The National Organization for Women wants to intervene in a domestic violence lawsuit filed against a prominent Spokane businessman by his former wife.
NOW filed legal papers this week in Spokane after an attorney for Reid T. Ziegler moved to dismiss the suit brought against him under the Violence Against Women Act.
NOW wants to defend the constitutionality of the federal law passed by Congress in 1994.
There are indications the Justice Department also is about to intervene to support the constitutionality of the law.
Ziegler’s former wife, Michele J. Ziegler, filed the lawsuit, claiming she was a victim of 10 years of domestic violence. Her suit says she suffered numerous and continuous instances of physical and psychological abuse.
Reid Ziegler’s attorney, Mary Schultz, calls the claims “garbage.”
Schultz wants the federal suit dismissed, arguing that the Violence Against Women Act is unconstitutional.
A hearing is scheduled April 20 before U.S. District Judge Frem Nielsen.
Schultz is attacking the federal law on the grounds that it violates the Commerce Clause and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution.
“I’m glad the National Organization for Women is getting involved,” Schultz said Tuesday. “It’s definitely time for some of these issues to be resolved.”
Attorneys Dick Eymann and John Allison, who represent Michele Ziegler, said they also “enthusiastically welcome” NOW’s intervention.
Schultz’ motion to dismiss the suit questions “whether it is a proper exercise of congressional power to give one gender a federal privilege of suing for punitive damages while the other gender has no such right.”
“The question here isn’t just whether it’s discriminatory to men,” Schultz said.
She said the federal law was enacted by a male-dominated Congress that viewed women as an inferior gender that needed protection.
“This may be an anachronistic feminist theory,” Schultz said, “but I find this law demeaning and patronizing to women.”
Her attack on the federal law caught the attention of NOW.
The organization’s Legal Defense and Education Fund attorneys in New York and Boston drafted a 50-page brief in support of Michele Ziegler’s lawsuit.
The Violence Against Women Act sets a national standard, in contrast to a “patchwork of inconsistent, inadequate and under-enforced” state laws governing domestic violence, NOW attorneys said.
The law is properly tied to the Commerce Clause, NOW attorneys argued, because gender-based violence against women has a substantial effect on interstate commerce.
The Commerce Clause in the Constitution allows Congress to enact federal laws dealing with commerce.
NOW attorneys said that in passing the law, Congress concluded that:
Homicide is the leading cause of death in the workplace for women, at 42 percent, compared with 12 percent for men.
Women frequently leave their jobs or are fired as a result of gender-motivated violence.
Women are forced to give up job opportunities in locations and during hours when the risk or fear of violence is increased.
NOW attorneys also said the federal law doesn’t violate equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment.
State courts “continue to fail to take domestic violence and sexual assault seriously and, thus, doubly victimize women who have survived gender-motivated crimes,” NOW attorneys said.
Schultz also is asking the federal judge to dismiss the suit on the grounds that many of the alleged instances of domestic violence occurred outside the two-year limit.
But Michele Ziegler’s attorneys said there was a continuing pattern of domestic violence that went on even after she left the relationship in December 1995.
Her attorneys want the federal judge to consider having the Washington state Supreme Court examine whether domestic violence should be considered as a continuing tort.
Allison said the time restrictions on bringing such claims shouldn’t start until after a woman has escaped an abusive relationship.
“We know there are hundreds or thousands of women in Washington state suffering under continuing, long-term physical and emotional abuse and control,” Allison said.
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