thank you so much for your kindness in my time of need. i nowhave some HOPE.

Thank you for a wonderful life. Keep up the fantastic work on behalf of those of us who cannot fight for ourselves.

Thank you again for all your help. It is a comfort to know that there are caring people like you in this world.

My thank you seems so small compared to all you’ve done, but it comes from my heart.

Implications of Remote Trials in Determining Credibility

Implications

“We want to believe the truth will prevail when in fact a better explanation of the dynamic in the courtroom is that in many trials, research suggests that the person who looks like he or she is telling the truth will win.”

 Vincent Denault, Co-director, Center for Studies in Nonverbal Communication Sciences (CRIUSMM, Canada)

 ______________________________________________________________

By Trish Perlmutter, Policy Counsel

Do virtual trials affect outcomes in some final restraining order (FRO) trials? While it is premature to assess fully the implications for decision-making, two factors suggest that victims of domestic violence may be disadvantaged by virtual court:

  • The exclusion of non-verbal body language from the remote proceeding can impair understanding of the witnesses and assessments of credibility; and
  • Zoom’s focus on the face may diminish perceptions of credibility if judges misinterpret victims’ symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

Non-verbal communication helps us understand the speaker (whether a witness, defendant, lawyer, or judge) – the fundamental first step in beginning to evaluate the credibility of the speaker. This is critical because in disputes between parties without witnesses or extrinsic evidence, “an adversarial trial is not a determination of truth, but a battle of witness credibility.” [1] Non-verbal communication includes the spontaneous display of affect, attitudes, attention, impressions, and physical movement.[2] In domestic violence cases, which rest on credibility findings, the opportunity to observe nonverbal communication behaviors (such as physical moments), in response to the opposing parties’ testimony helps the fact finder determine credibility and helps the parties feel heard.[3] 

Some judges hearing domestic violence cases have voiced their preference for virtual trials, believing that the computer screen actually enhances their ability to make credibility findings. Although at first glance this may seem intuitive, social science research suggests that judges, like other human beings, are over-confident in their ability to read faces,[4] and, in particular, to understand the facial expressions of victims of trauma. The focus on the face amplifies humans’ cognitive prejudices and stereotypes.[5] This bias is especially concerning in domestic violence cases with victims of trauma, whose credibility is systemically discounted.[6] In trials conducted in the courtroom, a victim with PTSD, or unrecognized symptoms of traumatic brain injury, “will skip, or forget, certain parts of her story—or, indeed, be unable to speak key elements of it out loud”[7] after witnessing her harasser. “Because PTSD symptoms can make abused women appear hysterical, angry, paranoid, or flat and numb, they contribute to credibility discounts that may be imposed by . . . judges.”[8]

In relying on trials through Zoom or Teams, the hyper-focus on the victim’s face could exacerbate this phenomenon in virtual courtrooms without judicial training and understanding. A recent case in Camden illustrated this risk. The victim, a survivor of child sexual abuse, sought an FRO against her partner, based on acts of nonfatal strangulation and sexual assault. The court denied the victim the FRO, finding the victim lacking in affect, unemotional, and unafraid. In a lengthy assessment of the evidence, the judge detailed all the reasons he did not believe the victim or her witnesses, while the victim listened alone, physically and emotionally separated from her counsel.

With the onset of a second wave of COVID-19 cases, the judiciary is likely to utilize zoom justice for some time to keep the courthouse open while mitigating the spread of disease. Options to mitigate the risks inherent in the technology include:

  • Asking witnesses to adjust their cameras to show a wider angle on themselves to see more of the witness, capture more body language, and ensure that the witness is not reading from notes;
  • Additional judicial training on the impact of PTSD and traumatic brain injury on victims of domestic violence, including specific training on how these symptoms may be misunderstood in remote court;
  • Ensuring that self-represented litigants have the option to meet with a volunteer advocate and to permit that advocate to attend the hearing, just as the advocate would in court;
  • Facilitating the opportunity for attorney-client communications at appropriate intervals during trial; and
  • Permitting the parties to have a supporter with them for the reading of the court’s opinion to provide emotional support.

