What We Do 2018-07-09T14:27:46+00:00

What We Do

All of us at Court Watch Montgomery are working our hearts out to ensure that our accomplishments and our current and future work will continue to expand access to justice for victims of domestic violence. We’re not taking anything for granted. We need your help to ensure that our Agenda for Change will spur needed reforms in how the Maryland courts handle domestic violence cases.

Initiative One:  Safety At Every Courthouse

THE PROBLEM

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.

OUR IMPACT

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 their hearing.

NEXT STEPS

  • Court Watch is advocating for increased safety precaution training of all bailiffs and judges in Maryland.
  • We are pushing for a standardized Maryland court policy that enforces the consistent use of 15-minute staggered exits in all domestic violence courtrooms.
  • We are working on a report that will show the staggered exit implementation rate of each District Court judge.

Our goal of reaching 100% use of staggered exits to keep victims safe as they leave Maryland courthouses is attainable! Visit Ways To Help!

Courthouse Safety

Laurie Duker, CWM's Executive Director, recalls a case where the ex-husband of a domestic violence victim was ordered to pay child support. He followed his ex to her car and “beat the hell” out of her in the parking lot next to the Rockville District Courthouse.

Bailiffs let the parties go at the same time, instead of staggering exits so the victim had time to get safely to her car.

Another victim told CWM, "When I’m in court my whole body starts to shake inside. My hand's sweat. The words won’t come. I'm afraid that after this (hearing) he is going to come for me.”

Stories like these are what drive Court Watch's 70 volunteers every day as they attend domestic violence hearings in District and Circuit courtrooms and collect data documenting dangerous practices.

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

THE PROBLEM

When a judge makes a biased remark or rudely cuts off a victim’s testimony, that victim may never come back to court. When only 46% of victims in Montgomery County protective order court face the judge without an advocate or a lawyer, their chances to obtain the essential protections they need to stay safe is significantly reduced. That's dangerous.

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.

OUR IMPACT

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. Numerous reports have educated the courts on the vital role of court-based advocates, and how few exist in the Maryland court system.

NEXT STEPS

  • Court Watch is preparing a report based on data from over 2,000 hearings, on new demeanor problems at court, including rudeness, intimidating demands, inappropriate humor, and biased or victim-blaming remarks.
  • We are currently assessing how victims can best be helped when they come to a Commissioner Station to file a protective order or criminal charges.

Our agenda for increased civility and assistance in the court process will help empower victims!  Visit Ways to Help!

Initiative Three: More Effective Legal Protections For Victims

THE PROBLEM

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 IMPACT

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 it’s development. It’s 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.

NEXT STEPS

  • Court Watch is working to create a new norm at local courts that all protective orders should maintain across the board “no contact” between victims and their abusers – no exceptions.
  • We’re identifying troubling cases where families were unnecessarily put in dangerous situations, and “success stories,” where judges took the time to ensure a comprehensive “no contact” order.
  • We’re working with our coalition partners to simplify and improve the process by which victims obtain emergency financial assistance.

Achieving across-the-board “no contact” orders and transitional financial support for victims is 100% necessary to end domestic violence!  Visit Ways To Help!

Gail Pumphrey had a protective order against her husband in 2005 and another in 2007.  She had custody of the children in her divorce but the courts required her to exchange them with her ex-husband for unsupervised visits.

Gail was constantly fearful that he would harm her or the children. She tried to exchange the children at gas stations that had security cameras.

But on Thanksgiving Day, 2007, Gail’s husband insisted on exchanging the children at a park. He showed up to “pick up the kids for a visit” armed with a .22-caliber rifle that he used to kill Gail (43), David (12), Meagan (10), and Brandon (6).  He then turned the rifle on himself.

Initiative Four:  Increased Protections For Children

Violent domestic violence offenders generally don't make safe, nurturing parents but many judges act...as if one has nothing to do with the other.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Laurie Duker, Co-Founder and Executive Director

THE PROBLEM

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.

OUR IMPACT

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!

NEXT STEPS

  • Court Watch is studying new tools, protocols, and approaches that judges could use to better understand the potential dangers that unsupervised visitation may pose to children covered by a protective order.
  • Now that the Safe Passage Center is open, we’re closely monitoring whether judges are requiring dangerous respondents to have only supervised visits with their children.
  • Our next report will address how judges evaluate risk factors and how often they require the use of the facility.
  • Court Watch is documenting the need, and building support for two additional safe visitation centers to meet our county's high demand and bring services closer to home for residents in the Silver Spring and Germantown areas.

Help us protect all children from domestic violence! Visit Ways To Help!

Initiative Five: Criminal Court Reforms That
Reduce Re-Abuse

THE PROBLEM  

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.

OUR IMPACT

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 recently featured on a segment of "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," reaching over 1 million viewers.

NEXT STEPS

  • Court Watch is analyzing data collected in over 2,000 criminal domestic violence hearings to present an overview of what outcomes the State’s Attorney’s Office obtains in domestic violence cases.
  • We’re scouring the literature and best practices in other jurisdictions to identify innovative ideas that could increase victim participation in prosecutions.
  • We’re identifying multiple places in the criminal case process where victims need additional assistance to fully participate in trials.
  • Court Watch is interviewing survivors to learn first-hand their perceptions of the system.
  • Court Watch will collect data in criminal domestic violence hearings to assess whether the new gun law is being fully implemented.

Help us get guns out of the hands of abusers and assess the criminal prosecution system from the victims’ point of view. Visit Ways To Help!

 

Heather's McGuire's ex-husband had an extraordinary criminal record of abuse-related crimes. That should have made it impossible for him to purchase a gun. But, making use of a loophole, her husband was able to buy a gun online.

On the Saturday before Heather McGuire was killed, she went to a Rockville court commissioner and said she feared for her life. Her estranged husband, she said, threatened her and lurked outside her house. "This has been going on for many years and has been escalating," McGuire wrote in a criminal complaint. "My children believe he is gonna kill me."

Three days later, he used the gun to make good on his threat, killing Heather McGuire, the mother of his five children in 2012.

She was 36.

Police had arrested McGuire's husband twice the previous weekend before the murder. The judge had set a $57,000 unsecured bond after he heard the case, because the computer system was down and he could not see his criminal record. The Judge ordered him to stay away from his wife. He agreed but didn't keep that promise.

Initiative Six:  Judicial Understanding Of Trauma And Best Practices

THE PROBLEM

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.

OUR IMPACT

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.

NEXT STEPS

  • Court Watch is pushing for mandatory continuing education on domestic violence and sexual assault for all District Court judges in Maryland.
  • Court Watch is working to bring more local service providers into the courts to meet with judges and describe how their program could be useful to litigants before them in protective order or criminal domestic violence cases.
  • We’re continuing to encourage and facilitate tours of the Safe Passage Visitation Center for judges and family law lawyers.

Help us amplify our voice for "best practices" that protect domestic violence victims. Visit Ways To Help!

Initiative Seven:  Judicial Accountability and Transparency

THE PROBLEM

Maryland has no program or process to evaluate judges – a method endorsed by the American Bar Association. Maryland judges also serve what are believed to be the longest terms in the nation, and lacks a watchdog type of 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.

NEXT STEPS

  • Court Watch is studying model judicial accountability programs in other states and assessing their applicability to Maryland.
  • We’re providing a subcommittee of Maryland judges, who focus on domestic violence, with information on the types of data that we believe would be particularly useful for policymakers and for those attempting to assess court performance.

Help us make our courts fully accountable and transparent! Visit Ways To Help!