Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project

The following are a sampling of DC LEAP cases:




JS v. MH 

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2016

Ms. S came to DV LEAP after being denied a CPO against her child's violent and abusive father, Mr. H. Despite multiple incidents of physical outbursts, rage and threats to her and her family (including threats of bodily harm to Ms. S and her purported boyfriend) some of which were admitted by Mr. H, the CPO judge denied her petition on the ground that this was "primarily a custody case." DV LEAP first helped Ms. S file a motion to alter the judgement;  when it was denied, DV LEAP recruited Jenner & Block to help file an appellant brief on her behalf (pro bono). The brief argues that the admitted threats and text picture of bullets required the court to enter a CPO and that the existence of a custody case is not a lawful ground for denying a CPO. The case is pending.  


JM v. JL (DC 2016)

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2016

In this case, DV LEAP, along with pro bono firm Paul Hastings, is representing a mother in her defense of an appeal of a custody order brought by the child's controlling and emotionally abusive father. The mother is a single mother who has taken care of the  child at issue in this case for the entirety of his life. The Father, who regularly demeaned the Mother's parenting abilities, filed a motion for sole custody.  At trial, the custody judge denied the father's motion for sole legal and physical custody and granted the mother's counter-motion for tie-breaker authority. DV LEAP and Paul Hastings' brief on behalf of the mother argued that the trial court had properly exercised its discretionary authority to deny the Father's motion, applied the proper legal standard for modification, and appropriately analyzed the statutory best interest of the child factors. The case is pending.

  • Amicus Brief


Carrell v. U.S. 

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2015

This issue in this case is the intent standard required to be proven for misdemeanor threats in DC in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Elonis v. U.S., which rejected an objective (negligence) standard for the federal felony threats statute.  DV LEAP filed an amicus brief on behalf of the local and national DV communities arguing that the DC Court of Appeals should uphold its current standard (an objective approach) or adopt, at most, a requirement that the government prove that the government prove the defendant acted recklessly. 

DV LEAP's amicus brief argues that in determining the mens rea for misdemeanor threats, the DC Court of Appeals should not replace its traditional focus on context and other objective factors with a focus on the subjective intent of the speaker. DV LEAP also points out that while the District's felony threats statute mirrors the federal law construed in Elonis, the misdemeanor statute does not at all-- rending Elonis largely irrelevant.  Finally, the brief emphasizes the impact requiring proof of the speaker's subjective intent would have on DV victims, for whom threats by their abusers often cause extreme harm.  


YL & JW  v.  CC

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2015

This case involves the application of DC's Intrafamily Offenses Act's "mutual residence" provision to a landlord and tenants in a two-family house with separate kitchens, bathrooms, and living spaces. The trial court awarded the landlord a civil protection order and ordered them out of the home, based on the landlord’s testimony about threats by the tenants.  They became homeless. The tenants are represented by Legal Aid Society on appeal and DV LEAP filed an amicus brief in support of the Appellants' Emergency Motion to allow the tenants to return to their room pending appeal. DV LEAP's brief argued that CPOs are not intended to help landlords evict tenants, and that expanding the statute in this way would undermine the statute's effective protections for victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. The DC Court of Appeals ultimately vacated the case as moot. 


Salvattera v. Ramirez

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2015

This appeal affirmed the use of DC’s CPO statute to provide equal protections to victims of unrelated sexual assault as are provided to victims of domestic violence.  Here the CPO judge ordered a perpetrator of sexual abuse to vacate his own home which he did not share with the victim, a remedy could not be ordered under the vacate provision which is limited to parties sharing a home.  The victim and perpetrator both lived in a small rental building; she had to walk by his apartment where he victimized her every time she went in and out.  DV LEAP’s amicus brief described the trend toward expansion of protection orders to sexual assault victims, the massive failures of the justice system to adequately protect such victims, and the longstanding legal rule that the CPO statute should be liberally construed for the benefit of victims.  The DCCA’s decision resoundingly affirms this rule and establishes that a perpetrator may be ordered out of his own home under the statute’s “catch-all” provision, when that is necessary to effectuate a stay-away order.  


EC v. RCM  

D.C. Court of Appeals – 2013/14 

This case of first impression raised the question of how broadly DC’s new unemployment and domestic violence statute should be applied.  Ms. C lost her job as the result of an extended campaign of stalking and harassment by her abusive ex-boyfriend.  Although her firing was triggered by the abuser’s fabricated accusations to her boss, the Administrative Law Judge found that, since her actions in letting the abuser onto the premises were rational and intentional, she was not fired “due to domestic violence.”  DV LEAP filed an amicus brief in support of the appeal brought by Legal Aid Society and represented amici at oral argument.  In June 2014 the Court issued a decision that vindicated DV LEAP’s and LAS’s position in all respects, adopting a generous reading of the statute that will protect many future employees who lose their jobs as a result of domestic violence.  


