Georgia Impact

UGA Family Justice Clinic helps domestic violence victims

Christine Scartz is the managing attorney of Georgia Law’s Family Violence Clinic. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

Christine Scartz has some history with the University of Georgia Family Justice Clinic: She helped create it.

In 1994, as a law student at the UGA School of Law, Scartz participated in one of the first Public Interest Practicum classes. Students were to immerse themselves in the Athens community to find issues that could be solved with legal assistance. Scartz volunteered with Project Safe and heard story after story of domestic violence victims and their struggles to file protective orders.

From this, the Protective Order Project was born to help victims in filing protective orders. Scartz continued to manage the project after graduation with an Equal Justice Fellowship from the National Association for Public Interest Law, then left to enter a private practice. In 1998, the clinic became the Family Violence Clinic, and in 2015 Scartz returned to the university as director of the clinic.

Today, the renamed Family Justice Clinic provides direct representation and legal support to low-income domestic violence victims. The clinic has expanded its direct legal services to include representation in divorces, legitimations, name changes, adoptions and other domestic relations cases for its protective order clients. All services are offered to Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County community members with no legal fees.

Under its current structure, Scartz and her staff represent 75-100 cases through direct representation each year. The clinic fields approximately 300 calls, offering legal advice or referrals to those who are not represented. The clinic also supports local offices and organizations.

Capable hands

“It is reassuring to know that our clients are in very capable hands and are receiving appropriate services and attention for legal issues that may be co-occurring with the criminal prosecution,” said Amelia Addison Rushton, director of the Victim Witness Program in the Office of the Solicitor-General of Athens-Clarke County. “I am personally thankful for all of the Family Justice Clinic’s efforts to assist survivors of domestic violence and stalking in our community.”

Scartz works directly with the clients and mentors eight law students each semester who work alongside her from start to finish on each case.

“Students come to the clinic for a variety of angles. Some want to practice family law and this is a great place for them to give it a try. It teaches those who want to prosecute that there’s a
face to each victim,” Scartz said.

The clinic allows students hands-on learning opportunities before they enter the workforce; the clinic is one of the law school’s 17 experiential learning offerings where students work on real problems in the real world.

“We build in time for self-reflection so that students can think purposefully about their client interactions and future career choices,” Scartz said. “Once you get into the practice, you’re thinking about billing and deadlines and partners and supervising. In this clinic, it’s important for the students to just focus on the work.”

Law students are directly supervised by Scartz as they learn client relations and trial preparation firsthand.

“This clinic helps students see that not everything is controlled in the courtroom,” she said. “It helps them prepare for the unexpected; litigation involves thinking on your feet.”

The clinic benefits both the students and the community.

“If we don’t step into the void, no one steps into the void,” Scartz said. “We can really impact people in ways that have long-lasting benefits.”