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A Process Evaluation of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court

Randall Kleinhesselink
Department of Psychology, Washington State University Vancouver

Clayton Mosher
Department of Sociology, Washington State University Vancouver

Published: March, 2003


Clark County District Court STOP Grant - ICA 2002-131

Executive Summary

  • The Clark County Domestic Violence Court has improved the County's ability to deal with domestic violence perpetrators and victims.

  • Given the apparent increase in domestic violence cases in Clark County there may be a need to allocate additional resources to the court.

  • There is a need to conduct an outcome evaluation of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court, with a specific focus on the effectiveness of treatment programs for offenders, and services for victims.

  • Given the changing demographics of Clark County, there is a need to create culturally specific domestic violence perpetrator treatment programs.

Introduction and Methodology

This process evaluation of the Clark County Domestic Violence court is based on observations of court proceedings, a review of court and county documents and reports, interviews with key personnel, attendance at court meetings and community meetings addressing the domestic violence issue in Clark County, scholarly and media accounts of the Clark County and other domestic violence courts, and a survey mailed to key personnel (law enforcement, prosecutors and other court personnel, corrections and treatment staff, individuals involved in victim services, and defense lawyers).

After examining what statistics reveal about the extent of the domestic violence problem in Clark County, we discuss the creation of the domestic violence court. We proceed to a discussion of the philosophies that guide the Clark County Domestic Violence Court, and the specific components of the court. Quantitative and qualitative data from the surveys regarding important issues facing the domestic violence court are presented, and the report concludes with a discussion of finding from interviews with treatment providers.

History of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court

Domestic violence results in the death of an average of four women every day in the United States, and is the leading cause of injury to women ages 15 to 44. It occurs in all racial, ethnic, and economic groups, and transcends all social barriers (Mills, 1998).

In Clark County, Washington, there was a near doubling of arrest rates for domestic violence offenses between 1988 and 1998 (from 3.5 arrests per 1,000 adults in 1988 to 6.7/1,000 in 1998). Additionally, a report published by the Southwest Washington Health District (as cited in Thompson, 1999) indicates that Clark County's arrest rate for domestic violence offenses was higher than the rest of Washington state over the 1988-1998 period, with the exception of the year 1995. Approximately 30 percent of all 911 calls in the county are related to domestic violence, and one-quarter of the current cases in the County prosecutor's office are domestic violence cases. In 2002, there were 57 domestic violence jury trials in Clark County, representing 45 percent of jury trials in the District Court. It is also important to note that domestic violence cases are among the most complex and difficult cases to try and require much more court time than other criminal cases. Court data indicate that the number of domestic violence misdemeanor filings reached the level of 1,495 in 1998, the same year that the specialized Domestic Violence Court was established in Clark County. In addition, there were 978 filings for civil domestic violence protection orders in the same year (Thompson, 1999).

Legislative reforms initiated in a number of states in the 1970's initially encouraged and subsequently mandated arrests of domestic violator perpetrators and provided for more severe sanctions for such offenders. Such legislative changes also occurred in Washington State, and in Clark County, the increased attention to domestic violence has included more training for law enforcement personnel, more aggressive prosecution efforts, and an increased community awareness of the problem.

It is estimated that there are approximately 200 courts in the United States that have reorganized the overlap of municipal, district, tribal, and superior courts in ways that accommodate the special needs of domestic violence cases (Helling, 2002). However, most of these courts fall short of a fully-fledged domestic violence court system organized around the principles of "one judge," "one court," "one-stop shopping for the victim," and "offender compliance review." The Clark County Domestic Violence Court is one of the few in the United States where superior court judges agreed to confer their jurisdiction on the district court judges, providing them with jurisdiction over civil domestic violence protection orders, and these were added to the domestic violence court in 1998 (Fritzler and Simon, 2000). Our process evaluation indicates that there is little doubt that the consolidation of services between the superior and district courts with a one-judge system has made it easier and safer for victims of domestic violence to access the criminal justice system. Instead of victims having to obtain civil protection orders from different clerks for different judges in district and superior courts, they need only contact one clerk for one judge in one court. This process serves to remedy the situation in which a civil domestic violence protection order issued in superior court would be in conflict with an order issued in a district court criminal action or pursuant to a civil anti-harassment proceeding. Having only one set of clerks deal with these issues ensures that the proper paperwork for the greatest protection of the victim is filed for the judge to consider.

  • Additional benefits of the totally consolidated and fully-integrated domestic violence court as outlined by Fritzler and Simon (2002) include the following: A single judge to provide leadership and system wide focus on domestic violence

  • Intervention to provide relief to the victim from the time of arrest by issuing no contact orders with a no bail hold pending judicial review

  • Sentencing consistency and defendant accountability

  • After plea or conviction the offender is placed on probation and ordered into a state mandated domestic violence treatment program

  • Where appropriate, court-mandated alcohol or drug treatment

  • Issuing temporary child support orders in both civil and criminal cases where there are minor children involved

  • Scheduled periodic review of defendant to ensure compliance with court orders

  • Immediate graduated sanctions for violations, including more frequent reviews, electronic home confinement, work crews, alternative community service, restrictive probation, additional treatment, or jail time

  • Some familiarity of the judge with the personality characteristics of domestic violence offenders

  • Familiarity of the specialized prosecutors assigned to domestic violence cases exclusively

  • Monitoring the availability to victims of high quality support services

Planning Objectives

In 1997, Judge Randal Fritzler of the Clark County District Court and Lenore Simon, a Professor of Criminal Justice at Washington State University Vancouver, organized a steering committee with the goal of developing a domestic violence court. They consulted with key individuals from a variety of community agencies to form a collaborative team to foster support for the proposed court. The team included representatives from the county probation department, the city and county prosecutors' offices, YWCA victim advocates, city and county law enforcement representatives, domestic violence treatment providers, and defense attorneys. In November, 1997, the planning committee formed five subcommittees to address specific problems involved in creating the domestic violence court. These community-based subcommittees continued to meet and provide input to the court on a monthly basis for the first nine months after the startup of the court. Minutes of these meetings are maintained as Clark County District Court records.

