Personal letter from Dr. Karin Huffer, MFT
It is odd to be a marriage and family therapist sitting in court with clients sorting out ways to assist them as they suffer from disabling stressors. Any observer can see stress eating away at the judges, the lawyers, the litigants, and those who come and go. No one is spared.
Over the years, observing in court and the adversarial process, I unearthed fresh roots leading directly to the causes of legal abuses and often attrition of my clients’ cases. Regularly, buried deep in the rings of the case, were slander, misinformation, and deception treated as facts. Once asserted on the official record, these pretexts became points and issues to be litigated before the original conflict could be heard. They were carefully honed to unfairly defeat my client in the justice system. Many of those were roots underlying invisible disabilities struggling to function in the esoteric realm of a courtroom. Many suffered from psychiatric injuries from war abroad or warring at home. The war did not give away to justice in the courtroom. Those who abuse power simply have a new battleground and gun their victims down with paper bullets and words designed to exclude, dehumanize, and annihilate their final hope and last dollar. Instead of justice, these persons with disabilities were impoverished and left with the scars of traumatic stress layered upon their already existing problems.
It is time to pause and look at the disabling conditions caused or made worse by abuses of power. As an advocate, I have the privilege of using the ADA to prevent:
I determined that SOMETIMES A PERSON NEEDS HELP FROM A SKILLED, SENSITIVE, COURAGEOUS individual to be by their side. That realization set the trajectory of my life’s work. I founded EAA, Equal Access Advocates, and, with the beautiful job of Senator Harkin and many legislators and activists, decided it was time to make the ADAAA a reality for persons with invisible disabilities who must face our judicial system. The prestigious John Jay College of Criminal Justice took the bold step of certifying ADA advocates by using my syllabus for training. The course is underway with the first certified advocates to graduate mid-September, 2016.
By now, I have a thorough picture of the support needed to offset the health and life’s consequences of extreme stressors from litigation. An advocate, using a consistent standard of care carrying out the letter and intent of the ADAAA, attends court by the litigants side, in person or electronically.
Support may include some of the following, but basically, the idea is that the client, lawyer or litigant, not feel alone and excluded. First, the advocate is trained in on-the-spot counseling/ coaching skills that can be administered in the halls of the courthouse. I apply coaching when my client’s self-esteem has been attacked. The usual bullet is the “c” word, “crazy,” but there are others. Second, I help the attorney and the client stretch the budget to bring the case to closure (many attorney fees are wasted sorting out emotional and personal issues that are best served by the advocate or a therapist). Third, I act as liaison with medical and legal professionals. If something needs to be relayed to the disabled litigant, it is often easier and quicker to go through me. I speak in court only to address ADA issues or cue the judge that an accommodation is to be triggered. Advocates do not get involved in the legal case or are they activists while on a case. And finally, I assess and design accommodations for each client. This can be tricky with invisible disabilities, but compared to many physical disabilities, these accommodations are the cheapest and easiest for the courts. The accommodations require mostly kindness, patience, and consideration, not architectural changes. The entire matter is confidential. Clients need not fear stigma from using the ADAAA.
If my client is accused of lying about the disability or are intruded upon violating their confidentiality, I do not hesitate to file a grievance or complaint to the Department of Justice.
The work is rewarding because we see justice evolve replacing a bullying perversion of the promise of due process of law. It is done by the powerful mandate of the ADAAA.
Clients complain of the unfairness and corruption of our courts. However, when we have Certified ADA Advocates on hand and the client has equal access to the proceedings couched in the private protections of the ADA, somehow, the courts seem much fairer and much less corrupt.
Join with EAA—training our way to justice for those with invisible disabilities.
Dr. Karin Huffer, MFT
©2016 Equal Access Advocates
All Rights Reserved. [Legal]