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Saturday, November 28, 2015




NOW extends our heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed, and our wishes for the healing and well-being of those wounded in the assault on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.

Let’s be clear: this was an act of domestic terrorism. NOW calls for a full federal investigation into the shooter and any others who may be connected with his act. Terrorists do not act alone. Everyone implicated in this vicious crime — not just the gunman — must be rooted out and held accountable for their acts.
Since last summer, phony videos have circulated, falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of illegal actions. Those videos crossed the line of decency, humanity and legality. But instead of renouncing them, extremist members of Congress, their staffers, operatives and even a Supreme Court justice’s wife relentlessly promoted the videos to whip up a frenzy of hate against women’s health providers. 
And now we have a fanatic with a gun rampaging in a Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and wounding many others.
We must call this what it is — domestic terrorism — and prosecute it as such. And we must reject the use of deception and hate to further a political ideological agenda.
NOW is proud to #StandWithPlannedParenthood, whose courageous staff provide excellent health care and make women’s lives better every day.


Tamara Stein , , (951) 547-1241     
See the link below:



The Connecticut Judicial Branch is committed to providing parties who come to court for family matters with the most expeditious, cost-effective way of resolving their cases. As such, the Judicial Branch has invested in various ways to manage these cases to achieve the best outcomes. Moreover, while it is important to note that every case is unique, an explanation of certain general areas will help highlight where improvements have occurred..."

This report is approximately 30 pages and can be accessed at the link below:


By Elizabeth A. Richter

I don't have a whole lot more to say here except that I was first labeled with mental illness at the age of 10 and I am now 59.  That makes 49 years labeled.  

Granting the many extraordinary predictions that have been made about me based upon this label during that time period, you would think I would have had a very exciting life--a few suicide attempts, maybe a jailing or two, some dabbling with substance or alcohol abuse, some kind of wrongdoing to justify all the hoopla.  I am sorry to disappoint you, however.  Even with my hyper intelligence which should have assisted me in leaping tall intellectual buildings at a single bound, I haven't done a whole heck of a lot.  Of course, I think my master's degree is pretty special, but not everyone would agree.  

The reality is that my life isn't that much different than anyone else's.  I live in a regular neighborhood, and my partner mows the lawn on Sundays.  I attend Church.  I have spent lots of my time in a knitting group and a writing group.  I have three meals a day and like to dress casually.  I focus a lot on bringing up my kids and enjoy every moment with them.  I think Adam Lambert is the best musician of all times, which my kids consider an embarrassment.  I put my pants on one leg at a time.

In other words, for a crazy girl I'm a pretty boring person--sorry to disappoint if you expected anything else.  

I do have, and my college roommates will attest to this, a somewhat irritating habit of engaging in debate whenever an interesting topic comes forward.  Thus, a blog such as this one.  

Still, for all my every personhood, I am and remain a member of a distinct cultural subgroup of crazy people who consider themselves a part of a unique community with, among things, its own common understandings, its own way of relating to one another, its own distinct use of language, its own political and social perspective, and its own way of dealing with the dominant culture.  

understand that the Connecticut Judicial Branch has a Public Service and Trust Commission which, at some point, established a Cultural Competence Committee.  Let me tell you:  this Committee needs to do a much better job of increasing the cultural competence of personnel within the legal profession in regard to understanding and appreciating the culture of those who are mentally ill, or labeled as mentally ill.  

People like me who have spent a lifetime under the yoke of oppression that sane people have imposed upon me and my fellows are getting to be considerably sick and tired of the attitude of sane privilege in the legal profession when it comes to civil rights. The sanist concept that civil rights, human rights, and constitutional rights should only be accorded to so-called sane people is an offense to common human decency.  

It is also pretty offensive that mental health professionals and sanist organizations supposedly speaking on behalf of persons with mental illness, solely focus on the weaknesses that people have instead of their strengths.  Were it not for people who dream great dreams and who see visions, and hear voices, the Jews would never have reached the Promised Land (Moses); France would not be a country--it would be suburb of England (St. Joan of Arc); American slaves would never have been freed (Abraham Lincoln), and you'd lose some of the best background music for Christmas of all times (George Frideric Handel).  

As everyone knows, I could say a whole lot more in this line of discussion, but that would probably end up filling a book.  

Everyone has difficulties, including sane people.  

So the idea that it is acceptable in Family Court to oppress, harass, bully, and subject to multiple levels of scrutiny good citizens who simply happen to be labeled is outrageous.  It is particularly outrageous in the light of ADA civil rights law which prohibits such conduct and should be obeyed.  

There have been situations where I have had the opportunity to speak to people about my experiences of hospitalization at McLean.  Many people have said that what I endured was similar to being in a concentration camp.  So, if you can imagine, how do you think it felt for me 30 years after McLean to find myself in exactly the same position as I was then, having my whole life and future controlled by people in the mental health professions?  

It was as if my 30 years of hard work, of pulling myself up the ladder with all my strength, and climbing slowly and agonizingly to the top, had absolutely no value.  Because the mental health professionals such as the GAL social worker Charlotte J. Stamos and Dr. James C. Black pretty much looked upon me as being the embodiment of the label I was given.  

Words cannot convey the terror and anguish that I felt at the time.  

It was as if I as a concentration camp survivor, 30 years later, was being asked to reenter the camp again and have a nice little talk with the Kommandant and his assistants.  

Much has been said about the various flaws people with schizophrenia have--they talk in word salads, they have hallucinations, they see things and smell things that aren't there, they hear voices, etc., etc.  But shouldn't the actual focus here be on the attorneys, GALs, and Judges that are part of a legal system that would be so baldly and blatantly insensitive that they would order me to undergo exactly the same kinds of evaluations and assessments which had led to such severely mistaken results for me 30 years ago and had, as a consequence, subjected me to incarceration for two years in a psychiatric facility where I was abused psychologically, physically, and sexually?  This was an absolutely outrageous demand which the family court system made on me.  

What gets me, of course, is after behaving in such an extremely cruel and barbaric fashion, such as asking me to go into the same abusive environment I'd been in before, these people who work in the family court system have the nerve to point the finger at people like me who are labeled as mentally ill, and say we are the problem.  

No, we are not the problem.  The problem is unscrupulous, incompetent, and heartless family court professionals who seek to exploit the stigma against people with mental illness, or labeled as having mental illness, as a means take everything they have--their children, their assets, their livelihood, and their homes.  This is done knowingly.  For instance, if you will recall my statement in Part II how Charlotte Stamos expressed concern that under the pressure of it all I would "decompensate".

People have asked me how did I survive my divorce and custody battle.  How did I keep it together and end up with the custody of my children after all that happened to me? 

This is actually a good question because, for example, during the course of her investigation Charlotte Stamos, the GAL, would often interview me for up to three or more hours at a time.  The custody evaluation Dr. James C. Black conducted lasted for a full year and he would often double up sessions.  These were heavy duty interrogation sessions during which I had to maintain a consistently calm and reasonable demeanor.  

Given my history, having these mental health professionals interviewing me was sort of like a rape victim being interviewed extensively by the person who assaulted her.  There is no other way to characterize it.  

I succeeded because I am used to enduring extended periods of abuse.  I am habituated to living for months, even years, in a state of mind where I have absolutely no hope.  

Furthermore, I love my children so much that I will pretty much do anything that is necessary to protect them and to ensure their wellbeing.  So I did what I had to do.  

I spoke to another mother who ended up losing her children to the man who beat her and slapped her children around.  She was told that if she refused participate in co-parent counseling with her abusive ex, she would never see her children again.  We talked about it at length, and she told me she was unwilling to be controlled, degraded, and humiliated in that manner and so she refused to participate.  

You see she had some pride left.  I didn't.  

