Toledo Municipal Court Judge Michelle Wagner’s drive for a designated domestic-violence docket got a warning ticket last week from fellow Judge Timothy Kuhlman. Although he did not oppose the idea, Judge Kuhlman told Toledo City Council’s law and criminal justice committee that he doubted judges have the authority to make the change.
Unwarranted speculation by Judge Kuhlman should not delay or deter judges from making this worthwhile reform. City Council members can help by urging the court to do it now.
Specialized court dockets, including drug, veterans, mental health, and domestic abuse courts, are well established in Ohio and elsewhere in the nation. Over the past 15 years, local jurisdictions in Ohio have created dozens of them, with drug courts the most established.
The Ohio Supreme Court not only recognizes the authority of local courts to adopt designated dockets, but also gives them a framework for doing so. Because of the growing popularity of specialized dockets, the high court has established new rules and standards to govern them.
The standards seek more uniformity in how these dockets operate, while still allowing local courts “to innovate and tailor their specialized docket to respond to local needs and resources,” the Supreme Court states.
A new Commission on Specialized Dockets will determine which designated dockets are certified under Supreme Court guidelines. As part of the certification process, a site visit at the applicant’s court will identify any deficiencies and give the court 45 days to correct them.
New rules for specialized dockets will take effect next Jan. 1, said Ohio Supreme Court spokesman Chris Davey. Toledo Municipal Court should review the new standards to make sure its proposed domestic violence docket complies with them. The standards can be found on the Ohio Supreme Court’s Web site, supremecourt.ohio.gov.
In Toledo, a designated domestic violence docket would allow a judge with special expertise — ideally working with a victim advocate, prosecutor, public defender, and probation officer — to monitor cases better and handle them in a more uniform manner. One judge would generally handle a domestic violence case from start to finish, instead of handing it off to other judges and increasing the possibility of errors and oversights.
The court could protect victims better and give them the confidence to participate in cases. Nearly 60 percent of the roughly 1,500 domestic violence cases resolved last year in the Toledo court were dismissed, often because a victim failed to appear.
Domestic violence remains an enormous problem, accounting for more than a third of Toledo’s homicides last year. Toledo police issued more than 1,700 charges related to domestic violence, including 299 felony warrants, in 2012.
Judge Wagner’s proposal came after the high-profile murder in March of Kaitlin Gerber, 20, who was shot to death by her former boyfriend. The seven Municipal Court judges could vote on the docket proposal, which appears to have a groundswell of public support, this month.
There’s no reason to delay. Even if judges approve it, getting a domestic violence docket up and running could take a year. That’s all the more reason to start now.