Plan studied for domestic violence court

Single docket might not be possible to set up, judge says

5/2/2013
BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Wagner
Wagner

Amid a groundswell of support for Toledo Municipal Court Judge Michelle Wagner’s call for a designated domestic violence docket, one judge on the bench questioned Wednesday if the change could be made and also how fast it could occur.

Kuhlman
Kuhlman

After Judge Wagner told Toledo City Council’s law and criminal justice committee how such a dedicated docket could make victims safer, increase convictions, and reduce recidivism, Judge Timothy Kuhlman appeared to tap the brakes on the idea.

Judge Wagner said the proposal to assign one judge to handle all domestic violence cases could be voted on by the seven municipal judges at a meeting May 16. She acknowledged that a large amount of details must be worked out.

Judge Kuhlman told the same committee Wednesday that he would keep an open mind on the idea but he doubted the judges actually have the authority to make the change.

“I am not trying to completely hit the brakes and let everybody know this can’t happen. I think this is a lot more of a process than what I think we are considering here,” he said. “For starters, I don't know that we have the statutory, or rule authority … to do what we are talking about.”

The judge said a dedicated domestic violence docket is operated in Cleveland but he doesn't believe that court has the authority to do it.

Also, he said, it took the Toledo court 18 months to implement a change that now has defendants who are on probation with an active case assigned to the same judge. That “would also mean one victim, one judge,” Judge Kuhlman said.

Councilmen D. Michael Collins, Lindsay Webb, Shaun Enright, and Steven Steel spoke in favor of Judge Wagner’s idea. Ms. Webb said the idea for a designated domestic violence docket is “an expectation of the community.”

Council is expected to consider a resolution urging the court to move forward on the idea.

Judge Wagner announced the idea in the wake of the murder of Kaitlin Gerber, 20, who was chased in her car and shot to death by Jashua Perz, 29, her on-again, off-again boyfriend who then killed himself. The high-profile case drew extensive review, and the victim’s family has contended the court and legal systems could have done more to protect her.

About 58 percent of the nearly 1,500 domestic violence cases resolved last year in the Toledo court were dismissed. Often, a case is dismissed because a victim fails to appear, said Adam Loukx, the city’s law director.

Mr. Loukx again on Wednesday said he is working to create a two-attorney “domestic violence unit” within the prosecutor’s office, at the instruction of Mayor Mike Bell. A new attorney will have to be hired, he said.

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.