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Mayor Announces First-Ever Domestic Violence Court to Start Sept. 2

8/5/2014

Advocacy Center to Open in Early September with Six Domestic Violence Advocates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Mayor Karl Dean today announced Davidson County’s first-ever Domestic Violence Court will start hearing cases on Sept. 2. Additionally, the city will open an Advocacy Center in early September to provide a safe place for domestic violence victims going through the Davidson County court systems.

“Starting a specialized Domestic Violence Court and opening an Advocacy Center are significant steps forward to increase both the safety of domestic violence victims and accountability of offenders,” Mayor Dean said. “We know there is more work to be done, but I am proud of the aggressive steps Metro has already taken to better protect victims and their children and help them navigate the court systems.”

Many recommendations to improve Metro’s response to domestic violence outlined in a Safety and Accountability Assessment, which was released last September, have already been implemented.

Domestic Violence Court

The creation of the Domestic Violence Court represents the first time Davidson County will have a General Sessions Court dedicated to dealing with a specific type of crime. Other specialized General Sessions Courts in Davidson County include a Drug Court and Mental Health Court.

Three General Sessions judges will rotate every four months throughout the year to hear cases in Domestic Violence Court. Judge Gale Robinson and Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton have been tapped to preside over Domestic Violence Court. Allegra Walker, who is unopposed in Division 4, is also slated to be a Domestic Violence Court judge.

Domestic Violence Court will be held in Courtroom 4-B in the Justice A.A. Birch Building at 408 Second Avenue North. Currently, domestic violence cases are heard in seven different courtrooms, and domestic violence jail dockets are heard by all 11 General Sessions judges.

The courtroom will be reconfigured so that victims do not have to stand beside their alleged offender when appearing before a judge, a current practice that was identified as a problem in the Safety Assessment. Rather, victims and offenders will be seated at separate tables on opposite sides of the courtroom.

A dedicated court docket for domestic violence can more efficiently process the large number of cases, develop expertise in the people who work on the docket and simplify the court process for victims.

Combined with the opening of the Advocacy Center, the Domestic Violence Court will dramatically change the court experience for victims, providing them with greater support and safety measures.

Advocacy Center

The Advocacy Center is scheduled to open in early September, 2014 in the east wing of the Ben West Building. The 3,300-square-foot area will be a safe place for victims to go on their court dates while waiting for their cases to be heard. Currently, alleged offenders often have access to the victims while waiting for the court proceeding, as victims end up standing in hallways or seated in the courtrooms.

The Advocacy Center will provide assistance to victims as they navigate their way through the criminal and civil court systems. While there, victims will meet with advocates trained to conduct needs and lethality assessments. Advocates will also provide assistance with order of protection petitions and connect victims with resources and referrals.  Computers will be available for victims to safely check emails or apply for jobs and benefits. There will be a kitchen area with snacks, as well as a children’s play area, since many victims have no option but to bring their children with them to court.

Advocates and volunteers will be available to escort victims to the Domestic Violence Court when their cases are ready to be heard. If they arrive at the courtroom and there is a delay, a Victim Witness Room is located next door to the Domestic Violence Courtroom for victims who do not want to wait in the courtroom where the alleged offender is present.

Legislation has been filed with the Metro Council to name the Advocacy Center the Jean Crowe Advocacy Center. Crowe helped start the Nashville Coalition Against Domestic Violence and spent much of her career as an attorney representing low-income domestic violence victims, including her time at Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands. Crowe was one of the people that asked for the Accountability Assessment to be undertaken.

In Metro’s FY 2014-15 operating budget, Mayor Dean proposed and the Metro Council approved $1 million to open the Advocacy Center and fund additional positions.

New advocates and other personnel

The FY 2014-15 budget funds 10 new full-time positions and six part-time positions across various Metro departments to enhance the city’s response to domestic violence.

  • Six advocates will staff the Jean Crowe Advocacy Center. The advocates will assist victims at each critical juncture of the judicial process, which was a key recommendation in the Assessment. Additionally, a volunteer coordinator and administrative assistant were funded. Whitney McFalls, who was announced as Metro’s Domestic Violence Coordinator last September, will lead the Advocacy Center.
  • Two probation officers have been added to work on the specialized Domestic Violence Court docket. They have received specialized training, including on a new policy that requires probation officers to contact domestic violence victims if their abuser is on probation.
  • Metro Police has hired six part-time employees who have been assigned to the Domestic Violence Division to assist detectives with such duties as managing assigned cases, documentation of details concerning investigations, maintaining case files, coordinating counseling services for victims, writing safety plans and securing orders of protection. 

Interview and footage opportunities:

  • To interview Judge Angelita Blackshear Dalton, contact: 615-880-3712
  • To get B-roll footage of the Domestic Violence Court, Courtroom 4-B, in the Justice A.A. Birch Building at 408 Second Avenue North, contact: Whitney McFalls, Metro Domestic Violence Coordinator, 615-862-4281 or whitney.mcfalls@nashville.gov.