Judges Attend Crucial Domestic Violence Training

National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Training Valuable for Georgia Judges

In 2011, 108 Georgia citizens lost their lives to domestic violence.  Georgia ranks sixth in the nation for the rate of men killing women in single victim-offender incidents.  While domestic violence organizations work to stop these deaths, it is crucial for all parties to see how they can prevent such tragedies.   Judges in Georgia have shown leadership on this issue – leading local task forces, chairing the Commission on Family Violence, advocating for better laws at the Capitol, and implementing best practices in their courtrooms. And, increasingly, Georgia judges are taking the initiative to obtain national training on domestic violence from the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ).

The Georgia Commission on Family Violence and ICJE collaborated to bring NCJFCJ trainers to the Council of Superior Court Judges Winter Conference held on January 18-20 in Athens, GA.  Additional opportunities to bring NCJFCJ domestic violence training to Georgia are being investigated.

Chief Judge Arch W. McGarity, Flint Judicial Circuit, and Judge M. Cindy Morris, Conasauga Judicial Circuit, took some time to talk about their motivations and experiences with the domestic violence training.
 
As an experienced jurist, what motivated you to attend additional training on domestic violence?

Morris: I have had an interest in domestic violence cases throughout my career and wanted to know how I, as a judge, could improve my skills in handling these cases.

McGarity: Due to repeat filings by the same individuals, I felt that I needed to reassess my understanding of the dynamics of family violence to better utilize available resources more efficiently and effectively.
 
What was the most valuable aspect of the domestic violence training you attended?

McGarity: Identifying true domestic violence from other violence in the household and learning about the value of post-hearing counseling were the two most valuable aspects to me. The presenters were well prepared and sincere in their interest in reducing domestic violence.

Morris: The training was done from a judge's perspective and focused on maintaining one's role as fair and impartial while also being aware of the unusual dynamics in family violence cases.  
 
Did any parts of the training surprise you?

Morris: Given my experience, I was surprised at how relatively little I knew and how much I had to learn.

McGarity: The intensity level.

What was your biggest take away from the training?

McGarity: The need for the judiciary to be proactive in ensuring the respondent’s compliance with post-hearing counseling. I also think we need to encourage government entities to continue funding domestic violence advocates because their assistance is essential in the proper presentation of a victim’s petition and court appearance.

Morris: It really drove home the point that the terms and enforceability of our orders in family violence cases are extremely important and need to be carefully considered on a case-by-case basis. It also helped me understand the importance of the defendant's compliance with Family Violence Intervention Program (“FVIP”) attendance. Unfortunately, we see a lot of family violence cases and, given the volume, it was easy for me to slip into seeing them as somewhat routine. This training renewed my perspective and re-energized me. I came back with a greater sense of purpose in family violence cases, and I hope I am a better judge for it.
 
Are you doing anything differently since attending the NCJFCJ training? Have you made any changes in your courtroom?

McGarity: I am now mandating compliance hearing for all respondents ordered to family violence intervention programs.

Morris: With the assistance of our prosecutors, public defenders, and probation officers, I have started having defendants in criminal domestic cases report for status updates on their FVIP attendance. So far, this has been well received and has improved overall compliance with the terms of their probation.   
 
Would you recommend the NCJFCJ training to other judges? If so, why?

Morris: I would absolutely recommend this to other judges. It was a great learning experience on many levels and there was not a dull moment. There were only 50 judges in the class, but they were from all over the United States with a variety of backgrounds. The class was divided into small groups and was very interactive. We learned not only from the knowledge of the trainers, but also from the perspectives brought by other judges in our groups. 

McGarity: Yes. This would help achieve consistency in courtrooms in dealing with family violence petitions.
 
For information about upcoming domestic violence training from NCJFCJ go to http://www.ncjfcj.org/conference-training/calendar. Scholarships are available on a limited basis.
 
Judge Morris has been a Superior Court Judge since 2002. She graduated from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law and has practiced as a civil attorney as well as an assistant district attorney. She also was Special Assistant to the Attorney General for the Office of Child Support Enforcement and is a trained neutral. Judge Morris has served on the Board of Directors for the Northwest Georgia Family Crisis Center for 12 years and is active in the local domestic violence task force.
 
Judge McGarity graduated from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law and has been a Superior Court judge since 1995. He is a past president of the Council of Superior Court Judges, served as a judicial representative on the Georgia Superior Court Clerks Cooperative Authority , and has been a member of the Judicial Council since 2010.

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