Sustained Outrage

Domestic violence = political suicide, part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how two politicians had been ousted after reports of violent incidents with women surfaced. For Scott Lee Cohen, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Illinois, the mere allegation of domestic violence was enough to make his candidacy politically untenable, and he withdrew from the race days after the news broke.

This week’s blockbuster story, broken Wednesday by the New York Times, is that David A. Paterson, the Democratic governor of New York, apparently intervened in a domestic violence case involving his top aide, David W. Johnson.

Last fall, a woman went to court in the Bronx to testify that she had been violently assaulted by a top aide to Gov. David A. Paterson, and to seek a protective order against the man.

In the ensuing months, she returned to court twice to press her case, complaining that the State Police had been harassing her to drop it. The State Police, which had no jurisdiction in the matter, confirmed that the woman was visited by a member of the governor’s personal security detail.

Then, just before she was due to return to court to seek a final protective order, the woman got a phone call from the governor, according to her lawyer. She failed to appear for her next hearing on Feb. 8, and as a result her case was dismissed.

Two days after the Times’ bombshell, Paterson decided that he would not seek re-election, less than a week after he had formally announced that he was running.

So let’s get this straight: reports that a politician may have used his clout to help a loyal aide and ally who had allegedly assaulted his girlfriend, who had twice taken out domestic violence protective orders against him, were enough to bring a sitting governor’s political future to an abrupt halt.

Just the association with and support for an alleged batterer proved terminal.

Oh, and the New York State Police may be in some hot water, too. Again, from the New York Times:

[New York State Police superintendent Harry J.] Corbitt acknowledged this week that a State Police officer visited the woman in the first hours or days after the episode, at the Bronx apartment shared by Mr. Johnson, the woman and her 13-year-old son. He described the visit as customary in episodes that might attract media attention, an assertion dismissed as false by many inside and outside the State Police. He also said that it was meant merely to offer the woman counseling and tell her she had “options.”

Two days after the woman says Mr. Johnson choked her, ripped off her clothing and prevented her from calling for help, she went to Family Court in the Bronx to seek an order of protection. She complained under oath then, and in a court appearance two days later, that troopers had been pressuring and harassing her not to pursue charges or obtain the order of protection.

She was twice granted temporary orders of protection, but confusion over whether Mr. Johnson had actually been served with the court papers extended the case into February.

The case underscores the importance of diligent service of domestic violence protective orders. The orders themselves do not offer absolute protection from violence, although experts point to statistics that say that they are effective in preventing additional harm. But they do give the victim a firm knowledge that the batterer faces serious consequences if the abusive behavior continues.

More from the Times and its full-court press on Paterson and Johnson:

Caroline Kearney, the family law coordinator at Legal Services NYC, a provider of free legal aid to the poor, said she was “mystified” by the failure to serve Mr. Johnson.

Michele McKeon, chief executive of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that the woman’s case was fairly typical, in that she “kept having to go back again and again to the judge to ask for additional time.”

“And this is just one case in the thousands that go on where people don’t get served,” Ms. McKeon said. “An order of protection is a simple tool but it’s only as effective as the enforcement that follows.”