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Family Law Clinic tragedy inspires domestic violence advocates

Family Law Clinic Director Jill Engle and student Kira Lecznar '13

Erin Bloxham ’12 was wrapping up her responsibilities as a fellow with Penn State Law’s Family Law Clinic before moving on to her new role as Centre County Assistant District Attorney. One of her cases was a divorce, referred to the clinic by the Civil Legal Representation Project of the Centre County Women's Resource Center. Client Traci Raymond Miscavish had been attacked by her husband who had spent time in jail. Bloxham, third-year law student Kira Lecznar assigned to the case, and the clinic’s director Jill Engle were impressed with Miscavish’s courage. “Traci had a personality that could light up an entire room. She was a very caring person. Despite everything she was going through, she was always more concerned about others and how things were impacting or affecting them. She was also extremely brave. She was facing her worst fears in order to take back her life,” Bloxham said of Miscavish.

On March 28, the unthinkable happened. Traci Raymond Miscavish’s husband Mark Miscavish shot and killed her and himself at Traci's place of employment leaving her family, the community, and the members of the Family Law Clinic devastated. Last weekend the students attended a candlelight vigil in Miscavish’s memory during which Engle spoke saying that her goal and of those attending is to carry the light of domestic violence victims forward.

“I teach my clinic students about the high conflict involved in many family law cases, including but not limited to domestic violence cases. I give students a detailed manual that addresses counseling clients about safety planning in domestic violence cases, and we have guest speakers each semester about domestic violence. We also work closely with the Centre County Women's Resource Center's counseling advocates, who are specially trained to counsel clients like ours on safety planning. In some cases we even work directly with police officers and the district attorney's office to keep clients as safe as possible and advocate for them as comprehensively as possible. But nothing can prepare you for an experience like this,” Engle said.

Though Engle has spent much of her career dealing with issues of domestic violence, in the wake of this tragedy she hopes to spread the message that deaths like Traci's — which occur at a rate of three to four per day in this country — are preventable and unacceptable to us as a society. “My students and I will be working on grass-roots efforts like city council resolutions declaring that ‘freedom from domestic violence is a fundamental human right’ as my law professor colleagues and their students at clinics in Baltimore, Albany and Cincinnati have successfully implemented over the past year.”

Kira Lecznar said words of encouragement from the vicitim’s sister helped her, “It reminded me that working with domestic violence victims is about giving these women a chance to finally stand up for themselves and make their own choices. People have asked me if my experience with Traci has deterred me from pursuing a career in family law. In actuality it has had the opposite effect. If advocates gave up after every tragedy or set-back, there would be no one left to give these victims a much needed voice.”

According to Bloxham, “In law school I wanted to pursue a career that would allow me to advocate on behalf of victims. Working at the Family Law Clinic gave me that opportunity by allowing me to work with victims of domestic violence, such as Traci. My desire to help and protect victims also inspired me to pursue a career as an assistant district attorney. While this has been a devastating experience, the tragedy will continue to inspire me as I advocate on behalf of victims as an assistant district attorney. If I can be even a small part of preventing what happened to Traci from happening to someone else, I will consider my career a great success.”

“Teaching law students the importance of shining a light on domestic violence is my most important mission,” Engle said.  “As the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act approaches, we will continue to shine more light and garner more support every day.”


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