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Lawmaker leads charge against domestic abuse

February 11, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - When Del. Sue Hecht read a newspaper story last week about a Baltimore County judge who reduced a man's conviction on a charge of battery against his wife to probation before judgment, she was outraged.

"There truly is a lack of understanding of how dangerous these situations are," said Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

She and other lawmakers made a lot of noise. They held news conferences, put out press releases and expressed their concerns to the state's highest-ranking judge.

On Monday, Hecht and others alarmed at Circuit Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr.'s ruling won a partial victory when the judge disqualified himself from the case and reinstated the battery conviction.

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Hecht's involvement as one of the leaders in bringing to light the Bollinger issue - along with other domestic violence issues - has earned her praise from colleagues and others.

"If it had not been for Del. Hecht and the women legislators, this would have passed right on by (unnoticed)," said Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington.

Hecht returned Tuesday to the domestic violence topic - this time testifying on behalf of legislation aimed at strengthening the state's abuse laws.

One bill would reduce the amount of time it takes to get a divorce if abuse is taking place in a marriage. Another would toughen protective court orders.

"Sue Hecht has been a real leader," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a supporter of the legislation.

Townsend said Hecht's experience makes her "critical" on such issues. Long an advocate for abuse victims, Hecht worked for 10 years as executive director of the Heartly House shelter for the abused in Frederick, Md., before resigning last month to devote more time to her legislative work.

"It feels real comfortable," Hecht said of her legislative involvement.

She first heard of Bollinger in 1993 - a year before her election to the House of Delegates - when the judge said the state's rape law was too tough in certain cases.

After that statement, Bollinger was reprimanded by the Commission on Judicial Disabilities and went through a training program designed to promote sensitivity toward victims of sexual assault.

Bollinger's actions show faults in the judicial system and send an uneasy message to women already concerned about whether following through with abuse charges is the right thing to do, Hecht said.

"If the judiciary is supposed to keep order . . . this is not a good example of keeping order," Hecht said.

Although Hecht and other lawmakers were pleased by Bollinger's reversal, they feel the issue is far from over.

Women legislators have asked the Commission on Judicial Disabilities to open a case against the judge and perhaps remove him from the bench.

Women lawmakers also met Monday with Judge Robert M. Bell, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, to ask for changes in the judicial selection process that would make sure judges are more sensitive to the issue of domestic violence.

But Hecht admitted that no safety net can be 100 percent effective.

"I think we'll always have in every process some bad apples getting through the process," she said.

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