The hidden half of domestic violence
How to have eternal life
An Honest Judge
Thursday, January 3, 2002
Judge fines women who return to their alleged abusers
By John Cheves -- Herald-Leader Staff Writer
Domestic violence activists are unhappy with a Fayette District Court
judge who has held women in contempt of court for returning to their
alleged abusers after winning protective orders.
Judge Megan Lake Thornton issued fines of $200 to Robin Hull, 37, and $100
to Jamie Harrison, 20, during hearings Nov. 28 and Dec. 12, respectively.
Domestic violence experts said it's rare in Kentucky for judges to issue
fines in such cases. But in court, Thornton explained that ``it drives me
nuts when people just decide to do whatever they want.''
``In my experience on the bench, I have found that there has been a number
of petitioners who have chosen to come and get an order, and then ignore
the order,'' Thornton said at Hull's hearing, according to a tape of the
``I think that both parties are obligated to follow through with the
order,'' Thornton said. ``You can't have it both ways.''
The judge's frustration is understandable, but she's making a terrible
mistake, said Lisa Beran, an attorney for the Kentucky Domestic Violence
Association. Beran attended the Dec. 12 hearing.
Abused women might flee their attackers several times before they leave
for good because they can't afford a new place to live, or they're still
in love with the man, Beran said.
Punishing abused women for going home -- however unwise their decisions
appear to be -- creates ``a chilling effect'' that can discourage other
women from seeking protective orders, said Sherry Currens, executive
director of the association.
``The risk here is that women will be discouraged from asking for an order
if they think it can get them into trouble later, or if they think a judge
is going to chastise them in a courtroom,'' Currens said.
The facts were similar in the Hull and Harrison cases: The women said they
were abused by men, and they asked the court for emergency-protective
orders that forbid future contact.
But the women returned to the homes they shared with their alleged abusers
before the follow-up hearings typically held two weeks later in such cases.
At those hearings, Thornton said she's offended by women who ask the court
for protective orders, then invalidate them by contacting the men themselves.
A no-contact order is mutually binding, Thornton said, so neither the man
nor the woman should contact the other. Thornton cited both women and
their alleged abusers for contempt.
``When these orders are entered, you don't just do whatever you damn well
please and ignore them,'' the judge said at Harrison's hearing, according
to a tape.
``They are orders of the court,'' she said. ``People are ordered to follow
them, and I don't care which side you're on.''
The women were stunned by the judge's harsh lecture and the fines, said
their lawyer, Cindra Walker of Central Kentucky Legal Services. The women
could not be reached for comment.
``They were in shock,'' Walker said. ``They didn't understand. They hadn't
received any warning on the orders that said they could be held in
contempt of court.''
The women might appeal the contempt citations and fines to circuit court,
Yesterday, Thornton said she can't discuss cases that might be appealed.
But this is the first time she's heard people complain about her contempt
rulings, she added.
``If somebody has a criticism about something that happens in my
courtroom, they ought to call me instead of complaining to the
Herald-Leader,'' Thornton said. ``That's just common courtesy.''
Gov. Paul Patton appointed Thornton to the bench in 1997.
Thornton is usually a good, strong judge, but she's wrong this time, said
Carol Jordan, who runs the governor's Child Abuse and Domestic Violence
It's unusual in Kentucky for a judge to punish women who get a protective
order but go back to their alleged abusers, Jordan said.
``The message to the women here is that the court is not here for your
protection,'' Jordan said.
``These are terribly complex cases, and I certainly would not want to
dismiss the frustrations of the court,'' Jordan said. ``But the primary
concern here needs to be protecting the women. If you start throwing up
roadblocks, you erode that protection.''
Critics said that, aside from the potential chilling effect of Thornton's
rulings, it's not clear she's correct on the law.
Beran said she has researched the law behind protective orders to help
Hull and Harrison with possible appeals. The orders are worded so they
restrain ``the above-named respondent'' -- the alleged abuser -- not the
person who seeks the order, Beran said.
In fact, the General Assembly considered, then discarded, a bill in 2000
that would have specified that protective orders cover both the alleged
victim and the alleged abuser. It was clear to legislators at the time
that the orders are not mutually binding, Beran said.
© 1999, 2000, 2001 Kentucky Connect and the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Herald-Leader Home: http://www.kentuckyconnect.com/heraldleader/index.htm
Thanks to a friend for this article about
a rare honest judge in
Kentucky. Our only comment is that when Carol Jordan (who
runs the governor's Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Services
office) says "The message to the women here is that the court is
not here for your protection", where on earth did Jordan get the
idea that the courts WERE HERE TO PROTECT WOMEN?
We always thought that the courts were supposed to be here to
dispense impartial justice not based on gender.
NOTE: Could it also be that these women that go back to their "abuser" after getting an order of protection knows that NO abuse has taken place? Why would they be afraid to go back if no abuse did take place? This is from the Violence Against Women Act.
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JUNE is Domestic Violence Against Men Awareness Month