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In wake of November shooting, panel begins work on reforming domestic violence system

photo of Hillsborough County Courthouse
Dan Tuohy
/
Hillsborough County Courthouse in Manchester (file photo)

A task force with a sweeping mandate to review how domestic violence cases are handled by the state judicial system held its first meeting Tuesday.

The 20-person group, consisting of judges, domestic violence advocates, law enforcement and attorneys, met remotely during the first of its eight planned meetings.

While discussing existing court practices and procedures, Erin Jasina, an attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, told the panel that the law, as written, is functional.

“It’s more of an issue of how it's applied, how the process that is currently in place is applied, in that it is not applied consistently statewide,” she said.

The task force was created after a 33-year old Hampton woman was shot in November by Richard Lorman, an intimate partner, who then killed himself.

Less than a month before the incident, the woman, who recognized a pattern of increasing threats by Lorman, was denied a permanent restraining order by a district court judge.

The woman survived the incident, despite being shot in the head multiple times as she left work in Salem, Mass.

A review of Judge Polly Hall’s decision in the case found she properly applied the law, as well as recent precedent-setting cases, though the panel noted a different judge could have come to a different conclusion.

The first meeting focused on existing court practices, including how to best guide victims through the process of applying for a protective order, when they may not have an attorney or advocate available to assist.

“Best case scenario, there is an advocate, there is a legal advocate, but we all know that there aren't enough lawyer hours, and there aren’t enough paid legal aid attorneys,” said N.H. Supreme Court Justice Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi, who is leading the group. “So how do we fill that gap?”

In later meetings, the task force is scheduled to discuss the legal definition of “abuse,” which some advocates say doesn’t reflect modern research on intimate partner violence. The group will also review the wording of certain court forms, and how to improve communication between the judicial branch, law enforcement and advocates.

A final report with recommendations is expected to be complete by early March.