Women and Justice: Jurisdiction

Domestic Case Law

In re Romano New York Court of Appeals (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, removed Romano, a town and village justice, from office, in part, because of his insensitivity to victims of domestic violence.  The justice engaged in egregious misconduct in his courtroom, at an arraignment, where a defendant was charged with violating a protection order and assaulting his wife.  After reviewing the charges, Romano stated, from the bench, “What’s wrong with that?  You’ve got to keep them in line once in a while.”  The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence in the record supported the Commission’s findings that Romano seriously abused his judicial authority.  The court reasoned that Romano’s misconduct demonstrated a pattern of serious disregard for the standards of judicial conduct that “exist to maintain respect toward everyone who appears in a court.”

People v. Liberta New York Court of Appeals (1984)

Sexual violence and rape

The defendant's wife filed a criminal complaint against him, claiming that he raped her. He moved to dismiss the charge because, under New York Penal Law section 130.35 (“Section 130.35”), which contained a marital exemption, a husband could not be convicted of raping his wife.  The trial court granted Defendant’s motion and dismissed the indictment based on the marital exemption.  The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the case for trial.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division, finding Section 130.35 was unconstitutional due to the marital exemption provision.  “Where a statute draws a distinction based on marital status, the classification must be reasonable and must be based upon ‘some ground of difference that rationally explains the different treatment.’”  The court found that there was no rational basis for distinguishing between marital rape and non-marital rape and thus declared the marital exemption unconstitutional.  The court reasoned that the marital rape exemption denies married women equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the New York and United States Constitutions.  Further, the court stated, “Rape is not simply a sexual act to which one party does not consent.  Rather, it is a degrading, violent act which violates the bodily integrity of the victim and frequently causes severe, long-lasting physical and psychic harm.  To ever imply consent to such an act is irrational and absurd.  A marriage license should not be viewed as a license for a husband to forcibly rape his wife with impunity.  A married woman has the same right to control her own body as does an unmarried woman.” 

Reynolds v. Fraser Supreme Court, New York County (2004)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

Ms. Reynolds was fired from her job at the NYC Department of Correction (“Department”) for violating its sick leave policy. Ms. Reynolds was a victim of domestic violence. In 2002, she requested vacation time to find a home after leaving her abuser. When she did not find a home within her given vacation time, she requested more time off to continue searching for a place to live. As a result of her request, her employer put her on immediate sick leave and demanded that she provide them with an address. When Ms. Reynolds told them she was currently homeless, she was told she could not work at the Department without providing them with a current address. Faced with the threat of termination, even after she explained her homelessness, she gave her husband’s address. It was the Department’s policy to police sick leave abuse by sending monitors to a sick employee’s home for surprise visits. When a monitor appeared at Ms. Reynolds’s husband’s home to check in on her, she was not present. Ms. Reynolds was fired as a result. She brought suit against her employer for violating the law prohibiting employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. In 2001 New York enacted an amendment to the City’s Human Rights Law, also known as the Local Law I (the “Law”), to prevent employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. The stated purpose of this amendment was “to protect the economic viability of victims of domestic violence and to support their efforts to gain independence from their abusers by enabling victims of domestic violence to speak with their employers without fear of reprisal, about domestic violence incidents or about possible steps that will enhance their ability to perform their job without causing undue hardship.” The Supreme Court, New York County (a New York State trial court) found that the Department violated the Law when it did not make reasonable accommodations for Ms. Reynolds’s status as a homeless victim of domestic violence. The court reasoned, “the end result here, [Ms. Reynolds’s] loss of a job at the point when she was finally getting her living situation under control, is exactly the kind of fallout that Local Law 1 was enacted to prevent.”

Metro N. Owners, LLC v. Thorpe Civil Court of the City of New York (2008)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Property and inheritance rights

Ms. Thorpe was a victim of domestic violence.  Her landlord sought to evict her from her apartment, alleging nuisance in violation of the lease.  Ms. Thrope was the only person on the lease.  Her landlord’s nuisance claim was based on a fight that had occurred between Ms. Thorpe and her husband.  Ms. Thorpe moved for summary judgment based on the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 (“VAWA 2005”).  Under VAWA 2005, “an incident of domestic violence will not be construed to violate a public-housing or government-assisted tenancy and shall not be good cause to terminate a public-housing or government-assisted tenancy if the tenant is the victim or threatened victim of domestic violence.”  Ms. Thorpe argued that because her landlord’s allegations of nuisance were based solely on acts of domestic violence committed against her, he could not terminate her government-assisted tenancy.  To prove that she was a victim of domestic violence, Ms. Thorpe provided three complaint reports that she had filed with the New York Police Department, along with a protective order she obtained against her husband from the New York City Criminal Court.  The court granted Ms. Thorpe’s motion for summary judgment because she was a victim of domestic violence, and as such, VAWA 2005 prohibited her landlord from terminating her lease.  The court reasoned that “VAWA’s goal is to prevent a landlord from penalizing a tenant for being a victim of domestic violence,” as Ms. Thorpe was here.