Hartford, CT - On Tuesday, September 15, 2015, at 10:00 am, the Connecticut Supreme Court will hear argument in Wendy V. v. Luis Santiago, a certified public interest appeal that will address the question of whether trial courts possess the authority under state statutes to deny applications for family violence restraining orders without holding a hearing. The case will be argued by Attorney Linda Allard of Greater Hartford Legal Aid (GHLA).
GHLA filed the appeal in June 2015, after its client, Wendy V., had filed two applications for a family violence restraining order in Hartford Superior Court that were denied without a hearing. The Supreme Court granted permission to file the appeal because it involves a matter of substantial public interest.
Wendy V.'s restraining order applications stated that the estranged father of her children had made threats against her life to a Family Relations Counselor at Superior Court in the context of a court-ordered custody evaluation. He told the Family Relations Counselor that if Ms. V tried to take the children away from him, they would lose both parents, not just one. He also told the Family Relations Counselor that he had a friend who had fatally shot the mother of his children when she had tried to take the children from him.
"This is an important case," says Attorney Allard, "because the purpose of Connecticut's restraining order statute is to ensure that victims of family violence can come before a judge to seek legal protections. If applications are denied without a hearing, victims are denied the opportunity to seek safety."
Attorney Enelsa Diaz, who manages the GHLA Family Unit, says, "This case is about our client's safety but raises critical issues for all victims, particularly those who apply for restraining orders without an attorney's help."
The Family Law Section of the Connecticut Bar Association has filed an amicus brief in the case, at the invitation of the Connecticut Supreme Court. Describing the issue on appeal as "an important question," the CBA brief states, "[t]he denial of a hearing within fourteen days in the future may well lead to injury or death to those whom [the family violence restraining order statute] is intended to protect."
Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) issued the following statement about the case: "From where we sit, victims of domestic violence are not granted ex parte orders by Connecticut judges too often where there is clearly merit. In this particular case, the risk factors associated with danger and lethality are abundantly evident. And while this appeal speaks to denial of a hearing for an applicant, it more broadly highlights the need for more comprehensive evidence-based training for family court judges - who are viewing some 9,000 restraining order applications annually - on the issue of family violence."
After the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, the Superior Court scheduled a hearing on Wendy V.'s family violence restraining order application. Her application was denied following the hearing, and that ruling is on appeal to the Appellate Court.
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