THE ADDITION of seven new judges to the D.C. Superior Court bench has been the occasion for some changes in court organization. Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I announced Tuesday that two important shifts will made in the way the court handles cases that are of particular interest and concern to the public.
Social workers, physicians and some law-enforcement officials have always known that child abuse is a serious problem in this city. But until recently such cases were difficult to prosecute because the uncorroborated testimony of children was not admissible in court. The D.C. Council has now changed that law, and you are likely to see more charges brought to court and more cases proceeding to trial.
U.S. Attorney Joseph diGenova realizes that prosecutors handling child-abuse cases must have unusual expertise and that child witnesses in particular would have needs requiring special treatment. Mr. diGenova has increased the number of prosecutors chosen especially to handle these cases and announced that from now on each child-abuse case will be handled from start to finish by a single prosecuting attorney, a change that is intended to produce more efficiency, develop more expertise and encourage a closer relationship with the victim. In response to a suggestion made by the U.S. attorney, the courts will classify child- abuse cases in the same category as the most serious felonies, assigning these cases to three of the court's most experienced judges.
Judge Moultrie also announced a change in the handling of cases where the accused is being held in preventive detention. These defendants -- accused of violent crime committed while on probation or parole -- can be denied bail if a judge believes that their release would pose a danger to the community. But they must be brought to trial within 60 days. Under the new system, two highly regarded judges will be assigned to hear only these cases, which should enable the courts to handle the proceedings expeditiously and to meet deadlines. The addition of seven new judges, who will begin sitting on Nov. 18, will allow Judge Moultrie to assign three more judges to felony cases and one more to small claims court, where a recent increase in the jurisdictional limit is expected to add to the caseload.
It's clear that a great deal of thought and planning has gone into the setting of judicial priorities, and it's good that the addition of badly needed new judges makes these changes possible.