Domestic Violence and Youth at Risk

Each quarterly issue of the Judges Journal , the official publication of the Judicial Division, American Bar Association, emphasizes a particular theme of interest and concern to the judiciary. The Summer 2007 issue, Volume 46 Number 3 is devoted primarily to matters related to domestic violence and youth at risk. The following is an overiew of the various articles and other features included. I am grateful to Steven Essig, our professional law librarian intern for special projects for his able assistance in compiling this material.

Domestic Violence and Youth at Risk
BY Steven Essig
Introduction – Pamela J. Brown, Judge in the District Court for Maryland of Howard County, and chair of the ABA’s Commission on Domestic Violence “Judges Can Help Break the Cycle of Domestic Violence and Its Impact on At-Risk Youth.”

Notes that “studies have shown that children from violent homes are more likely to be victims of violence themselves, to commit violence themselves as teens and adults, to have a higher interaction with the criminal justice system, and to have a much higher likelihood of negative adult health consequences.”

While several “helplines” have been launched, as well as more local informational programs, “the best mechanism available to end and prevent further violence in the lives of our youth is to ensure meaningful access to the justice system. But without the appropriate resources and knowledge, judges will be unable to best address the needs of youth victims, which could lead to fatal results. A host of special considerations apply to cases involving teens. Many times, the abuser attends the same school as the victim. How do you protect the teen, both during normal school hours and at school activities? How do you stress to a teen victim the importance of having a plan to stay safe? And how do federal and state statues address teen dating violence?” The ABA calls for localities to enact legislation that will allow teens to obtain civil protection orders against their abusers, and has itself developed a “checklist and set of tips for lawyers handling teen violence cases”.

Features: “Comprehending the Link between Domestic Violence and Children: An Interview with Mary Beth Buchanan”. Robin Runge, Director of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence, interviews Mary Bay Buchanan, acting director of the Office of Violence Against Women about her office’s work “addressing the impact of domestic violence on children.” Buchanan is also the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

When asked about the “unique challenges that the legal system faces in providing support and assistance to children who are victims of domestic violence”, Buchanan responds that they include “a lack of coordination, lack of training, and lack of resources … If domestic violence programs and child welfare agencies are working in opposition, if the family court is unaware of pending criminal cases against a particular family, if probation and parole are not focusing on holding the batterer accountable, the victims do not get the appropriate response.” Also, “victims need access to services, including civil legal services. Judges report that most parties now appearing in civil cases lack legal counsel. Frequently, one party might have an attorney, and more likely than not, this will be the batterer, who commonly has greater access to economic resources. Furthermore, victims in criminal cases frequently lack competent legal advice on what civil remedies they might pursue for safety, housing, or economic assistance. Children exposed to domestic violence, in addition to requiring a strong relationship with with the nonviolent parent, need access to mental health assessment and services with respect to the impact of violence. In most communities, these resources are sparse or do not exist.”

“A Model Response to Truancy Prevention: The Louisville Truancy Court Diversion Project” by Hon. Joan L. Byer and Jeffrey A. Kuhn. “The Lousiville Truancy Court Diversion Project is a national model that can help prevent juvenile delinquency and help establish and preserve safe and permanent homes for children. Judge Joan Byer and Jefferey Kuhn describe the history and methodology for the project’s implementation.”

“It cannot be overstated that truancy often arises from multifaceted familial conditions that require a multifacted response. The identification and treatment of underlying causes of truancy through the courts can be greatly enhanced when the court with jurisdiction over the truancy matter can assert jurisdiction over dissolution, domestic violence, child protection, or substance abuse issues. Therefore, a family court or juvenile court judge with jurisdiction over an array of family matters, coupled with the ability of the court to coordinate proceedings and integrate service delivery for families, is well positioned to respond to family service needs that are identified through a truancy prevention program.”

