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Domestic Violence Treatment Challenged

Her Sister's Keeper: A woman says that a justice court judge is not protecting her abused sister.

By Stephen Dark
Posted // July 28,2010 - In 2006, West Jordan Judge Ronald E. Kunz received the “Freedom Award” from the Salt Lake Area Domestic Violence Coalition, an award given to a business or member of the judiciary “for their contribution to assist in enhancing services to victims.” He was also named the 2008 Advocate of the Year by the Utah Domestic Violence Council.

All that praise, however, rings somewhat hollow in Pamela’s ears. At a monthly meeting of the Salt Lake Area Domestic Violence Coalition in early July, the former court clerk told the assembled crime-victim advocates about her sister. She said the woman—a mother of two children, ages 3 and 6—was a domestic-violence victim whose rights had been ignored by the court system while the convicted abuser had been “coddled” by Kunz.

“Who’s my sister’s voice in all of this?” she asked the advocates, mostly women, employed by city police departments across the Salt Lake valley.

“You,” said one.

Now Pamela, whose last name, along with that of her sister and her ex-brother-in-law, were withheld to protect the victim’s identity, is wondering, after sending a 10-page letter addressed to Kunz and copied to legislators, government, West Jordan officials and media outlets, if anyone is listening to her pointed criticisms of a system that “is severely broken on many counts.” Loopholes, she writes in her letter, lead to a “substantial shortage of voice, accountability or advocacy” for her sister and Pamela’s nephews. The charges are not only of the system but also of the judge, whom she feels is determined to shepherd the perpetrator even while the victim and children languish.

Pamela’s complaint stems from an incident on Jan. 3, 2009, when her sister’s now-ex-husband tried to choke his wife on the stairs in front of their children. He pleaded guilty March 19, 2009, to one count of simple assault and one count of domestic violence in the presence of a child, both class B misdemeanors. Kunz suspended a 90-day jail sentence along with $900 of a $1,500 fine, as long as Pamela’s former brother-in-law served a one-year probation and completed domestic-violence counseling.

Wherever Pamela looked as she followed her sister’s case through the West Jordan Justice Court, she found problems, notably with Sandy Counseling Centers (SCC), which she says serves two masters: victims and rehabilitating abusers. SCC director Velda McDonald disagrees, however, saying in an e-mail that research shows that “the treatment of perpetrators, victims and children is far more effective than ‘blaming,’ ‘confronting’ and ‘getting even,’ as believed in the past. Anyone who will follow best practices will treat the family.”

SCC provides couple counseling to perpetrators and their victims, a controversial approach to domestic violence that last year saw heated debate among advocates and treatment providers. Pamela says SCC contacted her sister to offer her couple counseling shortly after her abusive spouse was ordered to begin treatment, even though Utah’s licensure requirements require that an abuser finish a minimum of 12 sessions before couple counseling. (McDonald says her company complies with that rule.) Pamela’s sister, who declined the offer, did not hear from SCC again.

Many justice courts have close relationships with private treatment and probation providers, and West Jordan seems no exception. SCC has provided treatment for offenders sentenced in Judge Kunz’s court, along with other justice and district courts, McDonald says, since the mid-90s. In 2006, she nominated Kunz, along with a Sandy City police officer, for the Salt Lake Area Domestic Violence Coalition’s Freedom Award.

Pamela says her sister’s ex-husband found a receptive ear in Kunz, much to her disappointment. “I expected more authority from the judge,” she told the domestic-violence coalition. “He spoke to him like a bishop. [Kunz] made me feel like he was putting his arm around him.”

Kunz declined to comment on this case, Utah State Courts’ spokeswoman Nancy Volmer wrote in an e-mail, but will be addressing some issues raised by Pamela in open court Aug. 5, when Pamela’s former brother-in-law will have an order-to-show-cause hearing.

Pamela says her ex-brother-in-law pleaded guilty to the theft of Lortab in Sandy Justice Court in 2008, information her sister had put in a statement to the court in March 2009 for the domestic-violence prosecution. On a drug test on Aug 10, 2009, the ex-brother-in-law tested positive, which he blamed, according to the court docket, on a prescription drug he took for a leg injury. Despite the prior conviction, Kunz did not find the defendant in violation of his probation.

Her ex-in-law’s legal problems relating to drugs got worse. On April 9, 2010, he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of heroin possession in the 5th District Court in St George. Two weeks later, Kunz talked to Pamela’s ex-brother-in-law through a video hearing while he was in the Washington County Jail on the heroin charge. Despite the defendant to failing to “pay [his court-ordered] fine, comply with SCC and comply with [a private probation service],” the West Jordan docket notes, he was nevertheless given one more chance, even though, Pamela points out angrily, one of the probation requirements Kunz had imposed upon sentencing was “no criminal offenses.”

