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Program Aims to Halt Conflicts in Domestic Violence OrdersJune 02, 2004
Kitsap County Courts to Pilot a National First:(June 3-Kitsap County) In what could serve one day as a model program for courts across the nation, Kitsap County Courts today announced an effort to improve protection for domestic violence victims and decrease confusion for law enforcement officers. The Kitsap County District Court and the YWCA of Kitsap County have embarked on a model project to eliminate conflicts when two or more domestic violence orders are issued involving the same people. The project will ensure the strictest protection orders take precedence, and that those orders are more clearly enforceable. The District Court and YWCA were awarded a $139,199 grant for two years under a federal grant to encourage arrest policies and enforcement of protection orders. The project was developed by the Kitsap County Trial Court Coordination Council, a council made up of each level of Court established in Kitsap and other counties at the recommendation of statewide court officials to better coordinate resources among courts and to solve problems unique to each county. "When a victim of domestic violence walks into a Kitsap County courthouse, we want to assure that they are protected to the fullest extent of the law," said Kitsap District Court Presiding Judge James Riehl in announcing the new program. Stating that conflicting domestic violence orders issued from different courts for the same parties has been an issue for a number of years, Riehl explained the day-to-day issues that officers and court face throughout the State of Washington, and the nation. "No court has jurisdiction over the other, yet all of the orders are valid. It is an absolute built-in inconsistency that we are searching to remedy," he explained. The project involves a half-time court clerk who will be responsible for reviewing all domestic violence orders issued in Kitsap Superior and District courts and all municipal courts in the county. If the clerk finds multiple orders involving the same parties, with conflicting provisions in the orders, the case will be referred for a hearing to a part-time judicial officer designated specifically to settle conflicts among orders from different jurisdictions. Riehl will serve as the "Unified Domestic Violence Order Judge," authorized to rescind conflicting orders, resolve any conflicting provisions and incorporate them into one order. Domestic violence orders can be issued by superior, district and municipal courts, and such cases frequently involve multiple issues that are handled at different court levels with different authority. An audit in December 2003 showed that approximately 1,050 domestic violence orders were in effect in Kitsap County, and nearly half were multiple orders. Approximately two-thirds of the multiple orders contain inconsistent provisions. Police can be called by one party to enforce one court order (involving child visitation, for instance), while the other party has an order with different provisions. Under the new program, criminal protection or restraining orders will take precedence over civil orders. In cases where orders are all criminal, the most restrictive orders will take precedence. "It's a unique project aiming to streamline extremely complicated legal issues," said Riehl. While the project has taken nearly a year to plan, Riehl says the immediate benefit for victims of domestic violence in his county and possible replications of the program statewide and nationally will be well worth the effort. "It will reduce confusion by the parties, frustration by law enforcement and ultimately enhance protection for victims of domestic violence. We owe it to the community to do this!" "This was a problem we were all aware of," said Kitsap YWCA Director Linda Joyce. "Judge Riehl just seems to have his finger on the pulse of what's happening in our county. His leadership has been instrumental in this. The partnership between the courts and law enforcement and the schools and the community is something we're very proud of." CONTACT: Judge James Riehl, Presiding Judge of Kitsap County District Court, (360) 337-7033; Kitsap District Court Administrator Maurice Baker, (360) 337-4959; YWCA Legal Advocacy Program Director Debbie Brockman, (360) 479-0522; YWCA Legal Advocate Susan Dewees, (360) 479-0522.
Program Aims to Halt Conflicts in Domestic Violence Orders
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