By: Jessica Petteys ’24
This summer, I was able to work in the Washington County Family Court because of the generous donations from Suzanne Tomkins and the other University at Buffalo School of Law Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship Program donors. I would like to extend my gratitude to everyone who has donated to the the Suzanne E. Tomkins Women, Children, & Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship.
Suzanne E. Tomkins has dedicated her life to domestic violence advocacy. She started the Domestic Violence Task Force (DVTF) at UB School of Law in 1990, founded the Women, Children & Social Justice Clinic (now known as the Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic), and worked as an advocate in Buffalo and throughout the world in places like Ukraine and Russia. Tomkins’s goal was to leave a legacy of next-generation advocates to work against domestic violence. The summer fellowship allows her to do just that. I think she will be happy knowing that the Advocacy Fellowship Award was put to good use and students continue to help the Buffalo community and other NY communities like Washington county.
This summer, I realized that change starts at the ground level, and it is not always governors and presidents making the significant changes in the world. This summer, my internship provided me with the opportunity to write a decision that granted a final order of protection for a minor in New York State. This child is now safe because of Suzanne E. Tomkins’ fellowship.
Stopping domestic violence on an individual basis starts locally at the supreme court level with an order of protection. An order of protection ensures that the respondent cannot come in contact with the petitioner. For example, if a husband enters a gas station and his wife, who has an order of protection against him, is there, he must leave. A temporary order of protection is issued the day a petition is filled and usually lasts for the length of the trial. However, a judge grants a final order of protection only if he or she finds that there was a family offense.
This summer, our chambers received a case in which the judge ruled that there was a not family offense. For weeks, I researched family offenses. At first glance, it was a tough case and appeared to go either way. However, I remember getting to a point in my research where I said to myself, “I don’t think there is any way that I could write this paper without saying that there was a family offense.” Thus, I wrote my memorandum, which was abundant with evidence and law. It ultimately convinced the judge that there was a family offense, which allowed for a much-needed order of protection.
Tomkins’s work in Buffalo continues to have a domino effect on preventing domestic violence worldwide. Without the 2022 Suzanne Tomkins Women, Children, & Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship Award, I would not have been able to work for the family court, and the child we helped could have still been in a dangerous situation.
Name: Jessica Petteys ’24
Name of Fellowship: Suzanne E. Tomkins Women, Children, & Social Justice Advocacy Fellowship
Placement: Washington County (NY) Family Court
Location: Fort Edward, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “This summer, I realized that change starts at the ground level, and it is not always governors and presidents making the significant changes in the world. This summer, my internship provided me with the opportunity to write a decision that granted a final order of protection for a minor in New York State.”