DOVER-FOXCROFT – A Superior Court justice on Monday sent home potential jurors for domestic violence cases after the judge learned they had to walk past an exhibit recognizing National Domestic Violence Month.
Womancare on Monday sponsored The Clothesline Project on the lawn of the Piscataquis County Courthouse lawn as it has in past years, but this year, the display just happened to coincide with a session in Superior Court during which juries were being picked for two domestic violence cases.
The exhibit, part of a national project, typically is displayed near the district court, but this year it was placed in front of the county courthouse.
The one-day display consists of shirts hanging on a clothesline, each shirt bearing personal messages from women who were victims of domestic abuse. One such message displayed Monday read “Family Violence Kills.”
Womancare is a nonprofit agency in Dover-Foxcroft dedicated to abolishing domestic violence. It runs a telephone hot line for battered women and educational programs for children.
Kathy Dixon, Womancare’s coordinator for children’s services, said Monday that Piscataquis County commissioners had given the agency permission to display the exhibit on the courthouse campus.
“It was a public display; it was in no way to influence a jury,” Cynthia Freeman Cyr, Womancare’s resource development coordinator, said Monday.
She said Womancare always has had the display on the county campus the first day of National Domestic Violence Month. What was written on the shirts was not pertinent to the cases being held in the court, she said.
“They’re all historic T-shirts,” she said. The Clothesline Project makes a statement that everyone should be concerned about domestic violence, Cyr said.
“Honestly, shouldn’t all members of the community be opposed to domestic violence?” she asked.
Womancare made the request in a letter to the commissioners, according to Cheryl Fairbrother, deputy clerk in the commissioners’ office. The board agreed to the display as it has in years past, she said Monday.
There is no stipulation about where the display is placed, according to county officials.
“I think it was outrageous,” attorney Randy Day of Garland, representing two of the men facing domestic violence-related charges, said Monday.
Day said he advised Justice Jeffrey Hjelm during jury selection that he felt the display was inappropriate for the court session, and Hjelm agreed.
Day said after the session that he couldn’t believe the display was on the courthouse lawn during jury selection.
The attorney said two advocates were staffing the display.
“They asked me if I wanted a purple ribbon, and I said not on jury selection day,” he said.
Day said he purchased a disposable camera and started taking photographs of the display in the event his motions to continue his clients’ cases were not approved.
Hjelm, however, approved his motions, the defense attorney said. The cases now will be considered in February 2007.