Prior to founding Court Watch Montgomery, Co-Founders, Laurie Duker and Judy Whiton, worked as victim advocates, helping domestic violence victims file their petitions for protective orders and accompanying them to their hearings. They became increasingly concerned about the common practices by court personnel, including clerks, bailiffs, interpreters and judges, that left victims unsafe and with insufficient legal protection.
Laurie and Judy witnessed abusers and victims being routinely sent out of court at the same time, sometimes leading to victims being harassed and assaulted. A small number of judges, bailiffs, interpreters, and clerks poisoned the court process for desperate victims, leading victims to “drop out” of the process and return to dangerous relationships. Judges failed to tell abusers they had to turn in their guns, or that it is a crime to violate a protective order and they could be sent to jail for doing so. Judges rarely granted emergency financial support, which victims needed as a bridge to independence. They knew that change was needed in the courts in order to better safeguard victims.
Instead of working with individual victims, they established Court Watch Montgomery to push for systemic changes in our courts that could help every victim. They began by collecting data in court hearings, identifying troublesome processes, creating evidence-based reports, educating court personnel, and advocating for specific reforms. Laurie and Judy understood the value of building support among other peer organizations in the county and state and how that puts pressure on courts to institute important reforms. They believed that Court Watch could serve as a bridge between the courts and community to ensure comprehensive, coordinated services, and promote joint solutions for domestic violence victims.
Since 2010, Court Watch Montgomery's volunteers have spent thousands of observation hours in court each year. We successfully advocate for significant improvements in basic courthouse safety and judicial and court personnel demeanor, as well as increases in the judicial use of "best practices" that improve victim safety and sufficiency.