Today was the conclusion of the National Leadership Summit on State Court Responses to Domestic Violence, where 38 states sent teams to build collaboration so that courts can do a better job for those they are charged to protect. I feel very good about the plans we have made for Texas, but wanted to share highlights from the address by Professor Sarah Buel, formerly of UT Law School and a hero of the domestic violence movement. She outlined nine simple steps that courts can take to improve conditions for victims of violence:
1. Provide a safe waiting area. One example, Judge Denton in Travis County gave up most of his own office space so a safe area could be created.
2. Provide signage and informational brochures in the waiting area. Examples are available at www.instituteforsafefamilies.org. Safety plan information should be provided with every victim contact; see www.abanet.org/domviol.
3. Train designated DV clerks and court staff.
4. Provide a pre-court briefing for victims and accused batterers so they will know what to expect in the hearing. Travis County uses volunteers for Project Options, and UT has a survivor support network, see www.utexas.edu/ors/dvssn.
5. Seat victim and accused on opposite sides of the courtroom to prevent witness tampering (an area of particular emphasis for Professor Buel).
6. Let the victim leave court 30 minutes before the batterer.
7. Use volunteers for everything - to help the clerks, help probation staff, monitor halls (to watch out for tampering), provide the pre-court briefing, keep brochures supplied, etc.
8. Have court staff participate in a local domestic violence task force.
9. Support a court culture that prioritizes model practices.