Whatever I had to do, I did.  I can recall at McLean, a fellow patient advised me how to handle my time there.  She said, "You do what you are told, and then you leave."  Likewise, in family court, I did exactly what I was told.  

So many woman who come to family court have never been abused and so they are soft and unable to handle it; they still cling to luxuries like self respect and self esteem.  My extensive life experience of being abused was like a fortress within me and helped me to survive.   Thus, on the day I signed the agreement granting me custody of my children, I thanked everyone who had abused me for making me strong.  

Of course, it shouldn't be that way.  I would urge everyone who reads this blog to reflect upon that, and if you can take the kind of action that is necessary to facilitate family court reforms so this kind of situation does not happen again, I beg you to do so.  

I write these words sitting in my office, far away from the conflict.  When I look out my window, I see trees, blue skies, and a neatly cut lawn.  My little terrier, Cleveland, noses the French doors to my right, making them shake.  He hopes that by drawing my attention, he can persuade me to let him in so he can sit at my feet.  I am safe, it seems, for this moment.  But can a person like me ever be safe, as long as there is that label which can usher me in to a new nightmare at any time, any place?  I don't think so.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


By Elizabeth A. Richter

I am just sitting here with a  7 page single spaced  typed "letter"--it was actually a report--dated November 8, 2006, which the Guardian Ad Litem in my case, Charlotte J. Stamos, sent to the custody evaluator, Dr. James C. Black.  Just so you know, Charlotte Stamos was not an attorney; she was a licensed social worker.  

While it was written in 2006, I only obtained a copy of it four years later in February 2010 when I sent a subpoena to Dr. Black in regard to another matter. This is because Ms. Stamos hid from me the fact that she'd written it. However, I have no doubt that a copy went to both attorneys in the case as well as the custody evaluator. What the so-called letter amounts to is a calculated smear job intended to trash my reputation based upon mental illness.  

I am sure these kinds of written evaluations are circulated among attorneys all the time without the knowledge of the clients they are written about.  This is what is so problematic for people like me, the fact that the discrimination is happening, you know it is happening, but proving it, getting your fingers on the evidence, that is particularly difficult because even your own attorney who might have knowledge about reports such as these will hide them from you "for your own good."  Sometimes it is only a matter of a quick eyeball  roll and hand gestures around the ear.  

I am incredibly lucky to have this evidence in front of me, and can only attribute it to the fact that Dr. Black, for once, decided to be honest.  I am assuming that in the four additional years that passed by after he received the report, he had the opportunity to see the falsehood of the report demonstrated.  That probably contributed to his decision to do the right thing and give me a copy, although there was another, even more disgusting document Charlotte Stamos produced a year later which he claimed he had "lost".

When Charlotte J. Stamos, L.S.W. got on board my case as the GAL in August 2006, I recognized that my mental health would be an issue so I gave her copies of a letter of apology I'd received from the chief psychiatrist who had treated me at McLean indicating that my diagnosis at the time was incorrect.  Further, I gave her a copy of a letter from a nurse who worked at the hospital who also acknowledged that the diagnosis I was given at McLean Hospital was a mistake.  

In addition, Charlotte Stamos had the opportunity to speak to my therapist personally regarding my diagnosis.  I actually know this for certain because I happened to be there when she called--nothing planned about that--it just was one of those serendipitous situations.  My therapist was very clear that I didn't have a major mental health diagnosis and indicated that she had been treating me for social adjustment disorder for a number of years.

What is more, by the time Charlotte Stamos sat down to write her letter/report, my own attorney had conducted a deposition on October 8, 2006 with the caseworker from the Board of Education and Services to the Blind who had worked with me and my children on a weekly basis for eight years.  Ms. Stamos had, indeed, read that testimony.  In the deposition the caseworker was asked, "Based solely upon the problems that the children have, that you are familiar with, are you in a position to make a judgment as to which parent you feel is better able to deal with those problems, the problems of vision, that you are familiar with?"  The caseworker answered, "I would probably have to say Elizabeth."  

Now keep in mind again, this is a person who had the opportunity to see how I behaved as a parent for eight years.  

Again, the attorney asked the caseworker, "I'm going to ask you a question, and I hope it won't embarrass you, but I'd like you to, on a scale of one to ten [ten being the best], rate Mrs. Richter's efficiency, competence, and involvement in her children's condition."  Her response was, "I think I'd have to say ten."  When she was asked to rate the father, her response was "five or six."  Not only did Ms. Charlotte J. Stamos have all this evidence,  I am aware she personally interviewed a Nanny who had worked for me who also described me in glowing terms.  

So you'd think that given this evidence, Charlotte Stamos would have had all sorts of positive comments to make about me.  But no.  Instead, she reported to Dr. James C. Black, "I am concerned that Elizabeth has a chronic and debilitating mental illness" and she further stated that she was concerned that I was "beginning to decompensate."  I mean to me it appears that as far as Charlotte Stamos was concerned in those days, let the actual facts in this case and all the evidence that is presented be damned!

In the future, I was quite disappointing in terms of the prediction that I would decompensate  seeing as I ended up with custody of my children despite her.  Of course, I did have to spend $200,000 to get it, but still.

Quite interestingly, Ms. Stamos also attributed to me the qualities of super genius, which is a typical prejudice directed towards those labeled with mental illness.  For instance, the media described Adam Lanza as a super smart individual even though there was no reason to think that was true.  To quote Ms. Stamos further:  "There is also that Elizabeth's knowledge in any subject or area that she is interested in appears to be so thorough that it is literally overwhelming.  She spurts it out with such ease and confidence that she seems to be a genuine expert in whatever subject or field she is speaking of."  

I could quote a whole lot more of that kind of ridiculous material which appeared in this letter/report but such praise for my great intellect would probably bore everyone.  I personally find it creepy because her description of me really appeals to media and Hollywood stereotypes of the evil mentally ill mastermind who tricks everyone into thinking he is good and then -- well -- like Adam Lanza goes off and commits mass murder or strangles cute puppies or something.  

I'd like to be able to say that Ms. Charlotte Stamos eventually learned the error of her ways and stopped carrying on with such nonsense, but the fact is that she campaigned against me on exactly that level for the entire period that she was the GAL--around  14 months--until she resigned.  

What was particularly confusing to me was that all my attorneys loved Charlotte Stamos--their eyes would light up and they'd smile when they heard she was the GAL in the case, and yet for me, clearly, she was the absolute epitome of evil since she appeared to be willing to do whatever she could to eliminate me from my children's lives.  So why would my own attorneys be so delighted to have  her in the case?  Perhaps that tells you something about what they were like and what a miracle it is that I can stand here today and tell my story.  As an aside, what is even worse is that I heard that Charlotte Stamos  was formerly the Chief of Family Services at New Britain, and if she was so evil with me, I hate to imagine what she was like for other families.

Be that as it may, I don't want to rehash old scores.  My point is that the question of my mental health disability was at issue in my family court case right from the start.  However, during the entirety of my case from 2006 until 2012, the CT Judicial Branch denied that I was eligible for ADA accommodations or protection against discrimination.  Furthermore, when I filed a lawsuit against the CT Judicial Branch complaining about the fact that I was denied my ADA rights during my family court case, in a ruling dated March 27, 2014, the United States District Court of the District of Connecticut stated that I had not "plausibly claimed an ADA-covered disability" and so therefore my complaint was dismissed.  

So this is the thing, when it comes to our Judicial System: when the attorneys and the GAL fought to deny me the parental rights I am entitled to, I was labeled as severely mentally ill and on the verge of "decompensation."  But when I, as a consequence of those accusations, claimed my civil rights under Title II of the ADA and the ADAAA of 2008, somehow that very same system claimed that I did not have a disability.  

