Judges want to create domestic violence court

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There's a new push to change how the courts in East Baton Rouge handle cases of domestic violence. The current system shuffles domestic violence victims and defendants through family court, criminal court, civil court, and sometimes city court, depending on details of the dispute.

Only two floors separate family court and criminal court, yet there is little coordination between the two.

In a meeting Wednesday, District Judge Don Johnson told his fellow criminal judges that a dedicated domestic violence court would give one judge the authority to handle all aspects of a domestic dispute.

"The judge can have unique authority to deal not only with the victim, but the offender, and what we're finding is, these are relationships for the most part. Relationships. How do you handle relations? You have to have both parties," Johnson said.

Family court Judge Pam Baker said the number of domestic violence cases on her docket has probably tripled since she first took the bench in 2007.

"I think that having a specific domestic violence court is a good idea. In family court we hear the protective orders. We hear the protective orders from married people, people that have lived together, have children in common, and dating violence. We hear all of that. In criminal court they handle the criminal side of it," Baker said. "I think it's an excellent idea because you want your judges, your prosecutors, and your attorneys to be trained specifically in recognizing what the danger signs are. What are signs of fatality?"

District Attorney Hillar Moore also supports the idea of a domestic violence court. At Wednesday's meeting he agreed to work with the judges to develop a plan.

Judge Johnson said he'd like to try a pilot program before asking for legislative approval and said building a coalition will be key.

"We need the stakeholders from law enforcement to come to the table. That's one. We need the District Attorney's office to come forward. That's two. We need the city prosecutor to come forward, that's the Mayor's office. That's three, and we need the judges to come together. Put us all at the table, have us to develop a model, but the community must ask us for it," Johnson said.

The hope is that better coordination between courts would allow for more thorough and consistent risk assessment of those accused of violent domestic abuse.

"We need to set up a system where the courts are better able to communicate with each other. I often don't know what's happening in criminal court. I don't know what's happening in city court. I think all of us judges, we recognize that's an issue," Baker said.

Since 1997, Louisiana has led the nation in the rate of domestic homicide, according to the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

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