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Remarks for the Chief Judge’s 2021 Statewide Civil Legal Services Hearing Meagan Boughton, Client September 13, 2021

Good Afternoon,

My name is Meagan Boughton and I am many things.

I am a former Client of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.

I am a resident of Ulster County New York.

I am someone’s sister and someone’s daughter.

I am an employee at The Arc, a local organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

I am a survivor of domestic violence.

But most importantly I am a mother to two young girls Gabriella and Zurri.

I want to thank you for letting me speak today regarding the need for free legal services for victims of domestic violence, a need that I believe has grown as a result of the COVID pandemic.

My daughter Zurri, was born during the pandemic on September 18th. This should have been a happy time but for me it was terrifying. I had separated from her father prior to her birth after he began to become possessive and violent toward me. He would threaten to shoot me and anyone I was close with.  He had a quick temper and could suddenly blow up.  Unfortunately, following the separation he continued to harass me saying things such as I don’t want to hurt a pregnant woman, but I will. He would drive by my house repeatedly to scare me. Stating that he would hurt me if I didn’t respond quick enough or listen to him. Following my daughter’s birth, he would send me photos of him holding a gun and threatening to harm my daughters and me. I was terrified.  On one occasion early in the morning he threatened to drive by and shoot up our home knowing that the baby and I were asleep inside. He did this because I did not respond promptly to a text message.

I couldn’t take it anymore. I called the police to make a report.  Criminal charges were filed against him, but he failed to show for his arraignment and a warrant was issued for his arrest, but he was never arrested.  I received an order of protection from criminal court.  I was terrified for my family’s safety. In retaliation, my abuser filed for paternity of my infant daughter stating that he would seek custody of her since I was choosing to “act out”.

At the time my abuser filed his petition there was a warrant for his arrest out of a local city Court and he was facing felony charges in county court as a multi- time felony offender. But because court appearances were virtual, and the criminal courts were overwhelmed as a result of the pandemic he was free to continue to threaten me and to seek custody of my 10-month-old daughter. I didn’t understand what he had filed and what my options were. I was scared for my safety but most of all my children’s safety.

Crime Victims Assistance Program for Ulster County referred me to Legal Services of the Hudson Valley and I was connected to Adrienne Thiel in their Kingston Office. Adrienne walked me through the family court process, so I knew what to expect. Representing me in the paternity proceeding and then child support and then in my custody case which eventually went to a hearing. She drafted and filed petitions on my behalf and communicated with my abuser so that I would not have to. She assisted me with setting up the virtual court appearances and understanding the protocols that resulted from COVID.

I now have sole physical and legal custody of my daughter. I have child support for her, and I have the ability to continue to take whatever steps are necessary to continue to ensure my family’s safety. I can’t even imagine what would have happened without the assistance of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.

I know that there are other victims out there who are scared and confused and need help navigating the legal system. It is my hope that my testimony today shows how important it is to have funding for Legal Service Agencies so that they can continue to help ensure other people, other families’, safety.

Thank you for your time.