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Regional News

Marshalls’ women go to court for domestic abuse protection

MAJURO — During the first six weeks of 2017, the Marshall Islands High Court has seen the most ever violence protection requests from women seeking safety from abusive partners. Five of these cases were filed so far this year, putting Majuro on track to set a record for domestic violence protection orders.

The latest cases include the first-ever jailing of a man for violating a court order to stay 200 feet away from his victim.

Last year there were 12 domestic violence protection orders requested and in 2015, 10 were filed. In 2014, there were none. The steady rise reflects the High Court streamlining its process for filing these “temporary protection order” requests so the individual seeking help does not need a lawyer to seek help. High Court staff assist people to fill out a questionnaire that serves as the basis for a hearing before a High Court judge. In follow up phases to the initial request for protection, women often retain lawyers.

Four protection orders were issued by the High Court during January, and a fifth was issued at the end of last week, with follow up hearings scheduled for the end of this week. The three most recent cases involve domestic violence reports — at least one of which could be subject to criminal prosecution.

For the first time since the High Court began issuing protection orders, a man was sentenced to 30 days in jail, with 15 days to serve, for violating the court order issued on January 27 to stay 200 feet away from the victim. The initial complaint concerned an incident on December 7 in Majuro in which the victim said she was beaten and then carried to a nearby house where she was sexually assaulted at knife point. The man who is alleged to have committed the assault was subsequently arrested by police. After the man’s release, the victim said the man went to her house on several occasions while drinking and threatened her and members of the household. The two are related, according to court documents.

In response to the information about the assault, Judge Colin Winchester issued a temporary protection order requiring the man to stay 200 feet away from the victim and other family members.

Majuro residents turned out in force for a walkathon and numerous programs against domestic violence last November as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence.  Photo by Hilary HosiaMajuro residents turned out in force for a walkathon and numerous programs against domestic violence last November as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence. Photo by Hilary Hosia

At a follow up hearing on February 6, the victim was represented by Mark Jesperson of Micronesian Legal Services and the victim was represented by Assistant Public Defender Karotu Tiba. Jesperson said the man was found sleeping in the victim’s house the day the first temporary restraining order was issued, and requested he be jailed. However, the judge noted that it wasn’t clear if the incident happened before or after the order was issued. Tiba asked the judge to delay the hearing to February 10 as he had not had time to meet with his client. The judge granted the delay, and repeated that the protection order remained in effect. Both the victim and alleged assailant were at the hearing.

At the February 10 hearing, the victim said she was approached by the assailant at a local bar on February 7. She said he put his hand on her neck and told her that if she didn’t drop the case in the High Court, “he would do it to her again.”

Both lawyers at the February 10 hearing agreed that the protection order could be made permanent. A few minutes after the start of the hearing, police brought the assailant in after arresting him the night before on suspicion of violating the protection order. Tiba requested a further delay so he could talk to his client to mount a defense. Judge Winchester agreed to a three-day postponement and said the hearing would require the defendant to show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court for violation of a court order.

At the February 13 hearing, the judge found that the defendant knew what was required by the temporary restraining order, had the ability to comply with the order, and failed to follow the order. Winchester convicted the defendant of “criminal contempt,” and sentenced him to 30 days in jail, with the requirement that he serve 15 days. His release date is February 24. “The remaining 15 days shall be suspended so long as respondent complies with the permanent protection order,” said the judge. “If criminal charges are filed against respondent (defendant) prior to his release on February 24, I will review and may change the sentence imposed in this order.”

In another case, a woman who reported that her husband attempted to hit her on January 23 received a temporary protection order from Judge Winchester on January 27, the same date as the request for protection was filed. The judge’s order requires the man to stay 200 feet away from the victim. The woman told the judge that the attempted assault was similar to several other incidents that occurred in 2016. She said the defendant also came to her work place and caused problems for her. At a follow up hearing last Friday, the judge denied a request to dissolve the order and said it remains in effect until February 24. He said it could become permanent if the victim requests the court to take further action.

In the most recent case, High Court Chief Justice Carl Ingram issued a temporary protection order on February 9 to a woman who said a man punched her in the face, then pulled her by the hair and forced her into a taxi. She was taken to his house where he reportedly punched her some more before going to sleep. After he went to sleep, the woman said she fled.

Ingram’s order, issued the same day as the request was filed, requires the man to stay 200 feet away from the victim. A follow up hearing was scheduled for later this week.