Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Driving Miss Daisy Fast and Furious

I hate domestic violence hearings.  For a long time, I denied that simple truth.  I said I did them.  I would appear in district court with my client, hating every moment.  Sometimes I would win, sometimes lose.  The outcome had no effect on how much I hated it.  Finally, I realized that some of my colleagues actually liked them.  They would get a gleam in their eyes at the mention of a chance to try a domestic violence case.  I decided they should do mine.  Now they do.  We are all much happier.

Why do I so dislike domestic violence hearings?  It is not because I have any personal feelings on the advisability of trying one of these cases.  It is certainly not because I don't think domestic violence occurs and its victims need protection.  It's not that I can't present a domestic violence case successfully to a judge, because I can.  It took me a long time and a lot of soul-searching to understand my intense reaction.  I hate them because the entire process, by its very nature, is directly contrary to the way I handle family law cases.  At a certain age, I think you can afford to be true to yourself.  So I am.

What do I mean by all of this?  The world of district court domestic violence hearings moves fast.  The reason it moves fast is that there are a lot of cases on a three hour docket and the court has to get through all of them.  You can have a hearing, and your hearing can take longer, but it might not be just then.  It might have to be in a day or two or three.  All the witnesses will have to come back.  Whether you represent the victim or the perpetrator, your client is highly anxious.  They're afraid - of more abuse, of a finding affecting their job, of safety, of having a place to live.  Every day the case is delayed keeps them in this extreme place of limbo.  You feel their fear and their anxiety.  Frankly, though, you don't really have time to deal with it.  The court wants you to settle.  Did I mention they have a full docket?  There are a lot of pieces to resolve to reach a settlement, and the clock is ticking.  You don't have a lot of time to deal with all the issues.  You don't have a lot of time to discuss and explore options with your client - you know, that client who is so anxious and afraid that they don't understand half of what you're saying anyway.  The client is overwhelmed.  You're not sure they understand. You, however, do understand.  You know what they need and what they can get in this setting.  You tell them what they need to do.  They listen because they trust you.  You make the decision for them and tell them that's what they need to do.  The case settles.  The client feels hit by a truck.  You know it's a good result, you know the client will eventually see that it was a good result, but right now, you're not so sure.

Back up in the last paragraph to where I said that you know what they need.  What I said from that point on is why I don't like trying domestic violence hearings.  I like to make sure my clients know all the facts, understand their options and have time and space to deliberate, discuss and decide.  I don't like making their decisions for them.  I prefer to work with them.  I don't like not having that space to know that they fully understand what's going on.  I don't want to have to guess and make assumptions about their understanding.  Some lawyers are good at it and comfortable with it.  I'm not one of them.  So I refer out my domestic violence hearings.  Everyone is happier.  Here in the Trenches.

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