Three perspectives on jurisprudence served as the philosophical underpinnings of the domestic violence court in Clark County. The first perspective is associated with the theories of Bruce Winick (1997) and is known by the term "therapeutic jurisprudence." This philosophy encourages a positive perspective on the law's impact on the emotional well-being of participants in the legal system. The most fundamental principle of therapeutic jurisprudence is the selection of legal options that promote healthy outcomes. This principle has been invoked most often as a basis for the formation of specialized courts in the areas of drug, mental illness, juvenile, and family law. However, including therapeutic jurisprudence as a foundation of a domestic violence court is innovative. As applied to domestic violence, therapeutic jurisprudence suggests some basic methods and principles to achieve offender accountability and victim safety. As expressed by Fritzler and Simon (2000), these principles include:

  • No diversion or dismissal of charges as occurs in some other specialty courts because the serious and repetitive nature of domestic violence requires that a permanent legal record be maintained

  • Making the victims feel welcomed by the court and to mobilize resources on their behalf while also recognizing offender success in treatment, court order compliance, and demonstrated alternatives to violence

  • Confronting offenders' cognitive distortions which include denying responsibility, minimizing victim suffering, and blaming the victim

  • Involve the defendant in establishing the terms of no contact orders and terms of supervision

  • Immediate arraignment docket objectives with continuances discouraged

  • "Red flagging" of children at risk, including referrals to child advocacy and welfare agencies

  • Jail time in proportion to the offense while avoiding expensive fines that may take away resources from the victim (and children)

  • Routine post-sentencing reviews calendared without cause and graduated sanctions for noncompliance

  • Having or obtaining additional expertise in domestic violence evidentiary issues

  • Coordinating domestic violence cases with other cases that involve the victim and perpetrator such as dissolution proceedings, child abuse and neglect cases, paternity proceedings, and other protection order provisions

The second perspective on jurisprudence that provides additional coherence to the Clark County Domestic Violence Court is preventive law. As expressed by Hardway (1997) preventive law seeks to avoid legal "soft spots" and potential trouble points and to develop a strategy that avoids or minimizes future legal problems. This includes calendaring court reviews of domestic violence cases in which protection orders have been issued, and investigating attempts to dismiss protection orders by consulting with victim advocates. Failure of the system to enter the protection orders on relevant computer systems can result in injury or death of the victim.

The third perspective on jurisprudence influencing the Clark County Domestic Violence Court is the idea of restorative justice (Wright, 1991). Restorative justice is based on a philosophy of providing victims with more input in court proceedings and having the state or community restore victims as much as possible to their former condition through compensation and support of community members. Other goals of restorative justice are to hold offenders accountable, to require the making of amends for crimes committed, to involve offenders in their own rehabilitation, and to earn re-acceptance into the community.

These ambitious principles are more easily expressed in organizing committee discussions than they are to be implemented in reality. One of the major obstacles that had to be overcome before implementation of the domestic violence court in Clark County was the decision made by the county prosecutor's office in 1997 to revive its "domestic violence diversion program." This program allowed for domestic violence offenders to pay a substantial fee in exchange for avoiding conviction. The conflict between the domestic violence court proposal and the county's diversion program goals resulted in problems in processing domestic violence cases, and challenges to individual cases were raised in court. This conflict was eventually resolved in late 1998 when an additional prosecutor who was hired by the county persuaded his colleagues to abandon the diversion program and support the formation of the domestic violence court (Thompson, 1999).

A Multiphase Process to Achieve Therapeutic Goals

The material in this section is derived from Fritzler (2003).

A three-step process to provide a more therapeutic outcome for victims was an additional component of the domestic violence court. This consists of a safety/stabilization phase focusing on the needs of the victim, an intensive treatment and offender monitoring phase, and a transition phase for up to two years.

The safety/stabilization phase begins with the involvement of municipal and county law enforcement officials. In addition to promoting community education about domestic violence, law enforcement officials are also available to provide guidance and support for the victims by assisting them in locating services and resources in the community, including victim advocacy organizations, shelters, and counseling services. Law enforcement are involved in separating the victim and perpetrator, gathering evidence, taking photographs, and completing domestic violence-specific police reports. Police in Clark County have been trained to strictly enforce all no contact orders, regardless of judicial origin. The emphasis on separating the victim and perpetrator continues with the initial court appearance. At this time the judge, after reviewing all the available information, determines if the defendant can be released from custody and what, if any, conditions and restrictions will be imposed. If released, the defendant signs a form and acknowledges the obligation to return to court on a set date which becomes the potential basis for future warrants and possible bail jump charges.