You see, I am the one who has been labeled mentally ill, but who are the people people who are actually acting insane?  Who are the people who are actually "crazy making":  those who are denied their legal rights based upon mental health diagnoses, or the Judicial Branch employees who then tell those people they don't have disabilities sufficient to accord them their ADA civil rights?

Also, I want to clarify for those of you who are not familiar with Title II of federal ADA law, an individual is eligible for protection under the ADA if they have a record of mental illness, even if that record includes a misdiagnosis.  

So the therapy I had as a ten year old child, what was that?  My two years hospitalization at McLean Hospital in Boston for schizophrenia, what was that?  The many years of psychotherapy I had subsequently to come to terms with my past history, what was that?  

Nothing I guess in the eyes of the law, unless they wished to reserve the right to discriminate against me.  

This is the level of hatred that individuals and institutions in our society direct towards those who are labeled with mental illness.  Then they get surprised when they get some of it back.  They shouldn't be.

(To be continued)


Wednesday, November 25, 2015


By Elizabeth A. Richter

When I was 10, my parents decided that I had a mental illness and took me to see a psychologist at our local Child Guidance Center.  It was 1967, I believe.  Then they did what my parents in those days did best which was tease me about it for years afterwards.  My father invented a term for me--emotionally retarded--and would frequently refer to me as such.  Also, in my elementary school there was a class full of students who actually were mentally retarded.  Teachers told us we weren't supposed to use that term and instead we were instructed to call them special class.  My parents got wind of that and for a long time used to refer to me as "special class" as in "Go clean up your room, special class." or "Did you get your homework done, special class?"  

This all goes to show that my initiation in the world of being thought of as mentally ill was harsh, troubled, and very early.  

In all this focus regarding my so called mental illness, there was never any discussion of the fact that my mother severely abused prescription drugs and alcohol, that my father had beaten my mother up so badly she ended up in the hospital for two weeks, or that my sister had bulimia, my brother heaved bricks through our kitchen window because he was in such a rage, and that my little brother was slowly, and agonizingly, dying of multiple malignant brain tumors.  It was so much easier to just focus on me.  And what did I do?  Well, I got Bs instead of As in school.

Twelve years later, after my graduation from Mt. Holyoke College in 1978 at 22, I had what was then called a breakdown and was given a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, which after two years of in-hospital treatment McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA was said to be "in remission." Some of the reason I ended up with that diagnosis was because my brother invented an entire psychiatric history for me which did not previously exist, and no one had cared to check whether he was telling the truth. Would a Harvard medical student ever lie?  Of course, not!  I then lived for a year in a halfway house for women, now defunct, known as the Rutland Corner House at 1027 Beacon Street in Brookline, MA.  

Subsequent to that I plunged into the city life of Boston, working in Administrative Assistant positions at Harvard University, Emerson College, and The Atlantic Monthly, and finally returning to school to obtain an M.L.A. in English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University Extension School, and a high school teaching certificate in English at the University of Massachusetts/ Harbor Campus.  During that time, I met my ex-husband and eventually moved to Connecticut in 1989, married and started a family.  I now have three wonderful children whose names I will not share in order to protect their privacy.  

When I lived in Boston, I really didn't have to hide my history of mental illness.  For one thing, since McLean Hospital is an internationally renowned psychiatric facility, Boston itself is (or was, at least then) a kind of Mecca for mental health professionals, so a considerable number of individuals were involved in the business one way or another.  Furthermore, I'd gotten to know all my friends at McLean or through people I'd known at McLean, so I was surrounded by people who were either in therapy, or leaving therapy, or thinking about therapy.  It was in the air I breathed and so I never thought much about it.  

However, when I came to Connecticut, this was an entirely different world.  Moving to Connecticut was like moving back in time twenty years when it came to how people understood mental illness.  Just to compare, when it came to all of my friends I'd known in Boston, many of whom had pretty severe diagnoses, there was always the presumption that they would be working in a job or going to school, or volunteering.  There was no thought that any one of us would be sitting around doing nothing.  

In contrast, the presumption here in Connecticut appeared to be that folks with mental illness would simply sit around (this may have changed since the adoption of the recovery model).   Further, in Connecticut it appeared that folks thought that a person with a mental health diagnosis represented a permanent tragic burden to his or her family.  

It was within this context for some absurd reason that instead of keeping quiet about my mental health history, I decided to live as a person who is out and proud about my mental health history.  Recognizing now how much of a challenge I've endured as a result of this decision, I can only wonder what in the world possessed me!  

I think a major part of this decision, which took place in my 30s, was a genuine desire to live as an authentic person.  Of course, this was the big push of psychotherapy in that era, to discard those false selves and live truly as who you are, so my decision resulted from some of the brainwashing I experienced from the treatment I'd received over the years.  But also it was just the whole 60s thing of "Be Yourself", keep it real, man!  Since I had spent the majority of my life by then in the company of mental health patients, for whom self scrutiny was practically a full time job, I shared their values of honesty at all costs, and of valuing genuine and deeply felt relationships based upon truth.  Further, I treasured whatever insights and wisdom I gained into who I was as a person, who I was as a member of a broader community, and so coming out into the world and being able to say, this is who I am whether you like me or not, this was important to me.  

This is why I chose the out life as a Crazy American.  

I won't say that this happened overnight, that I went from place to place going, "Oh, by the way, I was once a psychiatric patient and now I'm in recovery."  It was more like, if I had the opportunity to bring it up in a conversation, I would do so.  During the 1990s I began to write letters to the editor of "The Hartford Courant" expressing my views on issues in regard to mental illness and, to my surprise, some of these letters were published.  I also wrote a memoir about my experiences at Mclean Hospital entitled "Songs of the Captive", shared it among friends, and spent many years trying to get it published.  Although the book itself was never published, many excerpts of the book were.  

Those days were exhilarating because it was immensely rewarding and validating to have the opportunity to speak about what I had lived.  At the same time I often felt immensely afraid, if not terrified, at the thought of being misunderstood and rejected based upon prejudice and stigma.  

In retrospect, when it comes to who I am as a person, I think this was the right decision to make because I feel as though it has helped me develop into a full and rich human being.  I have met other people who have made the decision to hide their past history and you can literally sense how stifled and misshapen they feel as a consequence.  In this, I have so many homosexuals to thank who were willing to speak about their coming out experiences in meetings that I went to and in stories shared on the internet.  Without their courage and strength of purpose, I would never have been able to succeed as I have, so I am very grateful for their example.  

However, what has been most difficult for me has been the response to my decision to be open, both in the general community and also in my own community of people who have been diagnosed with mental illness.  

I certainly face discrimination on a daily basis where my past history is known.  For instance, in my Church where I have been a member for 16 years, I have never been nominated to join any of the Committees, and that is in a Church where over half the members are required to join a Committee based how the Church is managed.  I know that in any interaction with Church leaders or with my children's teachers, or with medical providers, I have to be doubly appropriate than the average person would have to be.  

More problematic than this is the response of my peers.  I am one of these unusual people who left and then came back again.  This is not the standard.  In fact, many people have asked me why I didn't become a psychologist or a social worker, because that's considered an acceptable way to return, by identifying with or becoming the oppressor.  But returning as a stronger, much stronger person with a disability, in my community that kind of role attracts skepticism, hostility, and fear, and I have experienced all those things as I've participated in the life of the mental health community since I've returned.  

Some of the difficulty here is because for all they know I could be a mole sent by the corrupt mental health system to disrupt and undermine advocacy efforts. I could also be, for all they know, competition for their low level peer specialist jobs--God forbid!

Aside from that, some of the problem here lies within the definition of those members of the community itself.  What is my identity and how can people understand me?  By definition, do I truly belong and did I ever actually belong to this community? One way of trying to resolve this problem is to understand that people here are divided into consumers, survivors (survivors of psychiatric abuse), ex-patients, and also a designation I most recently added which is labeled people.  

