us to execute on it on behalf of Liz. During the course of the proceedings, it transpired that the Second Defendant had died in 2012.
Liz so feared for her safety and the safety of her family that she has been known throughout the proceedings under a pseudonym and Salvos Legal were able to maintain that protection for Liz here in Australia.
Salvos Legal could not have taken on this case were it not for her highly competent counsel in Melbourne and the unwavering support of The Salvation Army’s Urban Justice Centre in Bourke Street, a related pro bono legal service run by The Salvation Army in Melbourne.
Salvos Legal prepared and filed an application for Summary Judgment asking the court to find in our favour, on the basis that the case was un-defendable and the matter was set down for hearing. Whilst we were confident of our prospects of success, the case was far from straightforward – there were a series of conflicting decisions of courts in various jurisdictions on technical points relevant to the case, and it was clear that the law was not properly settled yet in Australia.
In December 2014, Liz’s summary judgment application was heard in the Supreme Court of Victoria and the judge finally handed down his decision in March 2015. The judge found in our favour and ordered the First Defendant to pay Liz the full amount of the US judgment, plus costs and interest.
During the case, asset searches had already been undertaken by the forensic accountants instructed by Salvos Legal. It transpired that the First Defendant’s disclosed assets did not cover the amount of the judgment debt owed to Liz. If the Australian judgment was enforced in full the First Defendant faced bankruptcy in Australia and possibly in the US, and Liz would be unlikely to ever see the full amount of the judgment. In addition, the First Defendant’s lawyers said she was prepared to commence an appeal on some complex points of law that had arisen during the summary judgment application and hearing.
What followed was two grueling days of mediation in Melbourne, Sydney and Washington via skype. Eventually, a successful outcome was ultimately reached whereby Liz can now receive a very significant sum of money which will allow her to live comfortably with her husband and family in the US, without having to worry about the possibility of the First Defendant dragging the case through appeal courts and in doing so, expending all her available assets. The shadow of this case that has hung over Liz’s life for many years has finally been put to rest.
This case would not have been possible without the tireless support of our friends in Sydney and Melbourne, from Wise McGrath who successfully tracked the First Defendant down, expert forensic accountants, Mills Oakley who assisted us in the lead up to the summary judgment hearing, the Urban Justice Centre and our barrister (a very brilliant legal academic who decided to become a barrister…and this was his first case!).