The treatment and monitoring phase of the domestic violence court begins with sentencing. In most cases, the no contact order remains in effect after conviction until completion of a state-mandated domestic violence treatment program, and the conditions of probation are reviewed in detail. Perpetrators may be ordered to pay restitution and/or provide financial support to the victim, and promotion of victim safety and offender accountability are promoted in court communications. The continuity of judicial institutional memory is promoted through intensive supervision by probation officers, many of whom are specially trained in domestic violence. The range of restrictions to be imposed on the defendant are predicated upon the findings from a lethality assessment, which itself is periodically reviewed for accuracy.

The transition phase completes the therapeutic process. The defendant's progress is reviewed near the end of the one-year state-mandated treatment program. Because of delays entering treatment programs due to financial problems and because of missed treatment appointments on the part of some offenders, this phase sometimes extends into a second year after initial adjudication. At this phase, it is also determined whether a full or monitored transition back to society is warranted - this may include transfer to bench probation status and the lifting of no contact orders. The court monitors defendant compliance for the full two years of jurisdiction in misdemeanor domestic violence cases.

Optimal court performance is defined by Casey (1998) in the five performance standards of access to justice, expeditiousness and timeliness, equality/fairness and integrity, independence and accountability, and public trust and confidence. The philosophy of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court is that these performance standards have much in common with the three phases of therapeutic justice outlined above.

Civil Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Court

A civil protection order may be filed by a victim of domestic violence at the same time that the perpetrator is appearing in the misdemeanor criminal domestic violence court. The petitioner may seek restoration of common residence, removing the respondent from community property, granting the petitioner possession of property, determining custody and visitation, and to direct law enforcement agencies to obtain possession and custody of minor children. Close coordination between civil and criminal proceedings are necessary to prevent detrimental economic impacts on the victim. Due to the fact that civil protection orders are a superior court responsibility under Washington state statutes, the superior court conferred jurisdiction on the district court in Clark County for civil protection orders in domestic violence cases. By statute, these orders provide judges with broad authority to order relief to the petitioner, but little in the way of enforcement resources. The philosophy of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court is to use these orders only when they are not in conflict with other proceedings such as dissolution/divorce proceedings. In addition, the court adheres to the philosophy of attempting to make civil protection orders as narrow and limited as possible. The court views these orders as an important tool in the implementation of the comprehensive court intervention to help victims and hold offenders accountable.

Unanticipated and Unpredictable Obstacles in Implementing the Domestic Violence Court

No process evaluation of a substantial modification in judicial practice and philosophy would be complete without an analysis of obstacles that were unanticipated and had to be overcome. One of the most important in this context was the additional cost to Clark County associated with the domestic violence court. In order to address this contingency, resources were reallocated within the district court, and presentations were made to the County Board of Commissioners stressing the importance of maintaining funding levels for the district court. The domestic violence court was implemented gradually and incrementally to allow the court clerks and judges to adapt to the court (Fritzler and Simon, 2001).

An additional obstacle in implementing the domestic violence court was the creation of security problems in the courtroom as the result of highly emotionally charged court participants. This problem was partially addressed through the use of metal detecting security devices to restrict access to the courthouse. Another initial obstacle was the lack of a sufficient amount of time for the court to complete the lengthy docket of complex cases and the frequent reviews of compliance with court mandated treatment. This is a continuing problem in the Clark County Domestic Violence Court as the one judge model produces a disproportionate percentage of district court cases appearing on the docket of the presiding judge. In the most recent year for which data were available (2002), 45 percent of all criminal jury trials in Clark County were assigned to the domestic violence court. It would take one additional full-time judge to create a proportionate workload within the district court.

A final issue, not yet entirely resolved, is the "no drop" policy of the prosecutor's office when the victim declines to cooperate or even recants previous allegations. The "no dropping of charges" policy is part of a national best practices policy initiated in 1994. However, in the context of the therapeutic jurisprudence philosophy of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court, the question can be raised whether no drop policies may actually harm the victim in some fashion.

Cases Heard by the Clark County Domestic Violence Court

In 1998, there were 1,495 domestic violence cases in Clark County, and more than half of these were terminated with a guilty plea or conviction. Only ten cases resulted in acquittal (Thompson, 1999). In the year 2000, the number of domestic violence cases declined sharply to 954. The figures for 2002 indicate a significant increase to 1,780 misdemeanor domestic violence cases. In addition, the domestic violence court handled 913 civil orders of protection provisions. With the exception of the year 2000, it appears as though the trend is for an increasingly higher workload for the presiding judge each year. As we discuss below, this high volume of cases may require the assignment of additional resources to the Clark County Domestic Violence Court in order for it to continue to realize its goals.

Domestic Violence Court Policy and Program Procedures

This part of the report presents the policies and procedures of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court, and is primarily based on interviews with the Court administrator, Mary Martin, and Judge Randal Fritzler. We also rely on a document provided by Judge Fritzler - Judicial Guidelines for Domestic Violence Cases in Municipal Court (2003). As a preamble to this section it should be noted that the philosophy of this court is "interventionist" as well as "therapeutic" - there are combined concerns for victim safety and perpetrator accountability. The court also embraces the relevant Revised Code of Washington statutes regarding domestic violence as well as a best practice model at each state of case processing.

