Legal Aid, courts streamline process to help domestic violence victims

By: - October 30, 2019 5:49 am
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Barbara Buckley, the executive director of Legal Aid of Southern Nevada, announced the creation of a Protective Order Office to help domestic violence victims. (Photo: Michael Lyle)

Legal Aid of Southern Nevada is collaborating with Nevada Eighth Judicial District Court Family Division and Clark County to open a Protection Order Office and Family Self-Help Center in order to simplify and streamline the process of getting protection orders.

Barbara Buckley, the executive director of Legal Aid, spoke alongside Judges Linda Marie Bell and Bryce Duckworth and Clark County Commission Chair Marilyn Kirkpatrick Tuesday afternoon to announce the creation of the new office, which is expected to open in 2020. 

“What you’re going to see is a user-friendly, victim-centered process,” Buckley said. “When you’re struggling with grief and trauma and worried about your kids, we want the process to work for the victims.”

There is no guarantee for legal representation except when it comes to criminal cases. As a result, Buckley said, it is often low-income people who go without attorneys in situations like domestic violence cases. 

“There are 800,000 people in our community who make at or below 200 percent of the poverty level, meaning they can’t afford lawyers,” she said. 

While Legal Aid provides legal assistance for low-income individuals on a variety of issues — from immigration services to debt collection lawsuits to domestic violence cases —  it can’t offer attorneys for everyone, which is why the organization sometimes directs people to the Self-Help Law Center to assist them in navigating the court process or filling out forms. 

But domestic violence cases often involve family law and custody issues, meaning whenever a victim is done filling out an application and applying for a protective order in one place they have to go to an entirely different court in another location to contend with family matters.  

“Before, victims of domestic violence would have to go to one office for a protective order application and then another office to start a custody complaint,” Buckley said. “Victims of domestic violence may already be losing time at work. They can’t afford to take another day off to wait hours at the courthouse one day and then have to come back the next day.” 

When the center opens up within the Clark County Family Court building, everything will be done in one place. 

Kirkpatrick said opening a collaborative center was years in the making. 

“This is really what Clark County wants to see more of — the courts and Legal Aid coming together to ensure the victims have a one-stop shop, making the process a lot more simple,” she said. “Once we can do that, we can start bringing more awareness so people know that we take domestic violence very seriously in Clark County, and we want to ensure that our victims get all the resources they need.”

Nevada consistently ranks poorly when it comes to domestic violence and in the number of men who kill women as a result of intimate partner violence. 

However, there are barriers for victims to get resources they need. 

“The amount of time and difficulty to obtain protective orders are true barriers for victims of domestic violence,” Buckley said. 

Each year, Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court Family Division processes 6,000 temporary protective orders. In January, the district court implemented a new process to expedite the process of securing a protection order. 

“They can complete an application today and have a hearing in the same day,” Duckworth said. “If someone walks in and completes an application, they will appear in front of a judicial officer and have their application heard. If it is granted, they will leave the courtroom with a full and complete protective order that is valid for up to 45 days.”

Buckley said all the steps being taken are working together to better serve domestic violence victims. 

“It will lead to better outcomes for victims,” she said. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.