This is a copy of the speech written by Gail Lakritz and given today by Angela Warren at the Pueblo Colorado Conference. This speech was given to judges, police, lawyers and DV advocates.
How Abusers Use The Court System To Continue to Victimize Their Partners and Children
When a woman finally makes that decision to end the abuse and to flee the abusive situation, she rightfully expects that the police, her lawyers and the courts will protect her and her children from further harm. Being a member of the Sheriff's Posse, that is what I was thought. After all, the courts always operate solely by the law, correct? (Scan audience for nods of agreement) We all know that does not happen and that is why I was so confused by my litigation. When injustice reared its ugly head, it flew in the face of everything I thought our country stood for, and, as with most victims of abuse, I came to realize that the system is stacked against the victim.
Today, I want to speak to you about some of the ways the abuser will use the system to further the abuse during the litigation process. It is my hope that, by exposing these tactics, you will recognize in your peers, and perhaps yourselves, what is being done has real, and all too often, deadly consequences.
The litigation abuse begins the moment the abuser is arrested. He plays on the sympathy of the arresting officers. He will use excuses to enlist them in his game. He is, after all, a master at deception. He has years of practice. He is the person who can look you straight in the eye and lie. During the ride to the lock up, he will say things like "She is an alcoholic or a drug addict", "She is always picking on the kids" or "She takes all the money and spends it on herself and we never have enough to eat." Anything that will garner sympathy and sway them to lessen the severity of what is written in the arrest report. And, being taught to spot the antagonist of a situation as they true perpetrator of the situation, the police officer, who is generally male, will empathize with the abuser, and slant his report to favor the abuser. He will ignore what he has been taught, that the victim is most often the one who is hysterical and angry at having been attacked and side with the often calm and rational sounding architect of the situation. And the abuser has gained his first needed corner stone to further the abuse, for in the future, any calls to 911 will be met with skepticism by the police and all future reports of violence will be seen as insane acts by the actual victim.
During the booking process and his appearance for arraignment, when the victim is not present to hear what is being said to the magistrate, he will again repeat his reasons for the attack. Laying the blame on the victim. Now he has widened his circle of conspirators. Word will filter from these people to the Bailiff and on to the judge that there were "extenuating circumstances" that predicated the attack.
Now, as we all know, the key to any successful litigation is money. With money, comes the right lawyers and a venue that is considered to be the "home turf" for that lawyer. Abusers control the money, therefore, they can afford the lawyers who consider winning to be the sole measure of success, not the just application of the law.
In each court system in America, there are lawyers that are known to be the "dirty trick" lawyers. They are the ones who use often unethical and illegal means to deny the Constitutional Rights of a litigant and victim. They will look the other way, or outright encourage, the use of terror tactics against a victim. Judges and other lawyers within the local Bar Association know who these practitioners are will look the other way. In some court systems, judges will actually instruct new lawyers with "I don't care what you do in my courtroom so long as I am not investigated" leaving the avenue open for them to ply their brand of law in any manner they see fit. The idea is to win, not to be just. The abuser will seek out these lawyers, perhaps getting the name of one from a police officer or someone else in the system who just happens to be overheard talking or from another inmate in the lock up.
So now, the abuser has assembled his "dream team". The police, the dirty tricks lawyer and the complacent judge. What more could he ask for than to have swayed the system and set the victim up for further abuse? The abuser will get a slap on the wrist, be sent to Anger Management and, in some jurisdictions, have his record of abuse sealed. In Anger Management, the prep will learn new and better ways of abusing. He will learn to abuse without leaving the outward marks that would land him back in jail. He will hone his skills, through the knowledge passed on by other perpetrators attending these sessions. The things that worked for them will be shared in group in the form of "I reacted to the situation by...." You fill in the blank, as each and every one of you know the tactics, know how the pain can be caused both mentally and physically to a victim without leaving the marks or a trail of abuse.