First Contact Telephonic

After an arrest for a domestic violence crime which can include assault, harassment, trespass, malicious mischief, protection-order violation, reckless endangerment, restraining-order violation, stalking, telephone harassment, and no-contact order violations, a temporary No Contact Order is issued. This order expires at arraignment or within 72 hours if no charge is filed. When the 9-1-1 emergency dispatch center receives a domestic violence call for help, an arrest for domestic violence is mandated. The police reports and 9-1-1 tapes are reviewed by victim advocates. If the perpetrator has left the scene of the incident a telephonic arrest warrant and No Contact Order can be issued by phone. The best practice model followed by the Clark County Domestic Violence Court is a no bail hold until the next working day. Given that a high proportion of domestic violence incidents occur on weekends, this practice often produces a very crowded Monday schedule for the first court appearance/arraignment docket. The average number of cases heard by the court on Monday is 20 - in court observations we conducted on a Monday, 24 cases were heard.

First Court Appearance/Arraignment

Although representatives from the prosecutor's office are not usually in attendance for each individual's first court appearance, exceptions would be made if the case had been identified as one involving high risk to the victim. In such cases bail would not be granted until further prosecutorial review and the assembling of a criminal history. If there was no "red flag" for victim risk, the hearing would proceed to a standardized advisement of rights and consequences, including:

  • Immigration consequences: If you are not a citizen of the United States, a conviction may be grounds for deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization .

  • Firearm Prohibition: If convicted, you will lose your Constitutional right to own, possess, or control a firearm under both state and federal law .

  • DNA Sample Collection: If you are convicted of the crimes of stalking or harassment you will be required to submit a biological sample for DNA identification analysis .

With the dissolution of the temporary no contact order that occurs at first arraignment, a permanent no contact order may be issued. This order can be made before, concurrent to, or after a civil protection order has been issued. Victim input is allowed at this point in order that the victim would understand that the violation of these orders on the part of the perpetrator is a criminal act. The victim is also given advice regarding domestic violence resources in the community, and is provided with the phone number of the Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline. Oral instructions on orders for the defendant's access to personal property are also given at this point in the proceedings. The court also attempts to check existing domestic violence protection orders at this point in the process.

Pleading Guilty or Not Guilty

With the advice of hired or court-appointed defense counsel the defendant is asked if he/she understands the charges against him/her, and to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Because in many cases the defendant is still in custody and escorted to the court by county sheriff's officials, the consultations between offenders and counsel take place on the side or rear of the courtroom and provide little opportunity for confidentiality. They also tend to generate a considerable amount of noise and confusion in the courtroom. An architectural consultant could possibly address these problems when the courtrooms are reconfigured in the future.

Pleading Guilty

Some domestic violence perpetrators plead guilty and can be eligible for a Stipulated Order of Continuance (SOC). The Clark County Domestic Violence Court does not routinely endorse deferred sentencing, but will consider it if there is justification provided for the record. A first-time offender who takes and accepts responsibility for their actions would be a candidate for deferred sentencing, a practice which has been used in Clark County for some first-time offenders since 1991. The present practice of the domestic violence court is to limit this option to once in a lifetime. Where deferred prosecution is granted, the judge and defendant will sign a pretrial agreement. "No contest" pleas are strongly discouraged because they can send the wrong message to the victim that the perpetrator can manipulate the system. Failure to comply with court-mandated conditions of release would constitute a violation of the Stipulated Order of Continuance and could result in formal sentencing on the original charge. Conditions of release include court monitoring and treatment compliance, and will/may also include no access to firearms, no possession of alcohol or illegal drugs, participation in substance abuse/mental health treatment, travel restrictions, and no contact orders.

Pleading Not Guilty

In cases in which defendants plead not guilty, a formal assessment of dangerousness to the victim and the community is made by considering information such as verbal threats to kill the victim or others, patterns of escalating violence, use and availability of weapons upon previous release, stalking or hostage-taking history, suicide attempts, drug or alcohol use, and violations of previous court orders. If release is contemplated, these factors determine the conditions of release previously mentioned with the addition of bail and supervised release conditions. The defendant is required to sign the no contact order on the Pretrial Hearing form and can opt for a bench or jury trial. Readiness hearing and trial dates are set at this time and the defendant is informed that failure to appear will result in an immediate arrest warrant.

Pleading Not Guilty Pretrial Petitions and Readiness Hearings

A variety of issues with the goal of conforming to best practice standards in the pretrial phase of the domestic violence court are addressed here. First, defendant petitions for continuance are strongly discouraged without waiver. Delays can embolden the perpetrator to attempt to utilize power and control tactics that may intimidate the victim and discourage them from participating in the proceedings or even recant their testimony. Delays can also compromise the safety of the victim and their children (if any), while at the same time possibly creating the impression that perpetrators can successfully manipulate the system.

The termination of no contact orders is discouraged at the pretrial phase, as this can potentially complete the process of intimidation and pressure initiated by the perpetrator. At this pretrial phase, the court always attempts to provide domestic violence victims with information about resources and services, but the best practice model does not require the victim to access these services. In some circumstances, a requirement for the victim to access services can escalate the perpetrator's abuse.

The readiness hearing is held approximately one week before the trial is scheduled. This hearing provides an opportunity for the defense counsel and prosecutor to reveal to the judge any progress that might have been made in changing the plea to guilty. The judge maintains impartiality about this process, which often results in a guilty plea on the part of the defendant before going to trial. More than 50 percent of domestic violence cases in Clark County end up with a guilty plea. Part of the motivation to plead guilty may be defense attorneys' awareness that there are approximately only 10 jury trial acquittals per year in domestic violence court (Thompson, 1999).

