Maryland courts report a sharp jump in domestic violence cases this year, apparently because of a law that makes emergency protective orders available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Baltimore Sun says the situation is causing concern among the court commissioners responsible for night and weekend cases. Commissioners handled about 6,800 requests for domestic violence protection orders and peace orders from Dec. 18, when the law went into effect, to late August. That’s in addition to cases during normal business hours.
Commissioners handle a variety of tasks such as presiding over bail hearings and signing arrest warrants. They are at court at all times, so when legislators were looking for a way to expand access to protection orders, the commissioners were a practical choice. Before December, domestic violence victims could get protective orders only during court hours, which critics said kept many victims from seeking help.
One judge worries about safety risks for her commissioners who deal with explosive domestic violence situations without added security.
Anne Arundel County District Judge Martha F. Rasin, who took a leading role in drafting the law, said this year’s workload might persuade legislators to allocate money for more commissioners: “If we need more judges, the legislature should give more judges. If we need more commissioners, the legislature should provide more commissioners.”
“It’s an unbelievable number of people using the system,” said Dorothy J. Lennig of the Domestic Violence Legal Clinic at the House of Ruth.