(04/20/2010)
There is good news for victims of domestic violence.

The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled on a domestic violence case out of Clay County.

Court observers are calling it a "precedent setting" ruling because it says that a fear of physical harm is enough to warrant a domestic violence protective order.

The high court is sending a clear message to domestic violence victims, say officials.

The opinion, one Justice Thomas McHugh wrote, is in response to a lower court ruling that denied a Clay County woman protection from her ex-boyfriend.

"We hold that the act of domestic violence defined in [state law] as 'holding, confining, detaining or abducting another person against the person's will' does not require proof of some overt physical exertion on the part of the alleged offender in order to justify issuance of a protective order."

That means, even though the ex-boyfriend was not physically attacking the woman, a protective order was warranted because of the way the man was harassing her at home and at work.

Victims no longer have to wait until they are being physically harmed.

PRECEDENT SETTING CASE: Charleston Gazette Report:

The opinion reversed a January ruling by Clay Circuit Judge Robert Facemire, who said that Kimberly Thomas, a Clay County resident who has since moved to Kanawha County, did not deserve a protective order against her ex-boyfriend, Joseph B. Morris.

"We hold that the act of domestic violence defined in [state law] as 'holding, confining, detaining or abducting another person against that person's will' does not require proof of some overt physical exertion on the part of the alleged offender in order to justify issuance of a protective order," wrote Justice Thomas McHugh in the 16-page opinion.

In December 2007, Thomas ended a long-term relationship with Morris, who tried to revive the romance in May 2008, according to court filings. He repeatedly called her cell and work phones and began stopping by unannounced at her home and office in what McHugh described as "his intensifying pattern of harassment."

On July 13, 2008, Morris came by Thomas' house as she was inside with her new boyfriend. When she didn't answer the door, he banged on her doors and windows for up to two hours, according to the opinion.

Morris had blocked in her car, effectively trapping her inside. She knew that he routinely carried a gun, and was unable to call for help because she didn't have a landline and didn't get cell-phone reception at her trailer, the opinion states.

"Eventually Ms. Thomas and her boyfriend waited until they were sure that Mr. Morris was on the back porch so that they could run out the front door to get a neighbor's home a quarter mile away to use the phone," McHugh wrote.


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