Pleading Not Guilty - The Trial

In situations in which the victim is not in appearance to testify at the trial, the judge may dismiss the charges without prejudice and instruct that the case be re-filed, and request a material witness warrant be issued. Some victims become ambivalent about participating in the trial and may even attempt to recant previous statements. In such cases, prosecutors may choose to proceed without victim participation. Other issues that emerge during trials are evidentiary and include the admissibility of "excited utterances" such as 9-1-1 recordings and statements made to police. A variety of court precedents allow the prosecutor to admit into the court record available to the jury prior negative actions on the part of the defendant including previous domestic violence assaults.


Of the wide range of sentencing options available, the one least favored in the Clark County Domestic Violence Court is that of large fines. When such options are used, the money that the defendant is expected to pay may very well come from a guilt-filled victim and may serve to threaten the welfare of minor children. The preferred sentencing practice is a combination of a short jail sentence, court-directed risk management, including frequent judicial reviews and intensive probation, and participation in a year-long state certified domestic violence treatment program paid for by the defendant. Work release/work crew sanctions are also issued at sentencing as a graduated sanction for compliance to treatment issues. Electronic home confinement may be used in some situations where the victim is absent. Finally, the court can order the defendant to pay retribution to pay for the victim's and minor children's services. Periodic reviews with the purpose of modifying or lifting no contact orders are explained at sentencing. The burden of lifting or modifying a no contact order is on the defendant in the Clark County Domestic Violence Court. Such orders are not lifted or modified if the defendant continues to exhibit risk factors for re-offending.

Mail Questionnaire

The survey instrument is contained in Appendix A.

As an additional method of evaluating the success of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court and to address issues surrounding the causes and consequences of domestic violence, a short questionnaire (see Appendix A), containing both closed and open-ended questions was mailed to 88 individuals on a list of members of the Clark County Domestic Violence Task Force. Individuals on this list included law enforcement, prosecutorial, court, and correctional officials, domestic violence treatment providers, victims services employees, and others. Although the response rate of 28.4 percent was lower than desired, it is not disturbingly low for a mail survey of this nature. We are confident that the results reported are largely representative of the views of those involved in dealing with domestic violence issues in Clark County, as we received responses from individuals from each of the above-mentioned constituencies (see Table One).

The questionnaire was also mailed to twelve defense lawyers in Clark County, eight of whom responded. Given differences in the attitudes towards the domestic violence court between defense lawyers and others, we present the results from the defense lawyers separately.

Table 1. Table 1 - Respondent's Position/Occupation in Relation to Domestic Violence Court

--Percentage of Respondents
Law Enforcement6.1
Victim Services27.3
Defense Lawyers24.2

One of the underlying philosophies that influenced the creation of the domestic violence court in Clark County, and one that is shared by the presiding judge, is that there are fundamental differences between domestic violence perpetrators and other criminal offenders, and differences between domestic violence victims and victims of crime more generally. Open-ended questions numbers three and four addressed these issues, and analysis of the responses indicate that the overwhelming majority of respondents agreed that such differences exist.

With respect to domestic violence perpetrators, most pointed out that perpetrators were motivated by power and control - one respondent noted that domestic violence offenders "seek to control their victims because they lack the [social] skills to relate normally." Another respondent asserted that domestic violence offenders had "intractable personality disorders" and were more likely to repeat their crimes than other types of offenders. Additional responses to this question emphasized that perpetrators "minimize [their own] responsibility," and often attempt to "manipulate victims and main witnesses." One respondent poignantly noted "their victims are specific, continual, and holistically victimized; they train future perpetrators (children) within their family; [and they are] given strong legal rights to return to their victims, unlike a bank robber returning to a bank." Importantly, some respondents also noted that domestic violence perpetrators were from "all walks of life," thus dispelling the popularly-held notion that such behavior only occurs in the lower social classes. Some also pointed to the role of larger societal factors in the continued problem of domestic violence - as one respondent noted "[perpetrators] feel reinforced in a culture where violence is normalized."

Responses to Question #4 similarly indicated that domestic violence victims as a group are different from other victims. Domestic violence victims "feel responsible [and] feel they deserve the abuse," and are often characterized by low self-esteem and depression. One respondent referred to "victim recidivism" - that is, the tendency of some victims to "stay with their abusers or to seek new partners with the same traits as the past abuser." Related to this issue, another respondent noted "society gets mad at domestic violence victims because they don't leave but it's not that easy [to do so]." Others noted that their personal relationship with the offender makes victims more likely to recant or otherwise be uncooperative. Several respondents pointed out that domestic violence victims often do not have strong support networks of family and friends. Perhaps the most difficult situation for these victims, as several respondents pointed out, is the fact that they are often harmed financially as a result of drawing attention to the domestic violence issue.

In short, responses to these questions reveal that there is substantial justification for the creation of a separate domestic violence court, due to the important differences between domestic violence perpetrators and other criminal offenders, and domestic violence victims and other victims of crime.

Consistent with the responses to the open-ended questions discussed above, and similarly important in the context of the justifying a separate domestic violence court in Clark County, respondents overwhelmingly agreed that such a court more efficiently addresses the issue of domestic violence compared to a non-specialized court (see Table 2). Over 90 percent of the respondents agreed with this statement. Responses to the open-ended question #1 ("Describe the strengths and weaknesses of the domestic violence court with respect to dealing with offenders and victims") provided further confirmation of the need for the court. Several respondents pointed out that other judges in the county generally did not share the same commitment to, and understanding of, domestic violence issues. As one respondent noted, having one judge hearing all the cases created a situation in which there was "uniformity in dealing with perpetrators and a good balance of victim safety with the legal rights of the perpetrator." Another respondent noted that the strengths of the domestic violence court included "the training and skills of court personnel ... [and their] high level of commitment."

