Friday, May 13, 2022
The Nebraska Supreme Court has accepted domestic violence-induced trauma as a mitigating factor in an attorney discipline matter accepting this testimony
Hecht testified to the “Power and Control Wheel of Violence,” which addresses both physical and sexual violence and is divided into eight criteria and is applicable regardless of the gender of the person exercising power and control. Hecht testified that all of the following indicia were present with the respondent’s relationship with her ex-husband: (1) using intimidation; (2) using emotional abuse; (3) using isolation; (4) minimizing, denying, or blaming; (5) using children; (6) using male privilege; (7) using economic abuse; and (8) using coercion and threats. Hecht related a series of traumas the respondent had experienced over the course of her life starting in her childhood, which traumas included sexual assault and her marriage to her abusive husband at age 16. The respondent gave birth to her older daughter when the respondent was 17 years old. The respondent’s ex-husband became increasingly abusive, and the escalating demands began to overwhelm the respondent “to the point of being actually immobilized at some point and not
able to use what we know are the intellectual and emotional capacity that she actually has.” This was exacerbated when the ex-husband became physically violent toward the couple’s older daughter, and the respondent was alerted that he might be sexually inappropriate toward the older daughter.
In 2019, the respondent was teaching the older daughter how to drive an automobile; her ex-husband found out and flew into a rage. The ex-husband attacked and threatened to kill the daughter, the respondent, and himself. The younger daughter, in fear, called the police, but the police took no further action after defusing the matter on scene. A month later, the husband had “another violent temper tantrum,” and the respondent fled from the house with the younger daughter, went to a park, and told her husband she was calling the police. When the respondent and younger daughter returned home, the husband was gone, and he never returned. The respondent had described her husband’s abandonment as “number one crisis and loss in her life.” Hecht testified that as of this event, the respondent was devastated and became nonfunctional for a period of months. She also lost her law license, and this was followed by extreme financial problems and economic privation.
[Respondent] admitted that she used her IOLTA to shield money from the Internal Revenue Service’s levy attempts, placing client money at risk for seizure; that she deposited funds into the Castrejon Law Office IOLTA greater than necessary to pay bank service charges on that account; that she deposited funds that were not connected with the representation of a client; and that she commingled her funds with client funds. With respect to the former client, she admitted that she failed to provide a full accounting of services she had provided. She admitted that she failed to cooperate with the formal investigation and did not provide any of the requested information to the relator.
Impact on sanction
We have not previously addressed the role of domestic violence victimization, including intimate partner violence, coercive control, relationship abuse, and sexual violence in attorney ethical breaches. Specifically, we have not considered the role of being a victim of domestic violence serves as a mitigator in attorney discipline...
The record shows that Castrejon’s medical evidence established that she was affected by numerous mental and emotional traumas related to sexual assault and domestic partner violence. The testimonial evidence connected her mental and emotional state as a contributing cause of her misconduct. The testimony of Hecht and the respondent demonstrated that the treatment has been successful, that Castrejon is committed to continuing to work on her treatment, and that future misconduct is highly unlikely.
The court imposed a 30-month suspension effective March 2020.
The case is STATE EX REL. COUNSEL FOR DIS. v. CASTREJON. (Mike Frisch)