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Bar News - May 14, 2010


Judge Carbon Directs National Domestic Violence Office

Hon. Susan B. Carbon
Call it a delayed send-off or an early homecoming, but next week’s Statewide Conference on Family Violence will be a special event for Judge Susan B. Carbon, the newly appointed Director of the Office of Violence Against Women in the US Department of Justice.

In only her second month on the job since her swearing-in by Attorney General Eric Holder, Judge Carbon will be the keynote speaker at the 16th Statewide Conference on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Stalking, a cross-disciplinary event she helped launch during her year as president of the New Hampshire Bar Association from 1993 to 1994. (Registration has already closed for the conference, organized by the NH Department of Justice that takes place this year May 20 to 21 at the Radisson Hotel-Center of New Hampshire in Manchester.)

In one of her first messages as the presidentially-appointed director of the national office, Judge Carbon expressed gratitude to her NH judicial colleagues who had supported her over the years. "There are two individuals in particular from New Hampshire whom I wish to publicly acknowledge – my Administrative Judge, Hon. Edwin W. Kelly, and our state’s Chief Justice, Hon. John T. Broderick, Jr. Both have been exemplary mentors and visionary leaders who have supported me in my work within New Hampshire and elsewhere for so many years."

In an interview with Bar News before starting her Washington, DC appointment, Carbon recalled being asked in 1992 by then-Chief Justice David Brock to be a member of a four-member NH delegation to a national conference on the then-emerging topic of family violence, courts and the community. "I spent four days learning about domestic violence – as a lawyer and judge I hadn’t ever really dealt with it—and it was an enormous eye-opener for me."

Thereafter, she made it her mission and priority as NHBA president to replicate the conference in NH. Obtaining grant support from a variety of sources, including the NH Bar Foundation and with the support of Chief Justice Brock and Judge Kelly, the conference was launched and became an annual event. That conference, now sponsored by the Victim-Witness Assistance Office of the NH Department of Justice, typically draws social workers, law enforcement personnel, judges, and lawyers to training programs that provide a fuller understanding of the causes, prevention and treatment of domestic and family violence. Judge Carbon says the coalescing energy of these annual gatherings has given the small state momentum to make further advancements in addressing domestic violence, including the development of protocols for prosecutors, law enforcement, health care personnel, and other professionals which Carbon says are "cutting edge." "Not many states have domestic violence protocols," she says, "and our statewide protocols have already been revised two times."

Carbon is simultaneously proud of the progress and yet cognizant of the distance yet to go in the field of domestic violence prevention. "There has been a sea change in all communities, including the courts," in the treatment of domestic violence. But she adds there is still much work to be done.

She is of similar mind as to the status of gender bias in the legal profession, another issue she helped address through the first Women in the Profession survey she helped to launch during her years in Bar leadership. (FYI: The results of the 20-year follow-up to that survey will be published later this month in the next issue of the Bar Journal.)

"I remember hearing Chief Justice Brock saying that in 10 to 15 years, the issue of gender bias will be behind us. And, still, gender bias is not behind us," Carbon said. "There is generally no facial [visible, obvious] bias, but there are still biases in the profession in payment disparities, in only giving lip service to allowing part-time schedules for lawyers. There are subtle nuances to the bias."

In her new job, she will be overseeing the dispensing of grants, instead of seeking them. And, no longer part of the court system, she will be looking at domestic violence issues from a wider, multidisciplinary perspective. Funds authorized under the Violence Against Women Act in the current fiscal year are $400 million, and the request for next year is $460 million. She is looking forward to tackling these issues on a bigger stage, from a wider perspective.

In her director’s message to the national domestic violence community, she reflected on the 15-year anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act.

"Now, 15 years after its original passage, we have an historic opportunity to bring to fruition the dream that inspired the Violence Against Women Act. None of us is immune from sexual or domestic violence, but all of us are needed to end it. Let us forge new and stronger partnerships, put our issues on the front burner of everyone’s agenda, and give life and light to this dream."

On the eve of starting her new position, this veteran judge and energetic advocate, admitted to feeling some butterflies. "There’s always trepidation in starting something brand new and wondering if I can meet everyone’s expectations of me," she said.

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