Death Of Middletown Baby Puts Scrutiny On Family Court Cases
A civil court judge had previously granted her a temporary restraining order against ex-boyfriend Tony Moreno, now charged with murder in 7-month-old Aaden Moreno's death, after she alleged in an application that Moreno had pushed her around and threatened her life and the child's.
In front of Pinkus, 12 days after the temporary order was granted, free criminal legal advice with Moreno also in the https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070118150129AAyJ69v courtroom, Oyola said there was some physical violence and that Moreno violated the temporary order. But she said Moreno's abuse was more psychological than physical.
Pinkus denied Oyola's request for a permanent restraining order. On July 5, six days after the restraining order was denied, police said Moreno threw the baby off the Arrigoni Bridge into the Connecticut River. Moreno jumped over the railing and survived, despite suffering serious injuries.
Victim advocates have been critical of Pinkus's decision, saying it illustrates what they view as a lack of training Connecticut judges have in understanding domestic violence, but judges are defending their ability to decide family cases and protect victims.
Legislators say they plan to review the case as part of a broad look at family violence response in the state.
Karen Jarmoc, CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she has read transcripts of court proceedings and court documents in Oyola's case. Looking for information about ? these 2015 legal bar association reviews will give you some good insights.She said Oyola's experience seems to reflect many of the unfortunate obstacles restraining order applicants face on a regular basis.
She said people seeking restraining orders against an abusive partner need better access to victim advocates, that judges need more training in identifying warning signs for domestic violence and that victims are often intimidated by the presence of the accused abuser when trying to convince a judge to grant them protection.
Those criticisms are being disputed by judges and some legal experts who argue that Connecticut judges are well-trained to handle these cases and must base their decisions on evidence presented at the hearings in which the majority of parties do not have legal representation.
"We've got great judges in the state of Connecticut and they handle tens of thousands of these cases on an annual basis and they do a great job," Chief Court Administrator Patrick L. Carroll III said. Restraining orders can seriously impact a person's liberty so while judges must protect victims, they must also ensure that the constitutional rights of all parties are protected.
"That's at the core of what judges do," Carroll said. "They make sure everybody's rights are protected."
But Jarmoc said a strict reading of state statutes alone can't protect victims. Among other things, more victim advocates are needed, she said. The advocates provide help beyond filling out an application for a restraining order, helping victims form a "safety plan" or look for a temporary safe place to stay, said Jarmoc.
The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence oversees the civil victim advocates and is in charge of seeking federal funding for the program. The victim advocates report to community-based domestic violence organizations that make up the coalition.
"There are only four funded victim advocates in the  civil courts right now, and we continue on the road to getting funding for all of them," Jarmoc said. "It's sometimes hard [for a victim] to understand and assess the risks you're under in that situation so it's important to be able to have a victim advocate to talk to you."
Jarmoc and other advocates have said there are signs of intimidation, threatening and a lack of control in Oyola's application, and that more training for the judge would have made those warning signs obvious.
"There's a lot more to issuing these orders than understanding the law. There's a broader issue of understanding the factors of domestic violence," she said. "The challenge [for judges] is trying to sift through the 'he said, she said' and get to the relevant risk factors to decide to issue an order, and that's where the training comes in."
Judges do consider sentences for precede than just the law, said Superior Court Judge Elizabeth A. Bozzuto, a family court judge, who said she could not discuss details of the June 29 hearing between Moreno and Oyola.
She did talk generally about how judges deal with hearings regarding restraining orders. When faced with the decision of whether to grant the order, Bozzuto said, judges consider the evidence presented by both sides and weigh the credibility of all parties in an effort to reach a factual conclusion.
And since almost all applicants are not represented by lawyers, Bozzuto said, judges take into consideration that most are coming into a courtroom for the first time to discuss difficult topics in front of people they don't know.
"We fully understand that they are probably nervous and intimidated by the process," Bozzuto said.
