“WHAT HAPPENS in domestic violence courtrooms changes lives.” So begins the latest report from a nonprofit that sends volunteers into Montgomery County courts to monitor how civil and criminal domestic violence cases are handled. Instead of adhering to the usual pattern of highlighting problems and shortcomings, this new report spotlights instances in which the courts get it right. It’s good to know there are judges, clerks and other court personnel employing innovative ways to help make victims of domestic abuse and their children safer. They should inspire others to follow their lead.
“Small Actions, Big Impacts” is the title of the June 27 report released by Court Watch Montgomery that documents the interactions of court personnel with parties in protective order cases at district court. The report is the result of data collected over three years and, in addition to detailing practices that enhance the safety of victims and their children, looks at new ways to deal with the accused and to empower victims to become self-sufficient.
Among the practices singled out: a judge who advised a woman who obtained a protective order that she also should talk to an advocate about devising a safety plan and changing her locks; a judge who took the time to talk to a mother whose child had witnessed violence and told her about a special counseling program for youths; and a judge who catalogued the make, model and location of firearms owned by the respondent that needed to be turned over to the sheriff’s office. The report also looked at ways clerks, bailiffs and interpreters can help. “Every single person in court that a victim comes in contact with can make a difference,” said Court Watch Montgomery Executive Director Laurie Duker.
The noteworthy actions occurred in fewer than half the cases where there were monitors. But Court Watch Montgomery hopes that giving them attention will lead to their replication. “One judge doesn’t get to hear what the other judges are doing, so this is a great way of sharing promising approaches,” Ms. Duker told WTOP’s Kate Ryan. It is encouraging, then, that John P. Morrissey, the chief judge of the Maryland District Court, has already moved to circulate the report statewide.