Solution Oriented Domestic Violence Prevention Court: Domestic violence court set to hear first case

By John Minnis

Legal News

The Solution Oriented Domestic Violence Prevention Court (SODVPC)--a project led by Wayne County Circuit Court Family Division Judges Richard B. Halloran, Charlene M. Elder and Connie Marie Kelley--will hear its first case Monday, April 25.

The SODVPC was made possible by a $300,000 grant the court received in October. It will be housed in Wayne County Third Circuit Court. Katie Strickfaden, staff attorney at the Lakeshore Legal Aid's Free Legal Aid Clinic, has been hired as the court's coordinator/case manager.

The SODVPC will provide a point of entry to the judicial process for victims of domestic violence in the tri-county area. Participation in the program is voluntary.

The court will not only help victims obtain personal protection orders, it will also provide domestic violence resources and solutions. The goal is to reduce the number of domestic violence related crimes in Wayne County.

The SODVPC seeks to establish partnerships in the community, establish a unified approach to serving victims of domestic violence, ensure victims are offered secure access to judiciary and staff, and to hold batterers accountable through enhanced sentencing procedures and judicial monitoring.

Halloran announced the planned opening of the court during a talk April 7 to students at Wayne State University Law School.

"We have mental health courts. We have drug courts," Halloran said. "My question is why don't we have domestic violence courts?"

The Family Division judge said he is seeking interns, externs and students who are interested in learning how family court works. He made a similar presentation and request last fall at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

TheFamily Division judge explained how prior to the 1990s, about the time many of the students were born, domestic violence was considered a "family problem" and that all someone could be charged with was assault and battery.

The problem with that was the victim, usually a wife, would have to hire an attorney to file a motion and testify against the abuser at a hearing. First, Halloran asked, where would the woman get money of her own to hire an attorney? Further, there were many places along the way for the victim to decide not to press charges, either through persuasion or fear.

In 1994, with the help of Halloran and other like-minded judges, domestic violence became a crime, a 93-day misdemeanor, which meant it would appear on the state's Law Enforcement Information Network. Personal protection orders (PPOs) also became available to complainants ex parte without an attorney or fees.

Since creating the PPO docket in 1998, Halloran has adjudicated more than 77,000 PPOs and has conducted over 5,100 trials on violations of PPOs.

"If I can prevent one death by issuing the nearly 80,000 PPOs I've presided over," he said, "I think it's worth it."

Halloran, who has been on the bench since 1990, said he became involved in domestic violence when his daughter, 13 years old at the time, was punched in the face by a boy seeking to "prove he was a man."

"What do we do in society to raise boys who think to be a man they have to hit a girl?" he asked.

Halloran testified before the Michigan Legislature, encouraging the enactment of criminal laws establishing the crimes of domestic violence and stalking. He was co-chair of the Wayne County Coordinating Council to Prevent Domestic Violence for seven years, 1993 to 2000.

He also served on the Governor's Task Force (1997) to develop uniform standards for batterer intervention programs throughout the state, was a member of Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention and Treatment (1998-2001) and founder of M.A.R.K. (Men Acting Responsibly is the Key), an organization to encourage men to help stop family violence, in 2003. He also serves on the Domestic Violence Committee of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

Halloran is co-author of "Stalking Behaviors Within Domestic Violence" in the Journal of Family Violence, and, under his leadership, the Wayne County Coordinating Council to Prevent Domestic Violence published a domestic violence handbook.

As he learned more about domestic violence, Halloran said he was "shocked that people treated other people that way and that men treated women that way."

He described for students how domestic violence progresses from possessive dating to a controlling marriage. Suspicion escalates into violence. Alcohol is often involved and cited as an excuse.

"It's about power and control," Halloran said.

He explained to students that there are four types of PPOs: domestic violence, stalking, juvenile and sexual assault. While a PPO is a civil order, violation of the PPO once it is served is a crime against the state, meaning the defendant can be prosecuted without the victim having to press charges.

"We are making a great deal of progress in stopping people from hurting other people," Halloran said.

The judge said the Solution Oriented Domestic Violence Prevention Court is aptly named.

"It is solution oriented because we don't want to just issue PPOs," he said. "We stress prevention not punishment. Since domestic abuse is learned behavior, perhaps we can change behavior."

The Family Division judge knew he was asking a lot.

"I grew up in the '60s," he said. "I believe we can change the world."

Published: Fri, Apr 22, 2011