Last week, an Amber Alert was issued for two young children who went missing for more than a day after the shooting death of their mother, Lakisha Roby, 27.
While the children, ages 2 and 3, were not present during the shooting and were found safe, their lives will be forever altered by this horrific event. Lakisha’s estranged husband, Lynn Washington, was charged with first-degree murder and parental abduction.
I knew Lakisha because I was her attorney. She recently came to my office, which provides free civil legal aid to low-income residents of Cook County, because she needed representation in the divorce case against her husband.
Before I met Lakisha, she had done the best she could representing herself in court against her husband, but unrepresented litigants don’t fare very well in court, especially when the other side has a lawyer. Last fall, Lakisha obtained an order of protection against Washington in criminal court. She alleged that he had pulled her out of a car during a visitation exchange, dragged her down the street and bit her so hard that she required medical treatment.
Had Lakisha sought the order of protection in the divorce case, however, more protections regarding the children might have been put in place.
Free legal assistance is the service most often requested by domestic violence victims, according to an assessment conducted by Cook County. Fewer than half of the victims surveyed received any legal assistance at all.
The numbers are even worse for domestic violence victims who, like Lakisha, share children in common with their abuser. Only 10 percent of victims in that category obtained an attorney last year, according to data collected by Cook County’s Domestic Violence Courthouse. The need for free civil legal services far outweighs the resources, so people like Lakisha are left unrepresented.
Most disturbing is that Washington allegedly had a gun even though Lakisha had obtained a separate order in criminal court last November requiring Washington to surrender his Firearm Owner Identification Card and surrender all firearms in his possession. If true, either Washington violated that order or he surrendered his gun and acquired a new one after November, despite having a record that included a criminal order of protection, a felony conviction and a DCFS “indicated” report.
In a few weeks, I will enter documents in the divorce case verifying that Lakisha is deceased, and I will close her file. But today, I am wondering if Lakisha (and others like her) would still be alive if she had been able to get a free attorney when she first needed one and if Washington had complied with the court order to surrender the gun that he allegedly had.
Aziza Khatoon is an attorney with LAF, formerly known as the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.
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