Legal Aid Pilot Program Helps Rural Victims of Domestic Violence and Abuse in Utah


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A legal pilot project that began earlier this year in Utah is helping victims of domestic violence in rural areas find affordable legal advice to navigate the sometimes confusing maze of protection orders.

More than 10 million people are affected by domestic violence in the United States each year. In rural towns, victims of domestic violence particularly struggle to find affordable legal advice for navigating the maze of protection orders to prevent future harassment or abuse. In Utah alone, there are 13 different types of protection orders ranging from child protection to dating violence to stalking. If the petitioner chooses the wrong or ticks the wrong box, the victim may be denied life-saving protections.

Called the Certified Lawyer Partner Program (CAPP), it certifies that non-lawyer victim advocates can file protection orders on behalf of victims. These advocates are often those who know the needs and rights of victims the best, but so far their hands are tied when it comes to providing valuable legal advice.

“With our certification program, the victims’ lawyer has the power to give legal advice on the type of protection order the victim should seek, assistance in properly drafting the petition, and advice on how to present claims. evidence to the judge or commissioner at the hearing. , all of which are critical to the victim’s success, ”said Susan Griffith, executive director of the Timpanogos Legal Center and professor at Brigham Young University Law. She came up with the idea for CAPP after being contacted by a board member of the Utah Office of Legal Services Innovation, who asked if I had any ideas for a project that would benefit to victims of domestic violence.

“It occurred to me that if we could get permission to allow victim advocates to give legal advice on protection orders after being certified through a training and practice program , victims would benefit from getting legal advice when they need it most – right after the crisis. “Griffith said in an email interview with The Daily Yonder.

“Victims’ rights advocates are often the next to speak with the victim after the police. So I started meeting with experts from across the country on regulatory reform to get a vision for the development of the program.

Along with Hayley Cousin, a recent BYU law graduate who was instrumental in starting CAPP during her pro bono work with the Timpanogos Legal Center, the two began working on CAPP.

“Our first hurdle was that we didn’t have the time or money budgeted to develop the program,” Griffith said. “We contacted Intermountain Healthcare, who generously donated funds to help us launch this program. “

Griffith said victims in rural areas face obstacles that others may not face, including fewer resources available, more frequent conflicts of interest and everyone knowing everyone else in a small community.

Two victim advocates who work in rural areas of the state are Devin Shakespear and Tess Barger.

“Especially in our rural area, we don’t have legal services for victims,” said Shakespear, who works in Kane County in southern Utah. The nearest town with accessible legal services is an hour and a half away, she noted.

“A lot of victims, you don’t have time to take time off from work, they don’t have daycare, they don’t have any means of transport at that time. There are a lot of reasons why they can’t just make it to the next town where they can access this stuff, ”Shakespear said.

“So just being able to have that access right here locally, someone they can call and meet during the day – maybe two days, depending on their schedule – still available and then able to provide that help.” , I think this is essential. “

Before CAPP, Shakespear said, people often asked her for help, but she wasn’t able to provide it.

“I haven’t been able to provide them with legal advice,” she said, adding, “There are many different types of orders in Utah. And so someone might come in and say, “Oh, I need a protection order.” And then they explain their situation. And I know that in fact, they don’t meet those criteria for a protection order, and they should have asked, say, a criminal harassment injunction or just some other kind of order, but I was not allowed to tell them that before the program.

With the program, once the agreements are signed, she can advise them.

Barger, meanwhile, is the director of client services at Seekhaven, a domestic violence service provider located in Moab, Utah, serving Grand and San Juan counties.

“In my role as CAPP’s advocate, I am able to provide legal advice to victims of abuse, which determines what their options are and which option will be best for them,” said Barger.

“And therefore, I am able to provide specific legal advice regarding civil protection orders. And if they are not able to obtain legal representation, I am also able to support them by helping them prepare for the hearings that are being held so that they can obtain permanent protection orders.

This program fills in the gaps as much as possible, she noted.

“What I really see CAPP doing is serving victims who need to navigate the emergency preparedness order process through this trauma-informed lens, which is important to ensure better outcomes for that person on an emotional, physical level, ensuring that they feel capable of the trust services designed to support them and to ensure that they feel validated in their experience ”, a- she added.

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