Banks County Opinions...

April 4, 2001


Column
By Shar Porier
The Banks County News
April 4, 2001

When the court lets him go
Domestic violence.
The very words have a ring of terror, of fear for women who daily live with the threat of abuse hanging over their heads.
Women abused by their husbands and boyfriends. Beaten, bloodied and murdered -- all in the name of "love."
The Domestic Violence Task Force says at every one of their bi-monthly meetings: "The most dangerous time for a woman is when she tries to leave."
Those words apparently rang true for a case in Alto recently when the girlfriend of the warden at Lee Arrendale Correctional Institution told him she wanted to split up. An argument reportedly ensued that allegedly left her battered and bruised.
She called 911, but then told the responding officers she did not want to press charges. They did anyway under Georgia's Family Violence Act.
They followed the letter of the law. They took her statements and took photos of her bruises and scratches. They went to Joe Smelzer, magistrate judge, and on the basis of that evidence, he issued an arrest warrant. The police officers then worked with the solicitor to bring the case to trial.
But the warden appealed the warrant at a probable cause hearing presided over by Magistrate Judge James Butterworth.
The woman appeared before Judge Butterworth and asked that the case be dropped. She told the judge that she did not fear the warden and that she had never been beaten by him before.
The solicitor told Butterworth there was enough evidence to proceed to trial. But without so much as a glance at the evidence (photos, her statement, the 911 call recording) offered by the solicitor and the Baldwin Police Department, Butterworth dismissed the case solely upon her request.
He said he does that at least twice a week. Twice a week! I felt ill. I thought about other women out there who had been, or were in, the very same position. The chance was there to stop the abuser and get him psychological help, and the system balked. I wondered how many times this had happened. Perhaps some women hope in their hearts that the courts would take it out of their hands and seek justice on their behalf. Though they were in fear and unable to defend themselves, the court was there to do what they could not do.
I started looking at the sentences that were being handed down when cases did make it to court. I was shocked. An abuser would get a sentence of 90 days while someone with some marijuana would get six years. It makes no sense.
In the Baldwin case, though, some justice was found, no thanks to the court. The Georgia Department of Corrections came down hard on the warden. They fired him for six charges of misconduct stemming from the incident. Their aggressive action on the issue of domestic violence shows where they stand. The department should be applauded and supported. They did what a judge failed to do.
As long as judges let men off the hook so easily, we'll only see more and more cases of domestic abuse and perhaps of murder.
Maybe we can't do anything about the abuser, but we sure can do something about the judges. On election day.
Shar Porier is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers.

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Column
By Phillip Sartain
The Banks County News
April 4, 2001

Burned out
Without any warning, my pen ran out of ink, my printer used up its cartridge, and my word processors coughed up all the letters of the alphabet onto the floor. All the signs were there, but of course, I was the last to see it coming.
Humor burnout is subtle. In fact, I don't even think I noticed at all. One day, I was tripping along telling funny stories and writing columns and then it happened - I said something that wasn't funny.
In humor circles, it's known as Joke Delivery Dysfunction. I'm told it happens to all humorists at some point in their lives. I just never thought it would happen to me.
It wouldn't have bothered me so much, but at the time, my wife and I were dining out with friends. We were all having a good time when I tossed off a one-liner. It sailed past everyone and twisted off into space without ever hitting the target.
Everyone was a little embarrassed, but I just laughed out loud like nothing ever happened. Then I compounded my problem by trying to make up for my miss. The more I pressed, the further and further away I got from the punch line. Finally, our friends made excuses and left early.
My wife was upset. "I've been telling you for years that you can't keep kidding around like this."
"What are you talking about?" I offered.
"Your humor has gone bad," she blurted out as she ran for the door.
But I was in humor denial. I kept telling myself it was all a big mistake, a bad joke, so to speak. I knew I could handle my humor.
At home things weren't any better. Even the kids could see I had lost my quips. "Mom, I didn't get Dad's joke. Ask him to explain it."
"No, honey, your father's not feeling funny right now. Go to your room and I'll come read you some cartoons before bed."
The next day while sitting around in my pajamas watching the Comedy Channel, I heard a knock at the door. When I opened it, I was surprised to see a group of my family and friends.
When my wife appeared, I asked, "What's this?"
"We all care about your jokes, Phil. We want to help." Immediately, I realized it was all a joke - a conspiracy of sorts. In humor counseling parlance, it's called Tough humor.
First I got mad. Then I tried to joke my way out of it, but everything was flat. Finally I broke down and admitted that maybe I need some help. After much discussion, I agreed to see a professional. His name is Wayland Pickard, and his reputation is undisputed. Phyllis Diller calls him "a very funny man."
Fortunately, he has an opening available for April 27 at Brenau's Pearce Auditorium in Gainesville. It's all part of the Arts Council's Pearce Series 2001. And it's not just for people with humor fatigue. Even if you haven't lost your sense of humor, it'll be good therapy.
For more information on Wayland Pickard's performance, contact the Arts Council at (770) 534-2787, or order tickets online at www.theartscouncil.net.
In the meantime, I'm going to take my wife's advice. You know, change into a different pair of pajamas occasionally and switch to the Cartoon Network every so often. But I have to be careful and move slow. After all, I don't want to crack up unless it's because of something I said.
Phillip Bond Sartain is a Gainesville attorney.



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