Plaintiffs: Get an Attorney for Domestic Violence Cases

urlOne thing I learned from observing domestic violence cases in family court is: Get Counsel. On average, for every ten cases I personally observed, one Domestic Violence Restraining Order was issued. One. Very, very few plaintiffs have an attorney present. Some defendants do. When an attorney is present in these cases, the outcome you want happens. Almost always.

That’s not the narrative many would have you believe. I’ve heard from gun advocates and men’s rights advocates and others that restraining orders are given out like candy. It’s true that TROs (Temporary Restraining Orders) have a slightly lower threshold, but they are temporary. There is actually a great burden of evidence that judges weigh, and with verbal or texted or emailed threats, it often comes down to which person to believe. And an attorney helps to organize and present and weigh a person’s words.

Recently, audio of a courtroom case became available, and while it is between neighbors and not domestic violence, the similarities in the courtroom are striking. Take a moment to listen to the audio of the back-and-forth in this courtroom. The judge asks how the plaintiffs know the texts are from the defendant. The attorney for the defendant is able to bring up doubt by suggesting that someone else could have taken the phone and texted the on-going threats. Despite a previous arrest, on-going threats in public places and over texts, coming onto their property with a loaded and cocked shotgun, the judge decided not to issue a restraining order. Three members of the family were shot to death by the plaintiff 33 hours after the judge dismissed the case saying, “I expect everybody to keep their cool leaving this courtroom.”

When in the midst of crisis, or when people KNOW they are telling the truth, they often think that will be enough. It’s not. Emotion, nervousness, being in the presence of an abuser, feeling intimidated by the process, and being treated as though your fear for your life is all in your head (also a typical technique of abusers, so of particular concern in a courtroom), can all come together to make a plaintiff appear unsure, confused, or dishonest — EVEN WHEN S/HE IS NOT.

There are resources for those who cannot afford an attorney or who feel unable to navigate the system properly. Contact the Family Justice Center in Essex County, the New Jersey Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Rachel Coalition Legal Services for legal contacts, or S.O.F.I.A. for referrals. For general research and information, take a look at the NJ State Police page with Domestic Violence Information and contacts by county. In addition, you have the right and ability to walk into ANY police station — whether it’s in your town or another — and make a complaint, ask for resources, or get information and help. Most NJ Police Precincts have trained officers and volunteers (Domestic Violence Response Team) who can help get you information you need.

As this terrifying and all too real situation between neighbors highlights the need for plaintiffs to bring an attorney, especially in domestic violence cases and abusive situations between family/friends. So please, Always get an attorney for court in domestic violence cases! Thanks.

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Glad I Saw It: Pottery Treasures

pottery treasures

My children were lucky enough to be able to take one of the Montclair Art Museum‘s Spring Break classes at the pottery studio. Besides the hands-on, messy, focused fun they enjoyed, it also provided a lesson in patience; the budding potters need to wait a few weeks to pick up their finished work. Seeing the colorful variety of treasures created by so many children was a joyful moment.

As a side note: My son’s haul of hard work, seen below, reminded me that even when things seem very similar in shape and color and style, those who know better can lovingly recite differences and details of each. Good to remember in this era of clumping together and erasing individuality.


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What To See at the 2016 Montclair Film Festival

Film festivals are tricky — there is a wealth of art and intrigue and drama and education and investigation and star power, but there is also a schedule to follow. And unless you have the luxury to take a vacation from Life and Family and Work, it’s difficult to see everything you want to see! Happily, the Montclair Film Festival has made it easier to choose by screening many films twice and providing an easy to navigate grid of screening times and locations.

And in case the comprehensive list from Baristanet writers or film suggestions from various celebrities-to-me locals isn’t helpful enough, I’m happy to offer my highly unofficial sway. I mean, I’ve already shared this MUST SEE international but made-in-Montclair film: When Two Worlds Collide. So here are a few more.

12509695_563064497191274_5045227430258867999_nFRIDAY: The Opening Night Film LIFE, ANIMATED is a special event that will move and inspire the audience. Wonderfully appropriate as an opening film, its theme centers on the human need for stories as a part of a fulfilled life. Following the film, Stephen Colbert will moderate a Q&A with Director Roger Ross Williams, film subjects Owen, Walt, Cornelia, and Ron Suskind, and special guest Gilbert Gottfried.