Of all of these designations, is there one to which I most accurately belong?  As soon as C/S/Xers meet me, they want to fit me into one of those slots, but a person like me, though fully worthy of belonging to the community of people with mental health disabilities, just doesn't easily fit into any of these slots and the stories that go along with them.  I myself have seen myself from the perspective of different labels as time has gone by, so I haven't been helpful because I've never been consistent about it.  So if I don't know, how is anyone else supposed to know!  

Was I a consumer? Yes, I certainly was and for an extended period of time, but then why aren't I one any more?  How can I be a "real" consumer if I am not a consumer for life?  Perhaps I more truly fit into the category of survivor, because at this point in my life psychiatrists and psychologists have stated that I was misdiagnosed way back in 1978.  Then if I was misdiagnosed, I was abused, and I am a psychiatric survivor.  In fact, one psychiatrist stated that the breakdown I had was merely a "flash in the pan."  On the other hand, it didn't feel like a flash in the pan at the time!  How can people today ever judge the determinations that were made over 30 years ago?  

You could simply say I am an ex-patient, and the facts certainly support that label, but who can take seriously a person who says she is an ex-patient but who went off and got a master's degree and lives a middle class lifestyle, got married and has kids?  Something is not right! 

Of course, I believe that there are many individuals just like me either working in the mental health profession itself, or hiding in other positions, but for now, with few out and proud crazy people to provide an example, I do appear to be a somewhat bizarre exception.  

This leaves the term which I expressly invented for situations like mine, that of being a "labeled person."  

The bottom line, however, is the fact that I don't easily fall into any of these categories.  Nonetheless, I have lived all these labels and all these lives, and have spent years doing what I could in the community as an advocate and spokesperson.

Still, the fact that for some reason I inexplicably chose to return and throw in my fate along with other people who face social stigma makes it very hard for many people in the community to accept me.  Why would I do that?  What is the matter with me?

This leaves me with the famous question Susan Sheehan asked in the title of her Pulitzer prize winning book, "Is There No Place On Earth For Me?"  

There is no doubt that the pressure I have experienced because I chose to stand up and be open about my past history and to speak out on behalf of others like me played a major role in leading to my divorce.  In fact, my ex-husband specifically mentioned that this was an issue in the depositions he provided as part of the divorce proceedings.  

This was a lesson to me in once labeled, always labeled.  

I also discovered after I filed for divorce that during my marriage, when my parents came for visits, they had been regularly taking my ex-husband aside behind my back to speak to him about how my mental health was holding up.  This meant that increasingly, when difficulties cropped up in the marriage, my ex husband was quick to attribute them to my mental illness, rather than address the actual marital issues involved which inevitably arise in the the lives of any couple.  Thus, my parents prejudice towards me as a child continued on and destroyed my marriage when I became as adult.  But more specifically, the mental health label did.  

The cut and hurt of mental health stigma had been pretty bad up to the point where I filed for divorce, but little prepared me for how devastating it would be within the context of the Family Court in Connecticut.

(to  be continued)

Saturday, November 21, 2015


Task force to Study the State Wide Response to Minors Exposed to Family Violence 
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
10:00 AM in Room 2A of the LOB

The meeting was called to order at 10:00 AM by Garry Lapidus, 

The following committee members were present:
Rachel Powlowski; Donald Frechette; Cynthia Mahon; Damion Grasso; Christine Rapillo; Kayte Cwikla-Masas; Sen. Marilyn Moore; Karen Jarmoc; Garry Lapidus; Stephen Grant; Nikki Richer; Mary Painter; Steve Grant; Elizabeth Bozzuto; Rep. Diana Urban; Karen O'Connor; Nina Livingston; Linda Harris; Sarah Eagan and Joel Rudikoff

Karen Jarmoc thanked everyone for coming and discussed the nature of the task force. She noted that the scope of the meeting today was to discuss judicial responses to family violence. She stated that the presenters at the meeting were invited to discuss their work regarding judicial training and coordinated community responses to family violence. The first presenters were members of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court judges, an organization established in 1937 with a drive to improve juvenile and family court system practice.

Karen introduced the presenters:
Hon. Janice Rosa sat on both the family court and Supreme Court benches while in New York, and was district supervising judge for matrimonial and divorce matters. Currently Judge Rosa is doing consulting work for the National Council.

Darren Mitchell is Co-Executive Director of the Resource Center on Violence Against Women. Both Judge Rosa and Attorney Mitchell have committed extensive time to training on violence and other family matters. Karen Jarmoc stated that later in the meeting the task force would be hearing from Connecticut judges through the State Judicial Department

Janice Rosa noted that neither she nor Darren worked directly for the Council, but they were happy to work with the Council as consultants.

Darren started by expressing his sympathy for the events that led to the convening of the task force and noted that many people had been affected by the effects of family violence. He commended the task force on its desire to do something in response to family violence.

Janice Rosa referred to the brochure that she and Darren had brought. The Council sits on the University of Nevada campus and was formed by judges for judges interested in addressing family law matters in a holistic manner. This is the largest judicial membership organization and has a network of over 2,000 judges, attorneys and other professionals of all disciplines. The Council is a national leader in providing judicial training and resources to courts, judges and administrators as well as to the communities that these judges serve in. She noted that the Council does not work in a theoretical academic manner but the emphasis is on how the philosophies can be applied in the daily activities of judges. She stated that the Council is interested in providing evidence-based and evidence-informed practices around all aspects of family law, including juvenile justice reform, child welfare reform and domestic relations reform. The Council advocates for judicial leadership and ethics to improve outcomes for communities and families. The Council has been conducting various projects regarding domestic violence, including the Green Book initiative which looks at improved outcomes and better ways for families to interact with child welfare programs. Most recently, the NJIDV -- National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence—was formed, which hosts a very intense immersion for criminal and civil judges. Over the years, the national council has been able to train over 60,000 judges, court administrators and other people working in the field.

Darren Mitchell discussed other programs of the Council and stated that they had been working on a full faith and credit project to focus on enforcing restraining orders between states and at multiple levels of government. Darren also discussed the Green Book project as a means to focus court services around the effects of domestic violence on child protection. This focuses on practical decision making, such as custody and parenting time. The Council also provides resources around this training and has recently partnered with other groups to focus on family court through a demonstration initiative to help courts improve their methods for obtaining information around the family court context and making better decisions based on communications around domestic violence cases. He also mentioned that the Council was working on developing policy around firearms in domestic violence cases.

Janice Rosa highlighted the inclusivity of the work of the Council and stated that there were several staple policy areas that they worked on, such as elder abuse; adolescent partner violence; and domestic minor sex trafficking. She stated that any community that is looking to improve its response to domestic violence has to find ways to promote victim safety and better accountability, and insulate children from harm to protect their well-being. She noted that judges play a key role in this process and are at the apex of the various community systems. Judges are given the charge to protect communities from harm and must send a consistent message to the justice system that domestic violence is not to be tolerated. She noted that changes within the court system will need an understanding from the judges and these judges have to operate under a code that requires that they are removed from the social fray so that the public can expect that judges will be fair and partial. She noted that judges are often frustrated when cases are brought before them that are a clear indication of inadequacies in other social systems. This frustration spurred creation of national council in 1930's because judges had to know there would be a better way to deal with family violence issues.

