Thanks to some skilled grant writing, three attorneys are now on staff at SafeHouse of Seminole to help survivors of domestic abuse.
The Seminole County Victims’ Rights Coalition – the organization that operates SafeHouse of Seminole, the county’s emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence – has welcomed three attorneys into its fold to help survivors navigate the legal side of domestic abuse.
That means those seeking shelter at SafeHouse now have access to on-site legal experts who can help file restraining orders, pursue criminal charges, and prepare survivors for court proceedings. The legal advice is convenient, confidential, and completely complimentary for survivors who are actively under SafeHouse’s care.
Attorneys Matthew J. Colgrove, Annie Beljour, and Steven Sepulveres are all eager to help women, men, and children separate themselves from abusive situations and create a new, safe life.
“These attorneys are like the M.A.S.H. unit in court,” says Jeanne Gold, CEO of SafeHouse of Seminole, herself a former assistant state attorney who was division chief of the domestic violence division in Seminole and Brevard counties. “They file what they need to file and are very time-efficient.”
Jeanne is responsible for applying for the grant that brought this legal power to SafeHouse, which serves surviviors of physical harm, financial control, threats, or stalking. The new SafeHouse attorneys often work closely alongside other area legal-aid organizations to ensure all cases are prioritized and handled efficiently.
Annie Beljour thought she wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in criminology, a law degree at North Carolina State University, and has worked as a public defender, in family law, and in private practice.
At SafeHouse, Annie helps survivors understand the often-complicated legal system. It’s her job to help guide survivors through what can be a confusing, frustrating, and scary process.
“Survivors can contact me for advice via text message or meet with me at SafeHouse or the courthouse,” says Annie. “We’ve had meetings at hospitals. Whatever we need to do to keep them safe.”
The SafeHouse attorneys agree their ultimate goal is to ensure survivors have a voice and proper representation in court. And if there is one sure sign they are having an effect, says Annie, it’s that fewer alleged abusers are coming to court on their own anymore — because they know their survivors are more likely to have quality legal representation.
“Before, it was all parties representing themselves,” Annie says. “Now, we see a lot more alleged abusers with attorneys.”
Matthew Colgrove was a teacher for a decade before he decided to go to law school. For four years, he worked as a full-time teacher in Seminole County while attending Florida A&M University College of Law at night, also full time. He graduated with honors.
Matthew worked in estate planning and probate for a time, then worked as a SafeHouse of Seminole court advocate beginning in January 2017.
“I discovered I really liked the work I was doing,” Matthew says. “It was a great place to learn family law.”
Matthew finds fulfillment in helping people rise from one of their lowest points and, step-by-step, achieve a certain peace. He has three daughters and, at press time, a fourth daughter on the way.
Steven Sepulveres left a stressful position on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, where he worked for 17 years. He graduated from the Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center on Long Island, New York, and was admitted to the bar in 2011.
Steven worked in the area of foreclosures and real estate for a time before family law sparked his interest.
Steven and his fellow attorneys help an average of 50 new clients a month through SafeHouse, plus about 15 survivors who return each month.
“At certain periods of the month, we are representing scores of clients at once, and by month’s end, upwards of 65 clients will have received some form of legal advice and/or representation,” Steven says.
What he realized is that many domestic-abuse survivors need services beyond just the injunctions to keep their abusers away. Issues of divorce, bankruptcy, and slander often go along with domestic abuse, for example.
“We are like quarterbacks,” Steven says, describing the process of coordinating with other attorneys or advocacy groups to provide the best-possible service.
Strength in Numbers
Economic empowerment is another way in which SafeHouse of Seminole is seeking to help survivors, says Jeanne. She explains that some survivors have never had their own checking account, or received job training, or filled out a rental application by themselves. In addition, SafeHouse has also applied for a grant to establish a small home on its property for male domestic abuse survivors.
Whether survivors are male or female, Matthew says legal help is waiting for everyone.
“It’s all about leaving dangerous situations,” says Matthew. “Some are afraid to seek help as there are issues with immigration, for example. They can come here.”
Want More Information?