Davidson County’s first-ever Domestic Violence Court will start hearing cases on Sept. 2, according to Mayor Karl Dean. Additionally, the city will open an Advocacy Center in early September to provide a safe place for domestic violence victims going through the Davidson County court systems.
“Starting a specialized Domestic Violence Court and opening an Advocacy Center are significant steps forward to increase both the safety of domestic violence victims and accountability of offenders,” Mayor Dean said. “We know there is more work to be done, but I am proud of the aggressive steps Metro has already taken to better protect victims and their children and help them navigate the court systems.”
Many recommendations to improve Metro’s response to domestic violence outlined in a Safety and Accountability Assessment, which was released last September, have already been implemented.
Three General Sessions judges will rotate every four months throughout the year to hear cases in Domestic Violence Court. Judge Gale Robinson and Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton have been tapped to preside over Domestic Violence Court. Allegra Walker, who is unopposed in Division 4, is also slated to be a Domestic Violence Court judge.
The rotating of judges will allow the judges to take a break from some of the pressing and complex issues that are dealt with during domestic violence cases.
Also by having a court that only deals with domestic violence cases the judges will be able to focus more on the individual defenses to make sure they are getting the proper attention.
“You have to balance it. You don’t want to rush cases through the system…you want to give ample time and ample attention without having so much of a gap,” said Judge Dalton. “Those gaps can lead to the clients forgetting important details of the case or other issues.”
The courtroom will also be reconfigured so that victims do not have to stand beside their alleged offender when appearing before a judge, a current practice that was identified as a problem in the Safety Assessment. Rather, victims and offenders will be seated at separate tables on opposite sides of the courtroom.
A dedicated court docket for domestic violence can more efficiently process the large number of cases, develop expertise in the people who work on the docket and simplify the court process for victims.
The Advocacy Center is scheduled to open in early September, 2014 in the east wing of the Ben West Building.
The 3,300-square-foot area will be a safe place for victims to go on their court dates while waiting for their cases to be heard. Currently, alleged offenders often have access to the victims while waiting for the court proceeding, as victims end up standing in hallways or seated in the courtrooms.
The Advocacy Center will provide assistance to victims as they navigate their way through the criminal and civil court systems. While there, victims will meet with advocates trained to conduct needs and lethality assessments.
Advocates will also provide assistance with order of protection petitions and connect victims with resources and referrals. Computers will be available for victims to safely check emails or apply for jobs and benefits.
There will be a kitchen area with snacks, as well as a children’s play area, since many victims have no option but to bring their children with them to court.
Advocates and volunteers will be available to escort victims to the Domestic Violence Court when their cases are ready to be heard.
If they arrive at the courtroom and there is a delay, a Victim Witness Room is located next door to the Domestic Violence Courtroom for victims who do not want to wait in the courtroom where the alleged offender is present.
The creation of the Domestic Violence Court represents the first time Davidson County will have a General Sessions Court dedicated to dealing with a specific type of crime.
Other specialized General Sessions Courts in Davidson County include a Drug Court and Mental Health Court.
Combined with the opening of the Advocacy Center, the Domestic Violence Court will dramatically change the court experience for victims, providing them with greater support and safety measure.