Court Watching Pays Real Dividends

Eight months ago, I blogged about a promising domestic violence court watching project in Montgomery County MD.

Turns out the project has been a great success:

We’re very excited. Clearly there have been dramatic changes, and we are pleased with the progress,” said Laurie Duker, executive director of Court Watch Montgomery, which began using 25 courtroom observers last year to attend restraining-order hearings to critique judges and the system.

Some lapses noted in the group’s inaugural report in October remain. But the overall trend is good, and sometimes very good, according to the latest report, which cites progress in reducing risks to victims and in emphasizing to offenders the consequences of violating protective orders.

. . .

Judges and their staffs have made dramatic progress in the practice of staggering the departures of victims and offenders after hearings, the report says. Briefly delaying the departure of abusers gives victims a chance to leave court safely and reach transportation. In the latest review, the judges staggered departures in more than half of their cases, compared with 15 percent during the previous review.

The demeanor of judges also “improved significantly,” the report says. Six judges — up from three last year — had a perfect record of treating the parties to cases respectfully, the report says.

Among the lingering problems, the report says, were a judge who “regularly” started court at least 20 minutes late and two judges who used “rapid-fire questions” in a way that suggested that they were trying to push through agreements.

Part of the reason for the success was the clear message sent by judicial leadership.  From the original Post article announcing the project:

[Judge Eugene Wolfe, administrative judge for the county’s 11 district judges] said that he couldn’t comment on Court Watch’s findings until he read the report but that feedback could be helpful for judges. “I think you can learn things from that,” Wolfe said.

A model well worth duplicating, and not just in domestic violence.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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