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Peter Romary, a partner in a two-lawyer firm in Greenville, N.C., didn’t intend to become a pro bono hero when he was asked seven years ago to take a domestic violence case. “I was like many people,” said Romary, whose practice centers on personal injury, workers’ compensation and criminal defense. His first thought was, “Oh gosh, pro bono, what is this going to take?” The case involved a woman who had been beaten by her husband in front of their 5-year-old, who suffered from cerebral palsy. It touched him immensely. So for seven years he has taken on about 100 domestic violence cases a year. Romary, a transplanted Englishman, had been practicing for a year-and-a-half when he took that first pro bono case: “I freely admit that I was one of those people who, before I began, did not pay attention to domestic violence.” With a baby at home, it left him heartbroken, particularly the effect of the violence on the child. “That brought it home that it’s everyone’s business,” he said. Since then, he’s worked closely with the sheriff’s department, which established a domestic violence unit in 1997. REPRESENTING WOMEN Romary handles only the domestic-violence part of a case, helping women getting restraining orders, persuading judges to impose immediate child support and occasionally assisting with criminal charges, if clients request it. “We’ve got a lot of good attorneys,” said Sergeant John Guard of the office’s domestic violence unit, but he singles out Romary as the star. “If I ever need anything in that area, he’s always the one. You don’t find attorneys like him.” Most cases take about 10 hours total, but many are demanding and can require a full evidentiary hearing lasting two days. “This is a place where there’s a big hunting culture,” said Romary. “People fight these cases very hard, partly because of the stigma but also because of federal law — they would lose their guns.” He doesn’t screen his cases for income level, and never asks about a referral’s financial status because he knows that most people who are coming to him are in crisis and don’t have access to money, even if they have some. Another firm rule: If a client goes back to an abuser, he never asks why if she returns to him for help. Romary is essentially self-taught on the subject, though he has attended conferences and read about battered women. Now he’s often the one doing the lecturing. “He helps with the training,” said Guard, who has invited him to lecture to police officers. “He motivates other law enforcement because he really paints a picture of what domestic violence does to the family.” Among Romary’s notable recent cases is one that took more than 600 hours in the last five years. The woman had brought four criminal warrants against her husband. In turn, he filed a warrant against her for criminal trespass when she picked up her child from his house. Also, for several years, Romary represented a woman who’d been shot twice in front of her 5-year-old son. In another case, he helped secure a teacher’s reinstatement after the school board fired her when she got a restraining order against her husband. The board feared he would be a threat to schoolchildren. Lawyer Michael Holloman, who nominated Romary for the NLJ Pro Bono Award, said he spoke to Romary upon moving to Greenville. “Early on he reminded me of my pro bono responsibility, providing the names of local legal and domestic-violence services,” Holloman said. “I know Peter has done the same for many other lawyers in this district and others.” Romary credits his partner Jeremy Tanner with helping to hold the fort while he is tied up in his pro bono responsibilities. “Without him, I couldn’t do it,” said Romary. Tanner said, “The cases Peter handles on a weekly basis are not the subject of national headlines, nor are they cases involving our national security or doing such things as challenging the death penalty; they are not glamorous. The cases Peter handles are, however, cases that save lives one at a time.”

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