On June 17, SCC recommended their client for “completion” of treatment because of his “excellent progress.” Five days later, Kunz approved SCC’s recommendation that the man forgo parenting classes. Whether the court informed SCC of his drug conviction or not, Pamela says, “The fact that it was recommended and approved [by Kunz] that he forgo parenting classes is a disgrace.”

She knows there is little she can do for her sister, but, “I’m worried about the thousands who come after her,” she says. She is not sure what help to expect from crime-victim advocates. Many shook their heads in unsurprised sympathy and frustration at Pamela’s story at the Salt Lake Area Domestic Violence Coalition meeting. Yet when she asked why something wasn’t being done, one said they couldn’t speak out against the cities that employed them.

Pamela has begun a Utah court-watch program, asking for supporters to wear something purple in Kunz’s court on Aug. 5. That’s the date Kunz has set to review her ex-brother-in-law’s probation on the domestic-violence convictions in light of his heroin conviction. She will be waiting to see, as she wrote in her letter to Kunz, “who will stand as the victims’ voice, act as their advocate, and provide them with protection under the law? Will it be you?” 

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Posted // November 29,2010 at 21:16

Judge Kunz and his buddies at Sandy Counseling are still making a mockery of thier professions. Congrats.


Posted // August 22,2010 at 19:37

This judge is heinous. He did nothing but humiliate the victim.


Posted // July 29,2010 at 18:59

Kunz didn't have 3 DV cases in 3 years, the man who murdered his wife personally had 3 separate DV charges in Kunz's court and Kunz didn't do anything to the guy. Not the first time, not the second time, and not the third time. And not at the Order to Show Cause hearings either. What happened? The wife ended up murdered and the coward killed himself. Could this have been prevented? Most likely.

Judge Kunz will most likely do nothing in this case and will probably dismiss all previous charges because he's mad that his name is being "dirtied" in the media, YET AGAIN! He's the kind of judge to get EVEN not get justice.


Posted // July 29,2010 at 10:19

I'm confused trying to follow this story. Most of it sounds like a typical domestic violence case. Someone gets choked, perp goes to court. Judge sentences probation, fines and follow up counseling.

Dude violates probation, has a hearing set for Aug. 5th, where they will more than likely throw the book at him. The Aug. 5th court date seems soft-pedaled in this story. A Show Cause hearing on a probation violation is serious. He's coming to court to Show Cause why he shouldn't be thrown in jail or, at the very least, forced into a jail drug rehab program for several months.

Pamela seems upset that the judge wasn't nasty enough to ex-bro-in-law. The jails are full. Budgets are maxed out. Drug offenders whose drug offenses don't involve violence are being looked at differently these days than violent, repeat offenders.

Wait until Aug 5th and please do a follow up note.


Posted // July 29,2010 at 15:05 - I didn't understand part of your reply. Kunz had three DV cases in 3 years? So what? Sit in the West Jordan 3rd District courtrooms and you'll probably see 3 cases of DV in a week. No, seriously, the jails are full. To the brim. It's not an excuse. And the ACLU is right there threatening overcrowding lawsuits 24/7. They've recently released non-violent drug offenders early because they need the space for more dangerous inmates. They had to refurbish and re-open Oxbow Jail in order to house inmates attending jail-drug-rehab programs that were being held at Metro. I know from recent experience with a family member that the counselors and jail staff (don't get me started on those Lord-Of-The-Flies Neanderthals)feel that judges are out of touch in sentencing small fries to jail when they need the space for the dangerous criminals that need to be taken off the streets and incarcerated. I'm not taking anything away from Pamlela's sister's plight. We've all had friends and family who have had something similar happen, unfortunately. Sounds like the ex is a douche and he will receive his reward next month. Unless this turns out to be one of those head-scratchers where a guy has had 15 DUI's and is still driving drunk instead of being taken out back and shot, old school. Based on experience, I would like Stephen to do a follow up after Aug 5th and let us know what happened.


Posted // July 29,2010 at 10:36 - The excuse that the jails are full is getting old. We can't arrest people on warrants ... jails are full. We can't hold people accountable for violating the terms of their probation ... jails are full. We can't arrest your husband for choking you ... jails are full. Who cares if the judge was "nasty" with this guy or not. I found another article with this same judge from '94 in the Des News where a guy shot his estranged wife then turned the gun on himself. Guess whose court he had three consecutive DV cases in three consecutive years? Judge Kunz. I'm guessing the jails were full then too, right? Either the judges aren't holding these people accountable because the "jails are full" or because maybe they just don't see beating your wife as a problem in the society.


Posted // July 28,2010 at 20:45

The point of this article, George, is not the actual domestic violence itself. Obviously victims can be both female and male, but it is much more common that women be attacked. The object of this article is that there is not enough criminal accountability for the abuser, male or female. This case is not the first of its kind and certainly won't be the last. "Pamela" in the story is raising awareness that the system is broken that this Judge Kunz of West Jordan gives more consideration to the abuser and helping them rather than taking a stand to protect the victims (in this story being a young woman and her two minor children who witnessed such horrible events).