East Bay Lawyer Makes Domestic Abusers Pay
May 13, 2015 7:51 AM   Subscribe

When Tia Katrina Taruc Canlas studied at UC Berkeley School of Law, she learned from one of her professors, Nancy Lemon, that many survivors of domestic abuse aren't told of all their legal options. Lemon insisted that some enterprising young lawyer should use the civil code some day to seek justice for domestic violence victims. The seed was planted.

Today, Canlas, a Berkeley lawyer, has taken her professor's advice to heart, and is employing a surprisingly underused, survivor-based approach to tackle domestic violence — holding batterers financially accountable in court for their actions. [article contains descriptions of physical & sexual intimate partner abuse] posted by Juliet Banana (41 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
That's good work.
posted by chavenet at 7:58 AM on May 13, 2015


Wow, so amazing. She pays herself less than I get paid to do immeasurably more important work. She is inspiring.
posted by easter queen at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Canlas represents middle- and low-income survivors whose batterers are middle-to-high income.

I like her. I really really like her.
posted by barnacles at 8:18 AM on May 13, 2015 [11 favorites]


If her great grandfather sounds familiar it's because he was the leader of the Huk during and after WWII.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:19 AM on May 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


How can people donate to what she's doing?
posted by clawsoon at 8:39 AM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


Donation link from the Alipato Project link above.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:41 AM on May 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


Bless that lawyer.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:55 AM on May 13, 2015


that ellena berg story is fucked up plain and simple.

"factually innocent". wtf.

i hope she wins the civil suit and gets a shit ton of money.

it can't buy happiness but it sure as hell can buy some peace of mind and therapy.
posted by sio42 at 8:59 AM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


She opposes men going to jail for domestic abuse. So I guess in her world poor men can commit domestic abuse without consequence while well-off men have to write checks for it?
posted by MattD at 9:11 AM on May 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think her approach has a lot more nuance and consideration of the injustice and racial disparity inherent in the Prison Industrial Complex than you're giving her credit for.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:13 AM on May 13, 2015 [35 favorites]


"factually innocent". wtf.

I really don't get this logic. Are you disappointed because you have some specific knowledge about this case that should have led to a conviction, or are you just convinced that conviction is always the only legitimate outcome? Not much point to have a trial in the first place if there's no option to acquit.

There's a huge problem with under-prosecution and under-conviction of rape in this country, but I'm not sure a high-profile, extremely closely dissected case where the accuser is now facing extortion and fraud charges is exactly the best poster case for the cause.
posted by fifthrider at 9:17 AM on May 13, 2015


She opposes men going to jail for domestic abuse. So I guess in her world poor men can commit domestic abuse without consequence while well-off men have to write checks for it?

I hope her position is more indicative of the realities that it's really hard to convict them. Poor men and rich men absolutely both deserve to be in prison for domestic violence. But it'd be nice to have a way to get damages, too.
posted by corb at 9:50 AM on May 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


Abusers don't even go to prison for actions which would count as atrocities if say, a soldier committed the same actions in war-time.
I favor making them pay some serious money.
Poor abusers don't wind up in prison with any frequency either. You will do more time for any drug, or a traffic offense.
Maybe crushing debt would send a message.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:08 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


She opposes men going to jail for domestic abuse. So I guess in her world poor men can commit domestic abuse without consequence while well-off men have to write checks for it?

She didn't say that. She said "Since our criminal laws are applied so unevenly and unfairly across races, it's not really good to have imprisonment as the goal for justice." That's a fair bit more nuanced and reasoned than the extremist position you're attributing to her.

Not every social ill is a simple, black and white issue, and neither is every solution.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:10 AM on May 13, 2015 [21 favorites]


She's just wrong about that. But I support her other stuff.
posted by corb at 10:16 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


"it's not really good to have imprisonment as the goal for justice"

This is an opinion, not a statement of fact.
posted by muddgirl at 10:18 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nancy Lemon is also the spiritual, intellectual and organizational godmother to the two students who created the Family Violence Appellate Project. And she literally wrote the book on the subject of Domestic Violence Law.
posted by ferdydurke at 10:23 AM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Depending on how much experience she has in this area it could be argued that she is an expert on this issue. In which case her opinion is fact.
posted by VTX at 10:24 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes, because god knows experts never disagree about anything.
posted by corb at 10:33 AM on May 13, 2015


Since our criminal laws are applied so unevenly and unfairly across races

This is an important qualifier that seems to have been missed in the fervor.
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:35 AM on May 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


I mean, I've seen that crap before, but here's the thing: it doesn't matter. Yes, criminal laws are applied unevenly and often white defendants get off more than black defendants for domestic violence, for example. That's a reason to encourage more white defendants to be jailed, not to argue to let more black defendants off, because the ideal is that everyone gets fucking jailed for their abusive ways, not that everyone goes free.
posted by corb at 10:37 AM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


I once heard someone say "I understand your concerns, but I still prefer the something I am doing to the nothing that was happening before."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:45 AM on May 13, 2015 [39 favorites]


Ms. Canlas is a civil, not criminal lawyer. The article is about civil lawsuits. Her work gets money to domestic violence survivors. Her statement about criminal law is made in the context of her decision to do this work, rather than become, e.g., an Assistant District Attorney.