Table 2. Table 2 - Domestic Violence Court is more Efficient than Non-specialized Court in Dealing with Domestic Violence

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly agree72.0
Strong Disagree0.0
No Opinion8.0
Mean (Standard Deviation) 1.22 (.42)

Given the stated goals of the domestic violence court, it is also encouraging to consider that 96 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that the domestic violence court requires that perpetrators be held accountable for their criminal behavior (see Table 3).

Table 3. Table 3 - Domestic Violence Court Requires Accountability for Criminal Behavior

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree36.0
Strongly Disagree0.0
No Opinion4.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)1.63 (.49)

Related to the issue of offenders being held accountable for their criminal behavior, the overwhelming majority of respondents also agreed or strongly agreed that the domestic violence court had served to enhance compliance on the part of perpetrators (see Table 4). It is notable, however, that the percentage strongly agreeing with this statement (20.0 percent) was considerably lower than those who strongly agreed that the court holds offenders accountable for their behavior (36.0 percent). Responses to the open-ended question (#5) "What obstacles exist in meeting the needs of domestic violence perpetrators" suggest that many respondents were concerned about financial issues related to treatment - as one noted "[there is] a huge inability to pay for treatment." Others pointed out the lack of culturally-specific batterer programs, and were concerned about the effectiveness of treatment for domestic violence perpetrators. Some also argued that the sentences for perpetrators needed to be lengthened. We feel that these responses indicate a need for an evaluation of the effectiveness of treatment programs for domestic violence offenders in Clark County.

Table 4. Table 4 - Domestic Violence Court has Enhanced Perpetrators' Compliance

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree20.0
Strongly Disagree0.0
No Opinion16.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)1.76 (.44)

Respondents to the survey were also asked whether they felt the domestic violence court had improved the situation for the victims of domestic violence. 40.0 percent strongly agreed, and an additional 48.0 percent agreed (see Table 5), that this important goal of the domestic violence court was being realized. However, answers to the open-ended question #6 - "What obstacles exist in meeting the needs of domestic violence victims" - revealed that there are still several problems that need to be addressed (although it is important to note that these are not necessarily problems which can be solved by the court itself). Seventeen of the 25 respondents mentioned financial issues as a serious problem for victims. As one respondent noted "[the problem is] $$$$ - we need to assist these women and kids to get out. So much money assists the poor, why not those who are being abused and can't afford to leave?". Others suggested there was a need for more "wraparound programs" that could serve to address the financial, mental health, childcare, and housing needs of domestic violence victims.

Table 5. Table 5 - Domestic Violence Court has Improved Situation for Victims

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree40.0
Strongly Disagree0.0
No Opinion8.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)1.61 (.58)

The fifth survey question asked respondents whether the domestic violence court had increased public safety. While only 12.0 percent strongly agreed with this statement, an additional 76.0 percent agreed that the domestic violence court had increased public safety (see Table 6). This is further indication that the domestic violence court is achieving its stated goals.

Table 6. Table 6 - Domestic Violence Court has Increased Public Safety

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree12.0
Strongly Disagree0.0
No Opinion8.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)1.91 (.42)

Respondents were also asked to assess whether the Clark County Domestic Violence Court fully utilizes the knowledge and experience of the professionals who serve it. Table 7 indicates that, while most agree that this is true, 8.0 percent of the respondents disagree with the statement. This may suggest that further work needs to be done to coordinate the activities of the various constituencies who serve the domestic violence court.

Table 7. Table 7 - Domestic Violence Court Utilizes Knowledge/Experience of Professionals

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree28.0
Strongly Disagree0.0
No Opinion4.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)1.79 (.59)

Table 8 presents responses to the question of whether the domestic violence court has demonstrated a commitment to seeking appropriate resources for victims of domestic violence. It is clear that while the majority of respondents agree or strongly agree that the court does demonstrate such a commitment, there are some concerns about its ability to effectively do so. However, we do not feel that this should be construed as a criticism of the court per se.

Table 8. Table 8 - Domestic Violence Court Seeks Appropriate Resources for Victims

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree20.0
Strongly Disagree0.0
No Opinion8.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)1.87 (.55)

The final question addressed a similar issue to that in question #7 - and asked respondents whether they felt the domestic violence court had demonstrated a commitment to forming community alliances to meet the needs of victims. Similar to the responses to question #7, while the majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, this appears to be an area of concern (see Table 9).

Table 9. Table 9 - Domestic Violence Court is Committed to Forming Alliances to Meet Victims' Needs

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree32.0
Strongly Disagree0.0
No Opinion8.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)1.75 (.53)

The final open-ended question (#7) asked respondents "What legislative or policy changes, if any, would you recommend in order to improve the effectiveness of the domestic violence court." Several respondents mentioned that additional resources needed to be allocated to the court in order to address what many perceived to be a growing problem of domestic violence.

To conclude, our analysis of the survey results indicate that, while improvements in access to, and coordination of services need to be made, the Clark County Domestic Violence Court has improved community safety in general, and more importantly, has improved the situation for the victims of domestic violence.

