Battered Justice

1 decade 9 months 4 days ago December 22, 2005 Dec 22, 2005 Thursday, December 22 2005 Thursday, December 22, 2005 1:44:10 PM CST in News

That same research puts Polk County on a list of passive prosecutors.

"I was pregnant with my son Chase, and he kicked me and I landed over the chair."  

Paula Banks says her ex-husband Michael made her life a living hell. But, Paula wasn't the only one she says Michael abused. She says her two-year-old son Chase also was a victim of Michael's rampages.

"I've had the baby in my arms several times when Michael has hit me. I have landed on top of him after Michael has hit me. He's pulled a gun on us twice when I had him in my arms."

Paula hit a breaking point when "he put a gun to my head and told me that he would kill me and take Chase where no one would ever find him."

Too young to talk, it was something in Chase's eyes that led Paula to get help. 

"I didn't want him being scared anymore. I just got enough strength and said, 'This is it, I am not going to raise my son in this.'"

So, Paula went to the Polk County court to get a child order of protection, similar to a restraining order. The order lets police arrest an abuser who has any contact with the child victim. When Paula went to court for a child order of protection, Polk County Judge Gary Lynch told her she needed a lawyer, known as a guardian ad litem, for Chase, as required by Missouri law.

"They need an independent person to assert what's best for them," explained Paula. "Because sometimes the parties are so involved in their situation that they can't see what's best for the child."

That was all right with Banks, until the judge ordered her to pay $150 for the guardian.

"I didn't know that was a such a fee," she said. "I didn't have it."

But, after a long search, Paula came up with the money and Judge Lynch granted the child protection order. But, Lynch didn't order Michael Banks to pay a dime for the guardian.

"I thought it was crazy," said Paula Banks. "I mean, he's the one doing this, but I am having to pay to get protected."

Alicia Donnell went to Polk County Court to get a child order of protection for her minor daughter against her daughter's boyfriend. Although Donnell says the boyfriend was at fault, Lynch ordered her, not the boyfriend, to pay for the guardian ad litem.

"The judge told me I had to pay $250 for the lawyer," said Donnell. "I couldn't believe it."

Becky Marsolff works in the Polk County Sheriff's Office as a victim's advocate. She says many of her clients are poor.

"At least half of my victims that I work with that are seeking orders of protection for their children are financially not able to come up with even an extra $50."

But, Judge Lynch orders those women to pay.

"I think there are circumstances, where it's very appropriate, not based on fault, but based on the fact that this is a parent of a child and this child needs this service, that it's appropriate to order any parent to provide the service that this child needs," said Marsolff.

Banks said, "That's the first thing that hit my mind was, 'Where am I going to come up with this money at?' But, you are already in court and they're making you pay it. I mean, you have no choice."

Marsolff added, "It was definitely a hardship for us to come up with the $250."

From January 2004 through April 2005, Judge Lynch ordered victims to pay almost $6,000 for guardian ad litem costs while he charged the alleged abusers a little over $1,000.

KOMU asked Lynch if he thinks charging victims hundreds of dollars for guardian ad litems might discourage some women from coming forward and getting a child protection order.

"That's a factor that needs to be taken into consideration, that is correct," he responded.

MU law professor Mary Beck said, "If mothers of children have to fear a big court cost bill for bringing an action to try to protect their children, obviously it's going to discourage them from trying to protect their children."

Guardian ad litem costs are different in domestic abuse situations from other proceedings. Beck said her read of Missouri law indicates Judge Lynch is violating it.

Missouri law states that in cases of child orders of protection, no guardian ad litem fees shall be taxed against a party who has not been found to have abused or neglected a child, such as innocent people like Paula Banks. But, Judge Lynch does not think he's breaking the law.

"I have authority as the judge to order either or both parties to pay all or part of the guardian ad litem's costs on it."

And, because of that discretion, Judge Lynch will continue to charge the victims to protect their children.

"We're the victims and we're trying to get help. Why should we have to pay trying to get help?" Banks said.

Thursday night at 10:00, KOMU will look at how the Polk County prosecutor often fails to follow through on domestic violence complaints.

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