WOODSTOCK – A defense attorney is demanding that an anti-domestic-violence display at the McHenry County Government Center come down, calling it “completely inappropriate” and saying it creates a bias in potential jurors.
Matt Haiduk opposes the annual display put on by Turning Point of McHenry County, a domestic violence agency, called The Clothesline Project. The display features white
T-shirts with marker drawings and slogans from victims, and the shirts are strung along the main courthouse staircase.
The T-shirts have sayings that include “Why have you hurt the people I love?”, “Verbal abuse leaves no marks, only pain,” and “I can escape ... he has to live with what he did and answer to GOD.”
On the first floor, there is an easel with a poster board saying that the project “increases awareness of the impact of violence against women, celebrates a woman’s strength to survive, and provides an avenue for her to courageously break the silence.”
Last week, Haiduk sent a letter to Court Administrator Dan Wallis, saying that the “McHenry County tradition of prominently hanging judicially and politically charged laundry is in full bloom.”
The shirts are powerfully one-sided, he said, and to hang them across three levels of stairs used by jurors, witnesses and courtroom observers is unacceptable.
“The criminally accused deserve fairness,” Haiduk said. “The Constitution demands it. This is not fair.”
In his letter, Haiduk also asks for permission to conduct a similar exhibit next month.
“I propose we get orange shirts – ones that match those given to the inmates – and allow for messages from people wrongfully accused of domestic battery,” he said. “They can talk about how the allegations cost them their jobs or ruined their lives.”
Haiduk said he was willing to attempt to contact Gary Gauger, a Richmond man who sat on death row after being wrongly accused of his parents’ murder.
Defense attorney Dan Hofmann agreed with Haiduk’s position, calling the shirts “inflammatory political speech.”
Several years ago, Hofmann said, he had a domestic abuse trial going when the shirts were on display. He complained to the judge, who told him that he could not control what was happening in the hallway, but the judge allowed him to question potential jurors about the display during jury selection.
“I was obligated to draw attention away, which I shouldn’t have to do,” he said. “All you can do at that point is try to defuse it.”
Jane Farmer, executive director of Turning Point, said that the display is part of a national informational and educational project during Domestic Violence Month that reaches out to all people, including perpetrators.
“It can educate victims, perpetrators, children, whoever is in the courthouse about what Turning Point does,” she said. “The point of it isn’t to get jurors to side with the victim’s perspective at all.”
In fact, it might prompt defense attorneys to ask possible jurors questions they might not have otherwise thought of, she said.
In response to Haiduk’s letter, Wallis, the court administrator, pointed out that neither he nor the 22nd Judicial Circuit had any authority regarding any displays, art or information posted in the government center. He attached a permit for public building use signed by County Administrator Pete Austin.
“I signed it without thought because I was familiar with it being done every year,” Austin said. “This is an annual event, and it’s always been a non-issue.”
Austin said he would put the issue on the agenda for a monthly meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, with courthouse officials.