Join me and the President of the Association of Women Attorneys of Lake County, Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Kay Foy, as we discuss the prosecution of domestic violence felonies. Attorney Foy explains the psychology behind battered-spouse syndrome, answers questions, like “Why will the state prosecute if the victim wants to drop the charges?” and delves into the special challenges behind these cases.

Becoming an Attorney…20 Years After College

Mary Kay Foy had always known she wanted to be an attorney. Being the editor of her high school newspaper and a participant in formal debate in college, she loved verbalizing her opinions. She even worked as a rape victim advocate at Marquette, and she enjoyed devoting herself to public service. Surprisingly, Foy did not go to law school directly after college; instead, she worked in insurance for 20 years! Although she worked in insurance, she still held the same passion for law and decided to go to law school after those 20 years with the support of her husband, who is a patent litigator. During Foy’s studies, she interned at various locations including the Cook County public defender’s office, the DuPage State Attorney’s office, and even the U.S. State Attorney’s office! She now works primarily in the Lake County State Attorney’s office as a prosecutor in the felony domestic violence division.

Working with Victim/Survivors and Conflicting Interests

As a prosecutor for felony domestic violence in Lake County, Foy works primarily with victim survivors who bring forward cases of domestic violence; sometimes, the victim survivor is not the person who brings the case forward – it is often a neighbor or a family member who intervenes. These kinds of cases can bring about conflicting perspectives among the state and the victim survivor. The survivor may depend on the perpetrator for economic support, or the survivor may still feel emotionally attached to that perpetrator as a spouse or fellow parent to their children.

What if a Victim Survivor Changes His or Her Mind?

If the victim survivor changes his or her mind about bringing the case forward, it is not the victim’s responsibility to make that decision. Any domestic violence case is the perpetrator as the defendant and the state as the injured party; the state is prosecuting the crime, not the victim survivor. However, Foy’s office listens to any and all input from a victim survivor to support him or her to the best of their ability in a case.

How is a Domestic Violence Case Brought to the State Attorney’s Office?

Bringing forward a domestic violence case to the Lake County State Attorney’s office follows a specific process. First, the police are contacted either by the victim or someone aware of the crime, and the police will bring the report to felony review. Felony review is a process in which lawyers gather and look over evidence to decide which charges are appropriate and whether the defendant will be indicted or not. If the defendant is charged, he or she is brought through bond court and then go through arraignment, where he or she is faced with the proposed charges and pleads either guilty or not guilty. The case then goes to either felony court or misdemeanor court.

Felony or Misdemeanor?

If a domestic violence case includes aggravating factors, such as the use of a weapon, serious bodily injury, death, or choking, then the case is moved to felony court rather than misdemeanor court. And it does not matter whether the crime was an isolated incident or a repeated pattern of battery – if any aggravating circumstance is present, the crime is a felony.

What Kinds of Support Are Offered to Victim Survivors?

For anyone experiencing domestic violence or battery, there are many resources available to seek help. The State Attorney’s office, which can be reached at 847-377-3000, employs victim witness coordinators to recommend resources such as counseling or different living arrangements. The office also has a program where each victim survivor is given a “safe phone” to be used for emergencies. Foy wants victim survivors to know that she is there to protect the victim, to protect their families, and to do justice for everyone involved.

Empowering Women Attorneys and the Law Community through AWALC

The Association of Women Attorneys of Lake County (AWALC) originated about 25 years ago as a group to combat social issues for women within the law community; one of the issues that sparked their founding was the realization that Lake County only employed one female judge. Now, as president of AWALC, Foy oversees programs within the association such as community networking once a month, lunch meetings every first Wednesday of the month with a guest speaker, and a biannual 6-hour program to satisfy attorneys’ CLE (“Continuing Legal Education”) ethics requirements.

And although AWALC is an association founded to advocate and bring together women, many men are members of the association – two men even serve on the board of directors! Foy has found such joy and fulfillment in being a member of AWALC because of the friendships and connections she has formed with her fellow attorneys. As president, Foy promotes AWALC as a group that young attorneys can join to receive mentoring and support to further their careers, as well as a group that women in particular can join to find strong female role models in the workforce – one of those strong representations of leadership being Foy herself.