Lawyers Network Hears From Problem Solving Judge

Photo: John McDonald.

Judge Kathleen McHugh spoke to members of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Network Thursday, August 4, on the subject of domestic violence. McHugh has served in Broward County’s problem solving court since 1992. Presently, McHugh’s office is handling around 700 cases.

“It’s a very high trial division,” McHugh said. “There’s 90 Judges in Broward County and I don’t want to brag, but I have the highest trial count to date. I have 24 jury trials so far. I’m No. 1 out of all 90 judges. Not all of those 90 Judges have jury trials, but in the criminal division, I am No. 1.”

McHugh spoke to a room full of attorneys and reporters inside Timpano Chophouse on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. She said the first problem solving court created by administrative order in Broward County was the drug court program in 1992 of which the domestic violence division arose in 1994 followed by the mental health division in 1997.

“As the population in Broward County grew, there was a need for special units,” McHugh said.

Related: Lawyers Network Elects New Board

The drug, domestic violence and mental health courtrooms, McHugh said, were “tremendous courtrooms that are created to address special problems within our county.”

At the luncheon, McHugh shared her experience as the public defender assigned to the domestic violence division. McHugh served three years as the division’s public defender.

McHugh explained to GLLN members that she presides over the lower county court, handling cases involving battery, assault; violations of an injunction, violations of probation, stalking charges and culpable negligence.

“Typically these types of cases involve one person’s word against another and there’s very little physical evidence and very minor injuries,” McHugh said.

Factually, McHugh deals with cases involving slapping, punching, kicking, biting and choking. Of her 24 trials this year, only four have resulted in convictions. She attributes a “gray area” for this conviction rate.

“Sometimes you don’t see injuries when someone gets slapped in the face,” McHugh said. “You don’t see the injury, it doesn’t end up in bruising.”

Complicating matters for juries are dissolutions of relationships and child custody, McHugh said.

“Sometimes in the domestic violence division it’s not black and white,” McHugh said. “There’s a lot of gray area, especially when there is a divorce pending, especially when there is substance abuse issues on both sides. The victim could suffer from mental illness as well as the defendant or both. So I don’t think jurors have an easy time returning guilty verdicts when there is so much gray area, especially in my courtroom.”

After McHugh’s presentation, GLLN President Tom Runyan updated members about the “Love Always Wins” demonstration held on the corner of Oakland Park Boulevard and Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. The rallies have an organic purpose, said Runyan.

“It’s to show the LGBT community is full of love and not hate,” Runyan said.

Meanwhile, on the Pacific coast, a ceremony is being planned to honor the late gay icon Harvey Milk. Miriam Richter, educational director at the Harvey Milk Foundation, said the United States Navy is naming a ship after Milk, a San Francisco gay rights advocate and Navy lieutenant.

“That’s incredible,” Runyan remarked. “It lets you know where the mood is in our country. As a former Navy officer, I can tell you that’s a big deal.”

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