Illinois Lawyer Held in Contempt of Court for Protecting Victim’s Right to Privacy

The attorney refused to disclose information about her client’s mental health treatment.

Illinois Lawyer Held in Contempt of Court for Protecting Victim’s Right to Privacy

In criminal cases, people accused of crimes have a range of rights — the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and the right to due process. Yet it often seems that victims of crimes have very few rights.

In California, a 2008 ballot initiative led to the establishment of Marsy’s Law, which enshrined a crime victim’s bill of rights into law. Other states followed suit, leading to a wave of laws enacted across the country designed to protect victims of crimes.

Yet despite these laws, some courtrooms are may still seem unsafe to victims of crimes. In a recent Chicago sexual assault trial, an attorney representing the victim chose to go to jail rather than to reveal confidential information about her client. In the trial, attorney Danielle Johnson represented the victim in a case against defendant Fernando Benavides, who is accused of assaulting a number of minors, including Ms. Johnson’s client. The defense attorney requested “any and all mental health records” for the victim, claiming that she had made inconsistent statements about her abuse.

Ms. Johnson filed a motion opposing the defense attorney’s request for mental health records in an effort to protect the victim’s privacy. The judge then questioned the prosecutor about the type of counseling that the victim had undergone. When the prosecutor could not provide details, the judge questioned Ms. Johnson — who refused to provide details on the basis of attorney-client privilege. The judge then ordered her to be handcuffed and taken into custody for contempt of court. Ms. Johnson was later released and stated, “My role is ensuring victims get heard. They have these rights. I’m there to argue (on their behalf). And I get attorney-client privilege.” Illinois has enacted a version of Marsy’s Law.

According to the National Crime Victim Law Institute, the question of whether victims of crime have a right to privacy is at stake in an upcoming case before the Ohio Supreme Court, State v. Hughes. In that case, the Supreme Court will be interpreting Ohio’s victims’ rights law, Marsy’s Law, which provides constitutional protections for victims. The National Crime Victim Law Institute filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, along with the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence and the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, in support of victim privacy. If the victim is successful in shielding her privacy, it will be a tremendous victory for both her and all victims of crime in Ohio.

As an experienced Irvine victims’ rights attorney can explain, protecting victims’ privacy is a critical role for lawyers who represent victims. While the defendant has certain constitutional rights in a criminal case, under California law, victims also have rights — and those rights are best asserted with a skilled Irvine victims’ rights attorney at your side.

Attorney Michael L. Fell is an experienced former prosecutor. He understands how the system works, and is intimately familiar with the laws that protect both victims and defendants in criminal cases. He is a fierce advocate for victims, working throughout the process to support you.

Justice 4 Crime Victims is a boutique law firm that is exclusively dedicated to assisting California crime victims. With a seasoned Irvine victims’ rights attorney by your side, you can assert the rights granted to you by Marsy’s Law — while we stand by your side and help you. Contact us today at 949-585-9055 or to schedule an appointment. Initial consultations are always free.