Domestic violence agency accused of sexual discrimination

PARKERSBURG – Despite being the victim, a Wood County man alleges an anti-domestic violence service agency provided assistance to his abuser.

The Family Crisis Intervention Center is named as a co-defendant in a sexual discrimination suit filed by Eric Starcher. In his complaint filed July 11 in Wood Circuit Court, Starcher, 36, of Parkersburg, alleges after filing a domestic violence protective order against his estranged wife, Kathy Swearingen Starcher, FCIC aided her strictly on the basis of gender.

According to his suit, Starcher sought an emergency protective order against Kathy on June 5 in Wood Magistrate Court. Though the details of why he was seeking the protective order are not stated, it was, nevertheless, granted, and set for a final hearing on June 14 in Wood Family Court.

The day prior to the hearing, Starcher says he went to FCIC for assistance, and was referred to Leigh Marcham, a legal advocate. When he approached her, Marcham declined to speak with Starcher saying "'I'm really busy today.'"

However, Marcham was aware the hearing was scheduled for 1 p.m. the next day, and pledged to meet with him 20 minutes before it. When he did, Starcher says he was shocked to discover Marcham meeting with Kathy.

Once the hearing started, Starcher says he was further dismayed when Marcham began acting as Kathy's advocate, and not his, going as far as to sit at her side of the table, and "introducing and handing evidence to the judge." In his suit, Starcher avers that Kathy has not "made any accusations of abuse of any kind, through the police, sheriff, magistrate or any other court."

Following the hearing, Starcher maintains Marcham continued to "coach up" Kathy by taking her to Legal Aid of West Virginia to get free legal assistance on how to file for divorce, and petition for child custody. This was done despite Kathy failing to meet Legal Aid's financial guidelines.

According to his suit, Starcher says he sought assistance from FCIC to help resolve the issues both he and their child have with Kathy. Instead, he says FCIC, and Marcham has not only driven their family further apart, but also has created victims instead of representing them.

Sometime following the hearing, Starcher says he spoke with Sharon Lynch, FCIC's interim director, about taking Kathy's side instead of his. According to the suit, Lynch admitted "she could not recall Marcham ever representing a male in the same capacity as an advocate of a victim."

Because they "lied to and manipulated" him, Starcher says FCIC, and Marcham, who is named as a co-defendant in the suit, have failed in their mission of "support[ing] social change that will result in non-violent relationships, homes and communities." Also, the services FCIC provides are "clearly geared for female assistance and not for male assistance, and, by omission, makes it clear that there [sic] stance is that a male involved in any situation involving violence or abuse is always the offender."

Along with sexual discrimination, Starcher makes claims against FCIC and Marcham for fraudulent misrepresentation, breech of verbal contract and constitutional violations. He seeks unspecified damages, attorneys fees and court costs.

Starcher is representing himself. The case is assigned to Judge J.D. Beane.

According to its Web site, FCIC was founded in 1977 to provide domestic violence services, including legal advocacy, counseling and support, to people in Calhoun, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler, Wirt and Wood counties. In 1981, it expanded its services to include a shelter.

Though a non-profit organization, FCIC's programs are partially funded though state and federal funds. It is one of 15 programs licensed by the state Department of Health and Human Resources to provide domestic violence services.

Wood Circuit Court case number 12-C-295

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