Darren Mitchell:
Discussed the format of the trainings. He stated that the Council places an emphasis on evidence-based training with exercises that were highly interactive and based on adult education practices. The Council focuses a lot of its time on conveying information in the best way possible and brings in multidisciplinary perspectives of both prosecution and defense perspectives so that judges get to hear conflicting opinions. These trainings bring in different advocacy groups and academics to ensure that they integrate information from many different and possibly conflicting sources. He noted that Dr. Peter Jafee conducted a follow-up efficacy study which found that four times as many judges consider themselves to be leaders on domestic violence after the training as compared to before the training. Mr. Mitchell stated that trainings can be conducted either on-site at the Council’s headquarters, or these can be brought to different communities to focus on specific issues. He commended Connecticut on its judges’ training and invited the task force to comment on ways that the Council could help Connecticut.

Janice Rosa noted that they had conducted training for military personnel because they have done work with veterans, and that the trainings educated all professionals across multiple disciplines, not just judges. This helped to integrate the trainings into as many aspects of communities as possible. She noted that during the budget cutbacks starting in 2008, a lot of judicial trainings were eliminated to save costs. She noted that Connecticut has been able to maintain continuing ongoing and relevant training in domestic violence competencies. Judge Rosa noted the importance of this kind of training and that there will still be inconsistencies in the judicial system, but proper and consistent training of judges will reduce these inconsistencies. She also noted that there is a larger body of research on domestic violence than there was 20 or 30 years ago, and that there is more information on the impacts of domestic violence on children regarding lethality and risk assessment; firearms; adolescent relationships and elder abuse. She reiterated that training was an ongoing process and that judges would need to be consistently updated on best practices and the newest legal research on this issue.

Darren Mitchell discussed the role that the Council plays in technical assistance and its ability to bring experts in various fields to judges and other community providers. He stated that the Council worked to help communities build their capacities to address these issues, and that the Council tailors trainings to respond to individual community needs. This method has been very successful and very well-received. He noted the importance of involving different perspectives in these trainings, from those of decision makers to victims. When the Council approaches technical assistance, they examine things from both ends and works to empower people to obtain what they need and make better decisions to address safety concerns. The Council also conducts legal statutory reviews to look at how different communities have addressed different challenges. The Council also has a research arm that has done some work in family court contexts that can offer technical assistance to courts. Mr. Mitchell noted that the Council had conducted research in a tribal jurisdiction where they looked at every aspect of the system and helped the community identify different strategies to make their response to domestic violence more comprehensive. He noted that with firearms, there are different jurisdictions that come into play and that there needs to be a larger conversation about getting guns from people who shouldn’t have them. He stated that even though the law requires people to surrender their firearms, there are many reports that this isn’t happening and this is contributing to further problems.

Janice Rosa discussed the merits of community anonymity as it applied to the Council’s judges’ trainings. She noted that it was beneficial that the Council did not have any prior experience in the communities they worked in, and so were able to offer a fresh perspective to these communities through their training. She noted that the best court trainings and technical assistance cannot happen in a vacuum and that it is important to have a coordinated community response to these issues. Ms. Rosa went on to say that to obtain the best results from a judicial system, everyone in the community needs to understand their role in defining and reaching a solution. She noted the role of judicial ethics in these cases and the issue of insulating judges who address domestic violence cases every day. She again mentioned the economic crisis and its role in changing the scope of what judicial branches were able to accomplish within the financial parameters set by state governments during this time. She noted that the fact that Connecticut still has litigants after the financial crisis is a testament to the efforts to preserve justice in the state.

Darren Mitchell suggested that Connecticut focus on how to get information through volunteer litigants and lawyers. He noted that there is significant research suggesting that representation in court cases makes a difference in terms of protection and that representation yields better results for domestic violence victims. He noted that legal aid furnished many of these attorneys and reiterated that representation makes a significant difference in court proceedings in these cases.

Janice Rosa emphasized the commitment of the Council to advancing justice for domestic violence victims and welcomed questions from the Task Force.

Karen Jarmoc requested that task force members begin asking questions.

Cynthia Mahon asked whether there were any court systems with universal or centralized systems of delivery to avoid the problem of one family being involved in many court cases at the same time to make the process more efficient.

Janice Rosa mentioned that the National Council designed Project ONE to address this, which focuses on having One family one judge; No wrong doors; and Equal access to justice. She noted that various jurisdictions are struggling with the sharing of information given both legal and technological constraints. She noted that rural jurisdictions have less trouble with this as there are fewer intersecting judicial systems, and that the Council is focusing on urban areas to promote information sharing.

Karen Jarmoc stated that in Connecticut, courts are not permitted to share information.

Judge Bozzuto noted that in Connecticut, there are some jurisdictions that have different computer systems, and that they’re currently working on integrating these systems. She noted that there are significant financial constraints to integrate technologies, but the judicial branch is making efforts to do so. In family court, judges don’t have access to information regarding previous proceedings and there are significant confidentiality issues regarding this information as well. Working within these parameters, though, the court system could stand to benefit greatly from better information sharing.

Karen Jarmoc asked the Judiciary Department to give the task force guidance in terms of possible statutory fixes to alleviate this problem.

Judge Bozzuto voiced her support for this.

Karen O'Connor asked about the Green Book initiative and how this was facilitated.

Darren Mitchell stated that the initiative was a bit more of an historical project that communities have used to address the concurrence between child maltreatment and domestic violence. The Green Book sets out a number of principles for courts to adhere to in an effort to ensure that court proceedings don’t result in unintended consequences for children. He offered to share the Green Book and other tools the Council had developed as a result of this initiative. Though the Green Book isn’t still funded, there is a site with downloadable information.

Bernadette Conway stated that Connecticut had been using the Green Book Initiative for the last 15 years and that this brought judges and social workers into the same room to discuss cases. This laid the groundwork for the network between state agencies that presently exists and helped to build the protective order registry.
Janice Rosa stated that the intent of the Green Book Initiative was to shift culture and the supportive communities surrounding families changed the way they conducted themselves, which shifted the way these cases were handled and led to better outcomes for these families.

Karen Jarmoc asked whether there was a Green Book for Connecticut and Massachusetts and whether there was a time frame during which this was established.

Janice Rosa
Stated that the program is still functioning, but there is no ongoing funding. The philosophy behind this initiative was to integrate the principles into communities so that they would become part of the communal cultural response to these cases. She noted that not every case involves child welfare and that there are families that don’t fall under the purview of the Green Book.

Karen Jarmoc asked whether the collaborative effort went away when the funding dried up for this initiative.

Janice Rosa stated that the collaborative effort was still functioning, as the Green Book principles became part of the culture of how judicial departments conduct business. In Buffalo, New York, they took up the initiative, but after the funding went away, they still conducted business under these principles. The court system has a better understanding of how families should be served in the courtroom.

Karen Jarmoc asked whether there was an opportunity to revisit the Green Book and reconvene around this work.

Judge Conway stated that there were a lot of positive things that came out of this work and Connecticut was able to bring in Dave Mandell, a national expert, to write policy such as the Safe and Together Model, which became a national and internationally recognized program for child abuse. Mr. Mandell did work with DCF and started the program to teach about domestic violence, which DCF has incorporated into their corporate structure. She noted that this stemmed from when Connecticut convened the Green Book and brought together all relevant state agencies where they spent a year identifying the barriers to communication and networking, and working with the present institutional knowledge to improve practices regarding domestic violence.

Mary Painter agreed that there had been a philosophical shift in the work around domestic violence. The existing green book continues to offer guidance on moving forward on this issue.

Donald Frechette had the following questions about these trainings: What is offered from the National Council on training?

What is the length of the training?

What is the cost for one judge and who pays for the training?

Janice Rosa stated that the training doesn’t cost anything because the Council has a national grant to cover these expenses. Additionally, judges can use set-aside funds to cover travel cost. The Council also comes into different communities to conduct these trainings. Ultimately, the trainings are funded through various different methods to minimize the burden for individuals.

Darren Mitchell stated that the trainings vary in length, depending on the type of training and the specific needs of the community.

Janice Rosa stated that the trainings are available to all judicial educators across the country.

