New study shows powerful impact of being represented by attorney in domestic abuse cases

MILWAUKEE -- More than 2,000 domestic abuse restraining orders were filed in Milwaukee County in 2018. Many of the people filing them have to go through court alone. A new study shows the impact of having someone by your side.

The courtroom can be an intimidating place, especially when facing someone you are afraid of; someone you are filing a restraining order against.

Milwaukee County Courthouse

Angela Schultz

"There's only the right to counsel in criminal cases, and only certain criminal cases, but we're talking about a civil restraining order process where nobody has an automatic right to a court appointed attorney to help them," Angela Schultz, assistant dean for public service at Marquette University Law School.

People filing a restraining order only get an attorney if they can afford one.

Carmen Pitre

"Most of our clients who are at or below poverty cannot afford an attorney to represent them," said Carmen Pitre, president and CEO of Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee.

The Sojourner Family Peace Center started a partnership with Marquette University Law School and a local law firm to offer pro bono legal representation. The project has been running since 2013 -- and a new study shows its impact.

Sojourner Family Peace Center

People who took part in the project were more than twice as likely to leave the courthouse with the restraining order they were looking for. What that means is having a lawyer speak for you can make a big difference in cases of domestic violence. The study also found people were more likely to show up to their hearing in the first place when represented by a lawyer.

"This is somebody who's been trained throughout their professional life and throughout their schooling to know, what does the statute say? What are the things that the court is going to need to hear for a case to be proven?" Schultz said.

Sojourner hopes to expand the project with more partners in the future. If you would like to donate to Sojourner's mission, CLICK HERE.