Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: May 24, 2007
Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. BIDEN (for himself and Mr. SPECTER):

S. 1515. A bill to establish a domestic violence volunteer attorney network to represent domestic violence victims; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today I am introducing with my good friend from Pennsylvania, Senator SPECTER, an innovative bill that will help the lives of domestic violence victims. Sadly, domestic violence remains a reality for one out of four women in our country. Experts agree a pivotal factor to ending domestic violence is meaningful access to the justice system. Recent academic research finds that increased provision of legal services is ``one likely significant factor in explaining the decline [of domestic violence] ..... Because legal services help women with practical matters such as protective orders, custody, and child support they appear to actually present women with real, longterm alternatives to their relationships.'' Stopping the violence hinges on a victim's ability to obtain effective protection orders, initiate separation proceedings or design safe child custody.

Yet thousands of victims of domestic violence go without representation every day in this country. A patchwork of services do their best to provide represent domestic violence victims, law school clinics, individual State domestic violence coalitions, legal services, and private attorneys. But there are obvious gaps and simply not enough lawyers for victims and their myriad legal needs due to the abuse, including protection orders, divorce and child custody, immigration adjustments, and bankruptcy declarations. Experts estimate that current legal services serve about 170,000 low-income domestic violence victims each year and yet, there are at least 1 million victims each year. At best then, less than 1 out of 5 low-income victims ever see a lawyer.

I believe there is a wealth of untapped resources in this country, lawyers who want to volunteer. My National Domestic Violence Volunteer Act would harness the skills, enthusiasm and dedication of these lawyers and infuse 100,000 new volunteer lawyers into the justice system to represent domestic violence victims. We should make it as smooth and simple for volunteer lawyers. My bill creates a streamlined, organized and national system to connect lawyers to clients.

I can't overemphasize the importance of having a lawyer standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a victim as she navigates the system. We must match a willing lawyer to a victim as soon as the victim calls the Hotline, walks into a courtroom or involves the police. It is at that crucial moment a victim needs to feel support, and if she doesn't, she may retreat back into the abuse.

To enlist, train and place volunteer lawyers, my bill creates a new, electronic National Domestic Violence Attorney Network and Referral Project that will be administered by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence.

There are five components of my legislation.

First, it creates a National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network Referral Project to be managed by the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence. With $2 million of new Federal funding each year, the American Bar Association Commission on Dometic Violence will solicit for volunteer lawyers and then create and maintain an electronic network. It will provide appropriate mentoring, training and technical assistance to volunteer lawyers. And it will establish and maintain a point of contact in each State, a statewide legal coordinator, to help match willing lawyers to victims.

Second, it enlists the National Domestic Violence Hotline and Internet sources to provide legal referrals. The bill will help the National Domestic Violence Hotline to update their system and train advocates on how to provide legal referrals to callers in coordination with the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence. Legal referrals may also be done by qualified Internet-based services.

Third, it creates a Pilot Program and National Rollout of National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network and Referral Project. The bill designs a pilot program to implement the volunteer attorney network in five diverse States. The Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice will administer these monies to qualified statewide legal coordinators to help them connect with the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and the volunteer lawyers. After a successful stint in five States, the bill will rollout the program nationally.

Fourth, the measure establishes a Domestic Violence Legal Advisory Task Force to monitor the program and make recommendations.

Fifth, the bill mandates the General Accounting Office to study each State and assess the scope and quality of legal services available to battered women and report back to Congress within a year.

A terrific roundtable of groups reviewed and contributed to this legislation, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, the Legal Resource Center for Violence Against Women, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the American Bar Association,, the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the Legal Services Corporation, the American Prosecutors Research Institute, National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, National Center for State Courts, National Association for Attorneys General, Battered Women's Justice Project, National Association of Women Judges, National Association of Women Lawyers, National Crime Victim Bar Association and National Center for the Victims of Crime.

I want to end today with a story about an American hero, a woman who has been to hell and back and now is a tremendous advocate for domestic violence victims, Yvette Cade. I want to tell it to you because I think it serves as such a powerful message about why battered women should have legal assistance.

Yvette Cade, a Maryland resident, was doused with gasoline and set on fire by her estranged husband while she was at work. Half of her upper body, including her entire face, suffered third-degree burns, the most serious level.

Just three weeks before the attack, a judge dismissed the protective order Yvette had against her husband, despite her protests that he was violent. At the hearing in which the judge dismissed Cade's protective order, the judge told Cade he could not be her advocate, only the ``umpire.'' Cade told him that she no longer wanted to be married to her abusive husband. The judge replied, ``well, then get a lawyer, and get a divorce. That's all you have to do,'' I believe that today's National Domestic Violence Volunteer Attorney Network Act would make getting a lawyer a reality, not just good advice.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

S. 1515


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