Domestic Violence Advocate

An Open Letter to an LA Family Law Judge

Dear Judge Reva G. Goetz,

What exactly should we do about domestic abuse? In volatile relationships, there always comes that one moment. The one where you either walk away or you get hurt. I have the privilege and burden of helping young girls navigate what to do in these situations.

For my friend, Loredana Nesci, that moment came on July 22 (grimly, also my birthday). Loredana was undeniably one of the strongest women I knew personally. Mentally, physically, emotionally. She was an ex-cop (involved in an infamous LA shootout) turned kick ass lawyer with her own TV show. A real powerhouse. I walked into Loredana’s office for some legal advice and walked out with a fast friend. I was dressed having just come from a volleyball lesson and she was dressed having just ridden her bike to work. Crayon drawings by her four-year-old son, Rocco, covered her windows so much so that you couldn’t see out of them. We liked each other instantly. We bonded over the rewards and challenges of being confident women, raising children and running businesses in a world that throws obstacles at women trying do such things. As an attorney, I knew she wasn’t going to leave my side until she made things right for me. I would not have had the guts to stand my ground without her. And we won my case. With my real estate case resolved, we continued our relationship as friends, texting each other with good news and plans for the future. We were supposed to have celebratory drinks when I got back from my travels.

But that isn’t what happened.

I don’t know what she and Robert fought about. It could have been about their house remodel or which team jersey he dressed their son in that day. But I can tell you for certain that she did not back down.
Loredana was strong and outspoken.

Now she’s dead.

For another friend, Kate Clarke, the moment came on fourth of July weekend 2013. She’s the, ‘strong on the inside and quiet on the outside’ type. A woman who wanted children badly enough to endure the agony of fertility treatments. When a son finally arrived, her husband had a break with reality. I mean that in the most serious of terms. He imagined mold in the duct work of the house, poison ivy on door knobs, bed bugs in his hair, and conspiracies by his wife. On a hopeful day, in a moment of wanting to desperately rekindle a love once shared, she had sex with her husband one last time. And a daughter was born. Unfortunately, he went from bad to worse. Talking to his wife as though she were someone else. Swinging his daughter around seemingly without knowing he had a baby in his arms. Talking about the whole family dying, threatening to kill himself, verbally berating his wife every slur he could think of – ALL IN FRONT OF HIS KIDS. This isn’t hearsay – it’s on VIDEO. Over 70 of them.

So when she finally got the nerve to call the police at midnight on July 4, 2013, I told her to grab the kids and come over. Immediately! I thought with the new restraining order, it would be a slam dunk to keep him a safe distance from the kids and my friend could start a new, saner life.

But that isn’t what happened.

After two years of court battles, which drained her soul and bank account, YOU decided that you didn’t believe her. Your report stated that you don’t believe my friend was afraid because she was too calm in the videos. Apparently she should have escalated the situation by responding with equal amounts of crazy? If you knew anything about what it’s like to be in a situation this volatile, you would know that most women remain calm and quiet to avoid poking the bear and potentially causing him to move beyond verbal violence to physical violence. When her children are present, the desire to minimize any worse behavior is greater than ever. While their baby was being slung around his shoulders like a baseball bat, should she have antagonized him? Maybe she should have pushed him until he followed through on his threats, so that she could join Loredana in the headlines.

I’ll focus on just a few of your statements. In your own words…

“It is unclear why Petitioner waited four hours to call the police. She had her cell phone in her hand while she was recording and could have called them at any time before she went into the bathroom.” (You mean, the bathroom where her husband slammed her fingers in the door? Yeah, that bathroom.)

“Respondent admits to being verbally abusive and is remorseful.” (You must have a different view from up there on that bench, because a dozen or so of us on the ground have seen something quite different.)

“The parties both used bad language and said hurtful things to each other.” (Can you tell me what that is based on? Because as far as I know, there wasn’t a single shred of evidence supporting that she was reciprocal. And it’s called “abuse,” Ms. Goetz. Please don’t diminish what he’s done with soft words like “hurtful.”)

“Respondent was clearly upset when the videos were shown to the court.” (So you don’t feel for the victim of the abuse, but you feel for the abuser’s embarrassment. Your sympathy toward him is quite clear.)

This one might be my favorites…

“Petitioner alleges, and it is corroborated by the videos Pet’s Exhibits 39 and 42, that Respondent said he did not love the children and he didn’t want children or a family. However, the court finds that based on Respondent’s testimony and all the remedial actions he’s taken independent of the court orders, that the Respondent did not mean those things when he said them and very much loves and cherishes the parties’ children.” (So in the light of aaaaallll the evidence to the contrary, you just decided you want to believe him.)

You awarded this man – a man with anger issues, suicidal and homicidal rants and a thin grasp on reality – 50/50 custody of the kids that he has literally tossed around, taunted, and said he never wanted. And my friend is afraid. Now she lives in fear for her kids and herself.

One friend fought, and she’s dead. One friend didn’t, and she fears for the safety of her children and herself. I used to think I knew how girls and women (and any man, woman or child who ever feels overpowered) ought to handle such things in order to escape with sanity and safety. What exactly are people who feel overpowered supposed to do? I work with REALgirl Empowerment Programs, a non-profit dedicated to teaching girls to build healthy self-esteem and relationships.

You got this one wrong, Ms. Goetz. And I’m glad you retired right after my friend’s case. Because you are the most detrimental obstacle in the arduous task of teaching women that they matter. I have one question for you… What exactly do you suggest we teach these girls now?

Shelli Wright

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