April 4, 2023

Mission Moment – Legal Services

About Our Legal Services

Interacting with the legal system is a complicated and lengthy undertaking for anyone. The process often takes completing a stack of paperwork and then knowing how to proceed from there. At YWCA Spokane, those served by our legal services are survivors of intimate partner domestic violence and are in the middle of traumatic and complex situations at home.

Both our Legal Advocates and Civil Legal teams try to provide survivors with education and options on how to move forward, empowering them to make the safest choice for themselves. Both services work to support survivors through the legal system by explaining the paperwork and letting them know what to expect through the process.


Legal Advocacy

“Legal Advocacy is being able to advocate for clients when they don’t always have a voice in the courts,” says Yesenia M., Legal Advocate. “We provide the support they might not be getting when the legal system is already very complicated.” Tiffany Yamase, Legal Advocate Manager, adds, “Our role is to amplify the voice of a survivor in the courtroom, with prosecution, and within society. Our role is to use our privilege as advocates to make sure that survivors don’t go unheard.

YWCA Spokane’s Legal Advocates are not attorneys and cannot give legal advice. They do help survivors navigate the civil protection order process, such as providing information on how to file, assisting with the paperwork itself, or helping survivors file further paperwork needed to modify already existing orders. Legal Advocates can also keep survivors updated on their perpetrator’s criminal gross misdemeanor cases, such as when the next hearings are occurring or the status of the case. These services are confidential, as our advocates are not tied to the courts.

“We work with prosecution but we do not work for prosecution,” Tiffany explains, “If a survivor was to call us and tell us what they’re going through, we’re not going to go and tell prosecution. That’s not our obligation.”

Like the rest of our services, our Legal Advocates follow the empowerment model and uplift what the client wants. They provide options for the survivor and trust that the survivor knows their own situation the best. Unlike our other services, a survivor may be put in contact with our legal advocates not by choice, but because they now find themselves in the criminal justice system. While some survivors may be seeking the support of our Legal Advocate upon their first contact, we try to assure all survivors that our advocates are here when they are ready.

“We understand that our clients are the experts. We have education and we understand the system, but that doesn’t mean we understand exactly what that survivor’s story is because every domestic violence situation is unique,” says Tiffany Yamase. “We say, ‘Here are some options, what do you think is the best choice?'”

Story of Impact – Legal Advocacy

Yesenia M. recently helped a client update some information on her no contact order that was incorrect. As a legal advocate, part of Yesenia’s job is to communicate the client’s wishes to the prosecutor, including what the survivor wants for the situation’s outcome. In this instance, the survivor didn’t want to create unnecessary barriers for the defendant (perpetrator) or herself and wanted to ensure that the information included was accurate. During all of this, the survivor also experienced a traumatic loss within her family. “I really tried to work with the prosecutor to facilitate what we could do to help her on our end,” says Yesenia. In the end, Yesenia was able to work directly with the prosecutor to update the order and voice the survivor’s wishes.

If the survivor had tried to change the no contact order without the support of YWCA’s Legal Advocates, she would have had to file a motion with the court, set a hearing, attend that hearing, explain the situation to the judge, and wait to see if the judge would change the order. Thanks to Yesenia’s work, the survivor did not have to go through all of those extra steps on top of everything else she was already experiencing.

Civil Legal

YWCA Spokane’s Civil Legal department works with survivors of intimate partner domestic violence with family law matters (not criminal law), such as divorce, legal separation, child custody/parenting plans, and child support. “We’re here to support survivors of intimate partner violence as they navigate the protection order and family law courts,” says Melanie Caldwell, Staff Attorney, “That support could look different; for some maybe it’s representation and for others maybe it’s just guidance. We do the best we can to support them through those processes.”

There are numerous complex steps to file anything at the courthouse. “We’re trying to make the process as trauma-informed as we can in a world that’s not really trauma-informed,” says Kelsey Kittleson, Senior Attorney. “A lot of what we are doing is helping to empower survivors of domestic violence on how to move forward on their own and how to best try to obtain the protection that they need for themselves and their children.”

The Civil Legal department is comprised of two attorneys, one limited license legal technician (LLLT), and occasionally interns. Our Civil Legal team sees an average of 15 intakes per week from our online intake form through Spokane county, as well as an additional average of 5 intakes per week from one of the rural counties we serve. In addition to providing legal services in Spokane County, the Civil Legal department also provides services in Whitman, Lincoln, Stevens, Pend Oreille, and Ferry counties. Due to the high demand, representation by our attorneys is more of a rarity than common occurrence. Instead, the majority of what our Civil Legal department does provide is brief services. “Brief service is basically any service other than representation,” explains Kelsey.

Advice is the first step after the intake, where the team member learns more about the survivor’s situation and provides legal advice on how to move forward. Next, as appropriate, they provide the correct paperwork for the legal action and have the client complete those forms. Afterwards, the paperwork is reviewed together to ensure the documents are filled out correctly. The other common form of brief service is trial preparation.

“Trial is usually one of the hardest points of a family law matter,” says Kelsey. Trial prep means educating the client on what to expect at trial, explaining the court procedures, and helping a client to prepare their trial exhibit binders.

Story of Impact – Civil Legal

A recent example of brief service surrounded a survivor’s desire to relocate. While the courts cannot stop an individual from relocating, if a survivor has children in common with the perpetrator, the other party must be notified and has the opportunity to object. If the perpetrator objects, the survivor must now jump through a bunch of hoops to get the court’s permission to relocate.

“If we weren’t here to give her the information and help her through it, she wouldn’t have known what she needed to focus on to get that approval,” Rachel Cooper, Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT). Even if the perpetrator is not very involved in the child’s life, by objecting to the relocation, the perpetrator is still able to exercise control over the situation. This can prohibit the survivor from relocating with the child and prevent the survivor from being able to move on with their life. Our civil legal services help survivors understand their legal options and navigate a complex system.

Learn More

Learn more about our legal and other services at ywcaspokane.org/services.

By: Jemma Riedel-Johnson

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