Woman facing charges unable to get help in family violence case

A North Texas woman was unable to get help with a protective order from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office because she, herself, is charged with a crime.

“I had encountered a domestic violence relationship that was very abusive, extremely abusive,” explained Desiree Howard. “It had escalated to the point where I was physically hurt.”

But when Howard went to the DA’s Family Violence Unit for a protective order, she was unable to get help because of a pending criminal case against her.

“So that is based on the Code of Professional Responsibility 1.06B2 that we have to make certain that we don’t have those conflicts,” explained Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson. “Although we may have those conflicts, we understand that we are here to make everybody safe.”

The district attorney said DA offices are ethically barred from one part of the office protecting you while another part prosecutes. But Johnson says they’ve come up with a plan to help Howard. They will offer a plea bargain to her attacker that includes protective orders.

“We just need to make certain that she's willing to go along with it,” the district attorney said.

Family law attorney Lisa McKnight says without a creative work around the conflict of interest, Howard and others like her would have to file for protection themselves in civil court.

“But you have to know how to do that,” the attorney said. “For the average citizen, that’s probably a daunting task.

Or if they can afford it, they can hire a private attorney.

“Anywhere from $1,500 $5,000 for someone to get a protective order,” McKnight said. “North Texas Legal Services will help victims of family violence.”

While a protective plan has been worked out for Howard, she feels it’s unethical not to protect people who are also prosecuting.

“I feel very strongly against it because I believe all citizens are entitled to equal protection,” Howard said.