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Local advocates for domestic violence victims report improvement in courtrooms

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Small things are making a big difference in the lives of victims of domestic violence, a Montgomery County watchdog group says.

“Every single person in court that a victim comes in contact with can make a difference,” said Laurie Duker, co-founder of Court Watch Montgomery.

In the group’s latest report issued this week, Court Watch details ways that judges, clerks, bailiffs and interpreters help make victims of domestic abuse and their children safer.

Duker calls them “promising practices,” adding that some judges are thinking more about what happens outside the courtroom.

“One judge talked to a mom whose child had witnessed a horrific incident and he asked her if she’d heard about a great kids’ counseling program … he took the time to give her a brochure,” Duker said. “She might have easily walked out of court without ever knowing that her child could get help.”

In another case, a judge spotted a situation that could have been made tougher on a victim. Duker was in that courtroom, and says that the victim had bandages on both hands from a knife attack at the hands of her accused abuser.

“She was shaking like a leaf, and both she and her assailant needed a Spanish interpreter,” she said.

At first, the interpreter told the woman to come closer and she would be able to translate, but Duker says that would have put the victim within about a foot of her accused abuser. Instead, the judge suggested they use headsets.

“So everyone could hear, and everyone could feel safe,” Duker said.

Duker says the “promising practices” Court Watch Montgomery monitors observed included ways to help the accused as well. Judges took time to make clear the requirements of their protective orders and set parameters to minimize conflict while referring the accused to programs designed to help them, including anger management and treatment programs.

In the past, Court Watch Montgomery has cast a critical eye at the courts, but Duker says the recent report spotlights the positive interactions between court staffers and victims.

“We wanted to look at all the things they do right,” she said, referring to court house staff.

Duker says the positive changes her group sees happened in less than half the cases where Court Watch Montgomery monitors were present, but that by giving them attention, those best practices could perhaps be shared.

“One judge doesn’t get to hear what the other judges are doing, so this is a great way of sharing promising approaches,” Duker said.

The report issued on June 27 (seen below) doesn’t offer statistics but spotlights anecdotes recorded by Court Watch Montgomery monitors.

Court Watch Montgomery’s report on innovative approaches in domestic violence cases

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