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Judge Fights Batterers Both on and off Bench

Superior Court Judge Donald E. Smallwood, now serving his third stint on the family law panel, has seen a lot of men come through his courtroom who have beaten up on women. But it’s when Smallwood puts away his black robe and steps off the bench that these hotheads had better be the most worried about him. Smallwood may be the best friend a battered woman in this county could have.

Smallwood will be honored Friday by the Southern California Coalition on Battered Women at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles for his efforts in helping these women. The judge tries to downplay his own role. Really, he says, judges in other California counties have led the way. It was at a state judicial conference that Smallwood was encouraged to become more bold on the topic.

What Smallwood had in mind three years ago was forming a countywide group to get existing factions for helping battered women to work together.

“We had all these various efforts going on, but none of us were talking to each other,” Smallwood says. “All I did was make a few phone calls. But it was like I had lit a fire. At our first meeting, we had people from all over the county anxious to join.”

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That meeting gave birth to the Domestic Violence Prevention Task Force, which has since become a more formal group called the Orange County Family Violence Council. Its members come from shelters, county probation, law enforcement, the medical community and the legal community.

This council does more than just improve communication among agencies. A couple of examples:

* The council got 31 judges and commissioners to volunteer to take turns, for one day a month, being on standby with a beeper for emergencies. Now if a woman is beaten here, she can get an emergency protective order against the batterer within hours. Before, the batterer could inflict even more damage before facing such an order in court.

“Dealing with the perpetrator is important, but the first priority has to be getting the victim as quickly as possible into a safe situation,” Smallwood says.

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* On a limited basis--right now in Santa Ana--experts in domestic violence are actually going out on some domestic calls with police officers.

Smallwood says today’s issues are simply too complex for judges to remain content to sit on the bench as impartial arbiters.

“We used to treat spousal abuse as a private matter,” he says. “But it really isn’t, because it has such an impact on the community at large.”

Keep One Dry: I once had the pleasure of being a designated driver--as a nondrinker--for a bachelor party in Long Beach, where several nightclub stops were scheduled. Since I had never been to a bachelor party, I was unaware that a primary purpose is to get as smashed with alcohol as the body can endure.

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I was reminded of that night after recently hearing from the California Coalition for Vehicle Choice. It’s pleading with young prom-goers to assign a designated driver for each vehicle in a prom night party group. But these are all teens, and they’re too young to drink alcohol, right?

The nonprofit coalition knows better. “Make sure there is a designated driver,” it writes, “not only to deter drunk driving, but also to help ensure that tired teens get home safely.”

Research Brought to Life: Two years ago the Richard M. Nixon Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda finally got its files prepared, and archivist Susan Naulty announced to scholars and researchers that she was ready for them.

Library officials are now seeing some of the fruits of that effort. Washington journalist Christopher Matthews has written “Kennedy & Nixon,” subtitled “The Rivalry That Shaped Postwar America.” In preparing the book, Matthews was a regular visitor to the Nixon archives.

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It’s going to be a busy month at the Nixon library. Matthews, whose work is a straightforward treatment of Nixon’s longtime rivalry with all three Kennedy brothers, will be a guest lecturer June 11. The next day, Patricia Nixon Cox and her husband, Edward, will be on hand for a fashion show involving Priscilla Kidder. She designed the wedding gowns for both Nixon daughters, as well as both daughters of President Lyndon Johnson.

Then on June 13, it’s former Vice President Dan Quayle, who will sign copies of his new book on family values and spread a little Republican gospel.

Scientific Fun: Bottle rockets are often a youngster’s first introduction to scientific experiment. Future Scientists and Engineers of America, a nonprofit group which promotes science education, says that’s a good place to start.

Starting at 10:30 this morning, the group puts on its first Rocket Competition, on the athletic field at Western High School in Anaheim. Youngsters from area schools have already signed. Says the group’s development director, Joan Miller: “Children will become engineers and engineers will become kids again.”

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Wrap-Up: Smallwood has taken a step back from the leadership role on the Domestic Violence Council. The new chairwoman is Superior Court Judge Eileen C. Moore. It’s a subject she’s known well for a long time.

Moore had a career as a registered nurse before going into law. “I used to see just horrible cases of battered women in the emergency room,” Moore says.

Moore, who is also on the court’s family law panel, says the council is concentrating now on seeing to it that professionals in the mental health field are trained in domestic violence before rendering court opinions in custody cases.

While she boasts of the great cooperation among panel members, she isn’t about to let Smallwood downplay his own role. “The man is a saint,” Moore says.

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Maybe that’s what it takes to make any headway against men who batter women.

*

Jerry Hicks’ column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Readers may reach Hicks by calling the Times Orange County Edition at (714) 966-7823 or sending a fax to (714) 966-7711.


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