A plea to peers to reject legislation

House votes down bill to expunge records after delegate tells of being victim of abuse

General Assembly 2009

March 11, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

From her seat on the floor of the House of Delegates, a freshman lawmaker from Baltimore rose yesterday to address her colleagues, not as one of them but as a domestic violence victim opposing a measure that would have erased public records of some protective orders.

Del. Cheryl D. Glenn, a 57-year-old Democrat, told lawmakers that her husband had horrifically beaten her years ago. She said abuse victims have plenty of reasons not to go to court. In her case, she said, her husband threatened to kill her children. The delegates were considering allowing the subjects of protective orders to have their records expunged if a temporary order is not made final, which can happen if an accuser does not come to court.

"I passionately oppose this bill," Glenn said. "I plead with you," she said, to reject it.

The legislation failed by five votes, 64 to 69.

It was one of numerous - and sometimes seemingly contradictory - domestic violence measures up for consideration this year, including two proposals by Gov. Martin O'Malley that would confiscate guns from the subjects of protective orders. Those bills are up for debate tomorrow in the House, as is a plan to enable those seeking protective orders to carry handguns.

Women's advocates said the handgun proposal gives them pause because it could introduce weapons into volatile situations. "We'd go two steps forward and go a step back," said Del. Sue Hecht, a Frederick County Democrat who has been active for more than a decade in domestic violence prevention programs.

Hecht also opposed the expungement legislation up for debate yesterday.

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons, a Montgomery County Democrat and trial attorney, sponsored the bill. He said that when temporary protective orders, which judges grant after hearing only from the accuser, don't materialize as final orders, it is only fair to wipe away the public record of the court hearings.

"The question before the House is: Innocent until proven guilty - do we believe in it?" Simmons said.

Simmons argued that the civil orders are "the equivalent of criminal records" and can be viewed by potential employers and landlords. Even if removed from public view, Simmons said, police officers and courts would have maintained access to the records. He said it was time for lawmakers to address the problem of false accusations of domestic violence.

Of the more than 17,000 temporary protective orders granted last year in Maryland, about 9,000 were made final, said Del. Joseph F. Vallario, a Democrat representing Calvert and Prince George's counties and a proponent of Simmons' bill.

Opponents, including Glenn, argued that the bill would give abusers another incentive to prevent their victims from going to court.

After the voting session yesterday, lawmakers embraced Glenn and thanked her for sharing her story. She said that she had never spoken publicly about her abusive marriage and hadn't thought she would get so emotional in front of her colleagues.

Glenn said in an interview that her husband abused her for about four years. After a beating in 1978, she told him she was leaving him and taking her three children to her mother's house in Virginia. She said her husband had a sawed-off shotgun and told her she would never again see the kids alive. But soon after, he accidentally shot himself to death with that same gun. He'd been drinking, she said.

Some delegates said yesterday that the bill seemed out of step with other domestic violence proposals they were considering this year. "We have to provide as many protections as possible" to victims of abuse, Hecht said.

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