Monthly Archives: May 2012

Legal Representation for Parties in CPO cases : Frequency and Breakdown

In this Court Watch Project Blog post, we are examining the frequency and proportion of Petitioners and Respondents who have legal representation for their CPO hearing. While the DV civil protection order process is designed to be easy to access and pro se (parties can represent themselves without attorneys), it is permissible for parties to have legal representation.

A total of 116 of Petitioners and 139 of Respondents have been recorded as represented by attorneys-most of the others were either pro-se or absent. Of the total 767 cases that Court Watch volunteers have sat in on this year, 368 had data recorded for both parties with respect to representation; the following percentages are out of those which all data was present (so n/368).

The breakdown in the graph below displays that while most often both parties were not represented (44% of the time), the second most common arrangement was when only the Petitioner had counsel (26% of the time). Both parties were represented quite frequently (24% of the time), as compared to when only the Respondent had counsel (6% of the time).

Around 32% of the time, at least one party has representation. —where Petitioners have attorneys more frequently than Respondents This may give one party an advantage because the attorney is better able to navigate Court proceedings. If the Petitioner is surviving a pattern of abuse, having representation may equal out the playing fields in Court in cases where the abuser, or Respondent, is very manipulative or threatening. Petitioners may be afraid to come to court due to real or perceived threats, they may be very anxious about seeing or speaking out against their abuser or the Respondent may be able to manipulate the situation to make the Petitioner look less credible; these threats are increased if the Petitioner faces other life-generated barriers such as age, language, fear of coming out, or immigration. Having an attorney may lessen these threats and make it easier for the Petitioner to come to court and get the CPO.

Additionally, representation for parties in CPO cases can become vital if the case is convoluted. And indeed, of the 521 cases where the question of complicating matters was answered, 27% were reported to have complicating related cases—where other issues complicated getting the protection order such as custody, child support, visitation, and criminal cases.

If a Petitioner or Respondent cannot get pro-bono services, they either must go pro-se—or if, they feel it is important enough—pay the costs of legal representation. This varies depending on whether the counsel is for-profit, how many hours are required, and what the case involved—but can easily be over $1000 for an average CPO case. It is vital that parties which cannot afford legal counsel but feel they very much need it to try to find a lawyer or organization that can give free or sliding-scale counsel or at least out-of-court guidance.

There are various legal organizations which can be helpful for Petitioners and Respondents—often even representing them in court. Such free counsel for family court issues like CPOs, custody, or child support can be found for either party at Catholic CharitiesChildren’s Law CenterNeighborhood Legal Services ProgramWhitman-Walker Clinic (mostly for LGBTQ and people living with HIV/AIDS), Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless (for those facing homelessness in DC), American University Washington College of Law Domestic Violence Clinic,Catholic Universities of America Family Law Clinic , Tahirih Justice Center (for immigrant women/girls), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) (for Latinos in DC), George Washington University Jacob Burns Community Legal ClinicsGeorgetown University Family Advocacy Clinic, and UDC Law Clinics. All of these places will want to conflict-check, and some will decide not to help a Respondent or a Petitioner if they feel that person is a primary or predominant aggressor.

Also, anyone can get help—but not legal representation—at the Family Court Self-Help Center and Landlord-Tenant Resource Center on issues that relate or often go hand-in-hand in the CPO process, such as figuring out who has rights over a property when one or both names are on the lease. Similarly, DC SAFE helps Petitioners go through the process (such as helping them compose the petition) but then cannot represent the client directly. DC SAFE therefore tries to connect Petitioners with free legal representation from the following organizations—most of which will only represent Petitioners: the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project (DCVLP)Ayuda (for immigrants), Break the Cycle,DVLEAPLegal AidBread for the CityAARP (for the elderly), Our Place DC (for those who have spent at least one day in jail), and OAG. These organizations represent survivors free of charge and are especially knowledgeable about the nature and patterns of domestic violence.


Enroll in the Next Court Watch Project Volunteer Training!

Friday, May 18th at 2:30pm-5:30pm at the DC Superior Courthouse

Come learn how to be a DC DV Court Watch Project Volunteer! Volunteers are needed to sit in court and record data M-F 9-4pm. The schedule is very flexible: you choose the days and hours that work for you! This is a great opportunity for folks interested in supporting survivors of DV or supporting SAFE, learning more about the justice system and court proceedings, thinking about law school, or needing community service hours!

To apply please click here. Have questions? To learn more please email Kate Vander Tuig at

Court Monitoring Programs: Achievements Across The Country

Across the United States, there are several communities that have come together to start court monitoring programs in their court systems. Some are long-term, developed programs, others are more grassroots and focus on specific issues. Many of the programs have been started by direct service organizations like SAFE. What most of these programs have in common is their overarching goal to involve the community in ensuring that the court systems are just and efficient allowing victims of violence the freedom to access services.  In this CWP blog post we will highlight a few examples of successful court monitoring programs.

King County Sexual Assault Resource Center (KCSARC)

Located just south of Seattle, the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center has been working to help survivors of sexual assault since 1976.  Like SAFE, KCSARC is a direct services agency that has developed a CourtWatch program in order to become involved in the justice system. In just two years, the program has successfully achieved their goal of  “holding the justice system accountable for its handling of sexual assault and child abuse cases, and to create a more informed public.” While focusing on Sexual Assault Protection Orders specifically, KCSARC’s CourtWatch program is working in both criminal and civil proceedings, allowing them to analyze data on the entire justice system and see the broad picture of where gaps exist for survivors. Recently, after publishing a report on Sexual Assault Protection Orders they were able to start analyzing whether their recommendations were being implemented and what their effect was. They are currently working on sharing these findings with other sexual assault organizations in Washington to be able to collaborate over best practices for advocates, lawyers and law enforcement working with survivors.


WATCH is one of the oldest and most developed court monitoring programs in the nation. Based in Minneapolis, WATCH started as its own organization, strictly dedicated to making the “justice system more effective and responsive in handling cases of violence against women and children, and to create a more informed and involved public.”  Volunteers record data in a number of different kinds of court cases, from child abuse to domestic violence to sexual assault, both civil and criminal. In addition to releasing regular reports and recommendations, WATCH has published a number of “how-to” materials for other programs. As the founding member of the National Association of Court Monitoring Programs, WATCH has been a guiding model and resource for many of the court monitoring programs in the US and across the world.

CourtWatch Florida 

Much like WATCH, CourtWatch Florida is an organization solely dedicated to court monitoring. They record data on domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault cases in central Florida to “make sure the justice system holds perpetrators accountable and doesn’t re-victimize the victims”.  This program is volunteer driven and has many leaders in the community participating on the board of directors – from law enforcement, educators and businesspeople to members of the press. Court accountability is encouraged in many ways by CourtWatch Florida; one example is the weekly “watch list” newsletters sent out to identify the cases that volunteers are monitoring, allowing the community to learn about specific cases and how they are proceeding.

All of these programs are great examples of court monitoring having successful outcomes in their respective communities. Their websites are linked in this post and are worthwhile sources of information, resources and ideas. Do you know of other programs of that are having similar successes? Please share in the comments section!