Under One Roof
~In Baltimore City District Court, civil and criminal
domestic violence cases take up common residence~
In an effort to simplify the proceedings for the growing number of domestic
violence cases in Baltimore City, the District Court, under the supervision
of the Honorable Jeannie Hong, consolidated all civil and criminal domestic
violence trials into one building –
the Eastside District Court at 1400 E. North Avenue – as of December
Prior to the new action, victims of domestic violence seeking full-scale
justice were required to travel to two separate venues: Eastside handled criminal
cases, while civil cases were housed at the Civil Courthouse at 501 E. Fayette
Street. In some instances, the travel and ensuing confusion of dealing with
two different courthouses discouraged some victims from seeking the full power
of the law against their aggressors.
"There was unrest for the victims of domestic violence," notes Hong. "If
they were hurt or needed compensation, they would need to go to a civil court
and then to a criminal court. This [process] was a huge burden for victims
prior to the plan; now, it's all under one roof."
With the new arrangement, civil and criminal cases will be held in courtrooms
No. 2 and 5, respectively, at the Eastside Courthouse, which was chosen as
the flagship for this design due to the fact that it already possessed an established
domestic violence criminal docket in courtroom No. 5. In addition, Eastside
will now also provide a representative from the State's Attorney Domestic Violence
unit and the House of Ruth, a full-service domestic violence program that features
a legal clinic, shelter and 24-hour hotline.
The next step of the ongoing plan is to assemble a full-time Commissioner's
office in the building to house all aspects of defense against domestic violence
in one location. Then, within the near future, a database of domestic violence
civil and criminal case proceedings will be developed, which will allow judges
to keep track of certain victims and offenders.
"This new plan organizes both sides of the law," says the Honorable Keith
E. Mathews, District Court of Baltimore City. "When victims go to the judge
for a protection order, [he or she] can talk to a victim advocate group [i.e.,
House of Ruth] and a prosecutor – they are all right there."
Dorothy Lenning, the House of Ruth's Clinic Director, echoed Mathews' sentiment,
stating, "[This process] encourages victims to use both [civil and criminal]
Thus far, the two-month-old program has been full-steam-ahead, however a
few "glitches" have arisen in the transferal process, most notably the conversion
of courtroom No. 2 at the Eastside Courthouse from an exclusively traffic violations
docket into civil domestic violence cases. Nevertheless, Judge Hong remained
unfettered, took each possible setback in stride and proclaimed, "We are moving
That forward mindset is exactly what the Honorable Ben C. Clyburn – then
a District Court judge serving Baltimore City – had in mind when he attended
a VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) conference in Miami, Florida, in October
2004. It was at this event that Clyburn became intrigued by New York's design
for its domestic violence cases, which aimed to provide easier accessibility
and safety for victims by consolidating every facet of domestic violence protection
in the same building.
"This system makes it safer and easier for victims," explains Clyburn. "It's
a one-stop-shop location for victims in a stressful state-of-mind. Time is
of the essence when getting a person [his or her] safety."
Before Clyburn could begin developing the plan, however, he was promoted
to Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland in November 2004; consequently,
he recommended to Mathews that Hong oversee the development of his brain-child,
to which Mathews complied. While Hong began to implement this new plan, she
confessed that Mathews and Clyburn remained as counsel.
"I am just navigating their direction," Hong humbly admits.
Prior to its implementation, the new domestic violence plan spent approximately
one year as
"pilot project" of the court. During that time, Hong was assisted in developing
the program through monthly meetings of 35-40 people, including representatives
from the Public Defender's Office, House of Ruth, Baltimore City Police Department,
Baltimore City Sheriffs' Department, State's Attorney Office, Court Commissioners,
Court Clerks, District Court and Circuit Court.
"This was a team effort," states Hong. "We are the first courthouse in Maryland
to move forward in terms of full protection for domestic violence victims."
Now, through the cohesive effort of governmental programs and officials,
Baltimore City's District Court has an all-encompassing roof for Domestic Violence
victims – this time, in one location.