Law blog roundup

DisneylandHappy Monday and welcome to what we hope is a smooth holiday work week for you. Here are some news items to ponder as you mentally prepare for your Thursday barbeque:

– An incredibly powerful first-person account of domestic violence and its aftermath.

– More on Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s denial Sunday of a request to stop same-sex marriages in California.

– Maryland’s ban on certain kinds of crib bumpers is now in effect.

– Family court judge tells mother: “You’re going to Disneyland!” (HT: Above the Law)

Law blog roundup

DisneylandHappy Monday and welcome to what we hope is a smooth holiday work week for you. Here are some news items to ponder as you mentally prepare for your Thursday barbeque:

– An incredibly powerful first-person account of domestic violence and its aftermath.

– More on Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s denial Sunday of a request to stop same-sex marriages in California.

– Maryland’s ban on certain kinds of crib bumpers is now in effect.

– Family court judge tells mother: “You’re going to Disneyland!” (HT: Above the Law)

Sonja Sohn’s full testimony at ‘Defending Childhood’ hearing

“I remember lying in bed on alert late one night as I heard an argument brewing in my parents’ bedroom, only to be shocked by the deafening sound of my mother’s jaw being crushed. I remember watching in horror as my mother’s head lay on the chopping block of our kitchen counter while my father held a large butcher’s knife to her throat, as she cried and begged to be put out of her misery.”

When “Wire” actress and activist Sonja Sohn testified at the Defending Childhood Task Force hearing on Tuesday morning, she didn’t speak long — almost exactly 10 minutes — but she managed to fill in the major parts of her life story.

Sohn’s mother was physically abused by her father and it continued to affect her and her family for years.

She brought a small cushion with her to the hearing and placed it at her lower back as she sat. She remained composed throughout her testimony, which she calmly read off of her Macbook Air.

“When you grow up in a household where domestic abuse is a regular occurrence, you see things that — though you may heal from — you will never forget,” she said.

Watch the full video from her testimony below:

Monday law blog round-up

Happy drizzly Monday! Enjoy these law links, hand-picked by yours truly:

Sowing the seeds of tragedy

Tania Arrya has no direct knowledge of the relationship between George Huguely and Yeardley Love, which irrevocably ended with Love’s death at her University of Virginia apartment and Huguely charged with killing her.

But the story and its emerging details sound familiar to Arrya, manager of the Teen Dating Violence Prevention Initiative at the House of Ruth.

“Everyone is at risk to end up in an abusive relationship,” she said Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter what your background is.”

The House of Ruth initiative teaches teens to identify qualities in healthy and unhealthy relationships, and how to be supportive of a victim or deal with a perpetrator of abuse. Teens can’t recognize warning signs unless they know what to look for, Arrya said.

What might start as verbal abuse or physical intimidation can escalate when those tactics stop working, Arrya said Tuesday. For example, Huguely might have removed Love’s computer because it contained evidence of previous threats he made against her, she said.

Arrya also suspects Love’s friends knew about the abuse but maybe not its extent, which might have been partly due to Love’s hiding it.

“You’re far away from home on a college campus and determined to be independent,” Arrya said. “Help might be available, but reaching out for help might be difficult in this age group.”

The sad irony, she pointed out, is that asking for help is the mature thing to do.

Judge Russell speaks

Baltimore County District Court Judge G. Darrell Russell Jr. broke his silence about his controversial decision to marry a man accused of domestic violence and his alleged victim the day of the accused’s trial.

Russell e-mailed and spoke with The Baltimore Sun’s Dan Rodricks, who in a column Sunday described a condition he called “judicial glaze” that can affect district court judges who hear a variation on the same case over and over again.

You can read Russell’s comments here. Russell said he never read the statement of probable cause in the case in order to remain unbiased, “so I had no idea of the nature of the offense until I heard it on TV.”

There were two other passages from Russell’s comments I found interesting. First, on the defense request to postpone the trial so the couple could obtain a marriage license:

I had two options. Grant the postponement whereby they would be wed and later she would not testify, or deny the postponement and the public defender would pray a jury trial, thus giving the defendant a three week postponement and plenty of time to marry. What I did was a third option which cut to the chase. I expedited the inevitable. It’s a mentality engendered by big dockets in Essex and the necessity of moving cases.

Second, on what happened when the couple came back with a marriage license that afternoon after having the standard, 48-hour waiting period waived:

I felt I owed it to them to at least talk to them. I took them back in my chambers and questioned them thoroughly before deciding that they were indeed sincere, and why not legitimize their relationship and their children? It was perhaps my Catholic conscience. This was not a woman in any way in fear for her safety. In the courtroom her body language said that she wasn’t going to be a good witness. She wouldn’t stand next to the state’s attorney but rather clung to the defendant. Incidentally, she has since called to thank me.

Russell concluded that he should have let someone else marry them in retrospect and literally offered a “Mea Culpa” for making an “error of judgment out of good intentions.”

Thoughts?

The mindsets of domestic violence victims

Maybe I’m naive, but two questions gnawed at me as I began reporting my story in Friday’s paper about the District Court judge who married a man suspected of domestic violence to his alleged victim on the day of trial:

1) Why would a victim agree to marry her alleged abuser?

2) Why would she not testify against him?

Prosecutor Stephen Roscher, who heads the family violence division in the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office, summed it up.

“The internal dynamic when we deal with domestic violence victims is completely different than any other crime,” he said.

He and Dorothy Lennig, director of the House of Ruth‘s legal clinic, cited a number of potential contributing factors. Their list is similar to the one offered by the National Center for Victims of Crime.

“Domestic violence is about power and control,” Lennig said.

Knowing that, Roscher has worked with county police on domestic violence case protocol for more than a decade and regularly talks to new recruits about the topic. The strategy, which has been adopted across the country, is to “assume the victim is not going to be cooperative at the time of the trial,” Roscher said.

That’s why police thoroughly document a suspected domestic violence crime scene and get a statement and photos of the victim. That’s why 911 calls are analyzed for “excited utterances” (which can be admitted in court, even though they’re hearsay) and for anything out of the ordinary, Roscher said.

All of this allows Roscher to prosecute a case even without the victim taking the witness stand. It can be challenging, he said, but it’s never impossible.

“There’s never been a murder case where the victim has testified,” Roscher said.

Law blog round-up

Happy Monday!

  •  To put it mildly, fathers’ rights lawyer Dawn Bowie does not like the recent changes to Maryland’s domestic violence laws.
  • “But if I wrote an editorial to the Miami Herald decrying the fact that Obama’s health care plan includes feeding small children to lions, would they publish that too?” Ron Miller sounds off about an anti-health care plan opinion column.
  • Former congressman Dick Armey has left DLA Piper over backlash about his work to defeat the Democrats’ health care proposals.
  • All together now: correlation does not imply causation! (States with a lot of lawyers also have a lot of cocaine use.)
  • Break out the champagne: we went a whole week with no big firm layoffs.
  • Don’t leave an employer off your resume!