ILNews

Attorneys coping with more domestic violence cases

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

In mid-2012, the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic devoted its family law attorney to handling only domestic violence cases. This was done as part of a partnership the legal clinic formed with the Julian Center in Indianapolis to help address a growing trend of abuse.

Domestic violence has been increasing in recent years along with what family law attorneys are observing as more anger and more meanness. The economy is a well-documented driver of the violent trend that shows as finances get tight in a household, the instance of abusive behavior rises. Although conventional wisdom holds that as the economy recovers and more people return to steady work, the abuse will decline, attorneys are not sure the trend will reverse itself.

abel Abel

“It concerns me,” said Indianapolis attorney Denise Hayden. “I don’t see it getting better because I don’t see that we’re doing anything to resolve the conflicts.”

Little research has been done to confirm or give a detailed overview to what attorneys say they are seeing. Yet, the rising violence is impacting how these lawyers practice. Sometimes the changes are subtle, but the increase translates into more time spent with a client, more patience and more vigilance.

The new partnership between the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic and the Julian Center is just one reflection of more domestic violence victims needing help. Women, men and children can all be victims of abuse. The two organizations joined together, said Josh Abel, executive director of the clinic, in order to provide better service to people trying to flee their abusers.

In addition, the clinic is getting ready to launch a new program for domestic violence victims. The Victims Justice Program will offer legal services beyond family law, expanding into such areas as immigration law.

The need is there because of the recession, Abel said.

“My hope is that it will get better,” he continued, “but I anticipate we will be operating the program for a long time. I’m hopeful things will improve, but still there will always be a need.”

From July 2011 to June 2012, a total of 64 deaths in Indiana were caused by domestic abuse, according to the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The number of abuse victims needing emergency shelter rose to 10,926 while another 21,794 were served through non-residential programs. This compares to the stats compiled from July 2010 to June 2011 when the state recorded 62 domestic violence deaths. Victims needing emergency shelter reached 10,742 and those treated in non-residential services totaled 20,044.

Judy Hester, founding partner of Brazill Hester P.C. in Indianapolis, has seen this increase in domestic violence in her own practice. She has encountered more instances of physical as well as emotional abuse with both men and women being the abuser. Families are hitting each other not only with their fists but also with what they say and, she pointed out, contrary to the popular nursery rhyme about sticks and stones, “words do hurt.”

Households have been thrown into disarray by the economic recession. Jobs have been lost, homes are in foreclosure, and families are under a tremendous stress. Indeed, many divorce cases have couples dividing debts rather than assets. Hester noted, the world is going through difficult times and as couples and families work through their problems, “more meanness, more venom” is coming into the home.

Being an attorney often in the middle of domestic turmoil, Hester stressed the importance of keeping in the right state of mind.

“I try my hardest to keep myself balanced and grounded so it doesn’t affect me because I won’t be as effective an advocate for my clients,” she said.

Hayden has been an attorney for 25 years. In the past, she could have a couple of domestic violence cases cross her desk in a year, but for the last four or five years, she has been getting such cases weekly. Along with the domestic violence, she has encountered more families struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. She recalled one client who was beat by her husband after she threw his prescription pills down the toilet.

Usually when a victim decides to seek legal help, something has happened that pushes him or her over the edge and to the decision to leave the relationship, Hayden said. Typically, these individuals figure because they have no money, their home is in foreclosure or underwater, they have nothing left to lose. Or, they have noticed their children mimicking the violent behavior and they do not want their children witnessing the abuse any longer.

However, getting away from an abusive marriage is difficult. Attorneys may have to set multiple appointments because victims often have trouble getting to places at set times. Also, these clients require a lot more handholding as they work through the divorce process and possibly file for protective orders.

Domestic violence victims do require more attention. A classic domestic violence case is very high maintenance, said Kerry Hyatt Blomquist, staff attorney at the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. These clients take more time and can create a special burden for the system, in part because the frequent use of mediation in divorces will not work in these cases.

“It’s not an issue handled well with a blunt force object and sometimes the system is a blunt force object,” Blomquist said. “One size does not fit all.”

dcomesticThe result, she said, are cases slipping through the cracks and people not being held directly accountable. In turn, when the system does not work, that can have a chilling effect with victims choosing not to access the legal system. 

Hayden counsels her abused clients on the seemingly minute details of their lives, for example, instructing them to lock the car doors after they drop off their children to spend time with the ex-spouse. Sometimes clients will want to rush the proceedings under the impression that the courts are stacked against them and their ex-spouse will get everything anyway.  

Other times, a client will ask that Hayden get a protective order dropped. Hayden will first instruct that client to put that request in writing; then Hayden will tell the client she intends to write a letter back refusing to do so.

On top of all this, Hayden is more attentive and even hyper vigilant. In the courtroom, she is aware who is in the room, who is in the hallway, and who is exiting so as to keep the parties away from each other.

Both Hayden and Blomquist questioned if the rise in violence is not also a reflection that people do not know what a healthy relationship can be.

Working at the ICADV, Blomquist has always encountered the meanness other lawyers have been noticing in recent years, but she attributes the violence to the economy as well as to the culture. She teaches a domestic violence class at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and as part of the course, she shows the students a popular music video to “Love The Way You Lie” which depicts rapper Eminem and singer Rihanna in a violent and sexual relationship.

“I don’t know if we know how to behave anymore,” Blomquist said. “Sometimes I wonder if there is enough preaching from the powers that be on what exactly civil and uncivil behavior is.”•

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

ADVERTISEMENT