Lawyers' Responses

As mentioned above, questionnaires were also mailed to 12 defense lawyers - eight of whom completed the survey - representing a 75 percent response rate. While not necessarily diametrically opposed to the opinions expressed in the larger sample, given their role in defending individuals charged with domestic violence offenses, the defense lawyers as a group were not as positive about the operations of the domestic violence court.

Given the limited number of responses, we do not present all the data from the closed-ended questions for defense lawyers. However, as Table 10 demonstrates, 75 percent of the defense lawyers who responded to the survey either disagreed or strongly disagreed that the domestic violence court was more effective than a non-specialized court in dealing with domestic violence. While some acknowledged that the court "saved lives by intervention" and allowed for better supervision over the offenders, others were concerned that "the entire system limits discretion by police, prosecutors, and judges who always err on the side of caution."

Table 10. Table 10 - Domestic Violence Court is more efficient than Non-Specialized Court In Dealing with Domestic Violence - Defense Lawyers

--Percentage of Respondents
Strongly Agree0.0
Strongly Disagree25.0
Mean (Standard Deviation)3.00 (.76)

The defense lawyers were particularly concerned with what they perceived as an absence of individualized justice in the domestic violence court. In response to the open-ended question addressing the differences between domestic violence perpetrators and other offenders, one defense lawyer noted "I think there probably are differences. The problem is that all defendants before the court are treated as if there was an ongoing problem of abuse. For many people, that is not the case." Another defense lawyer argued that a more sophisticated classification system for domestic violence perpetrators was required "... more serious offenders need to be separated from acute or accidental incidents. Some screening process needs to be set up to separate the serious offenders from the ridiculous cases that get charged by overzealousness."

In this context, it is important to note that at a monthly meeting of the Domestic Violence Court attended by court staff, prosecutors, defense lawyers, treatment providers, and others , Judge Fritzler indicated that he realized that there were "borderline" domestic violence cases and that domestic violence cases fall on a continuum. He noted that the difficulty for the court was trying to identify the levels of severity in individual cases, and strike a balance between the safety of the victim and rights/concerns of the offender.

Related to the issue of individualized justice, some defense lawyers were concerned about the imposition of "one-size-fits-all" non-contact orders. Interestingly, in the latter part of our study of the domestic violence court, the judge began to utilize his discretion to lift the non-contact orders for some offenders. While these actions may have been viewed favorably by defense lawyers, they were criticized by those of another important constituency in the domestic violence court - treatment providers (see below).

In response to the open-ended question (#2) "how would you recommend modifying the primary roles and responsibilities of the domestic violence court core staff," some suggested that a more frequent rotation of judges would be useful, and one respondent indicated "I would recommend abolishing 'dv court' altogether because it does more harm than good." While as mentioned above, the responses of the defense lawyers need to be considered in the context of their specific role in the court, some of their concerns, especially those regarding the lack of individualized justice as a result of the domestic violence court, warrant consideration.

Evaluation of Treatment Providers: Methods and Perceptions

The purpose of this section of the report is to discuss issues surrounding the treatment of domestic violence perpetrators. Of the six state-certified providers of treatment for domestic violence perpetrators in Clark County, four were interviewed in depth about treatment issues and techniques, as well as their perceptions of the operations of the domestic violence court. The four providers interviewed were from Equinox, Landerholm Counseling Services, Columbia Pastoral Counseling, and the Counseling Center of Vancouver. All four were very familiar with applicable Washington State Administrative Codes governing Domestic Violence Perpetrator Program Standards (RCW 26.50.150). Each provider conducted weekly state-mandated 90 minute treatment in group settings, and most of these groups started out with 12 or fewer participants, as state law requires. All of the providers experienced attrition of clients in the six month mandatory treatment phase, losing approximately one-third of the group due to noncompliance. In the event of noncomplianceTwo unexcused absences are construed as noncompliance., offenders were required to start the treatment over again from the beginning.

All providers attempted to weed out true psychopaths who would not benefit from treatment The estimated percentage of true psychopaths ranged from 3 to 10 percent, depending on the provider interviewed. It appears that this difference in estimates is a result of the use of different diagnostic techniques used by the different providers to determine psychopathy. Although no WAC rule directly addresses the issue of drug and alcohol treatment before entry into a domestic violence perpetrator treatment plan, all of the providers interviewed felt that it was unethical professionally to attempt treatment until at least two months after the completion of drug and alcohol treatment. This philosophy can be problematic in these sense that it can lead to delays in perpetrator treatment - in some cases this means that perpetrators enter treatment at the end of the two year court jurisdiction rather than the beginning.

The Washington State Administrative Code requires treatment providers to notify the victim at the beginning and the end of the offender treatment program. However, providers noted that because of unrecorded address and name changes, it was often difficult to accomplish this task. The lack of notification of domestic violence victims regarding treatment initiation and completion is a serious problem that requires attention.

Each treatment provider required that perpetrators entering treatment sign a statement of "honesty and full disclosure" or "full and complete compliance." If, for example, a probation officer discovered that the perpetrator had violated a no-contact order and did not reveal this in a group treatment session, he or she would be terminated from the program with no possibility of future return.

One of the treatment providers - Equinox - has groups for the Russian and deaf population of perpetrators. Interpreters are supplied to the treatment groups by the District Court from the same pool of state-certified interpreters. A provider not interviewed for this evaluation also conducts groups for Hispanics with a Spanish-speaking therapist.

