January 03, 2019 05:59 AM
Domestic abuse victims seeking an order of protection in Hennepin County will soon get more legal help. The county is creating a new full-time position based in the county attorney’s Domestic Abuse Service Center.
“The difference of just having an attorney helping a victim seek a protective order is dramatic,” said Lilo Schluender, a supervising attorney for Central Minnesota Legal Services.
Three days a week, the nonprofit has a team of lawyers providing free legal advice and representation to those seeking an order of protection at the Hennepin County Family Justice Center. They entered the partnership with the county last year.
“In some of our worst cases, we're asking victims of sexual assault and severe domestic abuse to have to testify in open court with their abuser only sitting a chair away,” said Schluender. “To do that alone, without any legal assistance or anyone sitting next to them, has felt cruel.”
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They represent 75 to 100 people each month who are seeking protection.
“That is a drop in the bucket of the people who are there at the courthouse,” she said. “So the need is great.”
Right now, they don’t meet the victim until the day of their court hearing. In March, they’ll start the new partnership with the county with a lawyer based in the Domestic Abuse Service Center.
It will allow them to meet with the victim 10 days to two weeks earlier, at the beginning of the process.
“Days can be really important especially when you’re working with the really vulnerable people our office specializes in,” said Schluender.
The extra time will give their legal team the ability to subpoena the officers who responded to the violent incident.
“That can have a huge impact on whether a victim is going to be believed and get the protection they need,” she said.
This $83,000 contract will be less expensive than the current agreement, which is $100,000.
“Our goal has been to get ahead of the curve,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Debbie Goettel.
She said it will provide more access to services. These cases can create housing and childcare challenges.
“Bringing it into the County Attorney's Office gave us the opportunity to put wrap around services around these women and the families,” she said. “Those are the kinds of things we can give to them right away and we can give them emergency services.”
People seeking help will need to qualify as low income.
Central Minnesota Legal Services serves 21 counties. If you, or a loved one, needs legal assistance you can contact them here.
Updated: January 03, 2019 05:59 AM
Created: January 02, 2019 10:04 PM
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