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TCL > September 2003 Issue > Dick Barr Gives Back to the Profession by Giving to the Future of His Community

September 2003       Vol. 32, No. 9       Page  6
Bar News
Bar News Highlight

Dick Barr Gives Back to the Profession by Giving to the Future of His Community
by Diane Hartman

Dick Barr wants to see his work end up on bathroom walls or, specifically, inside bathroom stalls, so that women can read privately and not be afraid that someone will see them and ask embarrassing questions.

Barr, an attorney in Pueblo who is retiring after forty-three years of practicing law, has been on a mission against domestic abuse for a long time. He’s developed a poster that he wants to see distributed as widely as possible. It was "lifted from Ann Landers," and asks thirteen questions related to domestic abuse. Of the thirteen questions asked, only three are about physical abuse. Most of the questions deal with issues of control, he says, because that can be an indicator of abuse in a relationship. When people see the poster, they can pause and consider the questions—for themselves or someone they know, especially if they had never thought about the issue from a personal perspective.

Another part of Barr’s mission is to get other lawyers to take domestic violence cases on a pro bono basis. This is something he has been doing for a long time.

Barr praises the justice system in Pueblo for helping victims of domestic abuse: "In this community, if you hit someone, you’re going to jail. It’s put on what we call the ‘fast track.’"

The teamwork in Pueblo "permeates from the top. Gus Sandstrom, our district attorney, cares. This feeling carries over to his deputies, who treat domestic abuse victims with respect and prosecute domestic abuse cases vigorously. The DA’s office has victim advocates now and they have time to work on these cases. They are on hand when the victim first makes her report. Their job is to follow up. The sheriff and police officers are all on board."

Barr adds that there is also a "Violence Against Women Task Force," of which he is vice-chair. The task force is made up of all the agencies that deal with the problem of abuse and its meetings are open to the public. "It’s a great forum for communication about violence problems and ways to combat them."

Another group called "ACOVA"—A Community Organization for Victims Assistance—works closely with the victim advocates from the DA’s office.

"The Pueblo YWCA Crisis Center is on the front line in the battle," Barr says. "It furnishes a safehouse and calls on Legal Services or attorneys who will take pro bono cases to get legal help."

The task force named Barr a "committee of one to educate and communicate with abused women." Out of that came the idea for placing posters "in one of the few places an abused women can be alone." (Barr recognizes that men can be victims of abuse also, but because he rarely sees those cases, his focus is on abused women.)

Barr talks about the cycle of abuse. After the first time a woman is hit comes "the princess period. Then her partner says he’s never going to do it again. He brings flowers and offers love. From there you go back into the cycle." Sometimes victims don’t realize they’re being abused; they may have seen it in their family their whole lives and consider it normal. They also may think they should stay in the relationship because they have no money and no way of raising their children. Because they’ve lost all self-esteem, women who have been abused think they are not attractive, he says: "They think nobody will want them, or that they can’t make it on their own." Barr says: "Lack of self-esteem and lack of support" play major roles in women returning to abusive relationships.

Sometimes Barr will help a woman who has been abused only to watch her return to her relationship. "It’s difficult when you get someone out of a jam and they go right back. The first time it’s not so hard, but when they go back a second or third time, you just have to take a deep breath and pretend it’s the first time."

He says that one of the most dangerous times for an abused woman is right after a restraining order is issued. "You have to have the DA and the police doing follow up. If you’ve got to get these temporary restraining orders ("TRO"), you’re already to a point where the risk is worth it."

One of the things that needs to be done is to get child support set the same time as a TRO, Barr says. He would like to see the existing TROs include expedited hearings on child support. He acknowledges that some attorneys disagree with the "fast track" approach and hopes some things can be remedied. "We need to be fair to the alleged perpetrators and not be lured into acting as if the end justifies the means."

Of course, the big change Barr would like to see is more Colorado attorneys taking these types of pro bono cases. He takes them because "it makes me feel good and I still think that law is a profession and, as a professional, I have a duty to help the unfortunate."

Barr says he came from a loving family ("I was the baby") and has no personal experience with abuse. Originally from "the South Side of Chicago," he said he later had to change the way he spoke. "I quit smoking and quit drinking, but it was hardest to change my speech pattern." He got his J.D. from the University of Iowa, then worked as a general counsel and lobbyist for various corporations. He moved to Pueblo in 1990 when his wife was killed in an automobile accident: "You don’t want to, but you have to go on," he said. He has two grown sons.

Barr took his first pro bono case while he was still in law school. "And I’ve always had two or three I’m working on. I’ve had a wonderful life, I’ve been very lucky, and this is my way of saying thank you."

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