By Phil Attinger
BARTOW — Florida legislators have been asked to look into reforms to help husbands who claim they have been victims of false domestic violence injunctions.
In what one citizen referred to as a pendulum shift in the justice system, men who claim to have had their lives destroyed by false accusations of domestic violence or child abuse are hoping locally-elected legislators can help solve the problem.
On Thursday, locally-elected Florida state representatives and senators who represent all or part of Polk County got to hear about the problem.
William Dunn of Lakeland, part of the Florida chapter of Fathers Supporting Fathers, said he ran into a problem in 2006: The Department of Children and Families believed accusations that he had abused his daughter and took her away from him for 11 months.
In June 2007, DCF held a hearing to revoke Dunn’s parental rights, but the girl changed her story on the first day on the hearing, saying she hadn’t been abused.
She was returned to Dunn, but since then, he said his life has been a shambles and both he and his daughter have suffered medically from the stress.
He said DCF has not wanted to help him clear his name despite now knowing that the accusations were false.
Although legislators did not want to debate what should be done to solve the problem, they heard quite a bit from other petitioners.
James Petruska of Hernando Country said he lost his daughter, his $300,000 home, and his $150,000 business as a result of a false domestic violation injunction made by his ex-wife. Although it has since been found to be false, he said he has been unable to regain what he lost, especially his daughter.He has approached Senator Ronda Storms (R-Valrico) with the issue. Her district — District 10 — covers Hernando County and part of Polk County.
Erik Romerhaus, with the SAVE (Stop Abuse of Violent Environments) Coalition in Washington, D.C., told the delegation that when the Violence Against Women Act passed in 1994, it was to protect women and men who were victims of domestic violence. Each state interprets it differently.
“Now the pendulum has swung a bit too far,” he said.
Tom Lemons of Spring Hill, who runs falsedvireports.com, said 80 percent of those injunctions are thrown out and used as a tactic in child custody cases.
He also alleged that the attorneys are the ones pushing the tactic, because it gives such a strong advantage.
If a woman makes a false claim of domestic violence, it can speed up the divorce process, Romerhaus said, so there is incentive to use it as a legal tactic, but it can drive the children out of the target parent’s life permanently.
In many cases, Romerhaus said, there is no due process for that accusation. Even if someone is innocent of the accusation, “you can kiss your kids goodbye.”
“I don’t blame the local judges as much as the federal law,” Clemons said. “Prosecutors are not filing cases on clear false allegations.”
When asked if she would be in favor of refining the statutes to provide some relief, Storms, a member of the Florida Bar, said that if someone is innocent, he deserves to have his name cleared and be with his children.
She would also like Romerhaus and others to work with domestic violence victims’ advocates to find out where they can agree on legal language that would help move the process forward.
Senator JD Alexander (R-Lake Wales) expressed empathy for the men who spoke, and encouraged them to continue to seek a solution within the legal system.