As a national expert on domestic violence law, UC Hastings Professor D. Kelly Weisberg observed with concern as the COVID-19 lockdowns exacerbated what she knew to be an already a pervasive problem.
“It put victims right smack into the worst place possible,” she said. “You’re locked in with your abuser.”
So when the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office asked if she could help organize a domestic violence training series, Weisberg jumped at the chance to provide pro bono support. Since August, Weisberg has delivered 15 hours of training across 10 subjects, with up to 100 people on each Zoom call. Attendees included front-line prosecutors, investigators, paralegals, support staff, and students.
Although it’s not unusual for law schools to provide one-time training sessions to legal organizations, Weisberg said that few, if any, training programs are as comprehensive as the one she developed, which dug deep into such aspects of the problem as elder abuse, stalking, cyberstalking, strangulation, intimate partner sexual assault, and victim recantation.
Inviting guest speakers from around the country, Weisberg was able to draw on the extensive network of professionals she has cultivated in her decades of working in the field. Weisberg edits the country’s leading legal newsletter on the subject, Domestic Violence Report, and has published a casebook (Domestic Violence Law, 2nd edition, Wolters Kluwer, 2019), as well as a treatise (Domestic Violence Law, West Academic Press, 2019). She also wrote the leading family law casebook, Modern Family Law: Cases, Materials, and Problems (7th edition, Wolters Kluwer, 2020).
The initiative began in April when Weisberg was contacted by Arcelia Hurtado, who joined the San Francisco DA’s office as managing attorney of training, culture, diversity, and inclusion.
Weisberg said she was impressed that San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin recognized right away that the pandemic created heightened dangers for domestic violence victims and worked to secure resources. For example, his office obtained corporate housing units for victims, along with rideshare credits to deliver victims to protective housing.
Shelter-in-place measures make it difficult for victims to reach out for help. But Hurtado said the DA’s office aggressively prosecutes the domestic violence cases it does receive.
Weisberg said the training gave her an opportunity to learn the real-world issues that prosecutors and investigators are dealing with on the ground, which she can share with students who take her upper-class course in domestic violence. For example, through a collaboration with medical professionals at UCSF, prosecutors can call doctors to testify about whether someone’s injuries are accidental or consistent with abuse.
Hurtado said she is looking forward to continued collaboration with Weisberg, who has identified 20 new topics to explore in 2021. Among them: teen dating violence, pregnancy abuse, use of 911 calls as evidence, and the dangers to children who are exposed to domestic violence.