This past week I had to face a terrible reality: sometimes, there is no way to prevent the real dangers of domestic violence. I came to this reality after receiving a phone call from a friend of one of my clients, informing me that my client had been severely beaten by her ex-husband during an exchange of their two children in the courtyard of the local police department. My client is currently in intensive care and is unconscious.
I am told by my client's family members that her jaw is broken, her left ear was almost severed off, and she suffers from swelling of her brain. The doctors do not know if she will regain consciousness or suffer permanent brain damage. As you can imagine, this news was devastating to me, as I care very much for my client who I established a close relationship with during the past three years of representing her in her divorce and subsequent child custody battles. I have been agonizing over my work on this case, wondering if I did everything I could do to protect her.
I was hired by my client three years ago. Early in the proceedings my client obtained a permanent restraining order against her ex-husband. The ex-husband and my client had been married and living together, when he tied her up and beat her while the children were in the house. The ex-husband was arrested and he plead guilty to felony domestic violence. This was the end of the marriage, but only the beginning of a long and drawn out custody battle. During the marriage, the ex-husband could not keep a job, and by default, he stayed at home and watched the kids while my client worked ten hours a day to support the family.
I will spare you the details, but I can assure you that the ex-husband was not a model father. In his attempt to gain primary custody of the children, the ex-husband argued to the court that he had a strong pre-existing relationship with the children, and it was in the children's best interests for him to continue as their primary caretaker. As to the domestic violence charges, the ex-husband claimed that the incident was an anomaly and he had learned his lesson by taking court ordered domestic violence classes.
The child custody evaluator and the court ultimately disagreed with the ex-husband and granted my client sole legal and physical custody. The restraining order was extended, and the ex-husband was given visitation with the children a few hours during the week. The Judge also ordered that all transfers of the children were to be in the lobby of the local police station. In preparation for our trial on the custody issue, I reviewed the transcript of the deposition I took of the ex-husband two years prior. I was reminded by how disturbed the ex-husband appeared and the amount of anger he demonstrated towards my client. There was something about his face (especially his eyes) that told me he was crazy and out of touch will reality.
During the deposition, the ex-husband blamed my client for breaking up the marriage and declared that she had baited him into committing domestic violence against her so that she could gain the upper hand in the custody battle. At trial, I relied heavily on the deposition transcript while cross examining the ex-husband and he eventually became unglued. The man's insanity and hostility surfaced once again. By the end of the hearing, the Judge was able to see the real nature of the ex-husband and ordered limited visitation. The Judge also ordered that the ex-husband attend serious counseling before his visitation could ever be expanded. As I was leaving the courtroom I was happy for my client, but I had a weird feeling that, in spite of my best efforts and in spite of the fact that we were victorious by convincing the Court to extend the restraining orders and order that the exchanges were to take place inside the lobby of the police department, that the ex-husband still posed a danger to my client.
In view of the subsequent brutal beating the ex-husband committed upon my client, I now know that my intuition was correct. During the beating the ex-husband repeatedly pounded my client's head against a planter, as their two children watched while sitting in their car a few feet away. The ex-husband was eventually stopped by a bystander and he was arrested and charged with attempted murder. The children are in the care of my client's parents. We are all praying that my client will recover.
Did the system fail? Could this brutal second attack have been prevented? Was there something else I could have done? I don't know. However, I have a few suggestions for those who have been the victims of domestic violence and who still maintain contact with the perpetrator because of child custody issues. 1) Trust your instincts and don't let your guard down. If you fear that you may be the victim of domestic violence, don't be shy in seeking all the available remedies with the court.
2) Consider asking the court to order monitored visitation and that somebody else stand in for you to make the exchanges. 3) If possible, bring someone capable of defending you to the exchanges. 4) Ask the court for permission to video record the transfers so that you can report back to the court when the perpetrator crosses the line. 5) Consider bringing pepper spray, a taser gun, or any other weapon that you can lawfully carry to the exchanges. 6) Finally, consider investing in a security system for your house, including surveillance cameras.
As the above case demonstrates, the legal system does not have all the answers and cannot protect victims of domestic violence, in all cases. In light of this reality, you must take whatever steps you can within the law to protect yourself.
Donald P. Schweitzer Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer 201 South Lake Avenue, Suite 700 Pasadena, California 91101 (626) 683-8113 http://www.PasadenaDomesticViolence.com Mr. Schweitzer is a attorney, who specializes in domestic violence cases. He is a former police officer, and Deputy District Attorney.