readers speak out on domestic violence in the courts

October 24, 2008

As a former judicial educator for the Maryland courts, I know that judges have received training about the "cycle of violence" and the dynamics of an abusive relationship since the early 1980s. But Jennifer McMenamin's article about Baltimore County District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin's decision in the Bisnath case suggests that many judges still do not understand the danger of these situations ("Judge's action questioned again," Oct. 22).

Yes, a judge must be unbiased and make decisions based upon all of the evidence brought before the bench in a particular case.

But after reading Ms. McMenamin's account of the facts, I find it unbelievable that the judge allowed the alleged abuser in this case to stay in the family home.

We are fortunate to have many intelligent, committed and caring men and women on the trial courts throughout Maryland.

Most of them know the domestic violence statute well and apply its protections fairly, without violating the due process rights of the accused.

That, above all, is the role of a jurist.

I am glad to see that a consent decree approved by a Circuit Court judge yesterday overturned Judge Lamdin's ruling.

But it remains the obligation of the Maryland judiciary to send a strong message to all citizens, but especially to victims of domestic violence, that the courts will protect them.

Ellen Marshall, Baltimore

After reading Jennifer McMenamin's article "Judge's action questioned again," I want to urge The Baltimore Sun and its reporters to do a more thorough job.

I write not to defend District Judge Bruce S. Lamdin particularly, as I do not know the man and have appeared before him only on a handful of occasions, but to defend the public's need for an independent judiciary that should not be intimidated by zealots of any political stripe.

I write not to say anything particular about the case or character of this alleged victim, as none of us knows the facts of this case or has heard the testimony or examined the proof provided to the court.

I write because a reasonable person who spends enough time in the district or circuit courts will find that in that world, the "truth" is a slippery concept. I write because a reasonable person who watches enough protective-order hearings will likely ask himself or herself if it's right or just that a person is forced from his or her children and home on the scant evidence seen in a 30-minute hearing.

Time and again, we see this kind of snap-judgment reporting on right-wing talk-radio programs that pillory a judge for her careful examination of the reliability of DNA, gunshot residue and other scientific evidence. Now, we see such a dearth of thoughtfulness when it comes to the issue of domestic violence.

To be sure, domestic violence exists, and its pernicious effects reverberate throughout families and our communities. What we hear of in the news, however, are the horrible stories in which a protective order is not given and that refusal is tragically followed by an escalation of violence resulting in serious injury or death.

What The Baltimore Sun fails to report on, however, are ways in which the protective order process is too frequently abused by litigants seeking an upper hand in the course of a high-conflict divorce or child custody matter.

To protect the abused who will need the courts' protection in the future, we need to have independent judges who ensure the legitimacy of the protective order process and its remedies.

The last thing a judge should do is to rubber-stamp a protective order out of fear of journalistic second-guessing, as to do so would defile the tenets of due process, fairness and justice that all Marylanders and Americans deserve.

William Paul Blackford, Severna Park

The writer is an attorney who has worked on domestic abuse cases.

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