Speaking of Women's Rights...: That Was Us!Recognizing Battered Woman Syndrome as a Defense with Judith Bendor

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

That Was Us!
Recognizing Battered Woman Syndrome as a Defense with Judith Bendor

By Judith Bendor

This year marks Legal Voice's 35th anniversary year. The
That Was Us! series celebrates where we've been and what we've accomplished by creating a patchwork of voices from the people who helped us along the way.

In the early 1980s, Legal Voice (then known as the Northwest Women’s Law Center) was only a few years old, and was very concerned about domestic violence. In the 1980s battering was a deep secret, one of shame for the person who was beaten. Legal Voice wanted to change this.

Attorney Ellen Yaroshefsky represented defendant Sherrie Allery, who had been convicted of second degree murder in the death of her abusive husband. Yaroshefshy (now a distinguished Professor of Law and formerly with the Center for Constitutional Rights) asked Legal Voice to do an amicus brief. The trial court had not permitted the introduction of evidence of Battered Woman Syndrome, which was offered to explain why Ms. Allery had stayed with her husband even though he had beaten her badly; essentially, that the fact she stayed did not mean she was lying about the battering. Legal Voice agreed and I, then a recent law graduate, wrote the brief.

It was a privilege to write the brief—a really transformative experience. While working on the brief I learned about battering. I hoped that the Supreme Court judges could make their own journey on behalf of battered victims. At oral argument they asked probing questions. Yaroshefsky was magnificent. And it worked, as Sherrie Allery's conviction was overturned unanimously (682 P.2d 312 (Wash. 1984)). The case has been cited 440 times. Hooray!

But it is now 30 years later. The issue of battering is still very much with us—may there come a day when this is no longer true.


Judith Bendor was a member of Legal Voice’s Board of Directors from 1980-86, serving as Vice President, Chair of the Legal Committee and co-chair of a fundraising committee. She was an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, then appointed by Governor Gardner to serve on the Pollution Control and Shoreline Hearings Boards to 1992 and for almost two decades served as administrative hearings examiner for a variety of public entities in land use/environmental law. She is now an active Legal Voice volunteer.

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