August 31, 2017

Pro Bono/Domestic Violence Victims

The Senate unanimously passed the Pro Bono Work to Empower and Represent Act of 2017 (POWER Act) this month to combat domestic and sexual violence. S. 717, cosponsored by Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), would direct U.S. attorneys to hold a minimum of one event annually to promote pro bono legal assistance for domestic violence and sexual assault victims and submit reports on the events to the Department of Justice, which will then compile an annual report to Congress. The bill also includes a provision requiring many U.S. attorney’s offices to work with the Native populations in their judicial districts in planning and holding an event every few years with a focus on addressing domestic violence in Indian Country and among Native populations. Noting that legal representation increases the possibility of successfully obtaining a protective order against an attacker from 32 percent without an attorney to 83 percent with an attorney, the sponsors lauded the Senate for passing the bill. “Passage of the POWER Act by the Senate is a solid avenue to raising awareness that legal assistance s a critical first step in helping victims of domestic violence become survivors,” Sullivan said. Heitkamp further explained, “By encouraging more partnerships in every state to provide pro bono legal services, we can help offer the education, awareness, and legal tools for victims who would otherwise not be able to afford or seek the resources they need to escape, survive, and rebuild their lives.” The ABA supports the expansion of pro bono legal services by all lawyers as a critical priority and adopted policy in 1997 urging that “federal, state, territorial, tribal, local governments and private entities make the establishment of programs addressing domestic violence a priority,” and that the access to legal services for such victims be ensured. The bill will now go to the House, where a companion bill, H.R. 1762, was introduced in March by Reps. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) and is pending in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

 

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