October 08, 2004

Domestic Violence Clinic expands services

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - A grant from Illinois Attorney General Lisa M. Madigan will allow the Domestic Violence Clinic at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school to expand legal services to domestic violence victims who cannot afford private attorneys.

The clinic will use the $40,000 grant from the Violent Crime Victims Assistance Act Fund to contract with local attorneys to assist domestic violence victims in six counties in the First Judicial Circuit, said associate professor and clinical program Director Mary C. Rudasill.

"I am pleased we were able to receive funds to expand much-needed services," said Rudasill.

Attorneys and third-year law students will assist domestic violence victims with their cases in Alexander, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Saline counties. Domestic violence clinic staff attorney Gail Thomas and law students already provide support services for domestic violence-related cases in Jackson, Union and Williamson counties within the First Judicial Circuit.

The grant "enables the clinic to continue to do the good work that it has been doing and helps us to serve people of Southern Illinois," law school Dean Peter C. Alexander said.

"It's a testament to the hard work of Mary Rudasill, the director of our clinical programs and her staff. They provide great service to our students, as well as to citizens of the region. This grant will enable that to continue." An increase in the number of cases seeking orders of protection prompted First Circuit Judge Stephen L. Spomer to suggest to Rudasill that the clinic pursue additional funding to help victims of domestic violence. Although victim advocates can provide some help, they cannot offer legal assistance, and many times victims are unrepresented in court hearings while the alleged abuser has a lawyer, Rudasill said.

Under the grant, once a victim obtains an emergency order of protection, the victim advocate will direct the individual to one of the contract attorneys for assistance in the upcoming protection hearing.

The grant also allows the attorney, with the clinical program's permission, to assist victims in other legal matters that help remove them from the abusive situation. That could include divorce, lease and child custody issues, Rudasill said.

Several factors play an important role in a victim's decision on whether to follow through in seeking a permanent order of protection, she said.

"There is more than just the order of protection," Rudasill said. "If a woman knows she can't afford an attorney to help in getting a divorce or get custody straightened out, then she is less likely to leave the abusive situation because she is afraid she will be defeated in those other matters."

Rudasill anticipates the clinic will contract with five or six attorneys, and she has written letters to SIUC law school alumni. Thomas and Susie Toliver, the crime victim advocate for the Carbondale Police Department, conducted a training session for attorneys and victim advocates earlier this week at the law school. The session included background on origins of domestic violence, the domestic violence cycle, and working with domestic violence victims.

Third-year law school students enrolled in the domestic violence clinic will also assist attorneys. Rudasill anticipates the grant will help provide students with additional opportunities for interaction with attorneys, clients and the judicial system in the region.

Serving others and pursing opportunities to address social, health and economic development issues is among the goals ofSouthern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

For more information on the program, contact Rudasill at 618/453-8717.