Theresa Jenkins grew up in an abusive household.
She made a promise, at a young age, that she would spend her life working to prevent this from happening to others.
“We are not listening enough to children who are telling us someone is hurting them,” Jenkins said. “To me there shouldn’t be a price tag on stopping childhood trauma.”
Decades later, she is fulfilling that promise to herself by creating the Justice Lawyer League, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to fighting for children’s safety.
The group will take on parent alienation cases, CPS cases and complex custody cases.
Jenkins, a lawyer, specializes in civil litigation, complex custody and divorce cases across the state.
The average cost of a child custody case is “easily over $10,000” and can cost up to $100,000, she said.
Parents left her former law firms without help because they simply could not afford the cost of evaluations, investigators, specialists and attorneys, Jenkins said.
She is teaming up with Lisa Kirsch, a seasoned attorney with experience as a prosecutor and now as criminal defense attorney specializing in sexual abuse and child abuse cases.
“Every day we walk out with the Constitution over our heads,” Kirsch said. “This isn’t about money, this is about being American. This is bigger than money.”
Kirsch once walked a man out of prison after he was exonerated of sexual abuse and said outcomes like that give her hope.
“When you really see justice work after it has failed, that’s when being a lawyer really means something,” she said.
Justice Lawyer League
The women are restoring a historic home along Grand River Avenue in Brighton where the Justice Lawyer League will one day reside.
“The Justice Lawyer League has a home, as well as my law firm and then the building has two other other areas, basements and an apartment upstairs,” she said.
The group plans to partner with LACASA Center in Howell to provide emergency housing for families or partners with large or exotic animals in the upstairs apartment.
“If you have a dog that’s 100-pounds-plus or pit bull for example, a lot of places won’t take you. You should not have to leave your pets behind,” Jenkins said. “That is sometimes what abusers do, they use the animal as leverage.”
The basement of the building is the area Jenkins said she is most excited about.
There she plans to create a safe place where children removed from their homes and taken into emergency custody can “just check out and be a kid.”
Children taken into emergency custody typically go to a local CPS office or police department where officials call family and foster care families looking for someone to take the child, she said.
“There is nothing more traumatic for a child who is taken out of their home because of abuse or neglect and then have them to listen to adults that you don’t know call family members to see if they can take you,” Jenkins said. “Then they have family members that say no or that they can’t; they have to hear that. That’s insane.”
Instead, those children can come to the Justice Lawyer League and spend time in a “safe, warm, clean area where they can just veg while adults do what they need to do,” she said.
She plans to have an area for teens to play video games or journal and a separate toy area for younger children.
Partnering with local churches and organizations, Jenkins hopes to have a closet of clean clothes from which the children can chose something to wear.
The Justice Lawyer League will be funded by donations and a percentage of Jenkins’ civil litigation winnings. Both women will continue to do for-profit work at Kirsch Daskas Law Group while bringing their dream to fruition.
The pair hope to recruit and partner with other like-minded attorneys who would be willing to donate their resources and work cases pro bono.
In return, the Justice Lawyer League will refer clients to participating attorneys for cases that come to the league that don’t fall into their expertise, such as contingency cases such as person injury or wrongful death.
“If you are a lawyer who is willing to donate your time and donate your research to the Justice Lawyer League, we will refer those cases to you as long as you give back on a reduced rate to the league,” Jenkins said. “It’s a win-win.”
The woman are working to get the building ADA-compliant by installing a ramp or lift from the building that will take four to six months.
The Justice Lawyer League plans to have an open house for local businessesafter the restoration is complete, Jenkins said.
Those interested in donating or volunteering can contact Jenkins or Kirsch at [email protected].