 

“Pre-COVID-19, Judges would comment about how a party was sitting in their chair, faces they were making, and if they were fidgeting, nuances unseen over remote trials. Remote trials also reduce empathy. Watching someone on a screen is impersonal and creates an environment where decisions are made with less sympathy and compassion than if you have a victim sobbing in front of you.” 

Lisa Nichole Roskos, Partners' Senior Staff Attorney

*This piece would not have been possible without the contributions of Tyler Burrell, pro bono intern, University of Pennsylvania, J.D, candidate, class of 2021.

[1] Michael D. Roth, Laissez-Faire Videoconferencing: Remote Witness Testimony and Adversarial Truth, 48 UCLA L. Rev. 185, 210 (2000).

[2] Vincent Denault & Miles L. Patterson, Justice and Nonverbal Communication in a Post-pandemic World: An Evidence-Based Commentary and Cautionary Statement for Lawyers and Judges, Journal of Nonverbal Behavior (2020)

[3] Many of Partners’ clients find the experience of testifying in court by itself empowering when the court rules in their favor.. Whether remote trials will provide that same satisfaction and confidence in the court process is unclear.

[4] Zoom Interview with Vincent Denault, Co-Founder & Co-Director, Center for Studies in Nonverbal Communication Sciences of the Research Center of the Montreal Mental Health University Institute (Oct. 1, 2020).

[5] Id.; Justice and Nonverbal Communication in a Post-pandemic World, supra note 3.

[6] See Deborah Epstein & Lisa A. Goodman, Discounting Women: Doubting Domestic Violence Survivors' Credibility and Dismissing Their Experiences, 167 U. Pa. L. Rev. 399 (2019)

[7] Id. at 411.

[8] Id. at 422. 

Star Ledger Opinion Piece by Partners' Policy Counsel

Check out this opinion piece in The Star Ledger by Partners’ Policy Counsel, Trish Perlmutter. The New Jersey prison release bill, pending in the State Assembly, is necessary to protect inmates from COVID-19, but the bill in its current form fails to adequately protect domestic violence victims.  Neither a prison sentence nor a prison release should threaten the health and safety of any resident of the Garden State.

Courts are Now Available for Temporary Restraining Orders

Victims of domestic violence can now apply for a temporary restraining order:

1. By telephone to the Superior Court;

2. By in-person application to the Superior Court (you must call for an appointment);*

3. Through the police department at night and weekends or in connection with a police report. 

Click here for New Jersey Superior Court county phone numbers to call and apply remotely for a temporary restraining order. 

*COVID-19 safety precautions must be adhered to for in-person court appointments.

Check out The Star Ledger article COVID made it harder for domestic violence victims to get restraining ordes. That's changed., which features comment by Partners Policy Counsel, Trish Perlmutter. Thanks to the work of Trish and others, domestic violence victims now have expanded access to temporary restraining orders and protection from further abuse. 

Get Help During the COVID-19 Pandemic

There is no greater priority for Partners for Women and Justice (Partners) than the safety and wellness of our clients and those seeking assistance for legal matters in domestic violence.

Victims of domestic violence seeking legal assistance for restraining orders and related family court matters in Essex, Union, Middlesex, Passaic, and Hudson Counties can text (732-535-6318), email (gethelp@pfwj.org), or call 973-233-0111 and leave a message with a safe call-back number. Partners advocates monitor voicemail throughout each day and will return calls as soon as possible to determine if we can assist you.

If you are in danger, please call 911 or go to your local police department for assistance.

Partners for Women and Justice is committed to ensuring that survivors, who may be under increased pressure and potentially increased danger during this time, continue to have access to support and safety. These are exceptional times and we will continue to serve you to the best of our ability.

Cyber Abuse

Cyber Abuse

Technology is a powerful and easily accessible tool for people to connect with each other. When abusers use technology to intimidate, control, shame, and monitor their victims, it becomes a tool of abuse.

