Domestic violence rally brings awareness, awards

By Tammy Keith Originally Published October 13, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated October 11, 2013 at 4:06 p.m.
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Nick Hillemann

Louise Furst, left, of Conway and Charlotte Garrett of Little Rock, formerly of Faulkner County, were honored at a domestic-violence rally Oct. 3 in Conway. Both women have worked tirelessly to help prevent domestic violence, said 20th Judicial District Judge H.G. Foster, who organized the event.

CONWAY —Twentieth Judicial District Circuit Judge H.G. Foster has made it his mission to stop domestic violence, and he’s had help from others, including two women he honored this month.

Foster organized a rally at the Faulkner County Courthouse in Conway to bring awareness to domestic violence and to honor Louise Furst of Conway and Charlotte Garrett of Little Rock, formerly of Faulkner County.

“In years past, I’ve been part of having the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence clothesline project set up at the [Faulkner County] courthouse,” Foster said. “And, getting this job, — thank you, Gov. Beebe — I was in the position to do this again.”

Foster, former 20th Judicial District prosecuting attorney, was appointed in 2012 by Beebe to fill the unexpired term of David Reynolds, who was elected district judge in Faulkner County.

Foster said the rally was “an excuse to draw attention to domestic violence and kind of get the word out that … it happens everywhere, and you do know people who are being abused,” and to honor the two women.

Furst and Garrett said they were surprised to receive plaques at the rally.

Foster said recognition of the women was long overdue.

“Louise — and it’s a phrase we have all heard, we’ve heard it all our lives — Louise Furst is an angel walking the earth, and I don’t mean anything disrespectful or irreverent,” Foster said.

Furst is involved in Court Appointed Special Advocates, which helps children through the court system, and “many, many other service projects helping people,” he said.

Foster said he got to know Furst when she “did the right thing” and stepped up as a witness in a case, even though she didn’t have to.

More recently, Foster said, she was “instrumental” in a project to create a children’s room in the Faulkner County Courthouse. The area is where kids involved in court proceedings, whether custody disputes or abuse cases, can safely stay out of earshot of testimony, and, if necessary, be interviewed.

Furst’s plaque is a Lifetime Achievement Award from the First Division Circuit Court, “gratefully in recognition of a life lived for the benefit of others.”

She is a lifetime board member of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance of North Central Arkansas, a combination of CASA and the Children’s Advocacy Center, and has worked on domestic-violence issues.

Foster started Special Team on Prevention of Domestic Violence, or STOP DV, when he was prosecuting attorney. Furst was a volunteer with the organization.

“When I started my domestic-violence work, Charlotte was kind of my mentor,” Furst said. “I didn’t know much about the courts or domestic-violence work, and H.G. gave me fabulous training,” Furst said.

“I joined STOP DV, … and I went to his very first meeting and never left. I got tremendous training and tremendous personal growth,” she said.

“He had faith in me I didn’t always have, but I got it after I worked with him.”

Garrett worked for Foster in the prosecuting attorney’s office as victim witness coordinator for 16 years.

“She took care of all the victims and all the witnesses,” Foster said. “There’s no telling how many little children, victims, women — families who had lost people to murder — she comforted and helped through the system during those 16 years.

Garrett said she was “just shocked” to get the award.

She said she thought she was coming to Conway to help with the clothesline project.

Foster said his focus as deputy prosecuting attorney and prosecuting attorney became domestic violence and crimes against children.

“I’ve never liked bullies. I’ve never liked anybody who took advantage of their size. I’m 6-foot-5, and I’ve never liked people who took advantage of other people because they were in a position of lesser power,” he said.

“As deputy prosecuting attorney, as I started seeing it play out, it bothered me more,” he said, and he decided to do something about it.

At the rally, Foster told the crowd, “One in four women will be abused, physically, at some point in their lives by someone they’re supposed to be able to trust — somebody they love who is supposed to love them but doesn’t.

“It cuts across lines of economy; it cuts across lines of race; it cuts across every line there is,” Foster said. “It happens in the rich neighborhoods. It happens in the poor neighborhoods.”

He said it is particularly prevalent in the Hispanic community, “where there are barriers to accessing services.”

“It’s a terrible thing in every society; it’s a terrible thing in our society. That’s the bad news,” Foster said.

The good news, the judge said, is that people and organizations in Faulkner County — from the court system to medical professionals — have formed the Community Oriented Coordinating Council.

It includes attorneys to provide limited free emergency services, a safety-plan subcommittee and more.

The council and others are “spreading the word that it’s not OK to hit somebody you’re supposed to love who can’t hit back,” Foster said.

The clothesline project displayed at the courthouse, and at the Central Fire Station next door when rain threatened, included 226 T-shirts representing women who were killed by their abusers in Arkansas during the past 10 years.

Foster will work with Furst, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson and Beth Goodrich, executive director of the Women’s Shelter of Central Arkansas, to retrieve the T-shirts representing women killed in Faulkner County and put the shirts on permanent display in the courthouse.

“We’re working with the coalition trying to arrange something that will be adequately sensitive. We don’t want to make a show out of it, but at the same time, these folks were in Faulkner County. I think they need to come home,” he said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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