UPDATE: CTLA Women's Caucus Domestic Violence Project

by Jennifer M. Celentano

Jennifer M. Celentano, Law Offices of Jennifer M. Celentano, LLC and Deborah L. McKenna, Emmett & Glander, Co-Chairs, CTLA Women’s Caucus Domestic Violence Pro Bono Project

Around the world, at least one in every three women has been physically or sexually abused during her lifetime.1  In early 2010, the CTLA Women’s Caucus began discussing ideas for a pro bono project.  The caucus members agreed that a public service project assisting domestic violence victims was a project that would allow our members to assist women and men in abusive relationships that are often difficult to leave.  From these discussions, the CTLA Women’s Caucus Domestic Violence Project (the “Project”) was born.

We were fortunate to be able to have assistance with training for our Project from Attorney Jane Grossman at New Haven Legal Assistance, Barbara Bellucci, a Family Violence Victim Advocate in GA 23 and Christie Ciancola, a victim advocate for the Coordinating Council for Children in Crisis (4C’s).  Jane, Barbara and Christie assisted our volunteer attorneys in understanding the statutes underlying temporary restraining orders, the process for putting on a show cause hearing and the issues that commonly arise when representing domestic violence victims.

The Project seeks to bridge the gap for victims who file for protective orders.  There are many community agencies and law school programs that assist domestic violence victims in filling out paperwork for temporary restraining orders.  However, our Project provides legal services to clients by representing the client at the time of the show cause hearings - - a critical time where many victims do not show up at court because they are intimidated by the court process.

By the time a client reaches the Project, they are usually overwhelmed by the paperwork and the process in obtaining a temporary restraining order.  Our volunteer attorneys (both women and men) work with family victim violence advocates and other community agencies who refer clients to the Project.  Once referred the volunteer attorney meets with the client and prepares them for the hearing.  Having an attorney who is willing to represent the victim and put on their case at the show cause hearing is invaluable to working to ensure that victims of domestic violence and their children are represented, that their voices are heard and that they are safe from their abusers. 

While our project is small, its impact has been large.  We have assisted women and men, and the young and the elderly to obtain protection from their abusers.  Our volunteer attorneys have found the Project to be tremendously rewarding, particularly those whose practices are far removed from domestic relations. 

The Project has assisted 15 victims of domestic violence to date.  Attorney Deborah McKenna represented a 78 year old woman who was seeking a restraining order against her 46 year old drug addicted son who had been terrorizing her.  Attorney McKenna was successful in getting the temporary restraining order granted and remarked that it was difficult for the client to go through the process of obtaining protection against her own son.

Attorney Kristi Emard represented a woman who had previously filed a TRO on her own which was denied.  The woman was physically abused by her husband and raped numerous times.  Attorney Emard represented the woman after she filed for a  TRO the second time.  Attorney Emard was successful in her efforts to obtain relief for the client, in part, because she presented evidence that the sexual abuse met the standard for a TRO.  Attorney Emard commented that the she “found it disturbing regarding the barriers pro se women face in obtaining TRO’s against their abusers” and also empathized with the victim who had language barriers and was unable to articulate the extent of abuse at the first hearing.

Attorney Joe Rossetti was able to obtain a restraining order for a woman whose ex-husband was verbally and physically abusive and had put his arms around the woman’s throat, twisted her arm and pushed her in her face and chest.  Attorney Rossetti reported that the 3rd floor in New Haven was an eye-opening experience. 

Attorney Leslie McPadden represented a disabled man whose ex-wife was physically and verbally abusive and stealing the man’s prescription medication.  Attorney McPadden was successful in obtaining a TRO for her client and could be seen in New Haven Superior Court toting an 8 foot piece of crown moulding (from a doorway) that the ex-wife had thrown at the victim.

            Attorney Ann Monaghan represented a woman who was seeking a temporary restraining order for herself and her young daughter.  The ex-husband had repeatedly threatened the woman and was very abusive in front of the couple’s five year old daughter.  The abuse was causing the minor child to exhibit regressive behaviors.  Attorney Monaghan put on evidence that the respondent had threatened the victim that he would “throw her down the stairs” and “put an end to her”.

            One of the concerns for our Project was ensuring that we were not representing an individual who was misusing the TRO process.  Conversely, the Project has represented two individuals who were being harassed by abusers with baseless TRO’s.  Attorney Jennifer Celentano represented a man who was being harassed by his girlfriend’s ex-husband.  The ex-husband had previously filed several TRO’s against his ex-wife and her boyfriend in an effort to control, intimidate and harass them.   The ex-husband’s attempts to control his ex-wife through his threats, emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual abuse are sadly not uncommon.  The ex-husband’s repeated attempts to use the judicial system in an improper manner will unfortunately likely continue.  However, the Project will continue to work to ensure that people do not misuse the TRO process in order to continue to victimize the victims.

The Women’s Caucus hopes to continue to train more volunteers so that our impact can be greater.  Each year, thousands of American children witness violence in their homes.  Witnessing violence is a risk factor for long-term physical and mental health problems, substance abuse, and the possibility of becoming a victim or perpetrator of violence.2  Witnessing family violence can be more traumatic than witnessing street violence, because those involved are people the child loves and depends on. 3

CTLA and the Women’s Caucus hope that someday this Project will no longer be needed.  In the meantime, we encourage any CTLA members who are interested in the Project to join us in this very rewarding endeavor.

§  1. Heis, L., Ellsberg, M., and Gottemoeller, M. (1999, December). Ending Violence Against Women, Population Reports, Series 1, No. 11.


§  2. Felitti, V., Anda, R., et al. (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14 (4): 245-58.

3. McAlister, G. (1995, January). How Does Exposure to Violence Affect Very Young Children? Harvard Mental Health Letter, 11(7),8.

Jennifer M. Celentano, Law Offices of Jennifer M. Celentano, LLC and Deborah L. McKenna, Emmett & Glander, Co-Chairs, CTLA Women’s Caucus Domestic Violence Pro Bono Project