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Attorneys coping with more domestic violence cases

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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.”•

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  1. Applause, applause, applause ..... but, is this duty to serve the constitutional order not much more incumbent upon the State, whose only aim is to be pure and unadulterated justice, than defense counsel, who is also charged with gaining a result for a client? I agree both are responsible, but it seems to me that the government attorneys bear a burden much heavier than defense counsel .... "“I note, much as we did in Mechling v. State, 16 N.E.3d 1015 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014), trans. denied, that the attorneys representing the State and the defendant are both officers of the court and have a responsibility to correct any obvious errors at the time they are committed."

  2. Do I have to hire an attorney to get co-guardianship of my brother? My father has guardianship and my older sister was his co-guardian until this Dec 2014 when she passed and my father was me to go on as the co-guardian, but funds are limit and we need to get this process taken care of quickly as our fathers health isn't the greatest. So please advise me if there is anyway to do this our self or if it requires a lawyer? Thank you

  3. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  4. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  5. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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