“Changing the Judiciary’s Relationship with a Community One Child at a Time” by Martha Stone and Emily Breon. The Truancy Court Prevention Project (TCPP) in Hartford, CT involves a wide range of services and mentoring to at-risk youth including the participation of judges. There is also case monitoring from social service agency represntatives. The program has had a noticeable success rate in reducing truancy, and has helped the participating judges better understand the circumstances that these youth confront in their daily lives, ranging from family problems and pressures, lack of transportation, school resources etc. The judges feel that as a result they have become better judges, and had a benificial impact on the lives of the young people that they deal with.

“Restorative Justice for Youth at Risk” by Hon Sophia H. Hall, presiding judge of the Resource Section, Juvenile Justice and Child Protection Department, Circut Court of Cook County, IL. “Restorative justice is a growing movement with enormous potential that focuses on reconciliation instead of recrimination. The core of the movement’s philosophy is that judges are in a unique position to support the various players within a community who can help youth at risk before they become deeply involved in the justice system.”

“Obsessive Teenage Love: The Precursor to Domestic Violence” by Hon. Amy Karan and Lisa Keating. ” It is estimated that one in three teens has experienced violence in a dating relationship. Thankfully, many programs exist to help eradicate teen dating violence. Through early education and prevention, judges can work with partents and schools to give victims and abusers a way to find help”.

This article also details the signs one can look for to recognize a pattern of abuse, the cycle of violence and how it can repeat itself, and, by contrast, defines what a healthy dating relationship might look like.

“Erie Earn-It Program, Inc.: A Successful Collaborative Restitution Program for Juveniles at Risk” by Hon. Stephanie Domitrovich. “Judge Stephanie Domitrovich describes the history and methodology of the Erie Earn-It Program, Inc., to help inspire other judges to work within their communities to develop programs to teach juvenile offenders employment, vocational, academic, and social skills while they reimburse their victims.” Describes the restitution program of Erie, PA including the code of conduct to which all participating juvenile offeners must subscribe. It has also encouraged other collaborative projects to help rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

“Hip Hop And Youth at Risk” by Cleveland Prince. “The author purports that while some rap music is positive, the genre is saturated with negative images, stereotypes and excesses that tend to influence our young people. He encourages leaders to address the effects that hip hop music has on our youth with the same fervor sparked by Don Imus’s rant on the Rutgers women’s basketball team.” This is more of an opinion piece than most of the other articles in this issue, with less of a purely legal focus. The author is a probation manager in Santa Clara County who deals directly with gang members and gang violence, and thus represents an interesting “hands-on” cultural perspective from what could be seen as “inside the trenches” (quotation mine).

“E-Discoveryand Pretrial Conferences: A Primer for Lawyers and Judges” by Richard N. Lettieri and Hon. Joy Flowers Conti. “Electronically Stored Information (ESI) has become the predominant source of evidence in civil lawsuits. Judges, lawyers, and litigants should work together form the outset of litigation to understand the potential discovery issues that could relate to ESI.” This includes the perspectives of both a lawyer and a judge on this issue, including questions of data accessibility, confidentiality of documents, preservation and waiver of work product protectiion among other concerns unique to this format.

“Standing Columns”:

“Judicial Ethics: “Discussing the Judicial Code is Like Discussing Religion” by Hon. Cara Lee Neville. “The latest version of the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct was passed by the House of Delegates in February 2007. It only took 3 1/2 years of study, rewriting, and nine public hearings to sort through the thousands of pages of proposals and critiques by lawyers, judges, interest groups, nonprofits, citizens, the media, and law professors.” Several of the new rules are elaborated and discussed.

“Technology: “The Lack of Effort to Insure Integrity and Trustworthiness of Online Legal Information and Documents” by Hon. Herbert B. Dixon, Jr. “Judge Herbert Dixon cautions that as more and more courts and agencies institutionalize the use of electronic filing and the maintenance of records, the courts will need to address certain lurking issues to ensure the integrity and trustworthiness of legal documents.” In particular, this article refers in great depth to the findings of a recent study from the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) entitled State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources which seeks to investigate how trustworthy are state-level primary legal resources on the web.

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