Domestic Violence Danger | Trolling Lawyers

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By Jeanne M Hannah

Recent discussion among Michigan family lawyers centers around a certain breed of lawyer who pays court clerks for information about recently filed cases and then sends a letter inviting the defendant to come in and talk about the divorce. No regard is held for any case–but most especially, the concern is about those cases in which the plaintiff, who may be a victim of domestic abuse, is left without any protection against domestic violence when a spouse learns about the filing before he/she can get to safety.

I stand with those in favor of NOT allowing unfettered access to court filings in divorce cases–those who have registered dismay about trolling by lawyers with letters sent to the defendant without regard to whether the Plaintiff may have had the opportunity or felt able to share with a spouse that a divorce had been filed.

One of the lawyers in favor of trolling (sending the letters to solicit clients) stated: “Shame on the Plaintiff attorney for not getting the victim to a safe place before filing the case. The person sending the letters does NOT have a duty to protect.  On the other had, if you are the Plaintiff’s attorney who is DV victim YOU have the duty to be prudent and not file until you know your client is in a safe place.”

My response to that argument: Defense attorney: Would you make that same statement if you were truly aware of how difficult it is for victims of domestic abuse and/or domestic violence to protect themselves? Can you really wash the blood from your hands?

On April 25, 2008, I wrote a blog post titled “Domestic abuse | It’s not just physical violence.”  In that six year old post, I wrote that John P. Tassinari was arrested for the shooting death of his wife, Barbara Tassinari, in the driveway of their Massachusetts home, leaving two children surviving. Domestic abuse (i.e. controlling behavior) was cited as an underlying cause of the murder.

Fast forward more than five years. On September 9, 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the murder conviction of John P. Tassinari for the 2008 shooting death of his wife, Barbara. The defendant admitted to shooting and killing his wife, the victim, in the driveway of their home on April 22, 2008. The main issue at trial was whether the shooting was a result of the defendant’s sudden “heat of passion.” A Brockton Superior Court jury took just three hours in November 2010 to convict Tassinari, 32, of first-degree murder in the April 22, 2008, killing of his wife, Barbara Tassinari, 29.

During the 10-day trial, prosecutors presented physical evidence and witnesses’ testimony to prove that Tassinari planned the killing and gunned his wife down in their driveway in cold blood. Lead prosecutor Sharon Donetelle characterized John Tassinari as a jealous, controlling husband who orchestrated the killing when he realized Babara Tassinari was planning to divorce him.

The victim had been shot eighteen times. She had wounds to her head, torso, and legs. The medical examiner stated that some of the “wound tracks were consistent with [the victim] having been lying down and receiving those gunshots to the top of her head” and that the wounds to the victim’s inner ankle and the back of her thigh would not have been fatal. The cause of death was injuries to the skull, brain, spine, heart, lung, kidney, spleen, stomach, intestines, and major blood vessels.

In returning the verdict, the jury agreed with the prosecution’s argument that the former engineer acted deliberately and with extreme atrocity and cruelty when he emptied two semiautomatic pistols, hitting his wife 18 times, including 10 shots to the head. (Did I mention that he was owned several guns, had a license for each, demonstrating his access to each firearm, his familiarity with how each operated, and the appropriate ammunition for each)?.

Tassinari appealed, claiming on various grounds, primarily issues relate to admissibility of evidence, the fact that In the midst of jury deliberation, a juror asked to speak with the judge, stating he wanted to tell him about his dual citizenship status, issues related to the P.A.’s closing statement and what he claimed was an erroneous jury instruction. Note that he did not appeal on the grounds that “I didn’t do it; some other dude did it.”

That earlier post had some links to protection from domestic violence, including guides about how a DV victim can devise a safety plan. You can read that post here.

To read the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision: Download COMMONWEALTH vs. TASSINARI

For more information visit: Jeanne M Hannah

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