The first thing the abuser will do after being released from jail is to widen his circle of allies. His dirty tricks lawyer has instructed him to get out in front of his victim, and being the superior liar that he is, he is only too willing to accommodate. Generally, abusers are loners, having few friends and having disassociated themselves from family. He has allowed only minimal if any contact between his victim and her family. He will suddenly become the "social butterfly" contacting people to enlist their help, always with the story of having been the victim in the situation. Neighbors that were shunned by him in the past are now become his confidants. Whispers of abuse by the victim are passed from one person to another. This serves two purposes. It provides a support system for the abuser as well as removing any hope of support for the victim.
The next step to the tried and true method of using the system to abuse is to make the victim seem insane to the system. The abuser or one of his allies will begin the relentless process of attacks that are designed to discredit. Break-ins of the home of the victim are a common means as are well placed phone calls where the abuser uses threats, such as the victim never seeing her children again. An abuser will actually enlist the help of the unwitting child, promising rewards of gifts or, if teenagers, no boundaries to live by. The abuser will reward the child for such things as removing evidence against the abuser from the victims home, lying to police or being complacent about what was witnessed in an incident. Often, no system of reward is needed. It is fear of the abuser, that places the child in the unenviable situation of having to lie. The child senses what will cause the wrath of the abuser to rise against them. If you come away from this presentation with anything, this is the one piece of information I hope you retain. The cycle of abuse is learned and continued by this one tactic alone, using the children as tools of abuse. Any person within the system who even suggests that the abuser use this tactic is guilty of nothing less than murder. (Scan the audience to see who is squirming or looks disinterested and focus your eyes on them for a split second. They are a guilty party.)
Police, having been repeatedly told that the victim is insane, will respond to such things as break-ins as a sign that the abuser is correct in his assessment of the victim. All too often, the abuser will leave something that informs the victim he was there, but at the point in time that the police are called, the victim will not know what is missing, if anything. Sometimes the victim will find veiled death threats, a picture that only the victim and her abuser knows the meaning of, a cartoon left on the computer screen, that is meant to frighten and intimidate. A tire will be slashed when her car is hidden from public view, mementos that have little or no monetary value will be missing. Reporting these incidents to the police enforce the abuser's position. And, when the victim turns to her lawyer for help, if she has one, she is told to ignore all violations of her home and person. You see, it takes two lawyers to execute a well choreographed legal Tango, and by this time, the repeated calls to the police by the victim, the well placed lies by the perpetrator, and, with the assistance of the complacent judge, her lawyer has been won over to not assist in any meaningful manner. Thus the victim is turned into the abuser and seen only as a source of possible revenue for her own lawyer who will offer little if any assistance in seeing that justice is blind, not blinded by gold. ( Pick out a person you have predetermined to be guilty and look directly at them)
During the actual litigation process, there will be a number of players that will be easily swayed by the events that have lead up to this process. GALs and CLRs are swayed by having contact with the abuser and his ever growing stable of allies, lawyers, police and judges. If the children are afraid of the abuser, they dare not say anything to these people that would endanger themselves. Social workers, mental health professionals, even medical doctors who rely on the system for income will not oppose the well built facade of the abuser and his well scripted theater of abuse.
At this point, I would like to see a show of hands. How many of you are judges? Please raise your hands. Keep your hands raised, please. How many are police officers? Keep your hands raised, please. How many of you are lawyers who represent abuse victims exclusively? Good, now if you could all stand up and look around. Do you recognize people from your own court systems in this room? Isn't it nice to know that some of the people who are not standing could, and I emphasis the word could, be manipulating you? (Pause for about 10 seconds) Thank you, you may all be seated.
How do the dirty tricks lawyers actually manipulate? First, talk is cheap, and the dirty tricks lawyer and his client never seem to run out of voice. They will take every chance to influence the judge and the opposition lawyer if there is one, the GAL and CLR, the therapist and mental health evaluator , the social worker, shelter workers and people in the Court Clerk's office. Ex parte is common and rampant in any court system. It can't be stopped unless you, the judges, choose to stop it. A few well placed words prior to the opening of court, the happened, but planned, introduction of the abuser to you prior to proceedings so that you can see how likeable this person is and to get his side, again getting out ahead of the opposition in the litigation. Tools used to put a human face on an inhuman act of violence.
