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EQUAL LAWYER PROPOSAL IN DV CASES IRRITATES SOME ADVOCATES A task force pulled together by California Chief Justice Ronald George to improve the handling of domestic violence cases got plenty of praise during a public hearing in San Francisco last week. But there also were a few words of warning � particularly regarding a controversial proposal to ensure that accused batterers, as well as their victims, have lawyers to seek restraining orders. “Our personal experience,” said Susan Roberts, staff attorney for Richmond-based Bay Area Legal Aid, “is that when batterers have legal representation, they are more likely to use the process to perpetuate a pattern of abuse.” Beverly Upton, executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, agreed, saying that the granting of mutual restraining orders “undermines the domestic violence victim’s faith in the system” and doesn’t provide that person meaningful protection. “It sends the message that the community did not believe them,” she said, “and that they are as guilty as the perpetrator.” But Julie Saffren, a solo practitioner who helped found San Jose’s Domestic Violence Limited Scope Representation Project, had a different view on the proposal. She told the task force that it is “not a satisfying legal victory” when she represents an alleged victim against a non-English-speaking defendant who has no lawyer. That kind of person, she said, leaves the courtroom bitter and more dangerous than ever. “We aim for family-centric orders,” Saffren said. Wednesday’s hearing in the Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building was the second this month for the task force, with the first taking place in Los Angeles. The group was seeking input from the public and legal experts on several proposals aimed at ensuring “fair and accessible justice” for all litigants in domestic violence cases. Last week’s hearing began with opening remarks by Laurence Kay, chairman of the task force and a former justice on the First District Court of Appeal, and by San Francisco Superior Court Presiding Judge David Ballati. Speakers included not only experts on domestic violence issues, but also prosecutors, family law attorneys, women’s advocates and judges. Besides discussing legal representation for alleged batterers, speakers at the morning session of the five-hour hearing also called on the task force to implement existing state laws on domestic violence and to beef up courthouse security. “San Francisco has done a lot [toward security],” Upton said, “but, as you know, funding in this area is scarce. We’re worried about having a homicide occur” in the courthouse.

Mike McKee

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