Court Watch Elders Serve in War on Domestic Violence

Aging Today, September/October 2004 | Go to article overview

Court Watch Elders Serve in War on Domestic Violence


A young man in domestic-violence court has been playing hooky from his anger-management classes, but the judge, who shows up late and seems distracted, simply gives him an extension with hardly an admonishing word. In another city, a prosecutor argues a crisp and efficient case against a woman accused of abusing her elderly uncle, but he rolls his eyes and makes inappropriate remarks about the defense witness. Still elsewhere, a public defender arrives in court ill prepared for a hearing in a rape case. Quietly taking notes in each of these courtrooms is a court watcher, a trained volunteer who might well look a little like the sharp-eyed mother on television's Judging Amy.

In real-life cases like these hypothetical ones, judges, attorneys, court clerks and other key figures in domestic-abuse courts around the United States are under observation by volunteers, many of them retirees. Court Watch programs are enabling elders to put their efforts, life experience and volunteer time to use in efforts to make courts more effective combatants against domestic violence.

HALFARE ELDERS

"Since our project began 10 years ago, at least 50% of our volunteers have been seniors," said Connie Fox, cochair of the Court Watch Project in Louisville, Ky., one of several such programs developed around the United States by the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW). "I am grateful to them for the continued success of our project," she told Aging Today. Older volunteers have been so reliable, she said, that in the last decade only one has had to leave the program because she had a hearing problem in the courtroom. Older adults have been "a keen presence in the courtroom," Fox added. "They are very aware of what is going on."

More than 35 cities have the Court Watch program, according to the 2003 Results Survey of the National Silent Witness Initiative, based in Minneapolis. Besides the active participation of NCJW, volunteer Court Watch monitors are often recruited and trained through Court Watch programs sponsored by the National Organization for Woman, the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and others. The observers report on courtroom practices, as well as on the protection and treatment of victims and other witnesses; their observations often lead to improvements that not only help victims but also make the courts and the police more effective in reducing new and repeat domestic violence occurrences. …

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