For top #MeToo legal duo, a pandemic year brings no pause

She’d simply upended her life by going public with sexual harassment allegations towards New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to the governor, realized that Saturday night time in February that she had no plan for what got here subsequent. She was 25 years previous, and had by no means been within the media highlight. How would she take care of the fallout, each publicly and personally?

She didn’t have lengthy to marvel. The subsequent morning, an e mail arrived from Debra Katz, the identical civil rights lawyer who’d represented Christine Blasey Ford, accuser of Supreme Courtroom Justice Brett Kavanaugh, together with accusers of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and numerous different highly effective males accused of sexual misconduct, most of it alongside together with her skilled accomplice of 20 years, Lisa Banks.

“How are you holding up?” Katz requested Bennett after they linked. Did she have assist or recommendation? Not likely, Bennett mentioned.

“This case is actually why I do that work,” Katz defined, assuring her she’d symbolize her on a professional bono foundation. “It’s why I exist. Let’s do that.”

For many individuals, the pandemic yr has introduced a pause of some variety, or no less than a slowdown, to their skilled endeavors. For Katz and Banks, the alternative has been true. “That is in all probability the largest yr we’ve ever had,” says Banks.

Their work has really been growing for almost 4 years. When the Harvey Weinstein revelations erupted in October 2017, launching the reckoning that grew to become often known as the #MeToo motion, it induced a “sea change,” Katz says.

“We had been inundated — not solely by reside instances however by instances of people that had been harassed a long time in the past however wished to report the problems now, as a result of the one who harassed them was nonetheless in the identical perch,” she says.

Katz and Banks every carry a number of dozen energetic instances at a time — all the things from casual recommendation to full-blown litigation. They seek the advice of one another consistently, starting and ending every day with a dialog, and discussing instances throughout frequent hikes in Rock Creek Park. Banks notes they jokingly name themselves Batman and Robin — she’s Robin, as a result of she’s a decade youthful.


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It’s, shoppers and associates say, an efficient partnership — two very totally different personalities with shared targets.

On the hardest moments, they’ve additionally shared dying threats: Throughout the Kavanaugh hearings, armed guards had been posted 24-7 outdoors their properties and at work, and their automobiles had been checked beneath for explosives. They every struggled to clarify to their households, with out scaring the children, why safety was crucial.

Katz is named the extra fiery in temperament, Banks the cooler. Whistleblower Rick Vibrant, a federal scientist who was compelled out of his job throughout a dispute over an unproven coronavirus remedy pushed by President Trump, says he instantly appreciated how their abilities complement one another.

“Debbie is extra assertive — she’s a driver,” Vibrant says. “Lisa walks me by means of the method, fills me in on what’s taking place every step of the best way.” When he was anxious, it was Banks who would calm him.

Katz freely admits she’s the extra emotional of the 2, who sometimes struggles to not cry when seeing one among her shoppers — Ford, for instance, or the Weinstein accusers — grilled about traumatic experiences.

Ford credit the duo with getting her by means of her gutting testimony within the Senate.

“Debbie and Lisa labored tirelessly in the summertime of 2018 to advise me and to attempt to defend my privateness and to keep up my confidentiality,” Ford wrote in an e mail to The Related Press. “When circumstances modified and my story grew to become public, they fought laborious on my behalf.”

Nevertheless troublesome, the case was “probably the most gratifying skilled expertise I’ve had in my profession,” Katz says — regardless that Kavanaugh was finally confirmed.

“I believe the world modified because of Christine’s testimony,” Katz explains. “Conversations occurred that had by no means taken place … in properties and colleges and synagogues and in church buildings.. We heard from an 80 year-old girl who mentioned, ‘I’ve by no means informed anyone this however once I was in highschool I used to be raped.’ I believe braveness begets braveness.”

