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Julie M. White Named “Attorney of the Year” by 18th Circuit State Attorney Norm Wolfinger
Julie is 4th from the left and next to her (red tie) is State Attorney Norm Wolfinger
On April 25th, Brevard County Legal Aid Staff Attorney Julie White was presented with the State Attorney’s Office “Attorney of the Year Award” for the 18th Judicial Circuit. The award was presented at the Victims’ Rights Luncheon at the Hilton Rialto before a large audience consisting of law enforcement personnel, social service agency staff, United Way representatives and other important community leaders. Julie is the first attorney to receive the award who does not actually work for the State Attorney’s office. Having been informed that the appropriate category was “Victim Advocate of the Year,” it was not until the presentation that State Attorney Norm Wolfinger informed us that he had decided to break with tradition. In presenting the award, Mr. Wolfinger recognized Julie’s significant achievements and applauded BCLA’s DV program.
Julie White is a skilled attorney who devotes a substantial portion of her practice to coordinating Brevard County Legal Aid’s “Freedom from Violence Project.” In close collaboration with area domestic violence shelters, the Women’s Center, and law enforcement agencies, Julie provides expert legal advice and representation to survivors of domestic violence who are in desperate need.
Julie’s project offers victims of domestic violence the help they need to address problems that can only be solved through specialized legal assistance. As an attorney, Julie can file pleadings and motions and represent survivors in court to obtain the relief they so desperately need. Studies have shown that women in the lowest income households and women with young children are far more likely to be victims of domestic violence. Expensive private attorneys are not an option for Julie’s clients but an inability to address legal problems can be catastrophic. It is only through Julie’s help that so many in our community are able to effectively access the legal system. While criminal prosecution of batterers is vital, it is only through action in civil court that the law provides relief for victims such as support, custody, supervised visitation and possession of the home. Victims without attorney representation or advice most often do not know how to request relief and are intimidated by the court system or the presence of the batterer in the courtroom.
In 2005, Julie’s program provided assistance to over 350 survivors at injunction hearings and in family law matters including dissolution of marriage. In addition to direct representation, Julie also provides free training for pro bono attorneys and presents workshops to victims service providers and community groups. Julie conducted several workshops on family law and domestic violence issues at local shelters and at the Women's Center of South Brevard.
Julie’s commitment to addressing the problem of domestic violence is also demonstrated by her strong leadership of Brevard’s Domestic Violence Task Force. Currently, Julie serves as chair of the Task Force. Her involvement with the Task Force and 18th Circuit’s Family Law Advisory Group enables BCLA to inform service providers about our programs. Currently the Task Force is implementing several important strategies aimed at improving the Batterers’ Intervention Program, providing much needed services to victims in order to achieve self-sufficiency, coordination of services and encouraging statewide initiatives among task forces to address domestic violence issues.
We at Legal Aid know that our clients are the least likely to possess the tools necessary to navigate a safe course through the complicated legal system. Unfortunately, the stakes are often very high. A victim of domestic violence who has been served with divorce papers by her abusive spouse could lose custody of her children in a heartbeat. Without high-quality legal assistance, Julie’s clients stand to lose everything including custody of their children, support payments, visitation rights and use of the marital home.
Perhaps one of Julie’s clients put it best when she said “Julie, I cannot thank you enough for all you have done for me and my kids. There is no way we could have made it through this without you. God bless you.”
Julie White’s steadfast commitment to ensuring fairness and respect for victims of crime has resulted in an important appellate decision which will assist domestic violence survivors obtain the relief they so desperately need in civil injunction cases. Thanks to Julie’s compassion and strong advocacy, the struggles of a victim which could have easily gone unnoticed, will now provide the basis for scores of advocates in Florida to seek justice and respect for their clients.
The case involved a survivor of domestic violence who had been granted an Injunction for Protection, however the judge granted custody of the child to the batterer. The day after the hearing, when Julie’s client did not turn over the child, the respondent faxed an “Amended Order for Protection and Temporary Custody” to the judge who promptly signed it. Julie and her client were given no prior notice of this order, nor was there ever a motion filed or hearing set. The amended order granted relief to the batter including protection from violence from Julie’s client (despite the fact that a petition seeking protection had never been filed). The next day, Saturday, the respondent was somehow able to reach the judge at home and have him sign an arrest warrant for Julie’s client. This arrest warrant was based on the defective amended order.
Julie immediately drafted an emergency motion to set aside the amended order and the arrest warrant. The same judge heard and denied the motion. Julie then filed a Motion to Disqualify the judge. Ultimately this motion was granted. In order to quickly readdress vital issues of custody and visitation, Julie quickly filed a divorce petition and requested emergency relief. A hearing was quickly scheduled before a General Magistrate and a favorable custody arrangement was ordered. The Magistrate, however, could not dissolve the unjust order in the DV Injunction case. Since the defective order granted the respondent protection and also was the basis for the arrest warrant, an appeal was necessary.
On appeal, the initial brief presented arguments that the trial court had abused its discretion in granting the amended order in the absence of notice, an opportunity to be heard and because it was based on ex parte communications. An answer brief was filed and the batterer’s attorney argued that the issues raised on appeal were moot since the DV and family law cases had been consolidated and, he maintained, any errors in the original injunction case had been reheard by the court. Julie’s reply brief pointed out the General Master in the family law case had no statutory authority to address domestic violence issues. Therefore, she argued, any relief granted in the dissolution of marriage action did not render moot the issue of the defective DV order. Julie asked that the amended DV order be stricken with directions to rescind all subsequent judicial actions based thereon.
On March 17, 2006, the 5th District Court of Appeal, in a three-page opinion, agreed with Julie that the trial court had erred in granting the ex parte amended order. The Court also agreed that no showing of mootness had been made and the trial court’s order was stricken.
This is a good example of the fine work Julie performs every day on behalf of victims of crime and domestic violence survivors. The case will provide vital precedent to advocates across the state seeking justice for victims. The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence plans to brief DV attorneys statewide on the importance of the case, and it will also be featured on Florida’s legal services website as a compelling success story. Every time Julie turned around, there was another unpleasant surprise that necessitated a quick response. Julie sacrificed much of her personal life in pursuing justice for her client but ultimately, the reward was well worth the effort.