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DV community offers legal services training


By Joyce Kryszak


Buffalo, NY – The Muzzammil Hassan murder trial has focused intense interest on the role of the courts in dealing with domestic violence crimes. A training session next month is designed to better educate professionals and the public about the legal options available to victims.

Public interest in this case has grown as details unfold about the role of the legal system in domestic violence cases. There has been testimony about protection orders, child protective services petitions, criminal court, and family court proceedings. Some or all of these areas of law could be involved in a single domestic violence case.

Suzanne Tompkins is a clinical professor of law at UB and a board member for the Family Justice Center of Erie County. Tompkins is a presenter for the legal services training being offered next month. She said there are a number of agencies that provide victims services. But Tompkins said they are not all legal experts.

"There are many people who work in agemncies who may have some knowledge of the court system but not the level of knowledge...maybe they've never been court, maybe they've never been to the procedures," said Tompkins.

"So, a training like this provides them with a greater level of familiarity so when they're communicating to their clients... they'll have some familiarity with the issue," added Tompkins.

Tompkins said that includes giving them the most up to date information about changes in domestic violence law. For example, she said strangulation was recently reclassified as a felony instead of just a misdemeanor.

But, most importantly, Tompkins said anyone trying to help a victim needs to know what the law can do to help protect victims.

"Certainly in the Buffalo community we know full well the dangers that are posed to victims, to families that are involved in domestic violence," said Tompkins. "It's important that we provide accurate information when someone takes a step of using the legal system - whether it's going to family court to petition the court, or calling the police."

She added, "it's important for people as they convey that information to let their clients know the ramifications of that, what's involved, what are the protections, what are the responsibilituies of people using the court system. All of that information is part of an overall process we refer to as safety training," said Tompkins.

The legal services training is part of an ongoing educational series offered by the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence at various locations around the county. The session on March 1 is open to anyone.

A fee and pre-registration are required to attend the three-hour morning session. More information is available at the ECCAFV website.