Joel Rudikoff asked about a study the presenters mentioned regarding better outcomes for people who were represented in court by an attorney.

Darren Mitchell offered to send the study to the task force and noted that the main component of the study had to do with restricted visitation provisions and the outcome for the children and families. This study concluded that representation made a difference.

Donald Frechette asked about the significant degree of noncompliance with regard to firearms. He asked if the data suggested a reason for noncompliance, whether this was a lack of judicial response; a lack of judicial initiative; a regulatory framework; or a combination of the three.

Darren Mitchell stated that the instance he is most familiar with is that statutory framework makes it clear that all protection orders similar to federal disqualifying factors include specific surrender provisions on a mandatory basis and a respondent must comply by surrendering their firearms and brining an affidavit of surrender or an affidavit of no possession of firearms. In a study conducted in Seattle, Washington, it was found that about 10% of these cases, a respondent would come back with an affidavit, which was typically an affidavit of non- possession, and there has been no documented instance where someone turned in an affidavit of surrender with their firearms. He stated that this data was consistent with anecdotal information he’s received from courthouses around the country which stipulate that people walk out of the courthouse with orders and don’t return them. There are significant issues with the laws surrounding guns in domestic violence cases. He voiced that the national Council is committed to addressing this topic and that he would be happy to help Connecticut move forward on this issue. Mr. Mitchell also mentioned that there have been some compliance systems that have worked.

Donald Frechette asked about areas where compliance systems have worked. Mr. Mitchell responded that he would be happy to share this information with the task force.

Judge Bozzuto asked a follow-up question about the study in Seattle, Washington as to the people represented and the type of case the study was conducted on.

Darren Mitchell stated that these were protection order cases.

Janice Rosa reiterated that these were civil protection order cases where women were asking for protection for themselves and their children. In these cases, legal representation for these women made a significant difference in the outcomes for their children.

Janice Rosa stated that when legal aid represented these cases and presumed a certain proficiency, there were better outcomes.

Karen Jarmoc stated that there is some work being done with CCADV and CT Legal Services and private law firms. Robinson and Cole, for example, has been a leader in doing pro bono work to help applicants with restraining orders and create a comprehensive statewide initiative and capturing data to measure this initiative’s impact. She noted that there is an upcoming training on this and the study is important in developing an understanding of different outcomes for applicants. She asked whether there are national strategies being developed around this issue.

Janice Rosa stated that New York had to undergo a reverse process where they provided legal representation to respondents, not petitioners in legal court, so they had to put parameters in place to ensure that petitioners could get free legal help in court. She stated that both the respondent and the petitioner in these cases do better with legal representation.

Karen Jarmoc noted that there are people who are advocating for victims, and that there is an opportunity on the defense side. She noted that providing representation was not a requirement, but that it is being done because there is a gap. She advocated that victims should not be penalized in cases where respondents hire a public defender to help in their case.

Janice Rosa noted that there is a certain percentage of protective orders that have that criminal component where the defendant is going to be represented.

Karen Jarmoc asked if there had been reductions in judicial trainings as a result of the state budget. There have been efforts to create a more robust judicial training system. Karen noted that it would be helpful if there was more data on the relationship between judicial trainings and the state budget. She asked whether states have to apply as a state for judicial trainings. She asked whether the system focused on empowering people to ask for what they need. Karen noted that most applicants are pro se and not represented when they’re applying for protective orders.

Janice Rosa stated that in Buffalo before she left the bench, she became interested in providing information based on risk assessment and lethality with regards to protective orders. They did get some grant money to study this and studied Connecticut because the probation department is connected to the judicial branch. Connecticut has been doing well with providing this information. With regards to self-represented cases, Judge Rosa stated that they worked with a stakeholder group and decided to ensure that the information was provided in the creation provision so that the self-represented litigant had the opportunity to do their own risk assessment with someone who wasn’t a judge to examine the larger context of the case. They trained judges and domestic violence advocates to improve petitions with better evidence and a better picture of the whole story in these cases. This made petitions more robust in court and led to better outcomes. This also became part of a community discussion around domestic violence and New York designated judicial officers to answer questions for self-represented individuals. Changing the nature of how information was taken and used in one jurisdiction in New York allowed for better outcomes in these cases.

Rep. Diana Urban asked whether therapy animals had been used to help children when testifying in court to make the process less intimidating.

Janice Rosa stated that she hadn’t seen this in her courtroom, but that she has a therapy animal herself and that she is interested in bringing in more therapy animals to assist in these cases. She believes that the presence of therapy animals will make the courtroom experience better for children.

Rep. Diana Urban voiced her approval of Judge Rosa’s advocacy in this area, and stated that the child-animal bond could be used to help children recover better from these situations.

Linda Harris asked about the multidisciplinary training that the judges had mentioned earlier and what this entailed.

Darren Mitchell stated that the Council takes different approaches to multidisciplinary trainings depending on the needs of an individual community. This involves identifying stakeholders and thought leaders and understanding the specific problem, then formatting a training to respond to these needs. Sometimes, the Council will conduct pre-meetings where they talk with judges and then the Council enters the community to facilitate different conversations. The Council orients its trainings around problem solving and works to help communities identify problem areas then gives these communities the tools to solve their problems. Often, the communities complete the training then engage in more collaborative approaches which lead to better outcomes.

Janice Rosa stated that the Council custom-fits and tailors these trainings to address what the jurisdiction is asking for.

Joel Rudikoff asked about which branches invites these trainings.
Janice Rosa stated that the judicial department typically initiates the invitation because the National Council is a judicial membership organization, but invitations do come from different sources.

Joel Rudikoff asked whether the Council had conducted a training in Connecticut. Janice Rosa stated that to her knowledge there had not been a training here.

Karen Jarmoc asked whether the trainings were offered to probate judges. Janice Rosa responded that yes, the trainings are offered to probate judges.

Karen Jarmoc thanked the Council for their presentation. The meeting then segued into a presentation from Connecticut judges. Karen stated that it would be meaningful for the task force to hear from these judges with regard to the work being done in Connecticut.

Judge Bozzuto began with an introduction. Judge Bellis would be first to present on domestic training. The judges would then offer their perspectives on training and provide some recommendations for the task force.

Judge Bellis began by stating that this subject was very important to her. The State of Connecticut has robust and extensive domestic violence training for judges. This begins with a full-day pre-bench orientation. There is also an annual judges’ institute training and a transitional training for when judges change their assignments to work in family court. There’s an annual training session in each division and a yearly domestic violence roundtable. She discussed the areas that she had been involved in. The domestic violence training has been around for 6 years, which is comprised of a group of several judges who discuss a list of topics brought in for discussion. These conversations are kept confidential so that judges feel comfortable discussing these cases. There is an upcoming training where Jackie Campbell will be speaking. The program has brought in other domestic violence experts, such as Peter Jaffee, in the past.

The pre-bench orientation is a full-day domestic violence training for all judges. Judge Bellis then referred to the power point and went through each bullet point. She noted that in the criminal courts, the judicial system works to address behavior in hopes of reducing the potential for domestic violence. She noted that the Connecticut legislature has done a good job of recognizing the severity of domestic violence crimes. There is an opportunity to figure out where the issues are and how to address these. In Connecticut, there is a next court date arraignment so that cases aren’t continued for a few days after an arrest. Additionally, there is judicial monitoring available for defendants coming back to court more frequently so judges are checking with victims’ advocates to ensure that there aren’t any major problems.

Connecticut also has cap sentencing instead of probation, which means that defendants are reporting to judges before being sentenced. This helps to improve outcomes for petitioners. With regard to training, Judge Bellis stated that there is a heavy emphasis on role playing to ensure that judges interact with respondents in a manner that conveys the weight of the situation. Judges are trained to act in such a way that respondents leave the courtroom with an understanding that they are to comply with protective orders. This training is well-received and many judges are interested in this training.

