Source: Star-Ledger -
Appalled that NFL star Ray Rice was not given prison time for punching out his fiancée, two state lawmakers have proposed creating new courts in New Jersey devoted exclusively to domestic violence cases.
State Assemblywomen Carolina Casagrande (R-Monmouth) last week introduced a bill (A3801) that would establish a three-year Domestic Violence Court pilot program limited to their two counties.
The domestic violence courts would be part of the state’s Superior Court system. Cases involving alleged domestic violence could be referred to the new courts, and the judges assigned to them would have expertise on the topic.
Casagrande said she came up with the idea in response to the release of a video showing Rice, a former Rutgers University star, punching out his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel elevator, and after a committee hearing in which state court officials said many cases of domestic violence are handled in municipal courts.
“Right now, as it stands, we have these victims going into a courtroom where the people have minimal training,” Casagrande said. “Also, they’re sitting next to people who have minor traffic violations or may have a summons for not mowing their lawns. It’s really not an appropriate environment.”
The decision to allow Rice to enter a pre-trial invention program rather than serve prison time was approved by a Superior Court judge. But Casagrande said they still don’t have enough training in domestic violence cases.
Under the bill’s proposal for a pilot project, two new judges would be assigned to the domestic violence courts — one in Monmouth County and one in Camden County. And any court within the two counties could refer domestic violence cases to the new court.
The bill does not specify what kind of training the judges would have to undergo, but says they would be “knowledgeable in criminal law and procedure, particularly in relation to intimate partner violence.”
“It’s really an attempt to get these victims and perpetrators into a court that really understands the problem,” Casagrande said.
There is no estimate as to how much the new court system would cost. Superior Court judges makes $165,000 a year, and there would be two more under the new system. But Casagrande said increased costs could be offset by fewer domestic violence cases clogging municipal courts.
Under the bill, the Administrative Office of the Courts would evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot program and monitor its effect on criminal sentencing, the court’s calendar and workload. It would then make recommendations on whether to continue or even expand it. To become law, the bill would need to pass the full Assembly and Senate and then be signed by the governor.
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) decides what bills advance in the lower house. His spokesman, Tom Hester, Jr., said the bill will be “reviewed.”
In addition to the legislation to create domestic violence courts, Casagrande also introduced bills to upgrade domestic violence crimes and include a mandatory three years of imprisonment for offenders who injure their victims (A3002), and to require that all judges receive at least three hours of domestic violence training (A3803).