Columbia Pastoral Counseling also offers groups for women. Our interview with this provider resulted in interesting insights into the nature of female domestic violence perpetrators. It was noted that the overwhelming majority had been victims of domestic violence before they became domestic violence offenders; it was suggested that in at least some of these cases, women arrested for domestic violence offenses were retaliating, not initiating, domestic violence. Even in such cases, however, providers felt that court-mandated treatment would provide these individuals with resources that they would not ordinarily have to leave abusive relationships.

Inside the Black Box: How is Therapy Provided?

The primary source of information for this section is a detailed interview with Carl Landerholm of Landerholm Treatment Services, although other providers use very similar methods. The treatment for domestic violence perpetrators is a combination of anger management, followed by cognitive rational emotive therapy in the manner suggested by Albert Ellis. Nearing to the end of treatment the focus of group therapy is on the subtle use of controlling behavior as a source of conflict. Most of the offenders are in fear and denial at the beginning of treatment and have very minimal understanding of how controlling of their partner they really are. The first group exercises are organized around anger management techniques. The first technique is referred to as "Real Time Out" and involves learning to pay attention to mental and bodily states promoting negative self-talk. Examples of this include "why doesn't she realize that what she is doing or saying is making me angry?". Clients are encouraged to announce that this kind of negative self-talk requires a "time out", while attempting to replace the negative self-talk with positive self-talk. Clients are encouraged to perceive the anger as a chemical event that can be shut down with positive self-talk. They are discouraged from "leaving the scene" and encouraged to insert positive self-talk until they feel it is safe to continue the interaction with their partner.

The "Violence Free Other" part of the treatment plan is in response to the WAC rule that requires treatment for the other violence that may be part of the controlling behavior pattern. Awareness is raised into the specific means by which it is possible to use verbal, mental, emotional, property, animal, sexual, financial, and self-violence to control the other person. This is followed by the "Violence Free Physical" part of the treatment. In this phase, awareness and role play help examine the physical things that are done to gain control beyond such obvious things like punching and pushing. Unwanted touching is examined as a control issue. Two page journals are required to be submitted to the therapist every week. This journal is called the "Feelings and Behavior Journal" and includes descriptions of conflicts, negative and positive self-talk, number of timeouts taken, and intensity of conflict and stress on a 1 to 10 scale. Any rating over 5 results in a "self-care exercise", which requires individuals to use exercises designed to balance mind and body.

The last part of the treatment involves "controlling behavior." Exercises and role play are organized around the contents of a "control journal" that must be completed each week. This journal requires the client to list the control behaviors they engaged in during the previous week, how they attempted to avoid feelings and responsibility for the behaviors, the effect of the controlling behavior on themselves and the person(s) to whom it was directed, and what would be done differently the next time there was a conflict. The treatment providers agreed that the greatest challenge to the completion of this final phase of treatment was individuals' subtle use of control behaviors without an awareness of how this was happening.

Perception of Treatment Effectiveness and Concerns

Without exception the treatment providers believe in what they are doing and believe that successful completion of treatment will reduce re-occurrences of domestic violence. They agreed that it would be valuable to collect follow-up data on individuals who have completed their programs, but that it was not possible for them to do so.

Only one of the four interviewed providers reported any success with individuals who volunteer for treatment before entering a plea as an incentive for diversion. The providers all reported frustration as a result of not knowing whether the individuals they were treating had committed previous offenses. And although they realized that funds would be difficult to obtain, recognizing that treatment is an ongoing process, they envisioned a "half-way house" concept at the end of treatment.

The providers were also concerned about the early removal of no-contact orders before the anger management phase of the treatment had been completed. Without the anger management phase having been completed, the victim is placed in potentially more dangerous situations than before the arrest was made. The early dropping of the no-contact orders also appears to reduce the motivation of the offender to comply with early treatment protocols.

At a monthly meeting of the domestic violence court, the issue of the removal of no contact orders was raised by one of the treatment providers, who suggested that it was his perception that the no contact orders were being lifted earlier than in the past, and that this was causing problems in treatment. This concern was apparently shared by other treatment providers who were in attendance at the meeting. Judge Fritzler responded to this concern by outlining the criteria he employed in dropping no contact orders; these included giving weight to what the victim wanted, in an attempt to avoid being overly paternalistic with them. He also noted that he considered the severity of the particular domestic violence crime, the perpetrator's criminal history, and use of alcohol or drugs in deciding whether to lift the no contact orders. At this meeting, the judge admitted that he may have made some mistakes in lifting no contact orders for certain offenders.


This process evaluation of the Clark County Domestic Violence Court indicates that the court has had a positive impact on addressing issues of domestic violence in the county. The court is guided by a philosophy of therapeutic jurisprudence and the principles of this philosophy are manifested in the way the court is conducted. Individuals connected with the court, including court staff, prosecutors, victim advocates, treatment providers, and defense lawyers, are dedicated professionals who are committed to improving the situation for both domestic violence victims and perpetrators. While the information collected in this process evaluation thus suggests that the court should be continued, there is an urgent need for additional funding in order to maintain the smooth functioning of the court and the attendant benefits to the Clark County community. And while our impressions are that the court has been successful in improving the situation for both domestic violence victims and perpetrators, there is a similarly urgent need for a longitudinal study of outcomes.


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