New York State is streamlining the way it processes domestic violence cases, reports Women’s eNews. Reformers hope the changes will mitigate the stresses of a problem plaguing some 5 million U.S. families a year. “It’s something that allows the family to keep existing in some way, knowing that there is a place that will help them deal with all the issues,” says Justice John O’Donnell, who presides over the Erie County branch of an Integrated Domestic Violence Court.
Launched in 2001 in three counties, the system now has 18 courts in as many counties and has handled over 13,000 cases. The reform, slated to be statewide by the end of 2006–has a simple premise: one family, one judge. Elsewhere, families involved in domestic-violence charges may go through criminal court proceedings, family court, and sometimes another court for dividing up family finances. Different judges, sometimes different lawyers, different evidence and host of different rules and regulations are entailed. Some critics are concerned that under the new system a judge’s impartiality may be affected by the specialization in domestic violence cases or that the judge might bargain away criminal penalties for cooperation on the civil issues.