Saturday: The wonderful JOE’S VIOLIN (also with a Montclair connection) is great for the whole family. In just 24 minutes, it connects a 91-year old Holocaust survivor with a 12-year old via music. This special screening will feature a musical performance and extended Q&A with the filmmakers and subjects. A true treat for anyone touched by music.

Saturday and Sunday: For those interested in social justice films, the Montclair Film Festival has several on offer. First, DO NOT RESIST investigates the militarization of the police and how it affects the very communities who need protection. THE WRONG  LIGHT pursues a story of a supposed refuge for trafficked girls in Thailand, but the documentary team doesn’t find the answers it expects. Both films have two screenings.

12705391_1715265458718912_4167975938349995095_nMondayALIVE & KICKING: THE SOCCER GRANNIES OF SOUTH AFRICA. Do I really need to give you anything more than the title? This is a short film, and is screening as part of the Student Shorts section.

Tuesday: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE interweaves the stories of four struggling Iraq War veterans as they seek to come to terms with the health implications of their military service and the systemic neglect in the care US Veterans receive.thankyouforyourservice

Wednesday: AUDRIE & DAISY gives voice to two sexual assault victims and their families while examining the toxic relationship between sexual assault and social media. Unfortunately, this topic is all too relevant and current. A must-see for parents and teens.

Thursday: I’m usually drawn to documentaries, but HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE is definitely on my MUST SEE list. With heartwarming drama and high tension, this film is appropriate for the whole family.

Friday: This is tough. Friday is basically chock full of good stuff. But if I had to choose just one, it’d have to be TOWER and PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW. (Yes, I know that’s two.) TOWER reveals the tense, untold stories of the witnesses, heroes, and survivors of America’s first mass school shooting. Unfortunately, it’s all too current. PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW (available as part of a House Party combo pack as well) reminds us that dreams really can come true, and that talent and kismet still meet!


Saturday: Again, loads of The Good. Also lots of chances to see films you may have missed earlier. But I have to strongly suggest SLASH, because who doesn’t want to relive awkward nerdy teenage years in a dark theater? Also: Cosplay. Second screening on Sunday.

Sunday: Slow down for Mother’s Day with THE SEER. It explores the distance between the reality of modern, corporate farming and family farming as a vanishing way of life.

There you have it! An incomplete, imperfect list of what to see at the 2016 Montclair Film Festival. Which films are YOU intent on seeing?

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Glad I Saw It: Uncle Momo’s Zeit W Zaatar


I could live on Uncle Momo’s Lentil Soup and Hummus, but we took the kids to Momo’s brunch last Sunday, and I decided to expand my horizons by trying Zeit W Zaatar crepe dish. It was wonderful and fresh and light and perfect. Highly recommended!

Uncle Momo’s is at 702 Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair, NJ. Parking is available on the street or in the Montclair Art Museum parking lot.

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#MFF Must-See: When Two Worlds Collide


Of all the dire issues facing the human race, climate change is surely the one that will reach us all, no matter where we live. Those of us who see climate change through the lens of recycling Poland Spring bottles, composting, or shutting off the tap while brushing our teeth aren’t feeling the pain yet. The fights surrounding pipelines and fracking in the USA give us a taste of what the future will bring as more and more demands  clash with environmental and property rights. WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE, which won a special jury award at the Sundance Film Festival, is a Must-See at the Montclair Film Festival because it addresses climate change from the point of view of indigenous people who are experiencing the most immediate environmental consequences in the Amazon. It plays at the Clairidge Cinema on Saturday, April 30th at 4:45 PM. 

WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE explores the conflict of differing goals and values in Peru, where the issues are acute, immediate, and serve as a warning for current and future global impact. For Festival audiences, it both tells an important story from an often unheard perspective, and it also provides an important perspective that will become more and more common as climate changes become more widespread.

From the Sundance Film Festival description:

In this tense and immersive tour de force, audiences are taken directly into the line of fire between powerful, opposing Peruvian leaders who will stop at nothing to keep their respective goals intact. On the one side is President Alan Garcia, who, eager to enter the world stage, begins aggressively extracting oil, minerals, and gas from untouched indigenous Amazonian land. He is quickly met with fierce opposition from indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, whose impassioned speeches against Garcia’s destructive actions prove a powerful rallying cry to throngs of his supporters. When Garcia continues to ignore their pleas, a tense war of words erupts into deadly violence.

