The other day I was in a conversation about whether judges can participate in local efforts that are focused on improving the justice system response to domestic violence. Generally, others involved in these types of discussions are law enforcement, prosecutors, probation, advocates, defense attorneys as well as child welfare, medical professionals and others in a county or judicial district.  These efforts are not about any individual case or circumstance but in general how to make the “trains run better” for all.

Back in 1993, when the Illinois Supreme Court created the Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Councils (IFVCC), then Chief Justice Ben Miller was instrumental in their creations because he understood the importance of bringing all the professionals together to have these important and critical conversations.  Judicial ethics were a consideration because Justice Miller was clear that judges were central to these conversations but could not be put in a position where their neutrality would be questioned.

Canon 4 of Code of Judicial Conduct clearly outlines how judges “may engage in activities to improve the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice”.  This includes participating in efforts like the IFVCC or other opportunities that allows them opportunities to create a justice system that is equitable.

Last October, ICADV released Survivors’ Access to Safety is Not Fully Available.  The report is based on anecdotal information relayed by domestic violence advocates from around Illinois.  We only included the most common reports of what is occurring in our courts that is barring survivors from access the full remedies in the Illinois Domestic Violence Act designed to create safety for survivors and their families.  We found that pretty consistently across the state 1) Orders of protection are not promptly entered and enforced; 2) some still believe emergency orders of protection are unconstitutional; 3) orders are denied even when there are visible injuries; 4) some courts routinely disallow certain remedies regardless of the circumstances of individual cases; 5) interpreters are often not available; 6) technological abuse is widely misunderstood. These are some of the most common challenges. Additionally, there is much need for training on trauma and domestic violence, particularly when children are involved.

There is much discussion occurring in Illinois and across the country about justice reform and to be better at creating opportunities for many people charged with crimes to get something besides jail and long term public records that keep them from achieving life experiences that protect the public while holding them accountable. We are also exploring ways to make sure that victims of crime are better heard and can get “restored” in ways that achieve safety. This means more training on effects of trauma for everyone that works in the justice system including judges.  Trainings on trauma and the effects of experiencing domestic violence means having a better understanding of what behaviors are being observed when people utilize our courts to try to mediate the violence they experience in their homes.