J.O. v. O.E. 

D.C. Court of Appeals – 2013.  

In this case, a man sought protection from the sexual assaults of his male housemate.     The respondent denied the assaults primarily based on his repeated and passionate assertions that he is “not a gay.”  The judge found both parties credible, and concluded that he could not find a “preponderance of the evidence” to prove the assaults, given the respondent’s convincing denial that he was homosexual.  He denied the Civil Protection Order.  The petitioner’s dedicated counsel, AYUDA, sought consultation with DV LEAP.  We advised them to file a motion to reconsider, explaining that sexual orientation has no bearing on sexual assault.  When the judge denied that motion, DV LEAP accepted the case for appeal and placed it with Bingham LLP to represent the petitioner, and Skadden Arps to represent DV LEAP as a friend of the court (amicus).  The amicus brief thoroughly described the research literature and federal policy statements supporting the above argument. 


In re K

D.C. Court of Appeals-2013

This case also involved the victim’s right to bring a criminal contempt enforcement action to enforce a Civil Protection Order (CPO). The decision follows the decisions in Taylor and Jackson below, outlawing private criminal contempt enforcement where a CPO has been violated. 


In re R

D.C. Court of Appeals-2012

In this case, the trial court held sua sponte a “show cause” (or “contempt”) hearing for violations of a Civil Protection Order (CPO) without appointing an independent prosecutor.  DV LEAP submitted an amicus brief suggesting that the court’s procedure in this case was problematic, but asking the Court of Appeals to ensure that future judges can still use such proceedings for simpler technical violations of CPO cases, such as failure to under drug testing or batterer’s counseling.  The DCCA agreed with appellant and reversed the court’s procedure while remanding for a new trial.


In re T

D.C. Court of Appeals-2012

This case involved the victim’s right to bring a criminal contempt action to enforce a Civil Protection Order (CPO), in light of the D.C. Court of Appeals’ final decision in Robertson II (discussed below).  DV LEAP filed its brief arguing that private enforcement of CPOs is essential and perfectly constitutionally proper.  The Court held that a private beneficiary of a CPO may not prosecute a criminal contempt hearing. 


In re J

D.C. Court of Appeals-2012

This case also involves enforcement of CPOs through criminal contempt actions.  However, this case raised the question of whether a judge may himself initiate a criminal contempt proceeding for violations of a batterer’s counseling order, even when the victim is not seeking the contempt finding.  DV LEAP took neither party’s side and argued that judges could hold evidentiary hearings in limited types of cases.  The DCCA agreed with appellant, reversed for improper procedure, and vacated the remaining contempt charge. The decision holds that a judge may trigger a criminal contempt hearing, but only a separate disinterested prosecutor may prosecute it.  


In re K

D.C. Court of Appeals-2011

This case also involves the victim's right to bring a criminal contempt enforcement action to enforce a Civil Protection Order (CPO).  This case is currently pending. 


Clark v. United States

DC Court of Appeals - 2011

In this case the defendant argued that his violent violations of the victim's protection order were waived because she had previously consented to prior (non-violent) violations. This case revisits the "consent defense" argument raised in the case that launched DV LEAP, Ba v. U.S. (see below).  DV LEAP filed (in-house) an amicus brief arguing (again) that a consent defense should not be recognized as it would cede the validity and enforceability of court orders to private litigants. DV LEAP also urged the Court not to rule (as it previously did in Ba) that any consent had been "revoked" by the time of the violence, because the revocation theory is predicated on the idea of a viable consent defense, and because the proper analysis should be one of "waiver" rather than "revoked consent." In its ruling, the Court of Appeals finally and definitively rejected the consent defense.  This is a wonderful improvement in the legal landscape for victims seeking to enforce their protection orders in DC.



D.C. Court of Appeals - 2010

In this successful appeal,  DV LEAP represented a victim of domestic violence whose request for a civil protection order was denied because the abuser falsely but successfully claimed that his violence was an act of self-defense in response to the victim's actions. This case was especially troubling because the trial court's decision was based on representations the abuser made in his closing argument, not during his testimony and the victim was not afforded the opportunity to cross-examine the abuser's factual assertions about the violence. In reversing the trial court's decision, the D.C. Court of Appeals held the trial court abused its discretion by relying on "testimony" that did not exist.  


