"Sarah Buel is perhaps the leading figure with regard to legal advocacy on behalf of family violence victims," said Paul Schiff Berman, Dean of the College of Law. "Her arrival immediately catapults this center to national prominence."
The center was started with a $1 million grant from the Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation. A second $1 million grant from NextCare Urgent Care will fund the NextCare Urgent Care Family Violence Legal Clinic, which will be housed within the Center.
"The new Diane Halle Center for Family Justice and NextCare Urgent Care Family Violence Legal Clinic are fantastic examples of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law advancing our social embeddedness design aspiration to even higher levels of service and success," said ASU President Michael Crow. "These new programs are on the front line of social improvement and change and this is where we like ASU to be"
Buel, who earned her Juris Doctorate at Harvard University, is a survivor of domestic violence who made the issue her lifelong passion. She has spent the past 32 years working with battered women, abused children, and juveniles within the legal system. She served six years as a prosecutor, most of that time with the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office in Quincy, Mass., helping to establish its award-winning domestic violence and juvenile programs. She is also an adjunct professor at Harvard Medical School.
She called the Center a dream come true.
"It epitomizes the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to bring all the pieces together to help victims," she said. "It's part of a national family justice center movement to co-locate services for abuse victims of all ages, from newborn to the elderly, so they don't have to go to 32 different agencies around the city hauling three children with no car and no money."
The Center will house:
- The NextCare Urgent Care Family Violence Legal Clinic, which will provide direct legal services for adult and child victims of domestic violence, training of victims' advocates, policy research and conferences.
- The Juvenile Legal Assistance Program, providing direct legal services to those in the juvenile court system.
- The Program to Study and Combat Human Trafficking, working on projects to prevent human trafficking, especially in the sex trade.
- The Justice Bus Rural Legal Services Program, bringing law students and public interest attorneys to rural underserved communities of the state to provide legal assistance.
The Center will engage students and professors from the College of Law, and the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, School of Social Work and School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU to provide support and free legal assistance to victims. It will cover child abuse, spousal abuse, protective orders, custody, prosecutions, family law, juvenile law, and health law matters. In addition to serving victims, the Clinic will also train future generations of lawyers, who through collaboration with other ASU colleges, will learn to work with other service professionals on the holistic needs of clients.
Buel said the Center is exciting because of its comprehensiveness.
"Most centers focus on the criminal justice process," Buel said. "This one goes far beyond, to include economic empowerment issues that are often the linchpin in whether low-income victims can get back on their feet.
"And we will teach the future lawyers, judges and professionals in Arizona and throughout the country about the issue," Buel said. "It's enormously useful in the broad sense of justice, not just how to deal with domestic violence but how to reform what is wrong with our system."
Buel said she grew up in a very poor family and was later a victim of domestic violence. She was a welfare mother for a short time before working full time in the day and going to school at night for seven years to obtain her undergraduate degree in 1987. She then graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1990.
"I had a loving supportive family, and many people helped me along the way. I owe them my life," she said. "But the legal system did not help. At so many steps along the way, I said, 'I'm going to remember this, so I can help fix this system someday.' The vast majority of victims don't have anybody to help them, or the people they know are just as impoverished, uneducated, or have no knowledge of the system."
Buel said she also plans a massive community education effort.
"I'm a huge advocate of safety planning," she said. "I want safety plans translated into as many languages as possible hanging in every laundromat, supermarket, drugstore, courthouse and school, so that no one has to remain in danger because they don't know what resources are available."
The Center and Clinic were established in partnership with the O'Connor House-Avon Foundation Program for Women and Justice. The O'Connor House Project is committed to furthering the vision of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (ret.) to encourage purposeful civil talk which will lead to positive civic action.
"We are extremely pleased that this project, which had its genesis with the O'Connor House Committee on Domestic Violence, has emerged into this multi-disciplinary, holistic national model that will bring together a net of critical services, including criminology, law, social work, medicine, psychology and other community partners, to attack this growing and critical issue," said Lucia Howard, President of the Board of Directors of O'Connor House.
"Providing access to justice both for victims of family violence and for other poor families who are in need of legal service is often a matter of life and death," said Diane Halle, President of the Bruce T. Halle Family Foundation.
Dr. John Shufeldt, NextCare's founder and Chief Executive Officer, called the effort a "holistic approach to end domestic violence by partnering with O'Connor House in this Center. I am confident that this partnership will help us better provide for the full continuum of needs of these victims."
At the University of Texas at Austin, Buel started, and has co-directed the Domestic Violence Clinic. She also teaches courses in domestic violence and the law, public education, civic engagement and policy, and criminal law. She is co-founder of the University of Texas Voices Against Violence program that has developed a system of comprehensive, coordinated services for victims of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking. She also co-founded the interdisciplinary University of Texas Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault that focuses on research, pedagogy and direct services. She serves as the faculty supervisor for the Domestic Violence Survivor Support Network, a group of law and business students assisting abuse victims to achieve economic literacy and security.
She is actively involved in human rights projects in Cambodia, China and Kenya addressing gender-based violence and human trafficking. She narrated the 1992 Academy Award winning documentary "Defending Our Lives" and in 1996 was profiled by NBC as one of the five most inspiring women in America.