John L. Cunningham III

(I don't have much on dear John and found little, if someone could please comment about him that would be great).

Appeals court calls non-violent protective orders defective

For years, advocates concerned with domestic violence have argued that court-issued "nonviolent contact orders" provide no meaningful protection to victims.

And now the courts also have taken a step in that direction.

A state appeals court has deemed one such order "defective," an opinion advocates hope will encourage judges to take stronger measures to protect potential victims of domestic abuse.

"It's obviously a yellow flag," said Marion Circuit Judge Louis Rosenberg. "We will all read it, and we will follow it."

When abuse victims or those who fear for their safety seek protection from a known person, judges typically have issued a common protective order that bars any contact. But sometimes they issue nonviolent orders that allow abusers to see their victims -- as long as they don't hurt them.

The practice made news last summer when an Indianapolis man under such an order shot and killed his ex-wife, April Wills, in front of her 13-year-old daughter.

The appellate opinion this month does not stop judges from allowing contact between victim and abuser, said Seth Lahn, who directs the Protective Order Project at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law. But it discourages that practice in cases where there is past abuse. * * *

Judges use nonviolent contact orders primarily in cases where some contact is deemed necessary for reasons such as counseling or parenting arrangements.

But domestic violence advocates say the orders provide an easy way out for judges who basically allow any contact as long as it's not violent when they should make the effort to set strict rules for such contact.

"The judge has to say, 'I'm granting a protective order. That means no showing up on her doorstep, no phone calls, no texts, no nothing. So while we're here and while we're in court, let's talk about parenting,' " said Kerry Hyatt Blomquist, legal director for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "That takes time."

Lahn said the ruling means "the court should lean on the other side and say, 'We're going to prohibit all contact except for what is necessary to exchange the child for visitation.' "

Blomquist's group, which filed a friend of the court brief in the case, argues that the orders often are misunderstood and give victims a false sense of security.

"If the parties could have nonviolent contact," Blomquist said, "she wouldn't be asking the court for protection."

Blomquist said DeVone Moore, the Marion County woman whose nonviolent contact order the appeals court deemed defective, believed the measure barred visits from her husband, who had abused her.

Still, the Marion Superior Court judge who gave April Wills a nonviolent protective order against her ex-husband does not believe any kind of order would have kept her alive. He said he was in the process of making permanent an emergency protective order prohibiting contact when Wills interrupted him, saying she needed to see her ex-husband for parenting reasons.

"I get angry when people suggest that it was a defective order that led to (Wills' death)," said Marion Superior Court Judge David Certo. "He's a murderer."

In the two years before Certo handed down the nonviolent protective order in the fall of 2007, Carl Wills had slashed Wills' tire, kicked in her door and punched her in the face. She never pressed charges. On July 22, 2008, Carl Wills killed Wills' boyfriend, John L. Cunningham III, then dragged Wills and her 13-year-old daughter into his car. Minutes later, he killed April as the girl watched. As police approached, Carl Wills fatally shot himself.

Certo, who also handed down the nonviolent contact order in the Moore case, said he issues 30 to 50 protective orders per day and two or three nonviolent contact orders a month. He said he appreciates the appeals court's guidance but will continue to evaluate each case individually and hand down nonviolent contact orders when he thinks they're appropriate.

Link to briefs in the case here.

Also see post for dear friend April Wills.


Anonymous said...

This judge clearly lacks understanding of domestic violence or does not care about husbands killing wives. I pray for a better candidate to run against him and a public wise enough to replace him.

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