Joel Rudikoff asked whether the domestic violence roundtable was mandatory. 

Judge Bellis responded that this is voluntary but well attended. The roundtable is open to anyone, but typically criminal and family judges attend.

Joel Rudikoff asked about the duration of the pre-bench orientation.

Judge Bellis that the full pre-bench orientation lasts for several weeks, but the domestic violence training is one full day.

Joel Rudikoff asked how long domestic violence training has been part of pre-bench orientation.

Judge Bellis stated that this has been a part of training for at least 13 years. Judge Houser had done her domestic violence training and the training carries over into other areas of pre-bench orientation.

Joel Rudikoff asked whether there were many judges who had not undergone the domestic violence training.

Judge Bellis responded that she didn’t think there were any judges who did not receive this training. The domestic violence roundtable is also well-attended and in some jurisdictions dockets have been cancelled because so many judges want to attend this training.

Judge Devlin began his presentation by stating that he’d been a judge for 23 years and had domestic violence training at the beginning of his time on the bench. He discussed the issuance of protective orders, which start with arrests. There are 30,000 domestic violence arrests in Connecticut each year and each case comes to court. When individuals are released from a police department, they are assigned a court case within 14 days of the arrest, but in domestic violence cases, these cases are typically scheduled for the next day. When cases come into court, there is an array of professionals such as family relations officers and domestic violence advocates that conduct a risk assessment. These individuals have access to police reports and protective order registry and they can also look at dismissed cases that were family violence related. Family violence officers work to determine whether the case is appropriate for family violence referral. More serious cases are referred to a higher court. This information is acquired to protect a victim’s interest and determine what kind of protective order is required. The family relations officers are relied upon to determine the lethality factors in these cases. Typically, family relations officers recommend a protective order, which goes before a court and in the first court appearance of the person who has been arrested, the family relations officer will make a recommendation for a protective order to the judge. The case is then reviewed with the police report so that judges have the framework to make an assessment about the case as to the appropriateness of the family’s recommendation. These recommendations span a range of allowing people to live together and not have any violence between them to forcing them to live apart and monitoring both parties with GPS. In cases where children are endangered, there are opportunities to provide protections to the children as well. Judges typically rely on family relations officers to determine the proper protective order in these cases.

There is also a ceremonial aspect to these protective orders. Judges are trained to give these situations a certain amount of weight and importance to ensure that people understand the importance of protective orders to judges.

Judge Devlin stated that when an individual violates a protective order, they also violate their bond, which is subject to change and can become more severe. Violations of protective orders are punishable by up to 10 years in jail. Judge Devlin stated that judges take their time with these cases and the person is given a continuous date in court. Domestic violence cases are usually given specially trained prosecutors to handle the case. Court clerks put these cases into a protective order registry so that any police department in Connecticut can access this information immediately if there’s a claim that a protective order has been violated. Judges have an array of techniques and resources at their disposal for each individual case, such as family violence programs. There is also a longitudinal study going on right now to determine how many people in these cases are repeat offenders after they successfully complete the programs set forth by judges. 80% of people don’t reoffend after entering these programs.

Someone asked about the protections for children that family relations officers can offer.

Judge Devlin responded that these protections can be things like restrictions on visitation, such as supervised visitation. In cases where children are crime victims, they are given full protections. In cases where children are bystanders, the children are seen as crime victims and are given a panoply of protections. Even in cases where children are proximate to the criminal event, the children are still protected.

Donald Frechette asked about the right of confrontation. He asked how frequently children were able to testify outside of the vicinity of the accused. How often was this constitutionally permissible or fairly protected? What kinds of procedures are in place to accommodate this in Connecticut’s current system?

Judge Devlin responded that in sexual assault cases, judges use the Jarrs-Beckham procedure, which is very effective and codified in state statute. This involves a preliminary hearing where a judge makes the determination that having the child testify will have an adverse effect on the child’s testimony. If the judge makes the appropriate findings, the child is put in a separate room where they testify. This practice is currently limited to sexual assault cases and whether this practice will be extended to other cases is a policy question for the legislature, but the technical capability for doing this exists.

Donald Frechette asked how this could be done in a civil context.
Judge Bellis responded that she had only encountered a few cases where the minor was a respondent and these were typically sexual assault cases that are sometimes represented by an attorney. She noted that though there had been few cases like this, judges would need to prepare themselves better to handle these situations.
Donald Frechette asked whether this only occurred when a minor is a victim of sexual assault and not of other crimes where there is potential child could be a witness.

Judge Bellis responded that they hadn’t had this in civil protective orders or in non-abusive relationships.

Judge Bozzuto stated that in her experience, there have been very few actions where the respondent is a minor. There have been a few cases where the applicant is a minor and the action is brought by a PPA since minors can’t bring civil process. The process doesn’t differ that much from a criminal court. Her court has litigants that are almost always self-represented, so the rules of practice and evidence are relaxed, but it is uncommon to have minors filing 46B-15 (protective order) forms.

Judge Bozzuto went on to say that she would talk briefly about the 46B-15 protection orders. This is a statutory process that is a civil action brought between two private citizens and the state is not involved. There is a broad category of people who can bring an application for a restraining order in family court, and this extends to people related by blood or marriage, or roommates or people who have lived together. This also extends to people who have a child in common or are in a dating relationship. Last year there were 8500 applicants and 37% of these had children involved. The statute is exacting and this represents a civil process to quickly put an end to overt abuse. In order for the court to give rise to having the authority to pursue this order, there has to be a continuous present threat of physical pain or injury or stalking or a pattern of threatening.

Filing protection orders is a two-step process where first an application has to be filed and then the applicant must swear to an affidavit. The application is then reviewed by a judge that day and every single action is addressed on the day that it is filed. Should the court determine that there is an immediate danger; the court then enters an ex parte order. All cases are scheduled for a hearing within 14 days where only the applicant and respondent testify. There is no probation, bail or lawyers involved in these hearings. Typically family relations officers negotiate cases entering divorce. Occasionally courts will use shuttle diplomacy between two different rooms if the parties have a difficult time reaching a compromise. The applicant testifies first in these cases and has to demonstrate their case by evidence that they are subject to a present and continuous physical violence, stalking or a pattern of threatening. These cases are entitled to cross-examination by the accuser and the proceedings tend to be very uncomfortable for all parties involved. Typically the court has to get involved in the proceeding by asking the necessary questions required in statute and there are significant jurisprudence problems present in these proceedings. Rulings are made on the spot at these hearings, and children involved can enter temporary orders for visitation or no contact. These orders can last for up to one year.

Judge Bellis stated that the new civil orders of protection under 46b-16A are similar to those in family court. These orders are for victims of sexual abuse, sexual assault or stalking as assigned by statute where there are no other orders of protection and where victims don't qualify for relief under 46b-15. This law was implemented on January 1st of this year, and there have been over 1000 civil orders of protection filed. Judge Bellis then discussed some statistics on these protection orders. Victim advocates assist in the filing process, so they cannot interact with the court or advocate on behalf of the victim but they can assist in filing. When an advocate files these forms, 68% of these applications are for stalking; 6% are for sexual abuse and 26% are for other issues.

When the applicant files the affidavit, this is typically done with the help of the advocate and when these meet statutory requirements, the hearing must be scheduled within 14 days from the date of the application. 56% of the cases filed are given hearings and if the court finds that danger exists, the court may issue an ex parte order. Connecticut courts have issued 360 ex parte orders through October 4th of this year and these orders are typically filed with just an applicant and a respondent and no other evidence is presented. 94% of parties are self- represented and typically the cases only involve the applicant and the respondent with occasional witnesses. In cases where the applicant does not appear for the hearing, the court dismisses the case and any ex parte order issued.