And for those of us who believe not only in Shop Local, but also Watch Local, WHEN TWO WORLDS COLLIDE was edited (out of hundreds hours of footage) on the third floor of a Montclair house, fueled by many cups of  Red Eye coffee and a few bottles of wine from the liquor store on Grove, and the story was discussed over several walks to Watchung Plaza. It’s an international, hometown film!

Montclair resident and film editor Carla Gutierrez will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A at the Saturday, April 30th screening. Don’t miss this opportunity to see an award-winning film that will both inspire you and compel you to think differently about how climate change affects us all.


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Glad I Saw It: Life Lessons from Read Alouds


I found this on my child’s 1st grade classroom wall today. It seems to me that adults need more Read Alouds from which to learn Life Lessons.

Which stories would you read aloud to the adults in your life, and which life lessons would YOU put up on the wall for emphasis?

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To Pledge or Not To Pledge


via Mental Floss 

I was leading a school tour for a mom and dad soon to join our local school system, and the usual questions came up about recess and playtime in Kindergarten and curriculum and school community. And then the dad asked if our school says the Pledge of Allegiance. I think I let a second hang in the air as I gauged the motivation behind the question, and then answered, “Yep, every morning.”

Hmm. Are the parents okay with that? Don’t they complain? Don’t they see it as indoctrination? “Maybe,” I answered, “but no one has complained to me.”

What followed was a conversation about how their Manhattan elementary school doesn’t say the pledge and that no NYC schools do. “I guess that’s changed. When I taught in a Brooklyn high school, we had the pledge every day.” Oh, well, not our school. Not anymore. And we kept chatting about how I wish “under God” would be removed from the Pledge and how he believed that asking students to stand respectfully was still asking for approval of the act. I disagreed. We moved on. It was an exchange of ideas, albeit half-hearted on both sides.

But later it got me thinking about why I don’t have much of a problem with my kids reciting the pledge of allegiance. Or Pledge of Allegiance. For my kids’ part, to them it’s a ritual they enjoy. They love their country. They admire their (current) President. They think apple pie and the 4th of July are both excellent. So, for them, reciting the pledge is obvious. It’s wholly positive.

My memories of saying the Pledge of Allegiance are intertwined with struggling to remember the words, being terrified my shy self would be called on to start the Pledge for the class, and wondering what “for witches stand” had to do with the American flag. It didn’t indoctrinate me; it confused me. It was just a part of the day.

As a grown-up, my snarky self revels in the hypocrisy of eventually adding “under God” in a country supposedly touting a separation of church and state. Not to mention the interesting change of hand over heart instead of right hand salute to the flag. Ahh optics!

Perhaps because I’m not religious at all, I don’t take the words too seriously. And perhaps because I’m not nationalistic at all, I don’t take the weirdness of pledging to a piece of cloth too seriously. Maybe I should. I don’t know. I just feel like some ritual is healthy, and this seems pretty tame. Perhaps I don’t get upset because as a child of immigrants who appreciated the opportunities and life they’d built in the USA, I’m willing to flex and bend. Maybe it’s getting older and seeing other fights that need attention.  Just like anyone else, my own subjective experiences as well as my children’s current experiences inform my reactions. And were I in a school where the ritual felt more nationalistic, I would probably react more ardently, more fiercely. For my own part, depending on my mood and the context, I usually choose to stand quietly and silently remember how I’ve benefited from opportunities. Some days the list is shorter, some days longer. But it’s always there.

I’m curious to hear how others respond, or don’t, to the idea of the Pledge of Allegiance for themselves or their children. Do tell.



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TRAPPED: Access to Abortion is about Women’s Health

1426373_1102507819781609_7451136119617283030_nWhen Dawn Porter sent out a notice about a Kickstarter for a film documenting the systematic elimination of abortion clinics in the Southern United States, it was a no-brainer. Of course I would support the film. And when I recently sat in the theater and watched the finished product, I was reminded how important it is to be vigilant and active when women’s autonomy over their bodies is at stake.

TRAPPED, the film Dawn Porter created in response to the injustice pleading for notice from states where legislators had set TRAPs (targeted legislation of abortion providers) with the goal of closing clinics, raises an alarm for those of us nestled in relatively safe havens for reproductive choice. The film makes clear that there is a seedy, conniving web of power-grabbing legislators sharing techniques and language aimed only at removing women’s ability to control their own bodies.

