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Bar News - November 16, 2012

Someone to Stand by Them: DOVE Provides Representation to Victims in Court

The vast majority of domestic violence victims have no legal representation when they seek final restraining orders, and while some are granted protection by the court, self-represented plaintiffs usually arenít prepared to request the financial relief they need to live independently.

According to a recent state report, only 12 percent of plaintiffs filing domestic violence petitions in New Hampshire have legal representation, and 55 percent of petitioners are denied a final, one-year protective order. The court statistics, which were made available for the first time in the report, underscore the importance of the NH Barís Domestic Violence Emergency (DOVE) Project in providing representation for victims. They also offer a clearer picture of the severity of the domestic violence problem in New Hampshire.

"This is the first time weíve been able to see the data from the courts alongside the information from the crisis centers," said Pam Dodge, coordinator of the DOVE Project, which is part of the Bar Associationís Pro Bono Referral Program. "Our hope is that it will help us to better understand the problem, focus our efforts where we can make the most impact, and raise awareness about the high level of need for domestic violence services."

Developed in 1992 to provide emergency legal help to low-income victims of domestic violence, DOVE works closely with domestic violence crisis centers throughout New Hampshire, which refer qualifying cases to DOVE. DOVE reviews and refers the cases to specially trained volunteer attorneys across the state. In addition to helping a victim obtain a final restraining order from the court, a lawyer can often ensure that the victim gets additional protections, including court-ordered spousal support and use of the marital home, that are necessary for continued independent living, Dodge said.

DOVE has been funded over the last 20 years through a mix of federal, state and private grants, and receives in-kind accounting and administrative support from the NH Bar Association. Dodge notes that both DOVE and New Hampshire Legal Assistance, which also provides legal services in restraining order cases, have suffered major funding cuts due to the economic downturn.

With the help of federal stimulus funding in 2009, however, DOVE launched North Country Outreach, an initiative that matches lawyers in the southern part of the state with victims in rural northern areas for legal consultations on the phone or through videoconferencing. The state and judicial branch statistics released last month backed up what had previously been an anecdotal disparity between the southern and northern parts of the state, with regard to the need for services and the rate of domestic violence petitions filed per capita.

DOVE has a panel of about 150 attorneys who agree to provide pro bono representation at two final hearings per year, explained Dodge. On average, the cases require between six and eight hours of work, but depending on the facts, a case can take more or less time. The work is specialized and sometimes stressful, but for the right attorney, it is also highly rewarding, said Dodge.

In addition to annual live training at the NH Bar Center, non-live training videos and materials are available year-round to attorneys interested in finding out if becoming a DOVE attorney is right for them. When the training is complete, attorneys are matched with experienced volunteers for mentoring before taking cases of their own. For more information about DOVE, contact Dodge.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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