The First District Appellate Court of Illinois expressed strong disapproval of a Cook County circuit court judge’s handling of a domestic violence case, in which the alleged victim’s request for an order of protection was denied and a less-stringent civil restraining order was issued instead.
“Having found abuse, the trial judge had no authority to unilaterally enter a civil restraining order in lieu of the plenary order of protection,” the appellate judges wrote. “Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s order and remand for entry of a plenary order of protection.”
In the case, the alleged victim told Juan Jose Ramirez Torres, her boyfriend of 17 years and the father of her four children, that she wanted to end the relationship. Over the next six months, according to court documents, she alleged an escalating pattern of purported physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse. Over two days of proceedings in the circuit court, the alleged victim and her sister provided both testimony and evidence, including photographs and police reports, to back up her claims.
When he took the stand, court documents said, Torres denied the abuse and said it was the alleged victim who struck him.
According to court documents, Cook County Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste agreed the evidence showed a pattern of abuse. At the close of the trial, the appellate judges noted, Jean-Baptiste framed the issue in familial language, denying the plenary order of protection and entering the civil restraining order “to help manage the relationship between mom and dad.” The judge also ordered Torres to undergo alcohol and family counseling assessments.
In its order remanding the case for the issuance of an order of protection, the appellate court took particular note of a statement the circuit judge made directly to the alleged victim, saying that she had to “respect that [Torres] loves you and he still likes you.”
“One questions why [the alleged victim] should ‘respect that [Torres] loves’ her, particularly after he not only abused her, but also refused to accept any responsibility and blamed [her] for his own devastating actions,” the justices wrote. “Domestic violence is always alien to love; it humiliates, isolates, emotionally scars, demeans and dehumanizes the victim, and frequently, children of the victim as well. …[She] asked for an order of protection; she proved her entitlement to an order of protection; and the trial court should have entered an order of protection.”
The case drew the attention of a number of outside organizations, as evidenced by an amicus brief filed in support of the alleged domestic violence victim by eight such groups, including the Loyola University Civitas Child Law Center, the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network, the Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and the John Marshall Law School Domestic Violence Clinical Advocacy Program.
The organizations said they worried the lower court’s ruling, if allowed to stand, could allow other judges to treat other domestic violence victims similarly.
In finding the case did qualify for an order of protection, the appellate court turned to the Illinois Domestic Violence Act, which states that once the trial court finds that the petitioner has been abused, an order of protection “shall issue.” The appellate court interpreted “shall issue” as a mandatory term requiring the trial court to enter an order of protection, which carries much greater protection for victims than a civil restraining order and much stronger penalties for abusers who violate the terms of the order.
“The Illinois Domestic Violence Act deals explicitly and boldly with an issue that, sadly, will never be cured, but can be addressed through advocacy, awareness and activism,” the justices wrote.
Justice Michael B. Hyman delivered the opinion of the appellate court, with justices P. Scott Neville and John B. Simon concurring.
The plaintiff was represented by legal assistance organization, LAF, of Chicago, and by attorneys from the Los Angeles office of Dentons.