During the early stages of the litigation, the dirty tricks lawyer and an abuser will go for the "all or nothing" approach to a custody question. The abuser, and his lawyer, being confident in the groundwork they have already laid, will not present a parenting plan. They will often seek to move out of the jurisdiction, often so far away from the abused, as to effectively terminate all parental rights. The abused, on the other hand will present a generous plan which will include more time with the abuser than a court would normally mandate. The judge, being the Solomon of the court, knows he cannot split a child down the middle, will have to award temporary custody to one parent or another, and this is usually to the person who already has "possession" of the child at the time of the hearing. (make the hand sign for quotes when you say the word possession). If the victim was forced to flee without the child, or if the child happens to be visiting the abuser at the time of the hearing, guess who gets the temporary custody? Yup, the abuser.
This is the beginning of the motions process. The abuser's lawyer will file motions with the court, often filing them back to back, and always asking for contempt sanctions against the victim. If the victim is unrepresented, this confuses and terrorizes her. If she is one of the fortunate ones, one of the women who was able to afford a lawyer, and motions and subpoenas are filed on her behalf, they are ignored by the dirty tricks lawyer. In the meantime, if she is Pro Se, her filings are ignored by the clerk's office or disappear all together. It never ceases to amaze me how often victims report missing filings, even whole files of proceedings that have gone missing. I can only surmise how it could happen, all of which violate state law. When she asks for a subpoena which must go through the courts for approval, the subpoena that is received for service contains errors made by the person who entered it into the system, precluding the effectiveness of that subpoena. These errors would only be obvious to a trained lawyer, thereby giving the dirty tricks lawyer a reason to quash.
The motions process will offer more ample opportunities for the dirty tricks lawyer to ply his trade. He will mail important filings to the wrong address, often transposing the actual numbers, to prevent receipt in time for rebuttal. He will refuse to accept mail from the Pro Se and then claim that it was not sent to him. He will state a date and time verbally, but put another date and time in writing, often bolding it to attract attention to the erroneous information. He will send a copy of a minor issue in a motion, with proof of mailing, and have a second copy hand served. The problem with this is that he has actually filed two separate motions with the court, one of paramount importance and the one of minor importance. He will then have proof of two separate deliveries to the victim and state that the one hand served was in reference to the major issue while the one mailed was in reference to the minor issue. Of course, he will blame all of this on the victim. She gave me the wrong address, I never got it, she was served and I have the proof.
Depositions are an extremely useful tool for the trickster. Though most states follow the rules of the Federal Courts for deposition, tricksters do not. As all lawyers know, the only time depositions should be used is when information cannot be gotten by subpoena. The dirty tricks lawyer will force deposition to make the victim face her abuser in an environment controlled by the trickster. One deposition trick will be to inform the pro se that a date and time for a deposition of his client has been set. He will send a list of questions to be asked, and state that the deposition will be limited to these questions. This offers the opportunity to pound the Pro Se with intimidation and terrorist tactics of threats. It also forces the Pro Se into setting up a second deposition of her own. Not knowing that it is not required to submit questions in advance, the Pro Se will dutifully submit the entire list of questions to the trickster, giving him time to concoct answers that would favor him. And lest the abuser make a mistake, there is nothing to worry about. The Court Reporter in attendance is one favored by the lawyer. One only need to Google the search term "Changed Transcripts" to confirm this is a common practice. The number of hits are well in excess of 7,000,000.
Proffers are useful when it comes to the dirty tricks lawyer. It is not uncommon for them to submit Proffers to the Pro Se that are never filed with the courts. These are filled with the lies that the abuser intends on in court and are designed to see which arguments are going to be used to counteract the lies in court.
