Court Watch uses data that our volunteers collect in courtrooms to document a wide range of court practices that limit the legal protection domestic violence victims deserve to stop their abuse. We identify innovative approaches in our own courtrooms and across the nation that better protect victims. We advocate for changes in court services, procedures, and practices with the courts, policymakers, community and the media.
We’re making lasting improvements in how our courts treat and protect domestic violence victims. Court Watch has made our local courts:
Local court officials used Court Watch data to successfully get more funds for additional bailiffs. Now victims wait for their hearings in a safe area where they can’t be harassed or intimidated. Maryland courts adopted our recommendation for a staggered exit policy. Now bailiffs in every County are taught to hold abusers for 10 minutes so victims can reach their transportation safely after hearings.
The incidence of clerks, bailiffs, interpreters or judges being rude to either party in a domestic violence case has dropped.
MORE EFFECTIVE AT STOPPING ABUSE
Judges are now more likely to explain all aspects of a protective order to both parties in language they can understand.
MORE CAREFUL ABOUT REMOVING WEAPONS
When a abuser has a gun, the chances of a victim being killed rises 500%. When Court Watch began in 2010, judges told only 30% of abusers with Final Protective Orders that they must turn in their guns. Today, judges tell 70% of abusers to turn in their guns. We won’t stop till all abusers are asked about whether they have guns and are told to turn them in.
In 2010, Laurie Duker and Judy Whiton had been helping domestic violence victims fill out papers in Montgomery County courts and accompanying them to their protective order hearings for over five years. They were increasingly upset by what they saw. No matter what they did for individual victims, common practices by clerks, bailiffs, interpreters and judges left victims unsafe and with insufficient legal protection.
In 2010, abusers and victims were routinely sent out of court within 6 feet of each other, leading to victims often being harassed and sometimes assaulted in a nearby parking lot. A small number of rude judges, bailiffs, interpreters and clerks poisoned the court process for desperate victims, who “dropped out” of the process and returned to dangerous relationships. Judges failed to tell abusers they had to turn in their guns, or that is a crime to violate a protective order and they could be sent to jail for doing so. Judges only rarely granted emergency financial support which victims needed as a bridge to independence.
Laurie and Judy knew that change was needed in the courts at the systemic level. They believed that data on was actually happening in domestic violence courtrooms, coupled with the stories of the victims involved, could create the needed momentum for systemic change in court policies.
Together, Laurie and Judy shifted gears. Instead of working with individual victims, they founded Court Watch Montgomery to push for systemic changes in our courts that could help every victim. Court Watch works toward the day when all domestic violence victims coming to court for legal protection are safe, treated with respect, and receive comprehensive legal protection that can help them stop their abuse permanently.
The Court Watch Board
Bonnie Beavers, Esq., Board President. Ms. Beavers is a Law Partner at Kleinfeld, Kaplan & Becker, LLP, Washington, D.C. (1986-present). In addition to chairing Court Watch Montgomery’s Board, Ms. Beavers monitors criminal domestic violence cases and works to get guns out of the hands of convicted domestic violence abusers. Ms. Beavers served previously as Part-time Executive Director for the National Association of Free Clinics, Washington, D.C. (2004-2006). She also served as Board Chair at Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church (760-member congregation).
Lillian Agbeyegbe, DrPH, CHES, CPH. Dr. Agbeyegbe is a Strategic Research Analyst at Polaris, a leading human trafficking organization. A public health practitioner with a focus on health education, advocacy and community collaboration, Dr. Agbeyegbe has worked on the issues of HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, women in homelessness, healthy housing and female genital mutilation.
John Ford, MA, Board Treasurer. Mr. Ford is General Manager of NPACT, the national trade organization serving the needs of producers of non-fiction media. NPACT members collectively produce the vast majority of all non-fiction content for US broadcast, cable television and digital platforms. Mr. Ford is an experienced media executive, tech/media investor and industry consultant, and also served as President and General Manager of Discovery Channel from 2007-2009.
Mary Silva, Leader, Court Watch Safe Visitation Team. Mary Silva led Court Watch’s campaign for the first county-funded Safe Passage Center to protect domestic violence victims and their children during court-ordered visitation. She oversees Court Watch’s efforts to ensure that Montgomery County judges require use of the new visitation Center in dangerous protective order cases. Ms. Silva has been active in numerous state-wide campaigns including work on ground-breaking firearms legislation in the Maryland General Assembly. She previously served as Director of the Federal Job Corp program at the Department of Labor under President Clinton.
Judy Whiton, Court Watch Co-Founder, Emeritus Board member. Leader, Court Watch Criminal Domestic Violence Monitoring Team. Ms. Whiton spent extensive time in Montgomery County courtrooms as a court companion for domestic violence victims prior to co-founding Court Watch Montgomery. Ms. Whiton now oversees Court Watch’s team of volunteers who collect data in over 500 criminal domestic violence cases each year to identify barriers to access to justice for victims. Ms. Whiton previously served as Co-Chair of the Montgomery County Victim Services Advisory Board.
Court Watch Staff
Laurie Duker, MBA, MS. Co-Founder and Executive Director.
Ms. Duker has nurtured Court Watch from a tiny all-volunteer organization to a thriving non-profit organization with clout that is increasing access to justice for domestic violence victims across the state and providing a model for communities across the nation. Ms. Duker previously has worked as a Victim Advocate for Montgomery County’s Abused Persons Program, a Conservation Biologist at LakeNet; a Violence Prevention Program Officer at Children’s Safety Network and a Lobbyist for Common Cause.
Amy Kass, Volunteer Coordinator. Ms. Kass oversees recruitment, initial and continuing education, and coordination of over 70 local volunteers. Expertise in training and group facilitation. Ms. Kass has also worked as a consultant for social service agencies as an employment coach, domestic violence victim advocate, bilingual community health educator, and advocate for the Latino community and minority at-risk populations.