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County aims to speed up protection orders
New domestic violence division opens in January

Thursday, December 10, 2009
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

The Cook County courts are revamping how domestic violence cases are handled.

A new domestic violence division will open in January. Behind-the-scenes changes are expected to speed up the process of getting a protection order and point abusers to programs designed to end the cycle of violence, said Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans.

Now, when a victim comes to the county's Domestic Violence Court, 555 W. Harrison, seeking an order of protection, an investigation into criminal charges takes time, Evans said. That can delay a decision about a protection order -- time the victim doesn't have.

In cases where prosecutors don't file charges, the victim may have to start all over again with a civil proceeding.

"What I want to do is have a triage system, so we can decide early on what kind of order of protection that person can pursue," Evans said.

He says the overhaul was prompted by two high-profile killings of women at the hands of their abusive ex-boyfriends last year. In both cases, the women had orders of protection. Cindy Bischof, 43, was gunned down by her ex-boyfriend outside her Elmhurst workplace. Mersaides McCauley, 22, of Indiana, was killed in Chicago's West Town neighborhood by Glenford Martinez, 35, her ex-boyfriend.

Evans put together a panel of criminal justice experts and victim advocates to examine how cases are handled. The panel proposed the domestic violence division, which will handle cases in Chicago and the suburbs -- not just those cases heard in Domestic Violence Court, but cases scattered throughout the criminal and civil system.

The new division's cases will include no-contact orders, civil orders of protection ranging from misdemeanors to Class 4 felonies and aggravated stalking cases.

"This division, by having the criminal and the civil aspects under one [umbrella] is going to allow for things not to fall through the cracks," said Cook County Circuit Court Judge Grace Dickler, the presiding judge of the new division.

Evans said the goal is to protect women -- by and large the victims in these cases -- as they work with prosecutors on criminal cases. The courts will work to direct abusers to counseling to "end the cycle of violence."



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