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JUDGES UNDERVALUE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, REPORT SAYS

SHARE JUDGES UNDERVALUE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, REPORT SAYS

While the climate for prosecuting domestic violence cases in Davis County is getting better, police and prosecutors are frustrated because several justice and circuit court judges don't take the crime seriously.

That's one finding of a report on domestic violence in the county released recently by the League of Women Voters.There is currently no shelter for victims of domestic violence in the county although a citizens group - the Davis Citizens Coalition Against Violence - is working to build one.

Volunteers interviewed dozens of police officials, prosecutors, judges, and social service officials for the study, under the guidance of chairman Nelda Bishop.

One of the study's conclusions is that although awareness of the seriousness of domestic violence is growing, a number of judges and prosecutors in the county are either too lazy or biased to handle the cases.

"Four Davis County justice court judges were described by people we interviewed as very ineffective with perpetrators because they do not consider domestic violence a serious crime and don't want to bother with these cases at all," the study concluded. The judges were not named in the study.

When presenting copies of the study to members of the Davis Council of Governments recently, Bishop urged the mayors and city officials to find out if their city prosecutors or justice court judges were among the ones who treat domestic violence as a family problem instead of a crime.

The study found there were 1,863 incidents of domestic violence reported in Davis County in 1993 - an average of five a day. There is no shelter for victims in the county; 125 went to the YCC shelter in Ogden and 25 to the YWCA shelter in Salt Lake.

The survey also turned up an estimate from three police chiefs that 20 percent of the victims are men and one chief estimated that men make up 40 percent of the victims in his city.

"Almost all chiefs of police mentioned that in some violent homes, the abuse is mutual and deciding which party should be charged with abuse is difficult.

"Sometimes both parties receive citations ordering them to appear in court and both are fined," according to the LWV, which also quoted one therapist as saying her most violent clients are women.

The study found that recent laws passed by the Legislature are improving the climate, offering more protection for abused spouses and more legal options such as mandatory arrest of abusers and enforced separation orders.

Volunteers from the court clerk or county attorney's office are available to help traumatized victims with legal papers, the survey found, and "judges now will sign almost any complaint to err on the side of protection for victims."

But, "one judge reportedly can be too easily bamboozled by big-name defense attorneys who use meaningless legal jargon to get a case dismissed, one doesn't follow up to see whether perpetrators really finished therapy, one is conned by victims who get convictions on pretense to help them get custody in divorce, one is very arrogant, one is totally ineffective because he takes a kindly clergyman approach so perpetrators know they won't really be punished if they abuse again, and two are lazy," the study concluded, adding, "Three justice court judges were described as `bad.' "

The survey added: "Prosecutors were not asked about judges at the district court level but other anonymous attorneys say that attitudes and sensitivity toward victims have improved greatly over the past few years as society in general has become more educated about spouse abuse."