Kanawha County launches domestic violence pilot program

Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis speaks during the event. (Photo courtesy of the state Supreme Court)

Kanawha Family Law Judge Mike Kelly speaks. (Photo courtesy of the state Supreme Court)

CHARLESTON -– State Supreme Court Justice Robin Jean Davis and Kanawha County officials have announced the creation of a domestic violence pilot program in the county.

"Domestic violence is not just a family problem, it is the entire community's problem," Davis told the crowd gathered Aug. 31 in the courtroom of Chief Circuit Judge Louis H. "Duke" Bloom. "It is time to stop the senseless violence in our state."

Davis and Bloom were joined by Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman, Kanawha County Family Court Judge Mike Kelly, Kanawha County Magistrate Julie Yeager, Supreme Court Family Courts Director Lisa Tackett, Kanawha County Managing Deputy Public Defender Diana Panucci and Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants.

"The Supreme Court chose Kanawha County for this pilot project because of the volume of cases there and the quality and experience of the judicial officers who handle them," Davis said. "We have confidence that this will be a good place to try this innovative way of handling a challenging caseload."

The Legislature early this year passed a law which allowed the Supreme Court to establish one pilot program in any jurisdiction. The Supreme Court chose Kanawha County and Judge Kelly, who will work with Magistrate Yeager. The two together will handle all domestic violence cases in the county. Intervening early and on a more regular basis should help save lives, judicial officials said.

"We know what the problem is," Kelly said. "This pilot project takes a different approach to fighting domestic violence. This project is community based. Everybody recognized we needed to step up our efforts and do this project."

The pilot project will last four years, at the end of which a report will be given to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President.

"It's a wonderful cooperative effort to address this important issue that comes before the circuit courts, family courts, and magistrates courts in Kanawha County," Bloom said.

"It's a wonderful day to be here and explain all the hard work we have put into this and the reasons for it," Yeager said. "It is a trial, and we are ready to get this going and perhaps help other courts throughout the state to help other magistrates and family court judges."

"Today represents the recognition by the Supreme Court and all the divisions of court in this county how important this issue is to everybody, how it cuts across all lines, how the equal treatment of people that come before the bench on those matters is dispensed, " Kaufman said. "The old way wasn't effective in what we wanted to do with domestic violence. To put this in one court is going to benefit the people that need dispute resolution the most."

"This is a project that has been years in the making," Tackett said. "We have very dedicated judges, advocates, prosecutors, and law enforcement. This project took on a life of its own. It's been an effort across all branches of state government to get this project going. I believe we have the right people in place to make this possible."

"I want to thank everyone involved in this project for letting us be involved in the planning stages and giving our input," Panucci said. "We look forward to being part of this system, providing great representation to our clients, and doing what we can to make this transition as smooth as possible."

"This is a long time coming, it's absolutely the right decision and I couldn't be more supportive of it," Plants said. "This is not a step in the right direction, this is a monumental leap."

"I don't know if this (court) is the answer, but we are going to give it a one thousand percent try. We are going to learn from it and build a court system we can all be proud of," Kelly said.

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