get to know the commission
In this section of the eNewsletter, we introduce you to a member of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence to increase an understanding of the Commission, its members, and its work.
Marjorie A. O’Connell is the founder of the Washington, D.C. law firm of O’Connell & Associates, which in 2007 celebrated the beginning of its “Fourth Decade”. She is a member of the American Bar Association House of Delegates, a former officer of the ABA Tax Section, and has been actively involved in tax law concerns in a wide variety of ABA positions. Ms. O’Connell is also an active member of National Foundation for Women’s Bar Associations and the Women’s Bar Association Foundation of the District of Columbia. Ms. O’Connell is a Fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel.
Over ten years ago, Ms. O’Connell was involved in the enactment of the “innocent spouse” provision of the U.S. tax code, which provides a safe harbor for some victims of domestic violence (and others) who are made unwittingly accomplices to their spouse’s tax fraud or evasion. While working on this legislation, it became clear to her that many people “on the hill” misperceived the role of domestic violence in a victim’s life, and frequently mischaracterized it as an excuse or lie to evade taxes. Troubled by this perception, she set about trying to better educate lawyers and decision-makers about the effects of domestic violence. Her first stop was the ABA Tax Section, but she eventually wound up working with the Commission on Domestic Violence, and was successful in developing a jointly-sponsored consumer brochure about innocent spouse relief.
When Ms. O’Connell was later offered the opportunity to become a member of the Commission, she was excited to have the chance “to learn a lot fast” about the legal response to domestic violence. She is most proud of the visibility the ABA Commission can bring to the issue. It is concerning to her that “a lot of people don’t believe it still. Even though court decisions in every state have addressed and validated the idea of emotional abuse and psychological trauma, it is disturbingly clear that mostly male lawyers really go for the story “I only hit her a couple of times” or “I never hit her in the face” …that is a continuing challenge. We spend an awful lot of time sending abusers to “school” so they can learn more…what are we going to do about the decision-makers?”
This year is Ms. O’Connell’s last year on the Commission, and she wishes her term could be longer. “I’m so sorry it’s over!” she says. “I wish there could be reunions so that we could do post-graduate work!”