In a novel use of judicial power, the Nevada Supreme Court has ordered all courts in the state closed for a day in October and every judge--from the chief justice to juvenile court referees--to attend a seminar on domestic violence.
Citing near epidemic rates of violence against women nationally--and concerns that Nevada’s domestic violence problems may exceed other states--Supreme Court Justice Robert E. Rose on Tuesday handed down the order, which will affect about 150 judges and cost $28,000.
“We’re a 24-hour state,” Rose said in an interview. “On all charts on a population basis for the consumption of alcohol, we’re reasonably high. There is a probability that this problem is somewhat greater in Nevada than in other states.”
Although advocates for battered women applauded the order, Rose said some Nevada judges are rankled by the mandatory training. Judges, after all, are more used to handing down orders, not receiving them.
“I have already received several phone calls from judges opposed to this seminar being mandatory,” Rose said. “They feel it should be voluntary, and that they have an adequate handle on family violence. I have said to them that it’s a major problem in society and the courts, to attend the seminar and keep an open mind.”
Domestic violence statistics are difficult to come by, in part because the crime is not always reported by victims, who may fear for their lives. But the National Clearing House on Domestic Violence contends that a woman is battered by her husband or partner every 14 seconds. Domestic violence, the clearinghouse says, is the highest cause of injury to women--more than rape, auto accidents and muggings combined.
To educate Nevada’s judges on the dynamics of battering and the intricacies of family violence law, all courtrooms in southern Nevada will be closed Oct. 18, with judges meeting in Las Vegas for an eight-hour seminar. All courtrooms in northern Nevada will be closed Oct. 19, and judges there will meet in Reno for a similar session, which will be sponsored by the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
“I believe that this will be an enormous aid to victims of domestic violence,” said Kathleen Brooks, assistant director of Temporary Assistance for Domestic Crisis, a private nonprofit organization in Las Vegas. “What I see as one of the drawbacks for victims . . . is that law enforcement officials and judges don’t understand the dynamics of domestic violence and don’t give the victim the support and protection that she needs.”
Part of the problem, Brooks said, is that judges are inconsistent in sentencing people who beat their spouses. An abuser may be fined, let go, ordered to undergo four hours of impulse control counseling or jailed. In addition, she said, the judiciary “has not taken into account on any level that children are at risk.”
Nevada is not the only state where there are problems in dealing with domestic violence cases. Judicial training was considered a top priority by representatives of every state at a national conference on courts and family violence held in San Francisco in March, said Meredith Hofford, director of the family violence project for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.
“Nevada is the first state in the nation to require all judges new and old, by an order of the Supreme Court, to go through training,” Hofford said, adding that the Nevada order was the state’s response to the conference. About a dozen states have some form of judicial training on domestic violence issues, but all are voluntary. In California, judicial training is voluntary and availability differs from county to county.
Leonard Edwards, presiding judge of Juvenile Court in Santa Clara County and one of the planners of a California conference on courts and domestic violence next year, said the Nevada order is a symbol of a changing environment throughout the nation and in California, “where we’re giving higher quality attention in our courts to children and families.”
But all judges need the kind of training ordered in Nevada, said Leah Aldridge, communications coordinator for the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women. Judges need to know “it’s not just a batterer beating up his wife,” she said. “There may be other crimes going on in that household, other incidents of abuse.”