Program pairs attorneys with domestic violence victims in need

Program pairs attorneys with domestic violence victims in need

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This year alone, more than 750 restraining orders will be granted to domestic violence victims in Jefferson County's Birmingham division alone.

But there is an even greater need for attorneys to help victims navigate through sometimes confusing waters and that's where a new program seeks to help.

The program will pair lawyers with domestic violence victims and a request has been made with all attorneys and law firms in the Jefferson County area regardless of what speciality they practice.

Those who spearheaded the program say just one lawyer handling one case could be the difference between life and death.

"Domestic violence is an epidemic," Judge Brian Huff said. "In family court, I've already seen two or three cases where we've had a victim killed in this past year."

And on a daily basis Huff says he grants anywhere from five to six orders to protect victims. These are men and women who have  been beaten, harassed, abused, sometimes for years.

Many times they come into the legal system looking for, but don't already have legal representation.

"And you could have your case thrown out of court if you don't follow certain protocol. These are cases often times if they're thrown out on a technicality, someone could get seriously wounded or die," said Huff.

The YWCA used to provide free legal help to victims, but when a federal grant was cut, that left a need in the system.

At the same time, the Leitman, Siegal, Payne & Campbell. law firm had young lawyers in need of trial experience. The law firm reached out to Huff, offering seven associates who could take on cases for free.

"The thing that struck us was the enormity of the need to have help," Mort Taylor of Leitman, Siegal, Payne & Campbell said. "I don't want the victims to feel like we're treating it like it's pro bono or charity. I want the victim to know they have our full attention and they do."

Leitman, Siegal, Payne & Campbell normally deals with corporate law, real estate and civil litigation. Taylor says when he and staff members were trained on how to handle domestic violence cases, it wasn't just about learning the law, but the emotional and mental state a victim may be in.

It's training that other attorneys will receive should they step forward and offer their services.

"To think there's a lawyer to say you don't deserve this [the abuse]'s been a gift for victims of violence and especially their families," Allison Dearing, a Jefferson County Family Violence CCR, said.

Attorney Margaret Drew, who's also an expert on domestic violence, will hold a special training session Oct. 18 for lawyers interested in this program.

To find out more about the session or how to offer your services to the program, call Allison Dearing at 205-492-7304. 

If you are a victim in need of assisstance, you can call the YWCA at 205-322-9922.

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