Domestic Violence: Eyes In The Courtroom
ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- The statistics are shocking: one in every four women will experience domestic violence. One-point-three million are victims of physical abuse by their partner each year. Even more surprising is most cases are never reported to police, or dismissed by judges. Now, a new watchdog group is holding lawyers and judges accountable for making sure that everyone involved in crimes against women are doing their part.
"I tried to run out and couldn't get out in enough time," Elizabeth Thomson recalled to Ivanhoe. "He caught me and he strangled me and that's the last I remember. The damage was so significant to my face, my neighbors didn't even recognize me."
Thomson says her estranged husband beat her with the blunt end of an ax. It took her months to recover from the physical wounds, but the emotional scars will last a lifetime.
"I wouldn't be able to trust him again," Thomson said.
She battled for his bond to be denied and his sentence to be harsh.
"That's why he got a life sentence, because he's the type of guy who wouldn't quit," Thomson explained. "If he got out, I'd be dead, and it's just that simple."
To make sure Thomson was getting a fair trial, Laura Williams -- armed with a pen and notepad -- sat through days of testimony and proceedings.
"People know that they are being watched," Williams, Founder & Executive Director of CourtWatch Florida in Orlando, Fla., said.
CourtWatch Florida is a non-profit organization made up trained volunteers who double as watchdogs in the courtroom.
"When we walk into a courtroom, everyone in the courtroom, whether it's the judge, or the attorneys, the deputies, or the clerks even, that they notice we are keeping an eye on what they're doing," Williams said.
She's calling comes from experience.
"I'm a survivor of domestic violence," Williams explained.
Her two-year-old daughter Sarah was murdered by her husband, who then killed himself.
"It gives me the opportunity to help victims of domestic violence in memory of Sarah," Williams said. "Her life meant something to me. What happened to her shouldn't happen to anyone else."
Volunteers make sure judges and lawyers are fair and consistent, act in a professional manner, take into account victim safety, hold offenders accountable and follow the law. What they witness in the courtroom is posted on a blog for the world to read.
"If I have an important bond hearing or trial, I do invite them," Michelle Latham, a prosecutor for 12 years, said.
Latham believes it's important to have some more eyes and ears in the courtroom.
"There are judges that are lenient, a little disrespectful to the attorneys," Latham explained. "You can tell an absolute difference when CourtWatch is there."
Circuit court judge Marc Lubet knows when he's being watched.
"Judges are people too, and they get upset just like everybody else does and I've gotten upset with victims as well as defendents, but when CourtWatch is in there, you try to do your best always to control your demeanor in the courtroom, as always, but maybe you give it just a little bit more control," Judge Lubet, of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Orlando, explained.
"I do know that some of the judges are upset when their name appears on the blog," Latham said.
On the blog on this day, CourtWatch is questioning whether a judge did his homework and why this man was allowed bond when two women charged with the same offense were not and are currently in jail.
Today in court, one woman asked CourtWatch to come to a sentencing of a suspect accused of stealing her identity.
And that's all they ask for: a fair and honest verdict, where everyone involve is treated with respect.
"In my case, the system worked and it worked very well and that was great," Thomson said. "It's beyond me now. I feel part of my duty and the way to pay back is to be a part of that process."
"Sometimes the individuals get lost in that and so when the public is there through CourtWatch, we just want them to realize every case is a life," Williams said.
Every day people making sure justice is served, even when no one else is watching.
CourtWatch Florida is a not-for-profit organization. There are several dozen like it across the country. More than 150 volunteers have been trained in Orlando, including Elizabeth, who is now hoping to help other victims of domestic abuse. To check to see if there is a Court Watch program in your area, visit the National Association of Court Monitoring programs website at http://www/match.mn.org.
If you would like more information, please contact:
CourtWatch Florida, http://www.courtwatchflorida.org
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