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Justice John Leventhal brings attention to domestic violence with new book

June 15, 2016 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Justice John M. Leventhal has written a book about his experience sitting on the bench of the first felony Domestic Violence Court in the country. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese

The city of New York and the country in its entirety have made great strides when it comes to domestic violence over the past two decades, but both still have a long way to go, according to Justice John M. Leventhal.

Leventhal was the first judge to preside over the first felony Domestic Violence Court in the nation, and he has authored a book on the subject, titled “My Partner, My Enemy: An Unflinching View of Domestic Violence and New Ways to Protect Victims,” that hit bookstores on June 16.

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“This is a subject that comes up in epic proportions when there are cases like the O.J. Simpson case or the Galina Komar case, and then it fades in the background until a case like Ray Rice brings it up again,” Leventhal said. “I wanted to bring dramatic attention to it. I don’t want to sensationalize it, but it’s a very important topic.”

In the book, Leventhal discusses the scope of the problem, which he refers to as an epidemic. He explains why there was a need for a felony Domestic Violence Court and goes into detail about some of the cases, making suggestions on how to improve the laws to better protect victims of domestic violence.

The late Chief Judge of New York State Judith Kaye, who Leventhal refers to as “the mother of problem-solving courts,” had the chance to review the book before her passing. She noted that even with her experience, the book was a “gripping, emotional, heart-wrenching education in the scourge of domestic violence.” She went on to say that the stories of the people who went in front of Leventhal in the court made the book truly compelling.

“There is no substitute for actually meeting the participants — victims, batterers, families — who Judge Leventhal powerfully brings to life as he tells a wide variety of tragic stories,” Kaye wrote in her review. “They give true meaning to the gratitude we feel for what’s been accomplished, and the genuine urgency for us all to do much more. The answer to ‘What’s the solution?’ begins with ‘Read this book.’”

Leventhal explained to the Brooklyn Eagle that he didn’t hesitate to include some of the gory details contained in his book, but did admit that the cases weighed heavily on him, and he tried to quit the court after his first two years. He explained that it was a conversation with Chief Judge Kaye that kept him from walking away.

“It’s a difficult subject,” Leventhal said of domestic violence. “I had murders, attempted murders, tortures, assault. They asked me to do it for a year, so after two years, I was thinking of leaving. Judge Kaye came to visit me; I told her I was leaving to go into a different area, because these people, who are intimately in love with each other, are causing extreme violence. She asked me to stay on; I told her I’d think about it, and I ended up doing it 10 more years after that.”

Leventhal offered much credit to Kaye for creating the court; after her death in January of this year, he amended the book’s dedication page to include her.

The toughest part of writing the book, Leventhal explained, was writing the final chapter on what to do with the perpetrators of domestic violence. He said that there is a limit to what the courts can do and asserted that until attitudes and male entitlement are changed, the problem will ultimately not be solved.

“The problem has lessened somewhat from 1994 to 2010,” Leventhal said. “It’s still epidemic proportions. My court started in 1995. I’m not saying that we’re the reason for change, but there has been greater awareness of the problem since about that time. Some people think it is learned behavior. Well, if it is learned, it can be unlearned, and people paying attention to it may stop.”


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