Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : May 2007


 PRO BONO Profile:  

Daring to Take a Stand

Websites come and websites go, some good, some bad, yet they all attempt to give you a glimpse of the organization behind them. But visit the website of the House of Ruth Maryland and you get a glimpse into the heart and soul of the people who created and now sustain the organization:

The House of Ruth Maryland Will Always Take a Stand - Always
We stand strong and unwavering in our drive to end domestic and interpersonal violence.
We stand up as dogged and determined leaders against injustice and ignorance, and for protection, resources and the rights of battered women, men, and their children.
We stand committed to preventing violence through education, outreach, challenging and changing attitudes, behaviors and practices that permit or promote violence.

The House of Ruth Maryland is an independent organization started in 1977 for the purpose of honoring its biblical namesake women helping women. The agency began as a collaboration of religious and community leaders, some women and some not, who were concerned about protecting battered and abused women.

Currently, House of Ruth Maryland runs a number of programs directed towards that original goal helping women escape the horror of domestic violence and abuse. To meet the need, they staff a 24-hour domestic violence hotline which receives calls and gives information and assistance to women around the state. They also maintain the domestic violence shelter for Baltimore City. The comprehensive 84-bed shelter provides services for women and their children. In addition to the shelter, House of Ruth Maryland offers counseling services to women who choose not to stay in the shelter, as well as an abuser intervention program and school and community-based prevention programs.

House of Ruth Maryland also has a Domestic Violence Legal Clinic that was started in 1983 with a single legal advocate. It quickly grew to include two attorneys by 1985 and now has 17 attorneys on staff. These lawyers handle everything from protective orders to child custody and divorce. Funding from the Administrative Office of the Courts and other sources enables House of Ruth Maryland to provide representation in protective order hearings. To facilitate that service, staff attorneys work out of offices in the District Court in Baltimore City, in the District and Circuit Court in Hyattsville and in Circuit Court in Rockville.

Generally, any person requesting help as a victim of domestic violence can walk into one of the courthouse offices and go through an initial consultation. During that interview, the attorney may be asked about legal rights and options, and the person can get help developing a safety plan. Help is also available to obtain final protective and peace orders for qualified clients. Almost everyone who asks for help receives some type of valuable service.

Unfortunately, that is not true as you look further up the continuum of legal remedies for victims of domestic violence. The monetary resources necessary for House of Ruth Maryland to represent the vast number of clients seeking help in custody and divorce proceedings are not available at this time. This has changed the face of the clients House of Ruth Maryland currently serves. According to Dorothy Lennig, Director of the Legal Clinic, (w)hen I came on board we were representing more people in divorce and custody cases because at that time the protective order was such a limited remedy.

In 1992, the protective and peace order statutes changed considerably, Lennig adds. It was the changing of those statutes, which House of Ruth Maryland greatly assisted in getting passed, that made protective and peace orders both better remedy for victims of domestic violence. The new laws redefined the orders to make them available to a greater number of people and enforceable for a longer period of time.

The work of the staff attorneys assisting clients to get protective and peace orders is constant. This is where volunteers can be a great help. We love to have volunteers help staff the offices, states Lennig. There is training that is necessary to begin with, but we do the training in-house. After that, the volunteers can help out, in addition to other ways, by being an extra person available to do a client intake for a new walk-in; making call-backs to clients who are unable to stay for an intake interview; and on some days, just helping answer the busy phones. All these things help free up the staff attorneys to represent more clients in protective order hearings in court.

Volunteering with House of Ruth Maryland offers an excellent opportunity for students or community volunteers to work in close contact with clients. This is a great chance for someone considering becoming an attorney to see what it is like Lennig notes.

Experienced attorneys can also be of great assistance to the House of Ruth. Once the lawyers go through the necessary training, says Lennig, they could be available for us to call and say we have a case coming up on Thursday and all our attorneys are fullwould you be able to help out?’ That would be great.

Whether you can take a case, take an intake or take over answering the phone, House of Ruth Maryland can use your talents. Visit their website, Get a glimpse of the people behind the organization. Get a glimpse of the lives they change.

Support the legal service agencies in your community. Add your resources to the fight. For more information on volunteer opportunities in Maryland, please contact Jon Moseley at the Pro Bono Resource Center office at (410) 837-9379 or (800) 396-1274, or e-mail

Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: May  2007