February 28, 2018
The Access to Justice Commission (Commission) would like to recognize Winnebago County for implementing an innovative program for entering emergency orders for protection (OPs) after normal business hours. The Commission is interested in exploring how innovation and technology can expand access to justice, which prompted AOIC staff and Commission members to meet with the advocates and justice partners involved in this unique program which provides this protective process for domestic violence (DV) victims.
Since its inception in November 2016, DV judges have granted eight emergency OPs during holidays and after hours when the courthouse was closed. The program's success is due to Presiding Judge Rosemary Collins' leadership, and the coordination and cooperation of four entities in Winnebago County: the court, the clerk's office, the Sheriff's 911 Center, and the county's only DV shelter, Remedies Renewing Lives (Remedies).
All three judges in the court's DV Division participate and rotate being on call, using an iPad to connect with the victim sheltered at Remedies. The Remedies staff have been specifically trained to utilize the program only under emergency situations where there are circumstances presenting imminent harm or danger, such as if the respondent has not been arrested and is allegedly armed or dangerous. Through coordination with Remedies, judges on call are able to swear in victims over the phone or video, verify information with the victim if needed, and review and sign the petition using the iPad. The Remedies staff, previously trained and deputized by the clerk's office, files the order with the court and contacts the Sheriff's office. The Sheriff's office then enters the order into the Law Enforcement Agencies Data System (LEADS).
Judge Collins once reviewed and granted an emergency OP while attending her son's baseball game over a weekend. "It is a great feeling to be able to know that we can provide this service to people at any time," she stated. The limited scope of the emergency criteria ensures that the court and other stakeholders are only contacted when absolutely necessary and yet DV victims may receive protection in these most dangerous times. Judge Collins also noted how essential it is to involve all parties in every stage of the planning process to ensure seamless transmission of information between the advocates, the court, the clerk's office, and the Sheriff's office.
The Commission applauds this exceptional program for enhancing access to justice for some of the most vulnerable members of society, and hopes to see this program replicated in other parts of the state. If you are interested in learning more about the Winnebago program, please contact Sierra Kellen, 17th Circuit Domestic Violence Coordinated Court Project Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.