Agenda for Change
Court Watch Montgomery works every day to build on our accomplishments and continue to expand access to justice for victims of domestic violence. We need your help to ensure that our Agenda for Change reforms how Maryland courts handle domestic violence cases. Visit Ways To Help!
Our Agenda For Change
✅ Civility And Assistance For Victims
✅ More Effective Legal Protections For Victims
✅ Increased Protections For Children
✅ Criminal Court Reforms That Reduce Re-Abuse
✅ Judicial Understanding Of Trauma And Best Practices
Initiative One: Safety At Every Courthouse
Court Watch Montgomery's first REPORT in 2011, highlighted the lack of safety measures utilized by the courts to protect victims seeking justice. We found that only 15% of the victims were protected from re-abuse by their abuser while in the court and upon leaving the courthouse.
Within two years after this initial report, judges were protecting 70% of victims by ordering the use of staggered exits. However, our data now shows that judges and bailiffs have gradually started to slide on the use of staggered exits. In 2017, judges staggered exits for only 45% of victims. That’s dangerous. Our data shows that many bailiffs in Montgomery County release abusers after as little as two minutes. Some local judges are now saying they do not have the right to hold anyone after the hearing.
Initiative Two: Civility And Assistance For Victims
6% of victims who were alone in court got financial support from the offender
37% of victims who had a victim advocate got financial support from the offender
40% of victims who had a lawyer present got financial support from the offender
A full 72% of domestic violence victims in Montgomery County face a judge in protective order court without the help of a lawyer. This group is less likely to get the essential protections they need to stay safe.
There are too few victim advocates based in Montgomery County courthouses, and no advocates at Montgomery County Commissioner Stations, where almost half of all victims fill out their petitions on weekends or evenings.
When a judge makes a biased remark or is rude to a victim they may never come back to court. That's dangerous.
Court Watch Montgomery's reports have documented problematic demeanor by clerks, bailiffs, interpreters, and judges. Our verbatim quotes from one very abusive judge and our request to testify about his behavior helped lead to his resignation from the bench.
Additional Court Watch reports have provided data that underscores the vital role of lawyers and court-based advocates, and identifies critical gaps in needed services in Maryland courts.
Initiative Three: More Effective Legal Protections For Victims
Too many domestic violence victims leave the court with empty or hollow protective orders. Our data shows that judges require far too few abusers to pay emergency financial assistance. Many judges tell victims to “come back later” to deal with money issues. Without immediate funds, victims often are forced to return to their abuser.
Most judge's order the abuser to have “no contact” with the victim, but then create broad exceptions (such as child exchange and unsupervised visitation). These exceptions permit – or even require – contact, without ensuring victims’ safety.
Our REPORT documented extensive problems with the current system for handling victim requests for emergency financial assistance. We provided many recommendations for improvements to make sure victims get the funds they deserve.
Court Watch led the effort for a safe visitation facility by documenting the need and advocating for its development. Its opening, in 2017, gives many victims with children their first real chance to have no contact of any kind with their abuser for the full year the protective order is in place.
Initiative Four: Increased Protections For Children
From 30% to 70% of parents who abuse their partner also abuse children in the home. From 2000 to 2015, 15 children from Montgomery County were killed in incidents related to intimate partner violence between their parents. The homicides usually occurred during unsupervised court-ordered visits.
Court Watch Montgomery's 2014 REPORT documented the risks associated with unsupervised child exchanges and visits and recommended the county open a safe visitation center. Within 48 hours of releasing our report, County Executive Ike Leggett set up a task force to evaluate our recommendation for a center. An additional report on child homicides helped build strong support for the center, and in 2017 the County Council approved the first large-scale child exchange and supervised visitation center in the county. Now judges need to require its use!
Initiative Five: Criminal Court Reforms That
When an abuser has access to a gun, the chances that a domestic violence victim will be killed rise 500%.
Judges aren’t doing enough in either civil or criminal court to find out if abusers have access to guns and to make sure that every abuser knows what they must do with their guns to comply with the law.
Prosecutors handling criminal domestic violence cases often cite lack of victim cooperation as the reason that they are unable to obtain convictions. Yet the prosecutorial system is not set up to support victims throughout a traumatic, time-consuming, sometimes expensive, criminal trial process. Some victims complain that they do a great deal to help prosecutors but cases are not pursued.
Our 2015 REPORT was the first to highlight the lack of gun-related enforcement provisions in Maryland laws affecting convicted abusers. Our report also showed that judges told only one out of 126 offenders that they were no longer eligible to buy or possess a gun.
In 2011, judges told only 32% of abusers with protective orders that they had to turn in their guns to law enforcement; today judges tell 80% of abusers to relinquish their weapons.
Another positive impact of our “Abusers with Guns” report will be seen October 1, 2018 when a new law takes effect that improves the process for getting guns out of the hands of convicted abusers.
Court Watch's data was also featured on a segment of "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," reaching over 1 million viewers.
Initiative Six: Judicial Understanding Of Trauma And Best Practices
After their initial training, judges in Maryland are not required to attend any domestic violence continuing education for the rest of their time on the bench. Although most judges are well versed in the law, many lack an understanding of how trauma impacts victim testimony or how to accurately assess victim and/or child safety. New “best practices” in the domestic violence field are developing rapidly, but adoption by individual judges is slow.
Court Watch has educated judges about numerous innovative courtroom practices that can help victims, practices that most judges were unaware of. We hold judges accountable for the rate at which they use each innovative practice. Our work has catalyzed dramatic increases in the rate at which judges use numerous best practices.
Initiative Seven: Judicial Accountability and Transparency
Maryland has no program or process to evaluate judges, a method endorsed by the American Bar Association, yet Maryland judges also serve some of the longest terms in the nation. Before Court Watch Montgomery, our state lacked a watchdog program that is essential to maintaining public trust, informing voters and helping judges improve.
Maryland courts collect a wide variety of data on civil and criminal domestic violence cases but much of it is not accessible to the public. This lack of transparency hampers public efforts to assess court performance or make data-driven policy decisions.