Bailiffs at the Van Nuys courthouse did not adequately protect a woman who was attending a divorce hearing in 1982, enabling her estranged husband to stab her and nearly kill her in a hallway outside a courtroom, the woman's attorney asserted Monday.
The woman, Blanca Winans, now 30, had been hiding from her husband at a Canoga Park shelter for battered women while she filed for divorce, attorney Leslie H. Greenfield said in his opening statement to a Van Nuys Superior Court jury. Winans is suing the county for an unspecified amount in damages.
Winans had a "rightful belief" that she would be safe if she appeared at the courthouse for the May 20 hearing, Greenfield said.
Her husband, Edward Winans Jr., now 43, attacked her with a pocket knife as she and her attorney waited for an elevator, Greenfield said. The woman's throat was slashed and she was stabbed in the chest during the attack, Greenfield said. She was in intensive care at a Sherman Oaks hospital for four days.
Husband Pleaded Guilty
The civil trial, which began Monday before Judge Thomas Schneider, is expected to last through next week.
Edward Winans pleaded guilty to attempted murder in 1982 and was sentenced to eight years in state prison, court records show. He will be eligible for parole this year.
Greenfield said Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, who serve as bailiffs at the courthouse, should have known from court records that Edward Winans had "dangerous propensities" and that his wife was in constant danger.
Greenfield said "fevers run high" in divorce court, and a bailiff should have been posted in the hall.
In addition, he claimed, the deputy assigned to the domestic relations courtroom was not there at the time of the attack and, therefore, was unable to respond immediately when Blanca Winans screamed. The delay allowed her husband to stab her a second time after she tried to flee, the attorney said.
Deputy County Counsel Marion E. Douglas, who is representing the county, countered in her opening statement that deputies are not routinely assigned to patrol courthouse hallways. She disputed Greenfield's account, saying that the deputy assigned to that court was at his post and responded immediately.
In fact, Douglas said, one of the bailiffs who answered Blanca Winans' screams received a citation for providing life-saving first aid at the scene.
"They acted quickly, they acted efficiently and they acted to save her life," Douglas said. "They see themselves as her rescuers."
Douglas argued that deputies could not have foreseen the attack.
"We don't know what was in Mr. Winans' mind. . . if he had a plan or if, after coming to court, he was overcome with emotion and on the spur of the moment did this terrible thing to Mrs. Winans," Douglas said.
Douglas told the jury that it is "common knowledge" that individuals who fear for their safety at the courthouse can receive a personal security escort and that Blanca Winans would have received extra protection if her attorney had asked for it.
Blanca Winans, now divorced and living in Encino, testified that she has recovered from her injuries but has "nasty scars."