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Domestic Violence court now under one roof

Friday, September 16, 2005
Law Bulletin

Cook County Circuit Court's new central Domestic Violence court will open its doors next month.

The new court, 555 W. Harrison St., is scheduled to open on Oct. 11, according to a published notice from Chief Cook County Judge Timothy C. Evans.

The court will hear all civil and criminal calls for orders of protections, and for misdemeanors, felonies, and preliminary hearings in felony domestic violence cases.

''We're hoping this will be a state-of-the-art facility that will address the needs of litigants — victims as well respondents — to provide them with a just and fair means of resolving their disputes,'' Circuit Judge Moshe Jacobius said.

Jacobius is the presiding judge of the Domestic Relations Division and oversees civil orders of protection.

Currently, only one judge hears civil orders of protection, Jacobius said. When the new court opens, there will be two judges hearing those cases.

''That will be a means of improving our service,'' he said.

There were more than 5,300 so-called ''independent'' civil orders of protection filed last year, Jacobius said.

Now, civil orders of protection are being heard at 28 N. Clark St. Criminal orders of protection are heard at 1340 S. Michigan Ave, said Laura Bertucci, supervisor of the Domestic Violence Division for the Cook County State's Attorney's office.

Felony preliminary hearings are being heard in different branches around the city.

As is done at Central Bond Court at the Criminal Courts building, the felony preliminaries will be held via closed-circuit television, Bertucci said.

''It's state-of-the-art,'' she said.

Bertucci said she is thrilled that the county is gathering all its domestic violence calls under one roof.

''It's going to be wonderful,'' Bertucci said.

Among its many advantages, the new Domestic Violence court ''is going to be completely victim-friendly,'' Bertucci said.

The new building will feature separate entrances for alleged victims and alleged offenders, Bertucci said. There will also be separate elevators and waiting rooms, Bertucci said.

Additionally, there will be space for an array of victims' advocates on the new court's first floor, Bertucci said.

Catherine L. Alin, staff attorney of Family Law Project of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, also is looking forward to the new omnibus call.

Alin, who practices at 28 N. Clark St., said that the scattered branches put a heavy burden on the victims.

''People who go to 13th and Michigan now, if there's not enough evidence to sustain a criminal charge, then advocates will tell them to go to 28 N. Clark for a civil order. That can make for a very long day for people who've very recently been victims of violence,'' she said.

JoAnn F. Villasenor, the supervising attorney of LAF's Family Law Project, used to practice often at 1340 S. Michigan Ave. She said she won't miss it.

''It's not a real great building,'' Villasenor said.

Bertucci said she has already seen the rehabbed Harrison Street building.

''It's beautiful,'' she said.

Villasenor said that the best improvement is the segregation between alleged victims and alleged offenders.

At 1340 S. Michigan, ''it was pretty much a mob scene going into the elevators. Often you would have victims and abusers going up the same elevators,'' Villasenor said.

Alin said there is a similar problem at 28 N. Clark St., where victims and offenders share a single waiting room.

''There are court officers … but that doesn't prevent conflict,'' she said.

The new building will streamline services for the victims, but it may also improve things for practitioners and the judiciary, Villasenor said.

''The criminal judges and the civil judges have not often coordinated [efforts]. Maybe this will lead to that,'' she said.

According to published reports from the time, construction on the new Harrison Street court cost more than $64 million.

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