Divorced Men Claim Discrimination

Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) — Six divorced men sued the state Tuesday, claiming the court system discriminates against men by issuing restraining orders without giving the accused a proper hearing.

The federal lawsuit claims that state judges routinely subject men involved in marital and custody disputes to unconstitutional denials of due process and equal protection rights, as well as the right to bear arms.

``We aren't looking for money. We're looking for relief,'' said attorney David Grossack, who filed the suit on behalf of six men and the Fatherhood Coalition — a Massachusetts-based fathers advocacy group that claims several hundred members.

But advocates for battered woman say the lawsuit is a disturbing attempt by angry men to reassert control they lost after the state's anti-abuse laws grew tougher in the late 1980s.

``I think they have a very weak claim,'' said Cheryl Garrity, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Both Garrity and Grossack said they believed the lawsuit was the first of its kind to be filed against a state's trial court system.

Subjects of the orders are typically ordered from their homes, often prohibited from contacting their children and denied a ``meaningful'' hearing to defend themselves, the suit alleges. Federal and state laws unfairly deprive them of their right to own weapons during that time, the suit alleges.

Garrity said laws requiring the subjects of restraining orders to relinquish their firearms and leave their homes are crucial to protecting victims of battering.

``This is clearly an attempt to undo the protections that battered women have gained over the past 10 years,'' she said. ``These laws were put in to stop upfront offenses. We can't wait until the woman is almost dead to start protecting her.''

James Nollet, 49, said he joined the lawsuit after his ex-wife accused him of abuse and took out several restraining orders against him in the mid-1990s. Although he was acquitted, a judge continued to allow successive restraining orders, and ordered him to pay $1,000 per month for spousal and child support, a sum he could not afford, he said.

``People believe the government brings good and honest accusations, but that is not always so,'' Nollet said. ``It's a sword hanging over your head. You're one unsupported accusation away from being arrested.''

Charlotte Whiting, a spokeswoman for the state courts, and Marcia Cohen, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, declined to comment on the case.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.