Upson v. Wallace

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2010

DV LEAP submitted an amicus brief in support of a pro se mother seeking a protection order, asking the court of appeals to reverse the trial court’s imposition of thousands of dollars of attorneys’ fees against her, on grounds that the sanctions were unwarranted, fees are not available to lawyers who represent themselves, and the lawyer’s corporate rate of over $800 / hour was far beyond a reasonable family law rate.  DV LEAP is delighted that the Court of Appeals agreed with us, reversed the fee award, and adopted a ruling for the future that attorneys who represent themselves may not be awarded attorney’s fees.


E.J. v. D.J.

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2010

DV LEAP represented a mother appealing an award of joint legal and physical custody to her batterer. DV LEAP also recruited and assisted an amicus brief filed by the NY Legal Assistance Group on behalf of several DC and NY organizations.   The appeal argued that the trial judge failed to apply the protective provisions of the custody statute that restrict custody and visitation to batterers.  We also argued that the court's finding that the presumption against joint custody to a batterer was rebutted because one child was "alienated" from her father violates the intent of the statute, since that alienation was in part due to the abusive conduct of the father.  The DCCA affirmed the trial court’s ruling.


In re Robertson 

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2008, 2011

This case, in which DV LEAP submitted three separate amicus briefs to the DCCA, involved the important right of victims to enforce their own civil protection orders.  The DCCA affirmed that right in its first two decisions.  In its third decision, following the Supreme Court’s dismissal of certiorari, it revised its decision to affirm the private right to enforce CPOs by criminal contempt, but held that such actions can only be brought “in the name of the sovereign.”  While the decision was a partial victory, in that it affirmed the private victim’s right to bring the action, it is arguably being subsumed by subsequent decisions in Jackson, Rogers, Taylor and Kimbrough cases.


Y v. V

D.C. Court of Appeals-2008

This case involved the issue of whether the trial court erred in granting a civil protection order ("CPO") against DV LEAP's client without considering the history of the parties' relationship, without finding any risk of future harm, and after finding that the petitioner's testimony was unreliable.  The court upheld the CPO. 


P.F. v. N.C.

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2008

This case addressed the trial court’s failure to consider domestic violence in awarding custody to an abuser and the court’s penalizing the mother for fleeing abuse.  DV LEAP submitted an amicus brief, partnering with the Legal Aid Society, who represented the victim.  The D.C. Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that the trial judge failed to expressly address the violence in his analysis of the factors favoring custody to the father and that DC's custody statute requires that domestic violence be given "significant" weight in determining custody.


Murphy v. Okeke 

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2008

This case is a poster child for DV LEAP.  DV LEAP placed the appeal with pro bono lawyers for the appellant and co-counseled a powerful amicus brief, resulting in a fabulous appellate decision reversing a trial court’s re-victimization of the victim.  The lower court had issued a protection order against her on grounds she needed to be “protected from herself” because she “provoked” the abuser’s violence.


Brown v. Hines

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2008

DV LEAP successfully represented a victim of domestic in a custody case against her abuser who was using the appellate court system as a means of harassing her after she won in family court.


C.W. v. E.F. 

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2007

In this resounding reversal of the trial court, the D.C. Court of Appeals held clearly that children’s safety is always the priority in cases concerning abuse.  The Court also expressly affirmed that the burden is on the abuser to demonstrate the child's safety in visitation, and affirmed that a history of adult domestic violence is always relevant to child safety.  DV LEAP co-counseled the party’s appellate brief and also worked closely with the amicus brief-writer.


Claggett v. Claggett

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2007

This successful appeal involved the issue of whether the trial court erred in summarily denying DV LEAP’s client’s pro se Motion to Seal All Records of Arrest without first holding an evidentiary hearing.  (The criminal case against DV LEAP’s client was nolle prosequi’d).  The DCCA reversed and affirmed the right to a hearing.


Rogers v. Johnson-Norman

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2004

DV LEAP successfully represented a woman who had suffered extended stalking and threats from a former dating partner, had successfully taken criminal and civil legal actions against him, and was now being harassed through his litigation appeals.


Ba v. United States 

D.C. Court of Appeals - 2002

The case that “launched” DV LEAP concerned an abuser who argued that, since he had lived for a few months with the victim after she received her protection order, he could not subsequently be prosecuted for violating that order after they broke up.  The DCCA withdrew its initial unfavorable opinion and, after DV LEAP’s amicus brief was submitted and the case re-argued by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, issued a more favorable opinion which left open the question of whether consent is a valid defense to a violation of a CPO.





Domestic Violence Case Digest for the District of Columbia

Appealing a Civil Domestic Violence Case in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals:  A Guide for D.C. Domestic Violence Advocates