The law does not allow judges to speculate and they are bound by statute when deciding whether to grant the restraining order, considering whether the applicant has been "subjected to a continuous threat of present physical pain or physical injury, stalking or a pattern of threatening, including, but not limited to, a pattern of threatening," state law says. Sometimes, the evidence is clear early on about what she should do, Bozzuto said, but often, judges must ask many questions to get to the evidence they need to reach their decisions.
"Due process is about being heard and everyone is given the right to be heard. Whether it takes 20 minutes or all day, death penalty statistics cases are heard," Bozzuto said.
Carroll, the chief court administrator, said judges in Connecticut who deal with the roughly 9,000 annual requests for restraining orders receive domestic violence training before they even take the bench. New judges participate in a day and a half of domestic violence training as part of a 15-day orientation program. He said four judges are currently going through the program, trained "by the most experienced domestic violence judges."
Carroll said domestic violence has been "at the forefront" of judicial education in the past 10 years and the curriculum committee finds timely and relevant issues to focus on to keep the instruction constantly evolving.
Domestic violence is frequently discussed at the judges' annual two-day institute in June and is a topic at regular division meetings, Carroll said. A law that went into effect in January allows the court to issue a civil protection order to an applicant who is a victim of sexual abuse, sexual assault or stalking, regardless of whether the perpetrator is related to or in a relationship with the victim.
Before January, a person could file for a civil restraining order only if they were in a dating relationship, had a child with or were related to the perpetrator by blood or marriage.
In addition, the judicial branch in recent years has responded to the growing numbers of Connecticut residents representing themselves in legal matters by simplifying language on legal forms, enhancing the department's website, expanding information desks, and helping litigants get free advice.
Each courthouse has a court service center where self-represented parties can go for help, Carroll said. Judges, Carroll said, are well aware of the challenges those parties face and are sensitive to the fear they have in trying to handle things on their own.
"Every division handles domestic violence matters now, not just family," Carroll said. "The training is comprehensive. It's something we look at every day. It's not as if judges are just coldly sitting back and making determinations without being aware of the duress folks are under when they are making these applications."
Since Aaden's death, Carroll said he has spoken with Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz about whether the departments need to take a closer look at how they share information. He said he also spoke with Chief Justice Chase T. Rogers.
"When something terrible happens, it is proper and appropriate for us to engage in critical self-examination to see if we have all of the tools we need," Carroll said.
Jacqueline Davis applied for a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend and father of her 1-year-old son in October 2014 and was granted a one-year restraining order by a judge after successfully making a case of verbal and psychological abuse.
"It was the worst day of my life, I was so scared, but luckily I had legal representation. He [her ex-boyfriend] went on the stand and said I made everything up," Davis said.
She is now involved in a custody dispute with her son's father and, despite the restraining order, the custody case requires them to be in contact through the court system to work out a parenting agreement. Davis is seeking full custody, but her son's father is seeking parenting rights.
"Trying to come to capital punishment reasons for agreement with someone who is abusive is impossible to do," Davis said. "The way the court system is structured it forces you to deal with the person. I'm forced to talk to him over the custody case. I can't parent with somebody I can't trust remotely with my son."
Davis said without legal representation and the guidance of a victim advocate she fears she would have been unable to get the restraining order.
The chairwomen of the state legislature's Committee on Children on Friday sent a letter to House and Senate leaders to request that the recently established Task Force to Study the State-Wide Response to Family Violence consider the Moreno case and 2014 death of 1-year-old girl Zaniyah Calloway, who Bristol police say was fatally slashed with a knife by her mother's family friend in what may have been a drug-induced hysteria.
State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo and Rep. Diana Urban said in the letter that in both cases, the suspects had been accused of family violence. The legislators ask that the task force specifically review the circumstances of punishment for crime Moreno and Calloway cases to determine whether better state regulations are needed or if policies and procedures were correctly followed.
Bartolomeo said the task force was created to study statewide responses to family violence cases, but the request Friday was made to allow the task force to consider the Middletown and Bristol cases.
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