Dangerous Trends, Innovative Responses

Part: 12

Legal Standards Target Protective-Order Breakdowns

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The American Bar Association's new standards for representing domestic-violence victims instruct lawyers how to help clients outside courts, includes enforcing protection orders. Latest story in our "Dangerous Trends, Innovative Responses" series.



Lynn Hecht Schafran

(WOMENSENEWS)--Maria Frances Lauterbach, who was a lance corporal with the U.S. Marines, should be cradling a newborn around now.

Instead, Lauterbach's burnt body was found Jan. 11, weeks after her death on Dec. 14. She was eight months pregnant when she died from a blunt trauma to the head. Her body was discovered in the Jacksonville, N.C., backyard of Cpl. Cesar A. Laurean, also a Marine. Lauterbach's military court-ordered protection order against Laurean expired 10 days after her death.

Lauterbach, 20, was described as a strong spirit who was proud of her Marine service at her Ohio funeral on Feb. 2.

Authorities believe Laurean fled to Mexico on Jan. 11 after giving his wife a note saying that Lauterbach slit her own throat. He was indicted on Jan. 24 by a Jacksonville grand jury on first-degree murder charges. Mexican officials issued a warrant for Lauren's arrest and will extradite him to the United States if he is apprehended.

Military officials said he was not held as a suspect because Lauterbach and Laurean appeared to have a "friendly relationship" despite a rape allegation that occurred in May.

Following that allegation, Lauterbach was given an order of protection by the military. The county sheriff told reporters that he was unaware of the protection order until Jan. 7.

Lauterbach reported that she was raped to military officials and investigators, who issued a protection order that was automatically renewed three times while the investigation was pending. Laurean denied the rape and refused to speak with detectives investigating her disappearance in December.

Flaws in Protective System

However the case turns out, advocates for victims of domestic violence say it spotlights flaws in the enforcement of protection orders. In the Lauterbach case, concerns are focused on the expiration of the murdered woman's protection order--which was issued for different lengths of time when it was renewed--and the lack of communication between military and civilian authorities.

Michelle Garcia, director of the Stalking Resource Center at the Washington-based National Center for Victims of Crimes, says other lapses are all too common.

"It is not unusual (that in) homicides of women, or homicide-suicides between the victim and their offender, there may have been a restraining order in place that clearly was violated," said Garcia. "Ultimately what it comes down to is a piece of paper."

The American Bar Association acknowledged the problem of poorly enforced protective orders in August when it adopted new standards of practice by its Commission on Domestic Violence.

In the preface of the document the Chicago-based lawyers' membership organization says victims are regularly murdered even after courts issue protection orders, "demonstrating that these orders can be ineffective without enforcement and skilled, holistic advocacy."

To ensure that lawyers understand their responsibilities in these cases, American Bar Association lawyer Rebecca Henry is touring the country to present the 52 pages of standards, packaged in a two-part booklet, and explain their importance.

Members of the bar association's Committee on Domestic Violence are also touring the country to present the standards to lawyers and advocates.

Representation Goes Beyond Paperwork

Lynn Hecht Schafran, director of a judicial education program run by the New York-based women's advocacy group Legal Momentum, said the new standards should help more lawyers realize that their representation of an abuse victim goes beyond filing paperwork in court.

"If you get an order of protection, that's just the beginning," Schafran said. "What are you going to do to secure this person's safety over the long term?"

Among other points, the new standards emphasize that orders of protection should be enforced across military and civilian lines and recommend lawyers to make commanders aware of orders of protection.

Even though protection orders are not required by law to be shared between military and civilian courts, the organization encourages cooperative agreements between civil law enforcement and military installations. For example, civilian law enforcement can agree to hold a military offender until military police arrive.

Civilian lawyers are also advised to "take steps to ensure that the commander is apprised of the nature of the proceedings" if a service member violates a military protection order or tries to suspend corresponding proceedings.

Garcia, whose group assisted the American Bar Association with the stalking portion of the guidelines, said that among stalking victims, 28 percent of those who are female and 10 percent of those who are male obtained protective orders. Of these, violations occurred for 69 percent of females, 81 percent of males. Women are 73 percent of stalking victims overall.

In addition, the Department of Justice's most recent data reports that nearly a third of women murdered in 2005--33 percent--were killed by an intimate partner, a proportion that has been increasing. About 1,200 U.S. women are killed by intimate partners every year, according to the most recent national health statistics.

Understanding Violence to Aid Client

The organization's new guidelines urge lawyers to gain both a holistic understanding of domestic violence and its effects in society.

Among the specific pieces of advice to lawyers:

     

  • Doing the utmost to ensure that protection orders are served. Garcia said offenders often avoid home and work to evade being served. "It's really hard to find an effective systemic response with that."

     

     

  • Personally conferring with clients ahead of all court proceedings and referring them to non-legal professionals for additional support and advocacy.

     

     

  • Understanding that victims of domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault have a prism of background emotions that require extra care and attention from the attorney.

     

     

  • Ensuring that a client understands the protection orders and its expiration date or requirements for renewal.

     

     

  • Helping clients with safety planning if necessary and, in custody cases, carefully assessing and discussing the pros and cons of having children testify.

     

Garcia advises stalking victims to understand the pros and cons of protective orders. She said they work when they are enforced and bolster evidence for a potential court battle, but can be dangerous and escalate violence if not effectively enforced.

In her trainings for law enforcers and advocates about helping victims' safety planning she recommended that victims cut off contact with offenders, log any encounters and hand out fliers with an offender's photo to family and friends.

The American Bar Association has published dozens of national standards, available on its Web site. Previous standards--included in lawyers' trainings and often cited in case law and briefs--have covered the representation of children in custody cases and people facing the death penalty.

Garcia said lawyers had to be particularly alert to stalking, which is often a precursor to violence against property or the person seeking the order.

Threats, she said, often aren't obvious.

For example, if a man sends roses to a woman despite a no-contact order, an untrained judge or lawyer might think it's a touching display of an abuser's wish to reunite. The abused woman, Schafran said, feels vulnerable after the violation and "knows it's a threat."

Alison Bowen is a New York City-based reporter covering the presidential campaign for Women's eNews. Her work also appears in the New York Daily News.

This series is supported by a special grant from Mary Kay Inc.

For more information:

ABA Commission on Domestic Violence:
http://www.abanet.org/domviol

Legal Momentum:
http://www.legalmomentum.org/site/PageServer

Note: Women's eNews is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and the contents of Web pages we link to may change without notice.

 
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