The 2 legal professionals take consolation within the victories, and take the lengthy view in relation to setbacks for the motion. When Invoice Cosby’s conviction was overturned and he was launched from jail, many apprehensive aloud that it will have a chilling impact on victims coming ahead. Katz and Banks don’t see it that approach, and reminded everybody that Cosby hadn’t been exonerated.

“It’s at all times disappointing to see people like Cosby not held totally accountable,” Katz says. “However that is NOT a referendum on the #MeToo motion. And it received’t deter prosecutors from going after others when proof signifies misconduct.”

Although Katz is the higher recognized, neither she nor Banks is a family identify like, say, Gloria Allred, the topic of her personal Netflix movie. However they have been dealing with these instances because the beginnings of their careers, impressed to struggle again towards sexual harassment and unequal pay that they themselves skilled.

“A take-charge activist … steeped in Washington and feminist rights,” Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey write of Katz in “She Stated,” their e-book on Weinstein. She does not dispute the time period “activist,” noting she spent “many, many hours” protesting the Trump administration. “However my political activism is separate from my authorized work,” she says.

Katz, 62, began making waves as a regulation scholar on the College of Wisconsin within the early ’80s, the place she left the Regulation Evaluation to protest lack of variety — there had by no means been a Black scholar on workers. (A scholar journal profile known as it a “noisy exit.”) She began a girls’s regulation journal as an alternative.

Upon graduating, Katz received a fellowship that enabled her to work on a landmark sexual misconduct case: Meritor Financial savings Financial institution v. Vinson, during which the Supreme Courtroom acknowledged sexual harassment as a class of discrimination protected by Title VII.

In her earliest jobs, Katz grew to become often known as one of many hardest employees and somebody unafraid to tackle unpopular causes. “I used to be in my 20s, and somebody of their 50s known as me brash and obnoxious,” Katz says. “I suppose I’ve been hardwired all these years at not letting individuals I care about be bullied. I’ve by no means been a desk pounder, however I additionally don’t relinquish floor.”

Bennett, the Cuomo accuser, says she feels Katz is pushed by her outrage at “the very audacity of those individuals in energy who do the issues they do — and that we’re those who need to reside in worry.”

Banks, 53, attended regulation faculty on the College of Denver and spent her early skilled years within the appellate division of the EEOC. She joined Katz at her earlier agency, and in 2006 the 2 broke off and fashioned their very own Washington employment and whistleblower agency, Katz, Marshall & Banks, as Katz was recovering from breast most cancers.

Considered one of Banks’ earliest inspirations got here as a bit of lady, when, an enormous baseball fan, she informed her father she’d prefer to play for the Boston Pink Sox someday — solely to learn there have been no females on the crew. “It struck me as so profoundly unfair and outrageous,” she mentioned. “It actually impressed me to consider intercourse discrimination.”

It is Banks who’s taken the lead on sports-related instances, for instance representing accusers of NFL receiver Antonio Brown, who was dropped by the New England Patriots amid assault allegations. Banks has seen extra blended outcomes after spending the previous yr representing 40 accusers of Washington Soccer Staff proprietor Dan Snyder in his sexual misconduct case. The current NFL motion towards the crew, fining it $10 million, was a mere “slap on the wrist,” says Banks. And but, she says her shoppers do not remorse coming ahead.

“All of the sports activities leagues are attempting to take care of this new world we’re residing in,” Banks says. “There’s no less than an consciousness that new guidelines apply.”

Katz and Banks acknowledge there’s been a little bit of a slowdown in momentum — partly because of the pandemic — because the #MeToo motion strikes towards its fourth anniversary. However, they are saying, any social justice motion goes to have setbacks alongside the best way.

What’s essential now, Katz believes, is that society ”is lastly asking the suitable questions.”

“The dialogue has modified, from does this occur to WHY does this occur, why is that this happening?” she says. “And what’s improper, structurally and with our society, that being harassed and groped and assaulted — at work or in different areas — is only a situation of being feminine?”

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