Ann Barclay Kneeland
Georgetown University Law Center
EJA Fellowship Recipient, Summer 1997
Director of the Domestic Violence Clinic, Lane County Legal Aid Service

 
   
 
“It’s knowing that we’re assisting women and children that have been victimized not only by an intimate partner, but also are vulnerable in the system.”
   

A woman and her husband were quarreling one night and the argument turned violent. Seeking to defend herself, the woman flailed her arms and the ring on her finger scratched her husband’s face. A small detail, it seems, but the mark of that ring would change the woman’s life.

When the police arrived to investigate the domestic dispute, the husband told them his wife had attacked him. Since the man had the only visible injury, the police accepted his story and arrested his wife. The husband was then able to get a protective order against her, as well as custody of their 1-year-old child. He then took the child to California.

When the woman was released from jail, her husband met her outside. He threatened to rape and kill her if she didn’t come back to him. But the police only told her to leave him alone, attorney Ann Barclay Kneeland says with disbelief.

“It really felt like a case where this client had so much stacked against her from the get-“It’s knowing that we’re assisting women and children that have been victimized not only by an intimate partner, but also are vulnerable in the system.”go,” says Kneeland, the legal aid attorney who handled the woman’s case. To preserve her safety and get her child back, the woman  would have to battle a manipulating husband with no money and no help from the police.

“She had no means to do anything to improve her situation,” Kneeland said. Until the woman came to Lane County Legal Aid Service.

She told her story to Kneeland, who, after much work, was able to persuade the court that the husband, not the wife, was at fault in the situation. “Ultimately, the court did believe that she was the victim and that he was the perpetrator,” she says, “and ultimately gave him supervised parenting time.”

Such cases are emotionally draining, Kneeland says, but she knows her work makes an enormous impact in the lives of domestic violence victims. “It’s knowing that we’re assisting women and children that have been victimized not only by an intimate partner, but also are vulnerable in the system.”

In the summer of 1997, Equal Justice America provided Kneeland with a fellowship to work at the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley. There she assisted clients who encountered injustices in California’s welfare system. Some had been wrongly denied benefits or cut off from food stamps without notice. Other clients had more complicated problems that required  Kneeland to arrange administrative hearings and represent them.

The experience funded by EJA, as well as previous work advocating for special-needs children, convinced Kneeland to dedicate herself to helping indigent clients. After receiving her law degree, she returned to East Bay, then in 1999 accepted the position of staff attorney with the Domestic Violence Clinic at Lane County Legal Aid Service.

Oregon’s Lane County is roughly the size of the entire state of Connecticut. About 400 clients, mostly women, seek help each year from the clinic and its partners. In 2004, Kneeland became clinic director, and now supervises the law students who intern there.

“The students have a lot of contagious energy,” she says. Some just want litigation experience, she says, while others feel very committed to entering poverty law. But it’s tough for them to find paying jobs; “probably a handful stay in legal aid,” she says. Assistance from an organization like EJA helps encourage them.

Domestic violence, in particular, is a tough field to work in, Kneeland says. Attorneys can’t help but feel an “emotional sense of responsibility for people’s lives.” Having the ability to help women in desperate situations, like the one whose husband took their one-year-old, “comes with also feeling a tremendous responsibility for someone’s life, and their safety and their children’s safety.”

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