BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The U.S. Department of Justice says domestic abuse victims return to their abusers an estimated seven to 10 times before making a clean break, in large part because they lack the legal support to be able to leave.
The Center for Family Justice (CFJ) hopes to put a dent in that number this week by opening Connecticut’s first legal incubator. The Justice Legal Center will provide low- to no-cost legal assistance through five attorneys now practicing at its Fairfield Avenue headquarters.
“The legal piece is really critical,” said the state’s First Lady Cathy Malloy, who attended the incubator’s kickoff Wednesday. “It becomes a very complicated situation. The comprehensive piece of it is the best part.”
The incubator provides an innovative practice model for lawyers hoping to establish their own practices, while offering legal assistance to victims of domestic and sexual violence in the greater Bridgeport area.
The five attorneys made a two-year commitment to the program and are receiving training to work with the specific challenges the center’s clients face. They will see their own clients in their center-based offices, but they will set aside time to offer assistance to the men, women and families who seek help through CFJ.
Since opening as a family justice center last April, the CFJ has seen a steep jump in clients, said Deb Greenwood, the center’s president and CEO.
“We’ve tripled the number of people we’re seeing in one year,” she said.
Clarissa Lee, an attorney on the new team, said she likes the idea of starting her own Bridgeport practice while helping center clients with restraining order applications, housing issues and family custody challenges.
“It’s a nice way to reach a different demographic,” said Lee, who also practices family, criminal and personal injury law. “And it’s giving back to the community.”
In addition to legal services, the center partners with prosecutors and law enforcement in Bridgeport, Fairfield, Easton, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull, who are on-site on a part-time basis.
The center also provides court advocates at the Golden Hill courthouse, Greenwood said.
CFJ hopes to be a one-stop site for victims, offering counseling and a new wellness studio that offers yoga, meditation and other stress-relieving activities for both clients and staff. It operates a safe house at a separate location.
The center is one of more than 100 family justice centers around the world and one of 60 legal incubators in the country.
Funds to launch the Justice Legal Center were provided, in part, by a grant from the Ridgefield-based Leir Family Foundation.