Surprise witnesses are the life blood of the trickster. No subpoena has been issued to these people to appear, but they just happen to be in the area when the court date came up. Judges have a duty to curtail the use of these convenient witnesses, but seldom do, preferring to overrule objections. Often, they are nothing more than hired guns for the defense, parroting whatever the trickster wants them to say. There is often no rebuttal for their testimony, as the Pro Se or her lawyer had no time to prepare for their appearance.
Witness tampering is blatantly illegal but used by the dirty trick lawyer and his client at every turn. All that is needed is for the potential witness to be mislead with a story of the victim being the true abuser, and after all, if they testify, they would be putting the children, and perhaps themselves, in danger. Surely, anyone in their right mind would not want to testify under these circumstances, given that few people are willing to testify in the first place. If that doesn't work, there is intimidation of the witness. Most people have something in their backgrounds they would prefer no one find out. The dirty tricks lawyer is a master at using innuendo and sources like police, family and acquaintances to find that one skeleton. If that doesn't work, there is always the avenue of the witness's employer. Innuendo can be placed in letters to the employer from the lawyer stating that this or that has never been cleared.
In his bag, the dirty trick lawyer and his client rely on the assistance of Child Protective Services. If a direct call from his client does not produce the desired response, there is always the "innocent and disconnected" third party report. These reports can vary from the upper end of sexual abuse or exploitation of the child to reports that the mother is furnishing drugs to the child to such things as a child being left alone. In one case I know of, the GAL was talked into calling CPS when a teenage boy overdosed. What the GAL forgot to report was that the 15 year old had arrived from his father's home with a plastic bag full of pills, and when the mother discovered them, he grabbed them and downed them in an attempt to get rid of the evidence. The same mother was accused of leaving the than 16 year old alone for two hours by the same GAL. Again the GAL left out a very important fact. The child was at the home of a friend.
Court orders are often altered to reflect what the attorney and abuser wants. One mother, while living here in Colorado heard a knock on her door one day. The father, who had never once exercised his visitation, had moved five years previously to Washington state. He went to the local Colorado police with an altered court order for full custody of the son, than 7 years old. No one questioned the validity of the order, in fact, the police were only too willing to help him in removing the child from the mother. She never saw her son again. She was able to locate him last year in a suburb of Seattle, but now 20, he has had it drilled into his head that she wanted nothing to do with him and had willing given him up.
If all else fails, there is always the use of Parental Alienation to fall back on. Dr. Richard Gardner, using no identifiable research and much to the consternation of all recognized authorities, first placed this Syndrome in the minds of the courts to discredit mothers and to help men save on alimony and child support payments. We are all familiar with the theory that states that the mother is toxic to the relationship between the father and his children and that the only true cure for this toxicity is to severely limit visitation or to remove it all together. Abusers and their attorneys love to use PAS. It is one of the most effective forms of abuse of the victim.
Through all the court abuse, and I have only touched on some of the verifiable things that women suffer in the courtroom, there is a continued onslaught from the abuser. Stalking, break-ins, destruction of property and threats of further harm to the victim are normal. Checks for alimony or child support that are never received are also widely reported. Harassment is an ongoing problem to the victim. Planting seeds of doubt of a mother's love for her child in the child's mind, any avenue an abuser can think of will be used.
All of this for one objective, to carry on the abuse. And, the players in the courtroom are all aiders and abettors to that abuse, whether they realize it or not. The crimes we allow these people to get away with are crimes that are punishable by law, and by each and every one of you allowing them to be predicated on victims of violence, you are taking part in those crimes.
Now, as one last thing, I would like some of you to take part in a fun little exercise to reinforce some of what you have heard here today. I would ask that every judge in the audience stand up and glace around the room. I want you to pick out a person here that you do not know and walk over to them and without saying a word, I want you to grasp their hand and shake it. (Wait for them to do this)
Now, again without giving this person your name, I want you to whisper in their ear the year, color and make and model of the car your closest loved one drives. Now, I want you, without giving the city or town you live in, to tell them the street address of that person. Good. You have just given someone who may be a trickster lawyer or an abuser all the information they need. You have just put your loved one in danger, possibly signing that their death warrant. Think about it and try to have a nice day.