Lawyers Journal

Volunteer Spotlight: Flynn-Poppey helps protect assault victims with new law

In what is probably the best possible outcome of a career in government, Elissa Flynn-Poppey went into private practice at the end of the Romney administration with a keen desire to contribute to the greater good.

"I was fortunate to start in public service," said Flynn-Poppey, who served as Romney's deputy legal counsel and executive director of the Judicial Nominating Commission. "Working in government instills a need to give back. You see people at their best and their worst every day. And I absolutely get more than I give."

Flynn-Poppey, an attorney with Mintz Levin, was part of a team of attorneys from the firm who, working pro bono, drafted the legislation that offers protection to victims of sexual assault, criminal stalking and criminal harassment.

She is also a board member of Massachusetts Law Review and a founding member of the Animal Law Practice Group (part of the MBA's Civil Litigation Section). Her involvement in the Animal Law Practice Group came about because of her volunteer work with the MSPCA.

She is able to spend so many hours volunteering in a variety of fields in part because Mintz Levin pays more than lip service to pro bono work.

"They really do believe in giving back," she said. "They are very supportive, even to the point of taking time out of billable hours to make sure the [domestic violence] initiative passed. If I worked somewhere else, it would be a lot more difficult."

A team from Mintz Levin was already working on legislation to allow victims of sexual assault to obtain a restraining order against their attackers. At the time, the law allowed only those who were related to, or in a relationship with, their attackers to apply for restraining orders. The only recourse for those attacked by strangers or friends was to obtain civil restraining orders, an often expensive and time-consuming process, or to press charges, which could be difficult for a variety of reasons.

Flynn-Poppey joined the firm about two years ago, and with her government background and familiarity with legislation, offered to take a look at the draft.

The result was a complete re-write. "We narrowed it, made it more focused," she said. "And we wanted to take a look at both sides, because it is possible for the defendant to become a victim as well."

The final version was unanimously approved by the Legislature, then signed by the governor, on Feb. 9, 2010, less than three months from the refile date. Several victims of sexual assault were waiting for the bill to pass and have already received restraining orders against their attackers. Violation of the orders can result in up to two and a half years in a house of corrections. Flynn-Poppey said one woman told her she felt like it was the first time she could leave her house safely. Her attacker lives in her community.

"It was probably the highlight of my legal career," Flynn-Poppey said. "It's not often that you get to do what you went to law school to do."

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