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  • When You Stop Keeping Their Secrets, They Start Losing Their Power: Exposing One Abuser's Use of the Legal System as a Weapon

    Legal professionals must broaden the context within which they view issues of domestic violence in order to effectively understand the threats facing their clients and to avoid being manipulated. For example, an attorney representing a client in Family Court should be aware of the possibility that an adverse party may use criminal proceedings against his or her client to gain leverage to attack the client in a custody dispute. Likewise, a prosecutor should be aware that a person claiming a crime committed by a spouse may be motivated by an impending divorce, separation, or custody dispute. By examining the ways in which one abuser manipulated seemingly isolated portions of the legal system, this Note will expose the legal tactics used so that attorneys and judges can better guard against such tactics in the future. Telling the story of one individual will add to the collective knowledge of the legal community. By looking at multiple accounts of individuals, and the struggles they faced in courts and at the hands of their abusers, the legal community can determine whether systemic changes are needed. It is no longer one failure of the legal system, or one judge or attorney, but a systemic failure and a weakness in the system that may be exploited. One overwhelming conclusion will emerge from the telling of Clarice’s story: victims of domestic violence desperately need competent representation. Part I of this Note will focus on Clarice’s story and path through the legal system, part II will examine whether or not the abuser’s behaviors were “typical,” and part III will examine whether Joe’s abuse could have been discovered and prevented. Discovering any “warning signs” will be highly beneficial to attorneys and judges who may come across similar scenarios in the future. Had Clarice been assigned a competent attorney, trained in domestic violence issues, the warning signs may have been heeded, and Clarice may not have been re-victimized by her abuser within the legal system.