I'd prefer if we drop the "too much prison or not enough?" theme, as it seems off-topic, but that's up to the rest of you.
posted by ferdydurke at 10:47 AM on May 13, 2015 [25 favorites]


She said "Since our criminal laws are applied so unevenly and unfairly across races, it's not really good to have imprisonment as the goal for justice."

For those who disagree with this statement, I have good news! You, too, can get a law degree and work for justice for victims of domestic abuse, and then you get to make the decision on whether or not to push for criminal conviction rather than civil.
posted by Existential Dread at 11:04 AM on May 13, 2015 [15 favorites]


There is a very wide range of opinions and ideas surrounding the criminal justice system in the US--which is a racist, violent system focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation, pretty much by any account-- and there exist a wide range of proposed solutions, including--yes--eliminating incarceration. It is possible, and even likely, that Canlas has her own opinions on those issues and what the ultimate solution to the corrupt prison system might be. We do not know specifically what those are, based on the information provided here. She does not explicitly state her position on that topic in this article, and to sloppily try to extract it from a snippet of a reporter's account of an interview conducted in a coffee house is ridiculous and, frankly, really disrespectful of someone who very likely has a much more educated and reasoned opinion than anything you might extrapolate from that limited information.

This project specifically is about establishing a system that both concretely punishes the offenders and provides some compensation for victims of domestic violence.

This project is not directly related to or dependent on her opinions about the criminal justice system. She certainly doesn't seem to be insisting that clients pursue civil charges in lieu of criminal ones.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:14 AM on May 13, 2015 [13 favorites]


Also, putting someone in jail might not be such a hot idea if you are trying to get a piece of their future earnings. It will result in a lot of people (perhaps most) being permanently kicked out of their careers and being restricted to only a few poorly paying jobs. So you might have to weigh justice against getting some income for the abused partner and their children so they can start a new life.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:01 PM on May 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm generally in favour of better enforcement of criminal laws than the tendency to take things to civil cases. But in this case I'm all for the civil case. In many of these cases you hear about women staying with their abusers or not reporting them, because they are more worried about living on their own without support (with or without kids to take care of) and so they stay.

Anything that lets a woman know that there is an option and they don't have to stay seems like a win to me.
posted by cirhosis at 12:03 PM on May 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nothing says "justice served" like a very wealthy person and repeat offender quietly settling a case out of court for a relative pittance, in exchange for their latest victim's silence.
posted by markkraft at 12:10 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Nothing says "justice served" like a very wealthy person and repeat offender quietly settling a case out of court for a relative pittance, in exchange for their latest victim's silence.

A wealthy offender should face heavier penalties in civil court; the only reason for the small settlements in the article was that the offenders really couldn't pay more.

Again, the alternative here is nothing. This is being used when a criminal case fails, although there's no reason you couldn't bring a civil case in addition to a criminal one.
posted by bjrubble at 1:02 PM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


The main advantage of jailing the offenders, is that while they're in jail they can't keep escalating the abuse. Not that they ever get jailed for very long. I wonder if a civil suit buys the victims more respite than the extremely short jail terms do, simply because the abuser knows that, for example, violating a restraining order, will worsen his case in the civil court? It might be worth it just for that alone, even if they never pay a dime.
posted by elizilla at 1:45 PM on May 13, 2015 [4 favorites]


I am not going to pretend I know much about the topic, but restorative justice is a pretty comprehensive movement, and there is a lot of writing about its practice and effectiveness in a wide range of circumstances, including violent crimes and domestic/interpersonal violence specifically. (Note: Those links are just examples from a couple of restorative justice sites. They are not consensus opinions or anything like that--just a demonstration that this information is out there for anyone who wants to hear it.)

Some of it is counterintuitive, and much of it can actually appear pretty outrageous at first glance (and I know this first hand), but it is worth turning off your hot buttons for a minute and reading about the concept, the results of different approaches, and the many varied manifestations.

Different people argue for different applications. That is, some will argue that a comprehensive restorative justice system should entirely replace our current criminal justice model. Others argue that it can be used as an enhancement or as an alternative for victims for whom retributive justice is insufficient of nonexistent.

One thing I have never seen, though, is a restorative justice model that consisted entirely of suing rich guys and letting poor guys off the hook.