TrappedThe regulations passed by states like Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas create a desert of services for women who seek to terminate a pregnancy. As in the past, this lack of access affects poor women (and, by the way, those in abusive relationships) hardest and most cruelly. TRAPPED documents tragic situations like a young girl pregnant after a gang-rape, desperately trying to have an abortion before the 12 week mark. Just TWELVE WEEKS after being gang-raped, she is again abused and bullied by (mostly male) legislators and judges who don’t believe she is capable of making a decision about her own body.

TRAPPED also documents a mother who is pregnant and in her 40’s. At the end of her emotional, financial, and physical rope with the care of her children, one of whom has autism, she resolutely wrings her hands as she shares her story. Her discomfort is not due to her decision, but in anticipation of the social judgment she knows awaits her.

Trapped quotationI came of age with the knowledge that my body was governed by my own choices when it came to safe and available reproductive choices. Just like all the women I know, I always hoped I wouldn’t need to consider an abortion. And just like most of the women I knew, especially in the age of ACT-UP and interactive demonstrations of condom use, I took precautions to avoid pregnancy, HIV, HPV, and a host of STIs. It was easy because I lived in and attended college in the Northeast where the health clinic was accessible, included in tuition and fees, and staffed with skilled Nurse Practitioners. I took it for granted.

Researched studies and horrifying real-time statistics make it clear that when women can’t access abortions and dependable birth control, they look for other methods, even to the point of risking their fertility, their well-being and their lives.

Trapped map

We live in a village where privileges are only as complete as those of our neighbors. As horrifying and pathetic as it is, we cannot take women’s reproductive health and services for granted in the United States of America. Get involved with groups like Planned Parenthood, spreading the word about films like Trapped, or get involved in groups that advocate for a woman’s right to control her own body.

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Effie Lee Newsome: The Bronze Legacy #BHM

effie lee newsome

Effie Lee Newsome


Effie Lee Newsome probably isn’t the first name that pops up when discussing Harlem Renaissance writers or illustrators, but she was a part of many and varied projects in the first half of the 20th Century.

I chose Effie Lee Newsome to highlight today over people like Jessie Redmond Fauset (a NJ native!) because her focus was on children, and she is primarily known as a children’s poet — which often relegates people into a subset more easily overlooked.

Another reason I chose her is because, sadly, it’s not easy to find varied digitized information about her influence andbronz_pv background. Much of it seems to be regurgitated details and facts borrowed from various sources like Project Muse.

However, one of her tasks for W.E.B. DuBois’s magazine The Brownies’ Book and  The Crisis was to educate young people about their history, and guiding righteous anger into effective and positive action. She was also a forerunner of the Black is Beautiful movement. And don’t mistake her poetry, created for children, as childish. These are no nursery rhymes. Check out Morning Light (The Dew-Driers) here.

I found a First Edition of Ms. Newsome’s African Folk Tales for a mere $1500. But Wonders, a collection of her children’s poems, is available for much less.

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Happy Tenth Birthday, First Second! #10yearsof01


In my home, we dove feet first into graphic novels when the kids first started reading on their own. Even before that, our home had many graphic novels in the bookshelves — everything from King Lear to Persepolis to Maus.

My first introduction to First Second publishers was the stunning graphic novel American Born Chinese. I remember reading it for the first time, and I was stunned, uncomfortable, entertained, and impressed. It made me think. It challenged me. And it made me want to learn more. The hones

Jorge 01 collection

First Second author Jorge Aguirre shows off some of his collection.

ty and intensity of the story rang true on many levels. It was a keeper.
Now, my house is home to dozens of First Second books. My kids fell hard for Giants Beware! as well as its sequel Dragons Beware! Together, the kids and I laughed and learned about the human body from Human Body Theater, and explored new interpretations of life lessons via Fable Comics. Other First Second books like Gryphons Aren’t So Great and the Olympians collection, Little Robot and Zita the Spacegirl, and the entire Sardine collection have provided hundreds of hours of entertainment and peace of mind over the last couple of years.

The First Second logo has come to mean “You’re going to love this!” for me and my family. And while we have explored only a corner of the First Second library, I know that we have lots of fantastic books to still explore. Check out some happy First Second readers showing off some of their favorite books! So, Happy Birthday Tenth Birthday, First Second! And many happy returns!

For reviews of the books mentioned in this post, click on the title links in the text above.


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