September 09, 2005

Domestic Violence Clinic receives $40,000 grant

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- For the second consecutive year, a grant from Illinois Attorney General Lisa M. Madigan is allowing the Domestic Violence Clinic at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's law school to provide legal services to victims who cannot afford private attorneys.

The clinic is using a $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.

Five contract attorneys – all graduates of SIUC's law school – 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 in domestic violence-related cases in Jackson, Union and Williamson counties within the First Judicial Circuit under a separate program.

"By coordinating efforts with law schools and local domestic violence advocates, my office can assist in providing opportunities for quality legal representation from attorneys who understand the cycle of violence and the need for quick legal action," Madigan said. "This type of collaboration brings us one step closer to reducing domestic violence in Illinois."

Rudasill appreciates the support the program is receiving from Madigan. The program covering six counties began in October 2004 and assisted 20 domestic violence victims in nine months. She expects the number of referrals to increase.

"The Attorney General is serious about assisting domestic violence victims and helping them get out of abusive situations," Rudasill said.

Many abuse victims often do not have the financial resources to retain counsel for court hearings, she said. Victim advocates cannot offer legal assistance.

"I dare say there is no other judicial circuit that has the availability of free legal representation for victims of domestic violence," she 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 plenary order of 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. Those include divorce, housing and child custody issues, Rudasill said.

"The attorneys who helped were impressed with how thankful these victims were to have representation and a chance to start new, safer lives," she said.

Victims seeking the program's services must first meet with a domestic violence advocate at a shelter program or in a state's attorney's office. Domestic violence advocates then make referrals directly to the clinic or to the contract attorneys.

Rudasill said several factors often play important roles in a victim's decision on whether to follow through in seeking a permanent order of protection. Many of those factors revolve around the ability to find legal help in getting those issues resolved.

Third-year law school students enrolled in the Domestic Violence Clinic will be allowed to attend and observe the court proceedings in the various counties. The grant will 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 are among the goals of Southern 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 618/536-4423.