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June 23, 2006

New Specialized Court Will Handle Domestic Violence Cases in Oswego

OSWEGO – The statistics are sobering. According to the FBI, a crime involving domestic violence occurs every 15 seconds in the U.S. Studies show that 50 percent of the men who frequently abuse their wives also abuse their children; conversely, in about half the families where there is known physical abuse of children, the child’s mother is also abused.

It’s estimated that about 20 percent of all cases that enter the criminal justice system are domestic violence cases. Domestic violence crosses all economic, social and geographic boundaries. It can affect all ages and partners in married, live-in and social relationships of both sexes.

According to Donald H. Dodd, Oswego County District Attorney, acts of domestic violence are not isolated incidents. What may begin as a pattern of abusive words and verbal threats may escalate to physical force involving restraint, punches, shoving, kicking, choking or worse.

“Children who are exposed to violence see violence as a legitimate form of behavior,” said Dodd. “If a child is exposed to it, the child sees violence as acceptable.”

Breaking the cycle of domestic violence is one of the goals of the new Domestic Violence Court in the City of Oswego. Oswego City Court received a federal grant last year to develop a specialized law court to handle violation and misdemeanor cases that involve domestic violence. By definition, domestic violence offenses apply to people who are related or have been related by marriage or blood or in an intimate relationship.

The goals of the Domestic Violence Court are to improve victim safety, hold defendants accountable, and ensure that violation and misdemeanor cases of domestic violence in the City of Oswego are handled efficiently and consistently.

Oswego City Court Judge James M. Metcalf will preside. The Domestic Violence Court began 27.

The court follows the basic philosophy of specialized “problem-solving” courts being developed across the U.S. Defendants are closely monitored to make sure they are complying with court mandates. Court personnel are trained in domestic violence issues and procedures. All activities are overseen by a partnership of judicial, law enforcement, probation, and victim advocate agencies.

“This has been a collaborative effort started by the Office of Court Administration on the state level, and ultimately involving Oswego City Court, the District Attorney’s Office, the Probation Department, local law enforcement, Services to Aid Families, and the Center for Court Innovation,” said Judge Metcalf.

“The main premise of Domestic Violence Court is to assure a defendant’s compliance with court orders if convicted. The Court will closely monitor defendants up to a year post-conviction, requiring frequent court appearances for reports on batterers’ intervention programs, drug and alcohol treatment if necessary, restitution, community service, and compliance with orders of protection.”

Dodd said there are several benefits to the community.

“In terms of criminal procedure, the presiding judge has had specialized training in the factors and causes that give rise to domestic violence,” he said. “From the perspective of the District Attorney’s Office, we can tailor the disposition to get at the root cause of domestic violence in the household. The reasons or factors that cause it can be many. We will look at why it is that the person chooses domestic violence as a course of conduct, and then develop a disposition to address the cause.”

Barbara Schuler, director of the Oswego County Probation Department, said the federal grant also pays for a probation officer to evaluate and monitor the defendant, make recommendations to the court, and make sure that the defendant complies with the court orders.

The sanctions for those who don’t comply, said Judge Metcalf, “will be swift and in all likelihood result in incarceration.”

Services to Aid Families (SAF), a division of Oswego County Opportunities, Inc., will provide a mandated batterers’ intervention program. The “B-Men” course is a domestic violence education program designed to challenge beliefs and attitudes of men who have a history of domestic violence. Participants are required to meet every week for one and one-half hours for six months or a year.

SAF will also provide a victim advocate for each case, to ensure that services are provided as early as possible. The advocate will provide access to counseling and other services.

“Hopefully, what we’ll be able to do is increase the educational awareness of persons who have been victimized,” said Dodd.

“The victim advocate is in the courtroom for every case,” said Melissa Pendleton, coordinator of the Domestic Violence and Integrated Domestic Violence courts in Oswego County. “The advocate provides the victim an avenue to keep informed of the status of the case, without having to come to court.” Pendleton is responsible for screening cases to make sure they’re eligible, coordinates program services, and works closely with service providers to make sure the objectives of the court are being met.

District Attorney Dodd and Judge Metcalf both agree that the specialized court’s ability to handle domestic violence cases separately from other criminal cases will benefit the community at large.

“The mere fact that it’s a city court does not mean that domestic violence is unique to the city,” said Dodd. “It’s not a city problem. It’s not a town problem. It’s a societal problem.”

For emergency assistance in a domestic violence situation, call the domestic violence hotline at 342-1600. For more information on the Domestic Violence Court, call Pendleton at 349-8732.

Court Team

COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIP – The City of Oswego’s new Domestic Violence Court involves a partnership of local agencies working together to help victims and address the causes of domestic violence. From left are Cassie Kinney, Chief Clerk, Oswego City Court; Melissa Pendleton, Domestic Violence Court Coordinator; Donald H. Dodd, Oswego County District Attorney; Hon. James M. Metcalf, Oswego City Court Judge; Barbara Schuler, Oswego County Probation Director; and Tracy Drake, victim advocate, Services to Aid Families, Inc.

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