If the applicant does appear at the hearing and the court finds reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent committed the acts and presents the potential for further harm to the victim. Approximately half of the cases that proceed to this hearing stage are granted an order of protection, and these can be granted for up to one year. Applicants can file a motion after the year is up that the protection orders be extended. While 94% of the parties are self- represented, as of October 21st, 25% of the cases had an attorney present and 3% of these cases involved minors. Most of these cases are extended domestic cases involving a former girlfriend and a current girlfriend. Sometimes there are landlord-tenant cases, but domestic cases make up the majority of the caseload.

Karen Jarmoc asked a clarifying question about whether these were family violence cases. She noted that the judges presented on information that was less relevant to the work of the task force, as restraining orders don’t always have an impact on children. She noted that ex parte restraining orders have over 9000 applications per year, with over 5000 of these being granted a hearing and 3500 being granted a protection order.

Judge Bellis noted that the difference between civil orders of protection and the 46B-15 orders of protection is that in civil orders of protection, judges are only permitted to consider the information that’s available to the public and is not permitted to access the protective order registry.

Judge Bozzuto discussed the judges’ recommendations to the task force, and recommended that the task force amend 46B-15 to allow family courts to have access to lethality assessments in cases where there are children. She suggested granting authority to the family courts to review the protective restraining order registry and have access to criminal records to give information to family judges that criminal judges currently have access to.

Judge Bellis noted that in the criminal context, they have the criminal record and know if there has been a history of domestic violence and also have information on whether it is the same victim as previously or if it is a different victim. This is information not available to the public and if perpetrators have used programs in the past, the court’s bail commissioners or family relations commissioners will be able to determine whether the perpetrator is going after the same victim. It is important for the court to know whether the same person has been victimized in the past, as this helps with sentencing and developing protective orders.

Joel Rudikoff asked how many judges are hearing the 8500 civil restraining order applications. 

Judge Bozzuto responded that there are currently at least 14 judges that take on family cases, but these judges do so on a rotating basis.
Joel Rudikoff asked how judges rotate in and out of courts. He noted that this was in a civil arena where 85% of the time, at least one of the parties is not represented.

Judge Bozzuto stated that in TROs, it is different and in other cases over 90% are underrepresented. There are very few lawyers in these cases, and there are lawyers they are representing respondents.

Joel Rudikoff asked about the nature of the challenging environment for judges. He asked when the pre-bench training occurred for family court judges regarding restraining orders and whether this was an immediate training.

Judge Bozzuto responded that she conducts the training for new judges coming into family court and this training includes 46B-15 and domestic violence training. She noted that in addition to this, there’s an additional half-day training that covers the actual process of filing these protective orders. This happens for each judge that comes into family court.

Karen Jarmoc noted that it could be helpful to include people from different disciplines in the domestic violence roundtable conversations, as the roundtable is currently limited to judges only.
Judge Bozzuto responded that there is currently a Connecticut judges’ institute which covers various topics, but brings in people from different disciplines. This doesn’t always cover domestic violence, but it is available to judges and other individuals.
Karen Jarmoc asked whether the judges were hearing from people practicing in the field with domestic violence. She noted that there are close to 30,000 arrests each year, and each of them are a circumstance where family violence is coming before the courts. She asked whether this element included an opportunity for more work in this area.

Judge Bozzuto agreed that there could be opportunities for greater inclusion.

Judge Bellis noted that victim services training is included as part of new judge training. They have brought in national experts as part of the roundtable and from the Connecticut Judges’ Institute so they present things from multiple perspectives including judicial, advocacy and defense. There was a multidisciplinary panel in 2007 where they discussed affecting change through dialogue, which was very effective.

Cynthia Mahon asked whether there is a mechanism in place to find existing orders in probate or juvenile court for judges issuing orders during a TRO hearing and if not, whether this would be helpful.

Judge Bozzuto responded that there currently was not such a mechanism and that it would be helpful to gather juvenile records because these are confidential and could have important relevant historical information for judges. Currently, these judges only have access to 46B-15 cases and orders in custody and dissolution cases. 
Cynthia Mahon asked whether the judges would be recommending a statutory change so they could access these juvenile court or probate court records.

Judge Bozzuto responded that this is something to consider, and there is a current protocol in place between the juvenile and family courts. Typically, the people filing these orders aren’t familiar with the court system and it’s difficult for the judges to obtain all of the information they need. If judges had access to the protective order registry, it would be good to know if there are some other cases pending.

Karen O'Connor discussed the role of law enforcement in these cases. She noted that law enforcement does place a condition of release order on domestic violence arrests and in 2014, they gave juveniles the same protection as any other victim. Law enforcement uses all of the information available to them to issue the conditions of release. They have a standard document that they use then add things to which become modified by the judge once the document becomes a protective order. Perpetrators are then given two business days to turn over any firearms. With regard to restraining orders, if these are issued ex parte, law enforcement asks people to turn over their guns voluntarily and creatively. This represents a significant area of concern for law enforcement when they’re trying to protect children and keep them safe. She then asked if there are requirements that firearms be turned in under 16A.

Judge Bozzuto responded that she would look for this information.
Rep. Diana Urban asked about the connection between child abuse and animal cruelty. She mentioned that there have been several cases where there has been a link between animal cruelty and future violent behavior. In these cases, sometimes a pet is used as a way to control children or domestic partners so that information about domestic violence doesn’t leave the home. She mentioned her previous work to get this aspect included in domestic violence training and asked whether judges were given information on animal cruelty convictions and issues.

Judge Devlin stated that judges were informed of any conviction regarding animal cruelty and factual information regarding whether pets were involved is brought to the judges’ attention.

Rep. Diana Urban noted that these records were previously purged and that since 2000, they had been archiving records on animal cruelty.

Judge Bellis stated that judges are given a list of lethality factors and animal abuse is on there. Judges are also trained to respond to reports of animal abuse where a perpetrator abuses a pet and then tells the victim that they’re next. With regard to firearms, in the criminal court, they get input from the victim if the contact has been made and it has been reported to the family relations officer if the respondent has firearms. This typically applies in cases where there is threatened or actual use of physical force. In orders of protection that she has drafted, if the respondent has firearms it is made clear that this is unacceptable. Judges are very careful to make sure that defendants understand the ramifications of these proceedings and feel comfortable asking questions. She does not ask whether someone has a gun, but emphasizes that people can’t have any guns or permits.

Judge Devlin stated that they had done a program with their criminal judges that emphasized the link between animal abuse and domestic violence.

Sarah Eagan asked for a clarification as to whether minors can petition for restraining orders.

Judge Bozzuto responded that restraining orders have to be brought forward by a parent or guardian.

Sarah Eagan asked about 46A, which states that anyone can bring an application for a restraining order and the stipulations of this.

Judge Bozzuto responded that everyone is able to file an application, but these have to be brought forward by a PPA or under the legal capacity of a parent.

Sarah Eagan stated that she wanted to be sure that youth can seek protection.

Garry Lapidus noted that the GPS monitoring system is intended to increase compliance on protective orders. He asked if the judges could share their experience with this system.

Judge Devlin responded that they ran a pilot of this a few years ago and the system seems to be working. The system monitors people under the protective order and in instances where respondents come from within the buffer zone, local police departments are notified.
Steve added that over the four years that judges have employed this system, there have not been any injuries to victims.

Karen Jarmoc stated that the system is working well, but it is expensive relative to the outcomes. She added that the state should be looking at other options that are less costly to protect victims. She added that at the next meeting on November 10, the task force would be hearing from the child welfare system and discussing policy and practice.

A motion was duly made and seconded to adjourn the meeting. The meeting was adjourned at 12:13 PM.

Sara LeMaster Task Force Staff