It's way way more complicated and more nuanced than that, and the people who have devoted their lives to working on issues with the criminal justice system aren't stupid or lackadaisical, and I think that they deserve to have their arguments actually heard and understood rather than simply being misrepresented and summarily dismissed.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:42 PM on May 13, 2015 [10 favorites]


More to worry about here:

Criminalizing domestic violence -- once seen as a "family matter" -- was one of the signal achievements of feminist lawyers and politicians. Allowing cops and prosecutors to see civil litigation as a robust alternative or supplement to criminal action could easily hurt women.

Women who report domestic violence are already regarded with suspicion given the benefits that a domestic violence element affords to legal battles for child custody, continued occupancy of the shared home, etc. Add financial judgments to it and that situation is not going to get better.

The legal system relies upon guilty pleas. Many people will be advised to refuse a plea if they expect to get sued on the same facts for a lot of money, because once you plea, you basically have no defense in the civil action. Every domestic violence misdemeanor going to a jury is going to wreck havoc on the system.
posted by MattD at 3:45 PM on May 13, 2015


Boy, sure are a lot of dudes in here wringing their hands. Over their concerns.
posted by danny the boy at 4:12 PM on May 13, 2015 [12 favorites]


Nothing says "justice served" like a very wealthy person and repeat offender quietly settling a case out of court for a relative pittance, in exchange for their latest victim's silence.

So it's okay for that person's wealth to help them escape punishment, but not, y'know? Make it so that someone they've actually harmed receives appropriate medical care and has a decent standard of living?

Presumably, you wouldn't have problems with a criminally negligent truck driver who gets into an accident being charged by the state for any crimes that occurred, and also him getting sued by private parties for the damage he caused.

Why does a very wealthy repeat offender, as you put it, deserve any better?
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:32 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Financial oppression is a big part of the power and control of domestic violence. Whatever happens on the criminal side, good for her for getting her clients some of the financial resources they need and to which they are entitled if they were victimized and suffered damages.
posted by bearwife at 4:36 PM on May 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'm confused by some people's objections: if she's going after higher income people for domestic violence they're more likely to have money than a lower income abuser, who won't be able to pay out as much to the victims. I imagine that if you're a victim of abuse it may be really hard for you to get a good job in a situation where you're afraid to come home, or you may not function properly at a job after you've been antagonized at home, or even while you're working. I'm under the impression that it's important to get those people money that they otherwise would have made, or get them money that can help them with injuries they sustained.

I dated a woman once who wasn't physically abusive, but was emotionally insecure with me due to past trauma that she had sustained. She let me use her car once to go to some job interviews and after I went out to them she had some sort of episode of insecurity and accused me of going to a bar to hang out with my friends (I actually went to a cafe by myself). She demanded that I bring the car back or else she was going to call the police and say I stole the car. I therefore had to reschedule the interviews, and subsequently did not get any of the jobs. Now, I don't necessarily consider this abusive, and there are more details involved, but I could totally see someone in a domestic abuse situation having the same sort of scenario apply to them where they lose job opportunities due an abusive spouse wanting control over them.
posted by gucci mane at 4:37 PM on May 13, 2015 [5 favorites]


Indeed. It's common, for example, for an abusive spouse to show up at the victim's workplace. Rather than face a repeat of that, the employer may terminate the employee.
posted by Mogur at 5:41 PM on May 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


YES IT IS I PALADIN OF THE PERFECT HERE TO DESTROY ANYTHING MERELY GOOD

BEHOLD MY OBJEXTIONS ARE THEY NOT SARCASTIC I HAVE BESTED THEE FOOLISH DREAMER
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:17 PM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


The main advantage of jailing the offenders, is that while they're in jail they can't keep escalating the abuse.

The other reason is that while a civil settlement is great (and should be pursued if possible) it has no bearing on the defendant's crime against the state, for which justice must be sought in a criminal trial. Criminal cases, including those brought because of domestic abuse, are (The State) -v- Defendant, not (The Victim) -v- Defendant.
posted by Justinian at 6:27 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


More to worry about here:


Christ. Do you criticize plumbers because they are fixing a busted sink instead of redoing California's water crisis?

She's doing some good and necessary and frequently neglected work in this area. Other lawyers are doing other kinds of good work. There is room for it all. If you honestly believe that one lawyer who pays herself $16 an hour is going to bring about the downfall of the criminal justice system and no domestic abusers will be punished thanks to her, well, you have fun in that universe, I guess.
posted by rtha at 6:42 PM on May 13, 2015 [7 favorites]


She opposes men going to jail for domestic abuse. So I guess in her world poor men can commit domestic abuse without consequence while well-off men have to write checks for it?

Jesus between this and the back tattoo thread it's really starting to feel like reddit with a blue background on here.

I mean, seriously? That's your takeaway?
posted by emptythought at 11:18 PM on May 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


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