25 Working Together to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence A small audio recorder may have saved Crystal Harris’s life. Hidden in a drawer and turned on in a hurry one evening, the device picked up Crystal’s screams and pleas as her husband brutally attacked her. As a result of this recording being used as evidence in court, Crystal’s husband received a four-year sentence. Today, Crystal is free of the violence that may have resulted in her murder. However, because of a provision of California law, neither she, nor her children, are free from her abusive ex-husband. As the breadwinner in their former marriage, Crystal was forced to pay temporary support to her abuser before his prison sentence, and may be ordered to support him again when he’s released. She is even liable for the legal bills he incurred during their divorce. Through a referral from DV Leap, a nonprofit that assists victims of domestic violence, Mintz Levin’s San Diego attorneys Ben Wagner, Nate Hamler, and Justin Nahama took Crystal’s case and are working to determine her best options for appeal. In the meantime, she’s gone public with her story of being forced to support her abuser, and outrage has led to calls for new legislation. A bill introduced by California State Assembly Member Toni Atkins could help ensure that other victims are not obligated to support a convicted spouse and pay an abuser’s divorce fees, though the bill as written would not help victims who already have been ordered to support their abusers. When Ben realized the bill didn’t explicitly include victims like Crystal, he made a call to Assembly Member Atkins’s staff. Before long, Ben had helped draft an amendment to include past victims’rights, and he hopes to see it included in the final bill. Mintz Levin’s Domestic Violence Project was founded over 20 years ago, expanding from representing individuals to representing nonprofits, drafting appeals, and lobbying at the state and national levels. The San Diego office has been an active participant since it opened six years ago. Attorneys including Ben, Nate, Eric Eastham, and Abby O’Brient have helped victims file for temporary restraining orders and have represented clients referred through the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program. Our attorneys also step in to manage the clinic at the East County Family Justice Center as needed. Crystal’s ex-husband will be free in 2014, and the judge has ordered instant reunification with the children. Crystal’s team of attorneys is filing a brief to prevent the convicted sex offender’s immediate reunification with the children without therapy or assessment to evaluate the risks he may pose to them. “It’s outrageous that the lower court wouldn’t take more steps to protect the children and victim,” Justin says. “We’re going to do everything we can to ensure they’re protected.” Truth & Consequences With the current state of the economy and the massive budget cuts to the California courts, access to the justice system is becoming increasingly difficult, particularly for low- income individuals. Victims of domestic violence are one of the most vulnerable populations who are in desperate need of legal representation for their safety. The partnership with Mintz Levin is invaluable to SDVLP and to our clients, who would not otherwise be able to afford representation. Kris Jacobs Managing Attorney San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program The Power of Partnerships