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Faculty Highlight: Dona Playton

October 31, 2016

As Domestic Violence Awareness Month wraps up, we’d like to highlight College of Law faculty member Dona Playton, and all of the work that she has done for victims of domestic violence.

Playton is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wyoming College of Law. She teaches Domestic Violence Law, Children and the Law, and directs the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic, which she established in 2002. The Clinic  is operated by  third-year law students who represent low income clients in family and juvenile court matters, including domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking cases, as well as divorce, child custody, termination of parental rights, adoption, guardianship, and as guardians ad litem in private custody or public child welfare cases.

According to the Division of Criminal Investigation Uniform Crime Report for Wyoming, in 2015, there were 2,513 incidents of domestic violence reported.[1] Each year, the Family and Child Legal Advocacy opens between 50-60 cases throughout Wyoming, many of which are for victims of domestic violence, making it a leading legal resource in the state along with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and Equal Justice Wyoming.

One of the greatest obstacles for victims of domestic violence is the lack of an effective advocate.[2] Many victims of domestic violence find themselves in situations controlled by a myriad of issues that inhibit the ability to leave an abusive situation, including lack of financial resources and legal representation. The work performed by Playton and the students of the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic provides access to legal recourse, helping victims of domestic violence take the first step towards safety and self sufficiency while also ensuring that their other legal rights are not compromised due to domestic violence.

According to the American Bar Association, “domestic violence has a tremendous impact on the legal profession.”[3] Under Playton’s supervision, the UW College of Law has worked to fill the gap in legal education by incorporating domestic violence law into its curriculum and clinical programs. Playton is called on regularly to conduct trainings and continuing legal education courses and recently presented at a national child support enforcement conference in Salt Lake on the overlap between child support enforcement and domestic violence.

“Working with law students to expand access to the legal system for low income victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, has been the most rewarding experience of my career,” says Playton. “I believe together we are making tremendous strides in the legal profession to increase intolerance for domestic violence and to promote appropriate legal interventions in the area of intimate partner violence.”

Another important aspect of Playton’s work has been in providing the resources for other attorneys in Wyoming so that they may adequately represent abuse victims. Playton recently published the second edition of the Wyoming Domestic Violence Benchbook, A practical and comprehensive source of information and law. The benchbook serves as an all-inclusive guide to assist judges and attorneys as they mitigate situations where domestic violence may be at play.

Additionally, Playton was also recognized for her dedication to representing victims of domestic violence as the 2016 recipient of the Gerald R. Mason Professionalism Award. This award is given to a Wyoming attorney who, over the course of his or her career, has embodied the spirit of Wyoming State Bar Past President, Gerald R. Mason’s phrase “Proud to Be a Wyoming Lawyer,” and who serves as an example to others by having the highest professional standards to which all members of the Wyoming State Bar should aspire.

Playton’s work at the College of Law has been a tremendous asset to the students and the state and her recognition is well-deserved. We would like to acknowledge her incredible dedication to serving those without a voice and for making a real difference in the world.

[1] Crime in Wyoming, Division of Criminal Investigation Uniform Crime Report, p. 38, https://docs.google.com/a/wyo.gov/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=d3lvLmdvdnxkY2ktLS1wdWJsaWN8Z3g6YzI4ODdkY2RlNzRhOGNj

[2] Buel, Sarah M., “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a, Why Abuse Victims Stay” The Colorado Lawyer, October 1999, Vol. 28, No. 10.

[3] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, When will they ever learn? Educating to End Domestic Violence, A Law School Report, American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, 1997.


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