Lenahan, Represented by CLS Clinic, to Appear before IACHR

Lenahan, Represented by CLS Clinic, to Appear before IACHR
Gets Her Day In Court At The Inter-American Commission
On Human Rights
, October 22, 2008

Press contact: Erin St. John Kelly [email protected]
Office 212-854-1787/cell 646-284-8549/Public Affairs Office 212-854-2650

October 15, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Jessica Lenahan (formerly Gonzales), whose three young daughters were killed when local police refused to enforce a domestic violence restraining order against her former husband, and who subsequently filed a human rights violation suit before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will appear to make her declaration in the merits stage of the case, on October 22. Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic and the American Civil Liberties Union represent Lenahan in Jessica Ruth Gonzales v. United States of America.
“We are now headed toward the final stage in a long process that will ultimately lay bare the grave violations of Jessica Lenahan’s rights that took place,” said Caroline Bettinger-López of Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, who has represented Lenahan since 2004.

WHAT: Merits hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
WHO: Jessica Lenahan (petitioner) and counsel Caroline Bettinger-López and her team of clinic students and ACLU co-counsel.
WHEN: October 22, 2008 from 3:15-4:15 p.m.
WHERE: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1889 F. St. N.W., at the corner of 19th & F Streets, Washington, D.C.

Jessica Ruth Gonzales v. United States of America marks the first time that an individual victim of domestic violence has brought suit against the United States for international human rights violations.

In 1999, Jessica Gonzales filed a lawsuit against the Castle Rock (Colo.) Police Department for failing to respond to her plea for help after her estranged husband abducted her children, despite the fact that she had an order of protection against him. In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Gonzales had no constitutional right to police enforcement of her restraining order.

In December 2005, Lenahan (formerly Gonzales) filed a petition with the IACHR, alleging that the failures of the police and the Supreme Court’s rejection of her claims violated the United States’ duty to protect and other fundamental human rights obligations. This petition, which introduced evidence showing that Colorado police failed to enforce her restraining order or investigate the girls’ subsequent deaths, was the foundation of the merits brief filed at the IACHR on March 6, 2008. To date, the U.S State Department has not responded to the merits brief (though it did respond to the initial petition in Sept. 2006).

After reviewing these documents, in October 2007, the IACHR declared Jessica Lenahan’s case admissible. 

“I have been waiting for justice for my children’s deaths for over eight years,” said Lenahan. “Finally, I have hope that an official body will finally say that what happened was wrong.”

Caroline Bettinger-López, professor Peter Rosenblum and students Darren Sullivan, Zoe Pershing-Foley, Aliza Hochman, Chinyere Ezie, Alma Beltran, Crystal Lopez, Anne Gell and Shilpi Agarwal from the Columbia Human Rights Clinic will represent Ms. Lenahan before the Inter-American Commission alongside co-counsel Steven Watt, Lenora Lapidus, Emily Martin and Araceli Martínez-Olguin of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The hearing is open to the public and will be broadcast both a simulcast and as a webcast at the Organization of American States website (www.oas.org). During the hearing, Jessica Lenahan and her legal team will present their case for the first 20 minutes of the hearing. Next, the U.S., represented by the State Department, will present its case for 20 minutes. Finally, the Commissioners will question the parties for 20 minutes. 

Lenahan and her lawyers will be available for interviews immediately after the hearing.To arrange an interview, please contact: Erin Kelly [email protected], Office 212-854-1787/Cell 646-284-8549/Public Affairs Office 212-854-2650.

Amicus briefs and an expert report filed by Columbia Law School professor Jeffrey Fagan, in conjunction with the Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and its students Dana Kaufman, Jenny Ryan, Nazneen Mehta, will be available on-line the day of the hearing. The expert report outlines the contours of an appropriate police response to domestic violence. Seven amicus briefs will be submitted on a number of relevant subjects: children's rights; benefits and limitations of the Violence Against Women Act; intersectionalities (race/gender/class) and domestic violence realities; international women's rights/affirmative obligations and human rights standards; domestic violence in the Native American community; domestic violence as a form of torture; and comparative assessment of domestic violence laws and policies in common law countries.

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