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Lawyers sought for Fairfax protective order cases

Legal aid lawyers are hoping to boost participation in a Fairfax County program to provide legal help for people seeking court protection from abusive domestic situations.

Advocates also want to foster similar programs in Alexandria and other Virginia communities.

Legal Services of Northern Virginia is trying to have a separate attorney on call for protective order cases for each court day of the month. The monthly court calendar is only 75 percent covered at this point, according to Steven Shannon, a participant and promoter of the program.

Recent statistics indicate there are more than 80 requests for protective orders each month in Fairfax County Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court. Almost half of them lead to permanent protective orders from the court.

The typical abuse victim, usually a woman, gets initial advice from a police officer, according to Shannon. The officer might help her swear out a warrant against her abuser and get a temporary protective order. After the dust settles, however, the abuse victim has only 15 days to prepare for a hearing on a permanent protective order, with no assistance.

Shannon said it’s an intimidating situation. “They’re of limited means. They have no idea what the evidentiary rules are. They’re the petitioner, so they have the burden of putting on a case,” he said. “There’s a real need here.”

Daniel B. Schy of LSNV said about 50 lawyers now are participating in the Fairfax County program. He said the program began tapping big firm and corporate attorneys about a year ago, with certain firms covering recurring monthly court dates.

Schy said he hopes a similar program will be up and running in Alexandria by the end of next month.

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