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You Gave Me My Life Back

November 1, 2009

By Lindsay Suchow
Photograph Courtesy Carroll McNulty & Kull

In June 2008, Monica Paul’s life came to a tragic end when her boyfriend and father of her two children, Kenneth Duckett, shot her to death at a Montclair YMCA pool while she supervised their five-year-old son swimming (with their 11-year-old daughter close by), according to police.

A year earlier, also in Montclair, police found Thomas Reilly hanging lifeless in his attic, as well as the bodies of his two daughters—who had been dropped off for a visit by Reilly’s estranged wife—drowned in a downstairs bathtub. According to published reports, Reilly’s wife had a restraining order against him, alleging he had choked her in the Verona home they once shared.

These are extreme but all-too-real examples of how domestic violence can escalate dangerously out of control. But in many cases, the guidance and support of an attorney could go a long way—and a group of volunteers at Carroll McNulty & Kull LLC (CMK) have been providing that guidance free of charge.

As part of the Basking Ridge-based law firm’s community outreach initiative, CMK has partnered with the Montclair-based nonprofit Partners for Women and Justice (PFWJ), which assists low-income and abused women in domestic violence and other family law cases such as child support and custody.

“The firm understands that a lot of people can’t afford legal representation despite how much they might need it,” says CMK volunteer Andrew Gustus, who first became familiar with PFWJ as a Seton Hall law student working in the university’s Center for Social Justice. “Attorneys are expensive, and I’ve always thought that law school doesn’t exist just to give people a way to make a living, but to ensure justice in the community.”

Gustus also felt compelled to tackle domestic violence because of the painful “cycle” that often comes with it. Women habitually leaving and then returning to their abusers, says PFWJ’s executive director Jane Hanson, is extremely common and difficult for many people to understand