Stalking

  • Use Find My Phone apps
  • Hide GPS on a victim's car
  • Monitor phone activity
  • Install hidden video/voice on phone
  • Access hidden video/voice recording machines
  • Hack into email and social media accounts

 

Spoofing

  • Block or fake a number to call or text
  • Use a trusted ally's number to call or text
  • Create a fake socila media account to impersonate a victim

 

Harrassing

  • Text, call or email constantly
  • Send threatening messages
  • Demand victim check-in and prove location
  • Post threats on social media

 

Revenge Porn

  • Post or threaten to post intimate pictures and/or videos on social media
  • Solicit sex on Craigslist or social media using a victim's photo, name and contact information

 

Change a Life Challenge: One Month|$102,239|40 Lives 

CLC 40

During the month of October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Partners held its annual Change a Life Challenge Campaign. Thanks to our incredible donors and match fund contributors, we raised $52,239 plus an additional $50,000 in matching funds for a total of $102,239! Thanks to all of you we will be able to help 40 domestic violence victims change their lives.

If you did not get the chance to donate, it is not to late: CLICK HERE.

Thank you to our Matching Donors:

Betsy Bernard and Laurie Peter

Patricia Devine-Harms and Steve Harms

Lynne Ellison

Rebecca Fitzhugh and Michael Davidson

Randi and Tedd Kochman

Anne Mohan and Bruce Magaw

Stacey and Adam Saravay

Shoshana Schiff and Warren Usatine

Donna and Joseph Schwartz

Cristy and Mike Turgeon

Nancy Washington

Catherine Weiss and Samuel Huber

White House "Designs for Life" and The Gloria Foundation

Ruth and Jack Wurgaft

Provident Bank Foundation Grants $20,000 in Support of Pro Bono Porgram

The Provident Bank Foundation awarded Partners a $20,000 grant in support of our Pro Bono Program. "We are thrilled to be partnering with The Provident Bank Foundation and grateful for their generous support of Partners' work in transforming lives," says Executive Director, Julie A. Murphy. “The Foundation’s support allows Partners to continue the important work of providing legal assistance to domestic violence victims through our dedicated team of pro bono attorneys.” We appreciate Provident's vote of confidence in our work of providing justice for domestic violence victims.

New Jersey Law Journal Names Partners' Board Chair Catherine Weiss to list of 2020's Top Women in Law

C Weiss

Congratulations to Partners’ Chair of the Board of Trustees Catherine Weiss for being named to the New Jersey Law Journal’s 2020 Top Women in Law list! Catherine has served as Board Chair for Partners since 2018.  Her dedication and commitment to domestic violence victims is unparalleled.  She inspires us all with her tireless work in making the world a better place through her public interest legal work. Catherine is a Partner at Lowenstein Sandler LLP and Chair of the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest.

To learn more about Catherine, click here.

Pretrial Safety Project

On July 20, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that defendants who violate pretrial release conditions cannot be charged with criminal contempt.  State v. Antoine McCray; State v. Sahaile Gabourel (2020). However, the Court accepted the argument advanced by Partners, as a friend of the court, that no-contact orders must be fully enforceable in order to protect victims of domestic violence. This means that the Court carved out an exception to the holding allowing prosecutors to charge defendants with contempt if they violate no-contact orders. This decision will help deter violations of no-contact orders and protect victims of domestic violence. 

Special thanks to Partners’ pro bono counsel, Larry Lustberg and Michael Noveck, of Gibbons for their outstanding work as well as to our fellow amici, the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Rachel Coalition, the Essex County Family Justice Center, and the New Jersey Crime Victims Law Center. 


From Left to Right: Trish Perlmutter, Policy Counsel for Partners; Michele Lefkowitz, Director of Legal Programs for Partners; Larry Lustberg, Director of the John J. Gibbons Fellowship for Public Interest & Constitutional Law; Jane M. Hanson, Executive Director of Partners; and Michael Noveck, Associate at Gibbons P.C. 

Annual Report 2019

Annual Report 2019

Click Here to download the annual report

Our Mission

Partners for Women and Justice empowers low-income victims and survivors of domestic violence to build safe and secure futures for themselves and their children by providing equal access to justice.  We offer quality legal assistance in domestic violence and family law matters.

Client Services