Reprinted from the September 16, 2014 Mongoose newsletter. I may criticize judges in this newsletter, but it is for unfair policies or unethical or criminal acts. I almost never write to complain about how a judge has ruled in a specific case (with only rare exceptions, Charley!). It is almost impossible for anyone to second guess a judge unless you have listened to every minute of testimony and argument and seen all of the evidence (or read the transcript and handled the appeal).
I also appreciate the attitude of most experienced family court judges, that not every request for a protective order based on alleged domestic violence or threats of violence, should be granted. I believe that victims of domestic violence should be protected and nothing makes me angrier than a bully or an abuser. However, I know that people make false allegations or exaggerate true events or try to gain tactical advantages in divorce or custody cases by asking for protective orders.
A domestic violence protective order is a “nuclear weapon” that has huge impact on the civil rights of the respondent. Protective orders should be granted but only when the evidence truly establishes the violence has occurred and that there is good reason to believe it will happen in the future. It all depends on the facts and evidence of each specific case.
My way of looking at domestic violence protective orders made me disagree with the basic premise behind some recent articles in the Houston Chronicle about Harris County’s dedicated domestic violence court, the 280th. Click here and here to read the articles that were critical of 280th Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull (a Republican) because some in the District Attorney’s office and those in the “domestic violence industry” are upset that the judge does not grant protective orders as often as they would like.
Click here to read a report from the Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (HCDVCC), that paints a very unflattering picture of Judge Bradshaw-Hull. The report provides a few selected anecdotes from alleged victims of domestic violence whose applications were denied. I did not see any such stories from people who won before Bradshaw-Hull in the way they wanted to. It really comes across as a few people with “sour grapes” being quoted in a report that criticizes the judge. I was not there and I have no idea whether “Angela” or “Stacy” really should have won, but I know that there are always people upset because they did not win in court. Cherry picking a few stories from sore losers does not prove a judge is doing anything bad. The judge is really not in a position to ethically respond on the substance of the cases or why she ruled the way she did, so such case specific criticisms are really not fair.
The D.A. in Harris County is very spoiled and used to almost getting her way with judges in criminal courts. Thus, it must be a shock to have to appear before a judge who expects cases to actually be proven. Here are the statistics used to criticize Judge Bradshaw-Hull:
The judge should not be blamed if the D.A. or private parties apply for fewer Protective Orders. The judge also has little to do with cases that are dismissed because dismissals usually result from lack of service or a change of heart by the movant. In 2013, of the cases that were not dismissed, Judge Bradshaw-Hull granted protective orders in 86% of the total remaining cases.
The D.A. did provide statistics that make it look like the judge denied 55% of the protective order applications in 2013 decided in contested hearings. It appears that in 2013, 505 protective orders were granted based on agreement or default and 26 were granted after a contested hearing and 32 were denied after a contested hearing. That is like saying the District Attorney does not win DWI cases as often as it should at trial. The problem with that criticism is that the good, strong cases result in agreements because the defendant knows he or she will lose. The cases that go to trial are usually the weak cases and it is not surprising that the defendant often wins those cases.
I assume the real criticism of Judge Bradshaw-Hull is that she is so tough on protective orders that she is discouraging women or the D.A. from even filing and asking for such orders. If that is the case, then the D.A. is just not strong enough to stand up for victims of domestic violence if she is now reluctant to proceed on many cases because she might lose.
I just find it hard to accept these numbers as proof that the judge makes it too hard for victims of domestic violence to get protective orders. The hurt feelings of alleged victims of domestic violence or their supporters or the D.A. is just not evidence. No one can really fairly second guess Judge Bradshaw-Hull unless a neutral observer actually watched an entire hearing.